The Art of Hosting

From the emaillist, May 2015.

Dear AoH colleagues,


During the writing of my dissertation I sought to develop a list of principles and values that reflect both an Art of Hosting and relational constructionist approach to the work we do. I offer the listing here in the spirit of sharing, invitation for reflection and opportunity for further co-creation.


In peace,






  • Conversations matter and conversation is the way we think, make meaning together and build strong relationships that invite real collaboration.
  • Meaningful conversations lead to wise actions. We seek to explore what can be done rather than what cannot.
  • We work from a place of appreciation and not judgment, bringing play and improvisation to imagining new ways to go on together.
  • Curiosity and judgment do not live well together. If we are judging we cannot be curious.
  • Hosting meaningful conversations opens up the space for collective inquiry and finding collective intelligence. We shift from individuals being responsible for decisions to being relationally responsible to each other.
  •  We work to co-create in friendship and partnership.
  • We listen from a place of not knowing so that we “are more open to other(ness), to multiple voices, and to possibilities”.
  • We show up to our work fully present, not distracted, prepared, clear about what is needed and the contributions we have to offer.
  • The practice is the work.



  • Being curious is essential and being curious means being willing to step into a place of not knowing.
  • Diverse perspectives open up new possibilities. All the voices from all local forms of life are welcome and invited into the conversation without fear.
  • We create and hold space for a multiple of local realities to be in dialogue with each other in different but equal relationship.
  • As practitioners we work toward the common good. We are committed to making the world as a whole a better place.
  • We believe in human goodness. We work to support personal aspirations.
  • We work in the place of emergence without preconceived notions of what must happen, instead allowing what wants to come forth to emerge. We trust in the not knowing. We trust in the generative field of co-creation.
  • Participation by all is central to the work.
  • We take time to be aware of our own prejudices and habits and take time to reflect on our (re)actions as part of our ongoing learning as hosts.
  • We practice generosity. We share what we know and invite others into the field of co-learning.


Hey there…

How are you distinguishing between principles and values?  

Hi Chris,


These two words are often used interchangeably and sometimes one is used to define the other, so we could get into all kinds of deep weeds around your question. For me, as I reflected on the difference and developed the list, I equated principles more with modes of action – how we go about our work or a characteristic of behavior – and values more in an axiological sense as in the realm of how we valuate something (i.e. how we determine what is good or evil to us or what is beautiful or not to us) so how might we evaluate our work, what is ethical, moral, or aesthetic.


And, all of this could be challenged, that’s the beauty of philosophical exploration.


In peace,




Deep weeds for sure. But I'm excited to go there. I think it helps us to have a good theoretical basis and understanding of what we are doing and why it works when it works. 
A technical term I have been introduced to is "heuristics" which I understand as experienced based principles. It's a sort of pithy statement about how you know in your gut what to do. It's sometimes distinguished from principles by being less lofty, more grounded and basically a "rule of thumb" that helps you operate in many different contexts. ("Rule of thumb" has  controversial origin in English being derived from the law which specified the width of a stick that a man could use to beat his wife with. So I try not to use the term but it helps to illustrate what a heuristic is)
The way you are using principles looks like this. These could be answers to the question "how do you know what to do when you don't have a plan?"  Answers to these questions might be:
"When no one person has the answer, pause and have a conversation."
"When exploring a problem listen with curiosity when evaluating options agree together on how to judge the options."
"When entering a conversation remove all distractions and be totally present." 
These kinds of guidelines could be really helpful because they illuminate deep practice and the kinds of intuitive decisions practitioners make when confronted with a new situation. 
And above those I see values, that point at what you are saying, indicate what we consider good
Things like:
Conversation matters. 
Generosity is important. 
Each person has something to offer. 
That sort of thing. When these values are violated, we might find ourselves instinctively reacting negatively to the violation. 
Your list is really helpful and inspiring to me because I feel like I could use it to generate a set of basic guidelines or heuristics for practice based in your research and the experiences practitioners shared with you. This might become an important addition to our training material to accompany the four fold practice. 
Great stuff mates
hunting for practical clarity - useful in the moment of living as it happens
keep it going……
it could become useful for many of us
A bow

Dear Chris, 
please have a look at:
best regards,

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and more interesting contributions!

Hello Chris, Jerry and all,

I have since a long time been wondering about these words and similar ones - like working with a team that realized that 'rules' didn't work anymore for their clients, as there were too many exemptions from the rules... then what? I offered them look into principles instead of rules, that could be applied in different circumstances. In this case I used principles as Chris has pointed out below: How do you know what to do when you don't have a plan?

