The Art of Hosting

From the email list, starting late 2018:

On Dec 20, 2018, at 2:43 AM, Monica Nissen <> wrote:

And I still have a working assumption that the four-fold practise is foundational in this shift - as are good methods,  useful tools, skills and theory (=AoH)  
 Yes to this. I think our little framework is powerful enough and fractal enough that it holds this work on multiple levels. When a group of people begin practicing the four fools practice over time, my experience is that they begin to become a community that learns and a community that hosts itself and others, participates, and co-creates.   
So in short - how do you expand/scale up the “Art”??  
To me that is how it scales: organizations take on the practice as their core function. I’m seeing it in my work with foundations, non-profits and even a few local businesses, like Percolab, who do this as their raison d’être and not just their marketable offerings.   

On Dec 21, 2018, at 7:04 AM, Monica Nissen a>> wrote:

Hi Chris

Love the way the computer has its own will to innovate …
"the four fools practice “
And I still wonder if the viral version is enough or only works for networked mind-sets and organisations - are there hybrids? - bigger organisations - that need more conscious and/or structure approaches???
Not sure - But I just have an intuition that there may be a bigger, nested “four fools practice” in there somewhere - so I’m in the mood to explore..
hugs to all of you & merry x-mas
It’s definitely deliberate and networked. For me, it’s about building capacity. Our biggest work the last 9 years has been providing this program to social service workers in British Columbia working with children, youth and families in agencies, indigenous communities and government:  
You can read a summary of our five year evaluation of this program here:
We continue to developmentally evaluate as we go, and as a result, each cohort is different, each curriculum is slightly changed and we find new and more relevant ways to introduce people to this practice.
The basis of that program is a leadership approach that is very similar and deeply informed by what we in the Art of Hosting community know as the four-fold practice: that great leadership is personal, practice-based, participatory and perceptive. The program is structured in cohorts made up of people that have to apply.  We mix “legacy” leaders with experienced and emerging leaders to show that learning never ends. Each cohort participates in two 5 day residencies - which are basically extended Art of Hosting workshops -  and a nine month program of learning in between, featuring webinars and coaching and peer support for the application of tools and methods.
Over the past eight years we have brought about 450 people through the program. While it's about learning in participatory ways, the program has a kind of hidden agenda. We are very clear that, about every 20 years or so, the child welfare system in our province goes through a massive restructuring, often provoked by a crisis, but not always. We have always invited our participants to both practice their leadership on the issues that are immediately in front of them, but to do it in a way that builds their capacity to respond when that later transformation happens.  We want them to be the first to run to the centre when the old system is dying, eager to use their capacity, relationships, and practice to create the new.
In these days, the system is now beginning that deeper transformation, and fortunately it hasn’t been preceded by a crises. Instead, the woman who founded the Leadership 2020 program, Jennifer Charlesworth, was appointed to a five-year term as the Representative for Children and Youth in British Columbia, a very powerful position that is independent of the government and that can make powerful recommendations about systems change, usually as a result of different issues or events.  In the past, this position has been held by people who have been very confrontational in their work, but Jennifer is bringing a more collaborative approach to her work and to be successful in that, she is partly relying on the 450 Leadership 2020 graduates that are spread all through the system. There is a built-in capacity that is being invited into its biggest calling, reaching across traditional divides of indigenous/non-indigenous and government/community. We are hoping to see that the system is able to evolve faster with this capacity embedded in a way that is less painful than a collapse and transformation. You can already see in Jennifer’s reports how she is talking about the need for connection, and you will recognize the perspective that is informed by participatory approaches to this work.  In this report on Youth Substance Abuse in BC, look at the Findings and Analysis section.  Something important is starting.
Participatory practices have been used for a long time in the field of social work and child and family services. In 2003 I started working with David Stevenson to use Open Space, Cafe, Circle, and the four fold practice to begin to build an indigenous governance systems for child and family services in BC. Our colleagues Kris Archie and Kyla Mason, Pawa Hayupis and many other indigenous Art of Hosting practitioners came into and out of that work.  Toke and Monica joined us to teach Art of Hosting to families and community members who were participating in that work:  Between 2003 and 2009 we did something important on Vancouver Island. We started something and then had to abandon it for a different form, because not every idea works. But David later took that work with him into his work in executive positions in government.  Kris has now become the CEO of the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada  and Kyra has become an extraordinary executive director of Usma, a Nuu-Chah-Nulth agency on Vancouver Island.  Pawa is currently doing her Masters of Arts in indigenous governance and she and David continue to offer Art of Hosting trainings locally, as do Caitlin and I.
