The Art of Hosting

From the emaillist, summer '12:


Ah, what a patch of weeds I've found!  I have gleefully begun a process of divergence and invite you to join.
How might we fold in new process participants while building on the results of previous sessions?  
How might we welcome new folks as equal participants while showing returning folks that their earlier contribution is part of this process?
We might..
  • repeat some of the earlier session (posing a similar question again to re-surface similar themes) [but are we 'reinventing the wheel'?]
  • ask questions about it (offering an opportunity to review the harvest with a new question in mind) [but what of those who do not learn by reading bullet-point lists?]
  • weave earlier work into the new session (utilizing language from the previous questions or harvest in our new questions) [but will it be too convoluted, compound, complex?]
  • use other strategies...?
What have you done? What works? I am diverging and looking for options.
What doesn't work? What variables might we weigh in a process of converging into a choice of strategy?
Amy K. Watson
Hi Amy,

Very good questions you pose. My 2cents:

- Make sure the new participants feel included. Meaning, clarity on: why they weren't there in the previous sessions? Why are they here now?
- Use collective storytelling in sharp, concise ways. Ask the already exisiting participants to co-create a brief way to introduce the new ones to what has happened before via a short story that summarizes the key facts / stories / learnings. 

Hope this helps,

Thank you, Marco!
The reason for the shift in group makeup is that we are doing this series in a faith community and chose to do the series without asking for a solid commitment from all participants to be part of all the sessions.  Many who attended the first session will return because they raved about it, but some will be unable to return because of other needs and commitments.  New folks will be invited, and it's quite likely they will attend because they've heard great things.
Love the idea of having folks from the last session catch new folks up with some concise, "sharp" storytelling.  Helping them be concise and 'sharp' is the challenge--this community is notorious for appreciating nuances, and thus wind up telling stories that may wander on a bit...
I also work with a variation of story harvests quite a bit at a biannual gathering of digital rights activists I'm involved in. In a group of 40-50 participants, we work with a circulating talking piece and a time restriction. Those who want to contribute to the story take up to one minute to speak - afterwards, the next person either continues with their take on the same aspect, or adds a new element. As people speak, I visualize along a timeline. After the harvest, I ask (especially) new people to reflect back on what they heard, and what questions come up for them.
What doesn't work so well yet: because of the size of the group and the multitude of issues, the timeline easily becomes chaotic. What I might try next time: asking speakers to write the aspect they spoke about on a post-it (together with the position on the timeline), asking sequencing questions to harvest one step at a time, covering a shorter time period (two years was too long). 
All the best * Wiebke
One thing I have been doing is to create what Tim Merry and others have been calling "circles of commitment" around an ongoing project.  
Essentially when you begin a project run an exercise where people step into a series of concentric circles.  Define what each one means and what level of commitment it will take for them to be involved.  The centre circle is the core team and requires ongoing commitment to stay present to decisions and be involved in design.  The next circle out is one of supporters who can come less frequently and who can lend support and help.  Outside that there are other circles for those who are infrequent attendees and all the way out to those who are happy simply knowing the work is happening.  You have to define what these circles are as a group.
This governance/participation structure then invites gifts to be used according to the amount of time people have.  It means that the core team has to create multiple processes and structures to include folks at different levels and it means that the harvest and information sharing is critical (but you knew that already, eh?  ;)  ).  The benefit is that the core is held and there are multiple ways to come in.  When a core team member needs to step away, someone can come into the core team from one of the inner circles with less disruption to the whole.
Reflect on that for a while and see what you come up with.
Yes!!! I've also found allowing participants to self-select from among concentric circles of commitment hugely helpful. We honor the wisdom of the individual by inviting each person to put herself or himself into the picture where s/he is called, and we serve the collective by creating a way for the whole group to see where/how everyone fits in. New participants, too, can relate at a glance to how the effort is organized. In my experience, the people at the center often become "story-keepers" -- the ones who hold the central intention and bring with them the collective history and wisdom from meeting to meeting, conversation to conversation, setting to setting.
Interesting to ponder how those who "hold the whole" sit both at the center (in the concentric circle diagram) and at the furthest edges (I think here of the AoH eagles). Are these two distinct roles? How do we hold the both/and of this "holding the whole" -- particularly in groups where turnover is embraced and supported? No answers, just questions...
Dear Wiebke and all,
My initial spark for the pro action Café was the intent to reconnect people that had come together on a shared development experience and have them weave their projects and initiatives. 
In Brussels I had hosted a community of change agents and we met regularly one evening per month to explore what one of the community members had come up with. With the cafe we found a format that allows for one out of four can do so, the others contribute as travellers and move from one table to the other bringing their wisdom from project to project. The cafe became the community operating system, and meets since more than 8 years now regularly ... and in quite a few places now such pro action cafe communities have started since. 


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