The Art of Hosting

Dear UK Friends, Hosts and Practitioners..

With some notable exceptions like the recent 'AOH Interconnection' and last years that was hosted in the UK
- it seemsd to me that AOH has not perhaps taken-off in the UK as much as in other regions like Europe, Canada an Australia ? We seem to be managing about one Traning a year with no examples of actual applications of these methods in organsations and communities to facilitate complex system change.

I'm trying to explore whether perhaps the success of Agile combined with Future of Work/Revinventing Organisations themes + persistently appalling employee engagement levels - mean there is potential towards bringing these kind of processes into organisations that previously would have seen something like AOH as too fringy and ‘out of control’.

Maybe we have to rebrand as the Art of Participatory Leadership but I don’t think this is just about training middle management - its about actually going into organisation and helping them facilitate their own journey.

Do you agree or disagree with my premise that the UK has been resistant to these kind of change methods? Can anyone share any success or lessons learned from failures?

Do you agree or disagree with my idea that current trend may be converging to perhaps might be more fertile ground for exploring opportunities for how we might increase awareness and find the 'acupuncture points', the frame a 'message' that might open up organisations to experimenting, adapting or adopting these methods. There has already ben some cross-fertilisation e.g

Do you have any ideas for how we might raise awareness of AOH and similar ‘dialogic change methods in uk public and private sectors?

Many thanks for any insights you can share with me,



PS: Anyone thinking of attending the AOH Practioner’s Gathering in Slovenia next month?

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Replies to This Conversation

Hi Phil 

Gosh where to start you raise so many issues  and questions in this little mail and i don't want to get into agree and disagree mode but i can maybe shine a light on some of what I know is going on in the UK.  

Loads of activity in the community development and social justice field, with 9 trainings over the last couple of years and many new practitioners beginning to practice hosting generative dialogue.  Our last newsletter had about 7 examples of where people were starting to practice and use their new skills to bring together communities and service providers ( drop me a line and Ill add you to the mailing list )  

In the Scottish public sector hosting practice has been making inroads into both the health service, the rural parliament and scottish government. There have been a number of events and consultations hosted by local practitioners.  

Here in England a small group are working with senior leaders from one of the health service clinical commissioning groups to bring hosting practice and systemic design into a 3 day conversation about long term culture change. Another group is currently working with another small group within a university to  develop a module on hosting for a sustainable leadership MSc

There have also been more on going systemic change projects such as the finance innovation lab and tasting the future which have AOH as part of their DNA and culture.  They in turn have gone on to develop a number of gatherings and projects that simply use a hosting practice as part of their work - maybe without the need to be explicit about it  ( like a fish in water ) I can send you more info about these if you like as it seems its complex system change you are interested in

Im working with a project called the Poverty Truth Commission - aiming to disturb the heart of the complex issue of poverty in the city of Leeds.  One of the big lessons here is that you cant shift the system - the actions you come up with don't seem to do it as its too complex....what you can do though is open perceptions and experiences so that people with the power to bring change, have their world view disrupted, story telling has been enormously powerful  in that.

There are mini communities of practice in Southampton and Brighton and Nottingham and Bristol, once a year we get together a practitioners gathering to bring people together.  The next one is in Leeds on the 18th and 19th October  in Leeds - around the topic of complexity - let me know if you would like to come and maybe meet some more folks.

Do I think the UK is particularly resistant, no I don't think so?  I know the european field very well ( and feel very much part of it ) and can see many similarities and challenges about how to support the growth of a self organising networks. I guess I really see AOH as a practice, a way of working and being as an emergent living system, as a relationship, as well as a set of methods and process. 

Personally I try not to  'go in' to organisations or 'bring things in' practice is to listen really well for real invitation, real opening, real possibility to do things differently and then work from those openings.  I also don't really work with the idea of AOH as a brand.  Sometimes you have to change the language slightly and respond to the culture of the place you are working in.  So I see AOPL being spoken about more in the public sector and in business as it seems to feel more comfortable. Important to do this in a way that fits well with where people are and yet doesn't dilute the core principles - a total chaordic challenge if ever there was one!

Is it fertile ground right now - yes absolutely, I also think some of the different approaches and models and methods are beginning to dance together and thats a good thing.  We are about to host our first U lab this afternoon and of course are using hosting as a practice to do that.  Im aware of reinventing organisations and sometimes use it to speak of new forms of organisational structure - i think there are a number of people from the Uk in  recently there was a gathering at St Ethelbergas in London and I'm sure there will be local meet up groups in London - outside of London, yes its hard to connect in.