Meanwhile, Jennifer and a small group of us began Leadership 2020 in 2011.  It has taken 15 years of developing leadership at the grass roots level and seeing that leadership grow into positions of power that has allowed us to work with the system this way.  There is capacity in BC now, hopefully enough to take the system through the changes that are now coming, the ones we have prepared for, the ones we are waiting for, the ones we are making.
It takes courage, patience, time, power, stewardship, relationship, and community to do this work.  It takes a common language and shared perspectives and it takes massive diversity and difference to build resourcefulness and resilience. It is costly, both emotionally and materially, and it is not easy work.  It requires a fierce commitment to relationship and a willingness to be at the edge of safety, with one foot out into the dangerous world.  You get uplifted, hurt, angry, and joyful. But it’s a long game and you cannot sacrifice the depth of the work for ease and comfort. And no one person can do it alone.
It is not enough to do some trainings and walk away. The viral network does not just magically appear. Beautiful workshop experiences are only useful for systems change if they are connected to power. It requires staying in.
I just realized a few weeks ago that, although I never intended to work in the field of child and family services, that this may indeed be my life’s work.  It has been nearly 20 years since I first walked into Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services to take on a job organizing their negotiations to become a “delegated agency” able to make decisions for indigenous children and families instead of government doing it.  I think in that time I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to create the capacity in a large system that gives us a chance.  That’s all I can say we’ve done at the moment, but I’m an optimist, so I live with the hope and gratitude that the legacy of the work we have done will make the world better for the kids who suffer the most in it.
I hope that provides some insight on your question, Monica.
Thank you Chris for taking the time to make your insights explicit and sharing the story!!.
This is an important and encouraging lived story!!
And I feel honoured to have been a tiny part or at least a witness to some of the journey.
I will include this in my personal path of research ;-)
And I certainly recognise elements from our own experiences and work.
For me this is an example of a complex system changing with the experience, relationships and capacity built into and between the people participating.
And as you say it has taken 20 years so far - and probably another 20 to come.
Still sitting in the inquiry ….
What if we don’t have the 10-15-20 years???
Is there a simple “pattern” or practice - maybe the next spiral in the four-fold practice that can help us transition from interventions to living it long term and large scale?
And if yes - what are the steps in the journey? - and are they replicable in any context?
Part of the answer here is that we are changing a culture. The only way to change a culture is to change the interactions between agents in a culture. Introducing more diversity and connecting people in a culture to more difference helps to create adaptability. 
But the culture that is emerging in the system here in BC is being countered by the culture of accountability, outcomes and linear causality which has political appeal because it can deliver short term results, but it doesn’t make the system work better for kids and families. 
It’s not that the project is long or short term. It’s permanent. It’s 5 years and 30 years. It doesn’t end. It has no achievement with a static state of bliss at the end of a long journey of many steps. 
There are no easy answers, merely patterns and contexts that change and invite us to do things differently. We must sense what is needed and create responsively. That’s all. Sometimes it works, like Leadership 2020, sometimes like VIATT it fails. But it always moves. 
Hi everybody in here,

I totally agree with "We must sense the genuine needs and create responsively" sort of approach in orientating our thinking too. Putting some measures of sense into the thinking.
Learning is continuing. Natural, very naturally exciting each time it thus is enabled to happen.
Creating an such a manner that, projects maintain their temporality nature, while ensuring that only  their consequences are permanent in any perceivable manner.
Mugyabuso R A
(African rural environment)

Hi all....


I’m loving this conversation because it helps to raise really important questions about one of my own life’s questions as a practitioner  What are the key leverage points for large scale systems change?....a passion of mine since my early days with Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement and later becoming an “accidental consultant” for several decades with senior executive levels in the multi-national corporate world (where, incidentally, the World Cafe was born and initially spread.)