I'm wondering Chris how this works out when we apply values to the different areas that Dave Snowden is talking about? Aren't values what can be beneath all the domains, but the rules, principles and heuristics how these values are translated into the different domains??? I haven't really sat down to see if this makes sense, but I trow it in anyway...

with love,

To put an alternative view, from the perspective of natural language philosophy, there’s the old adage, “ ‘Beliefs’ are for things that aren’t true. ‘Values' are for what you don’t do.”


Beliefs and values are abstract concepts that are prized by consultants who seem to have fallen under the spell of psychologists.


They in turn entice leaders and HR people to waste millions every year on identifying beliefs and values in their organisations.  And possibly embark on programs variously to understand them, challenge them or change them.


Another way of dealing with ‘beliefs’ and ‘values’ is to stop treating them as if they were real things like IT systems or pay packets (which it can make sense to understand or to change).  Instead look at how the words are used in everyday language - that is in normal speech rather than as technical terms in pseudo-brain-science or management jargon.


People only bother to say they believe in something when there’s a good chance that what they say they believe is likely to be challenged.  For example, ‘I believe in homeopathy’,  ‘The politician believes in strong monetary policy’, ‘Do you believe in God?'


And values are invoked (in organisations) when there’s a strong prospect that they are not being implemented.  When an organisation tells you that their top value is safety or putting the customer first, or a colleague mentions their integrity or respect, you’d better watch out.  If those don’t go without saying, you are entitled to be suspicious.


We can then ask relatively simpler questions, such as ‘What do you want to achieve?’ or ‘Is this a worthwhile project?’; relatively simpler because there’s no need to visit the complicating layer of ‘beliefs’ and ‘values’.  I see heuristics and guidelines as practical lists derived from what works well on specific projects.  If something else then turns out to work better, we adapt what we do and adapt the heuristic.




In Human Systems Dynamics, we use simple rules (or seed behaviors as many like to call them.) The behaviors that set conditions, together, for the kind of system-wide patterns you want (no matter the scale of the system.) You might find this helpful:

I’ve used this at all scales, individually, a team of senior leaders wanting to be better at communication with each other, and a department with 30+ ministries trying to become a more cohesive, effective and efficient network. Would love to hear what you think! Lecia
The short answer - and I'm just throwing this out here to see if it feels right - is that values transcend all of the domains. Rules are useful in ordered systems (simple and complicated) and heuristics at useful in unordered systems. 
This is why for example I prefer not to start a contentious meeting with "Rules" but instead ask the group what makes for a productive conflict resolution meeting?  From there we can adopt some practices that we can apply no matter what comes up. So "everyone gets only five minutes" feels too hard but "use a talking piece" achieves the value of "all voices matter" no matter what the context. Much more useful for moving in complex situations. 
Yes Paul. When I'm working with a group and this conversation is important we try to find enacted values versus espoused ones. Espoused values are the things you say you believe and enacted values are what you actually believe as revealed through your behaviour. These can often be radically different and you can make big strategic errors if you understand them wrong. 
On my little island where I live we say we want tourists. It would seem to be a good way to build the local economy. But we have no hotels and no camping and everyone grumbles all the time about how the tourists make the ferries overload. We actually don't like tourists. 
Making economic development decisions based on what we SHOULD believe leads to conflict and anxiety. So we first have to change our actual enacted value about tourism before being strategic or we make decisions out of integrity with who we actually are. 
The way to find enacted values is through lots and lots of stories. Jerry's research is some of the first done on the AoH community that helps us see our espoused values. 
Fascinating stuff folks. Thank you.
Reading Jerry’s list of principles last night I have been ruminating on what unites us as the global AoH community?
Some of those principles rang true for me and some were not in alignment with my current thinking and practice. Where I landed was that we are united by one of the founding questions of AoH “What if hosting / participation is the way to lead change now?” … (Toke may correct this as it was an OST session he hosted but that is how I remember it!)
It seems like we are all on a shared inquiry with an enormous diversity of principles, practices, methods, ways of turning up, people we work with etc and it is the range of practitioners and perspectives that makes this such a rich learning environment.
It may not be our shared principles or our values that is the interconnecting fabric of this community but our shared work of exploring how greater participation can get us greater results for the common good at this time on the planet ….
On a radio program I heard today, the host of the show was talking about racism in the United States. He stated an opinion, which for some would have been off. For some, dead wrong. For some spot on.
His point, a self-critique, and from the privilege of being a talk show host, was that when it comes to racism, nobody is right. It's not the rightness that is the point. It is that the dialogue is engaged thoughtfully.
A few years back I worked with some leaders of a university theatre department. "Why theatre?" was one of the questions we engaged. I was impressed with what they spoke. "Because it creates a forum for society to open it's own critical discussions." Indirectly in that case.
I love the list, Jerry. And I love the clarification Chris and others. Particularly on "principles as used here connote a kind of action" while "values as used here connote a general statement of importance." I can and will use this.
Ain't no finish line here. In my experience I've seen conversations like this spike up for a time. Then reside. I've participated and really enjoyed it. Felt like I learned something that I used for a season. 
Nuanced notions such as these will need revisiting often. It seems to happen naturally. For some every couple of months. For some once a decade. The critical engagement evolves the practice. Then likewise, the practice evolves the critical engagement.
My two cents, with appreciation,

and more...