Im also interested in where more body practices, where art and dance and creativity can come into conversation process and of course more subtle practices of sensing, holding space and working with deeper dynamics.  Ive been experimenting a bit with these   ....I guess the business sector would see that as "really fringy and out of control"...although it would depend on how i did it i suspect. Its not the tool, its the person welding the tool sort of thing.

Anyway thats such a lot already some thoughts, ideas and responses - hope its helpful - I don't think there is too much conversation on the ning, in the many years this UK group has been open it doesn't seem to have taken off as a conversation forum. There are a number of Facebook groups from each of the trainings and quite a lot gets posted on there

Go to the Slovenia gathering, what a great way to get connected.  Im not myself as I don't have the dates free, but it will be a very rich experience Im sure 

Cheers for now  Linda xx


Loving the topic, thanks Phil. I have nothing to add to Linda's reply but I would love to see and be involved in more UK based AoH happenings. And to hear what comes out of Slovenia for anyone who'll be returning to the UK after. 

I'm not involved but I believe the next AoH training will be in Brighton ( I know James Ede and Maaike are involved, but I haven't met Max or Charlie yet. 

Liane Xx

I'm not sure of the etiquette w.r.t.nings but I'mtrying to respond to you Linda!

Thank you so much for your wonderful response to my inquiry… I have say its quite taken me aback – but in good way – seems like there‘s a whole lot of exciting, important work going on in the UK I just didn’t have a clue about. If I am not on there already… please do add me to your newsletter… although you may find you’ve already written most of it! Listen – I saw your Worldview thing and I’ve just watched the video…I have to say…it looks FANTASTIC. I would definitely LOVE to attend but I will have to see what the tooth-fairy brings me this month. So w.r.t. the Scottish AOH stuff, I think your referring to the stuff that was manifested by Andy L.. I sense some mixed outcomes but until I speak with Andy which I am due to next week … I’m just guessing.

You mention u:lab.. oh I get all ‘hot unter ze Otto’ even the thought of the deep dive that is ‘ze u’ until ‘you drop everything that is not absolutely essential and squeeze yourself through that needle eye at the bottom of the u, climb our of your own being, step into your future potential highest being, turn around and pluck out the still bloody and beating heart of the pathetic shadow of your former self….  I’m sorry I get carried away a bit… I just find Otto’s imagery and prose so ‘epic’… he’s certainly a giant amongst men in terms of modern German social change theorists! I am also looking forward to taking a couple of dives with u:lab methods and could agree more with you that’s the art of all ‘convening conversation that matter’ is in A) selecting, blending and if need be inventing dialogue structures that will support ‘generative’ new narratives and B) following through into manifestation…often the sticking point when it comes to so-called ‘wicked problems’ if that they require the will of cross-boundary, and possibly traditionally competing interests.

 As someone that’s experienced the worst and best of higher education the develop leadership skills I might be able to add some value here. Certainly do point them in the direction of the MSLS “Leadership in Complexity” thread… I think I’ve got a pedagogy somewhere but the basic approach was more or less “throw ‘em in the deep end they’ll soon learn to swim”. And as frustrating has I might have been by this at the time…. It exactly by cultivating those kind of ‘think on your feet’, JFDI, ‘learning by making it up’ ‘learning by experimentation’ learning by failure’ that we’re going to develop leaders with the mental and emotional agility to ‘imagine’ completely new ways of manifesting the changes we seek. 

And yes you’ve rumbled me as ‘complex systems intervention’ obsessive… are are we supposed to intervene in systems that are not just uncertain and unpredictable but often paradoxical, dualistic, ambiguous, and oxymoronic all at the same time!? This is the challenge I’ve been on a journey over the past 8 years of while I have more questions answers I think have some stories to share and I hope this will inspire other to share their own. For me exchanging ‘field-notes’ – especially between people working in diverse areas of complex change – is invaluable because we need to have a conversation about changing the ‘way we do change’. That’s what I like about AOH, and I like your description of AOH “as a way of being” – there’s no doubt you can do through the motions with any other these methods and wind of with very shallow results – which is why as a facilitator the challenge is to hold the space safe while also often provoking divergence… don’t give people the wriggle room to paper-over the cracks in their worldviews. Rather direct people attention towards the cracks, the disconnects, the disruptions… Otto says these are the places where the past is ending and the future is wanting to begin, its where we have most agency. Or as Leonard Cohen put it: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’! ! I think there’s a challenge with the AOH 3 day training in that it can model facilitating towards consensus…. Facilitating towards the ’feel-good’ cause everybody is so buzzing from actually being listened to and sharing authentically… it's like a big brain-storming session but without the discernment or the filtering of actually having to come up with an actionable plan. In the real world, on a real issue if you had a 3 or 4 hour sessions every week for 12 weeks then you’d really have a chance that some authentic conflict would emerge that is often the spark which ultimately leads to the generative new idea or narrative to emerge.