It seems to me that, in addition to large numbers of people in trainings gaining more robust relational and participatory leadership skills, another dimension of architectures for large scale systems change has to do with the design of infrastructures/processes that can then channel the constructive energies that are released from learning programs like AoH or others. 


In the systems dynamics world, there is a mantra that “structure determines behavior”--meaning that the intentional “architecture” of people related infrastructures and processes in the HR/OD world....  things like recruiting processes, reward systems, and even things like building design, determine people’s behavior and therefore, the results we see (good or bad!) In the business strategy world (also in non-profits) this might include the architecture of disciplined strategic planning processes, including data analysis, strategic futuring, scenario analysis etc. as critical elements for creating the outcomes we see.


Many practitioners/consultants as well as those within organizations who are newly exposed to our approaches, may operate with an assumption that learning programs that enhance individual and group capacities for relational integrity and participatory methods will somehow necessarily and organically change organizational level infrastructures that link “business strategy” (ie the design of the “hard” stuff) and “organizational strategy” (the design of the “softer” stuff) into a coherent whole.  


For myself, I’ve found that large scale leadership capacity development (and follow up implementation strategies) in BOTH areas simultaneously are important in discovering the “sweet spot.”  It seems to me that highly developed leadership skills both arenas are critical to thinking and acting systemically in order to gain strategic leverage toward the results organizational leaders and members seek.


Doing this kind of work, as Chris says, can take many years in large organizations, so a stance of both loving patience, thick skinned tenacity and a high tolerance for ambiguity,  as well as an enduring focus on heartfelt human values are qualities essential to engaging in this kind of tough work.


Anyhow, those are early reflections and I still, after these many years, have lots of unanswered questions in my own head and heart, that I’d love to explore with others in our field.


With fond best wishes for a wonderful holiday and deep appreciation for the reflections in this thread,



I am so moved by your description of the long term trajectory of your work. I see so many lessons for what I’ve been attempting to do in journalism. Notably, I’m struck by the inherent evolutionary nature of the four fold practice. 
Can the conversation on AoH in organizations transcend to a social system like education or journalism? I see glimpses, as I think about seeding AoH-inspired workshops in journalism support organizations that reach into journalism organizations. Perhaps along the lines of your farm workers activities Juanita?
Or is this a different conversation?

Peggy Holman
This thread (and your grounded personal reflections particularly Chris) are one of my favourites from anywhere in a long time. You are reinforcing patterns I have lived in, felt, seen and believed in, from further along a similar path.

Thank you Rolf, too, for your ‘forest and hill’ metaphors of where we are in the seeding of the process.


when you feel the beginning of your new spring,
let it blossom
at the speed of the blossoming

do you think this world
does not know
how to change the seasons ¿

— dec. 12, 2005



Hi Juanita and friends

Good to hear your thoughts Juanita. These resonate/coincide very clearly with my own inquiry over the past few years. I have worked exploring the nature of being and acting in complex human systems together with my colleague Mark Gatenby. One result is a focus on the process of co-design. To that end I am very thrilled to announce that we have just published three volumes drawing upon our 6 year long inquiry into practice. Our three strands are designing, developing and learning. The interplay and confluences between them are what we have found in practice to give us a glimpse of co-designing human (and humane) systems. Please do take a look and even purchase if you wish:  (Also found on Amazon)

The learning for us emerged from extended work aimed at bringing back learning into higher education (somewhat ironic!) and also into professional practice in healthcare. The significant individual emotional reactions to learning with others alongside institutional pushback showed to us that new practices and ways of thinking are in the process of being birthed. Of course, birthing is hard and potentially painful, but through intentional co-design such experiences can open up news ways of living and organising. This work also signposts what I describe as a ‘post-organisational’ future where organising is the priority and the organizational paradigm that has held western thinking for the past 100 or so years is lessened in its strength. We go on with our inquiry and our stepping into practice in 2019.

Warmest seasons greetings from the UK

Stefan Cantore  

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