Why am I asking you all this anyway? Well the truth is I did my AOH training back in 2011 when I was doing my MSLS (you can google it if you’re not familiar), and I liked it so much I did two more, all in Europe…. and have been phut phutting around ever since is various roles that have had todo with ‘change’, ‘sustainability’, ‘human wellbeing’, ‘complex systems’, ‘agility’, ‘facilitation’ and ‘coaching’ but… as the consequence of what might be described as a recent ‘epiphanacious moment’ when someone stuck a metaphorical gun in my face and inquired “Who the f**k are You? And What do You Want?”….I have been re-evaluating my career choices and asking the question “How can we align our lives and livelihoods towards expressing our deepest values, utilizing our gifts and experience, towards a right livelihood path not just in pursuit of our own well-being, but in greater service of social and ecological well-being.”. That a real mouthful huh and its NOT authentic me…it lifted form the blog of one of the teaching staff on a program that, mercifully I have just been awarded a bursary to attend which is asking us to inquire of ourselves exactly into this question, and I suspect, for me at least, we won’t be satisfied until we have a clue of where that path may lie for all humanity because its SUCH an endemic crisis we are facing at the moment. Now I don’t know what do for a living… you may be fortunate enough (and maybe fortune is precisely the wrong word) to love your job but I do know that less than 14% of Europeans feel the same way… and I do know from the visceral sense memory I have from just a week or so ago of attending a few meetings in a client’s offices and almost being overwhelmed by this sense of alienation, disassociation, ‘absensing’ masks, conspiracy of mediocrity, inauthenticity… actually the best way I can describe it is…. You know Angeles Arrien’s Four Fold Way: “Show up or choose to be present, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, tell the truth without blame or judgment, and be open, rather than attached to, the outcome.”. You just have to reverse every essence carried within that one sentence and you get a perfect facsimile of the dominant culture in most medium+ sized organisation’s.. at least in western consumer market societies. So I am particularly exercised by this issue and I’ve been speaking with some of the folks behind but clearly ist something you have tackle from both ends. I got this quote the other day… its my personal rallying call at the moment

No matter how abominable your condition may be, try not to blame anything or anybody. The moment that you place blame somewhere, you undermine your resolve to change anything.” — Joseph Brodsky.

So I’m gonna go to the AOH gathering, speak to Tim and Toke who are hosting a two day skit on whether its possible to make an ‘honorable livelihood’ as an AOH facilitator (I’m not sure its either possible or desirable but it might be one of many strings to my bow so to speak).

Linda - I would very much like to meet you and anyone else who shows up in Leeds on 18th and 19th October and while I’m certainly game for a 2 day deep dive on CAS… what’s the actual plan? Will the attendance be pub sized or are you hiring a venue. Any ideas about accommodation? The Thing is I need to Plan this into a trip which includes The Art Of Hosting Gathering beforehand and then Leeds, Manchester, £ so if you can give me a heads up ASAP on the Leeds Gathering I can book some flights etc

I'd better go now. I’ll leave you with something I got form a Ted Talk I watched yesterday… She said if you go to the ‘medicine man’ of an indigenous community (I think it was North American) and say your depressed they’ll ask you one of four questions:

“When in your life did you stop singing? When in your life did you stop dancing or moving in your body? When in your life did you stop being enchanted by stories (particularly your own)? When in your life did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence.”

Life is mystery be lived rather than a problem to be solved...


Hey Liane - what's all this Ignite static I'm picking up on my antennas?! Have you basically thrown open you home to MSLS ALL Comers? You must me mad! I know James, and he knows me very well - we lived together for a pretty intense MSLS 2011 so we know each other's dark serpents of the soul... I have some questions that I would like to to explore w.r.t. whether the current AOH 'Community of Practice' Model' is ''the best vehicle for what we all want: which is to increased use of dialogic methods within and across organisations where we need to solve complex 'wicked' problems.There is a massive global need right now to educate ourselves w.r.t. HOW to successfully intervene in complex systems to make positive change. I think there are lessons for AOH that can be learnt from ulab, from Dialogic OD Practitioners, and Agile Practitioners both in terms of how you support systemic change that benefits human well-being and also how we can make a whole load of new types of secure professional livelihoods that where people's instinct to want to serve to greater good is provided for... watch this space! I am throwing the metaphorical gauntlet!


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