Thank you Jerry for sharing this work.  I think it is useful and important, if we are going to work with issues that matter, for values to be named and, at least at times, to be centre stage.

And thank you, Chris for highlighting the distinction between enacted and espoused values.

If we reflect on why there is so often a difference between enacted and espoused values (in others and in ourselves), it seems clear that something more is going on than just some people being dishonest and wanting to manipulate us.

I have been living an inquiry for the last few years coming out of Schwartz's social psychology work around universal human values, that is unpicked a bit on this link from a publication by UK NGO's.

The 'bleedover effect' and the 'see-saw effect' mentioned frequently feel relevant to me in my practice, i.e. that we can stimulate one set of values, by strengthening what on this model would be neighbouring values and that equally, values can be suppressed by stimulating values that are seen as opposing on this model.

I think we know this intuitively, appreciating nature and the beauty of the world tends to help us be more curious and collaborative, whilst someone exercising authority and the need for unquestioning conformity to tradition will tend to undermine the values we are seeking to promote.

Where this takes me is that, I think, it can be as important to name the values we want to suppress as the values we want to promote.  (I think we tend to have an aversion to this, as we want to be all inclusive and not risk offending anyone etc).  Whether, it is useful in a particular context to talk about values at all is a choice, but if we do talk about them then I think there is also the choice about whether or not  we name what are likely to be conflicting values.  I think we all know that naming the difficult stuff can be what opens up a space and new possibilities ....

There are bits of Scvhwartz's model that don't sit right for me, but I do think questions around things like our relationship with power, individual's needs for security, individual's needs for a sense of achievement and the urges we feel for conformity are important aspects of what we work with.

I am reminded of the Lao Tzu quote along the lines of

"Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles.
Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory.
Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time."

I feel uncomfortable at the idea that there is an enemy, but I think it probably is a useful way to look at it sometimes and my suspicion is that my practice probably could do with knowing and naming an enemy a bit more.  And then, there is another difficulty, that it could be seen that the enemy is paying me ....  And then, there is another difficulty again, that it could be seen that the enemy lies within .... this is an inquiry that continues for me !

Anyway, there's one thought at least - maybe in discussing values, we should sometimes name and seek to understand the values we are seeking to suppress as much as those we seek to promote ?  I'd be really interested in hearing other perspectives.

Very best regards

Chris Chapman
it continues...
Great Chris. 
There is a book by John Kay which talks about "Obliquity" which to me is the strategy to use when getting at these values. In other words instead of addressing a problem head on ("what are our guiding principles?") we instead address it from another angle; obliquely. ("Tell stories about the successes and failures you've had hosting groups"). If we be sure to gather a fine level of detail and lots of examples about these stories we can then ask the group to identify patterns of values and principles. That way we get at the enacted values and principles without people offering thoughts that they are cognitively entrained or ideas that they are trying to impose on others. 
I have been running cafes and circles lately where we do this exercise and quickly discover the values and principles by which the groups organize themselves. This provides us with a very useful set of knowledge for making strategic decisions and helps illuminate the values and principles that help things flow and others that cause things to stop. Any groups for example say they love collaboration but in fact they do things in a hierarchical way. This gives you good information about what to change and what values to support or suppress. Through lots of stories the patterns become clear and we get a good picture of what we ACTUALLY believe. 


More from the emaillist:

Hi Friends,

Just to throw in a couple more ideas that I also picked up from Cognitive Edge.

I have started using the idea of Parables instead of values. A parable is a specific story that can actually hold a lot of complex information in a simple way. When I read a parable, it doesn't tell me what I should do, and yet it provides enough implicit direction for me to apply it to my context/situation, and then from there decide what I could do or at least have some options. Does that make sense? A parable can hold the space between too detailed and too vague/generic.

How you construct organisational parables is a separate point.

Another idea that I have been using is also "more stories like this" and "less stories like that"... a story can hold a lot of information and it is also easier for people to share a story as an example of what they would like to see more of or less of... and then from these stories you can start to extract shared views/feelings about direction, about values, about principles, etc...

Anyway, these are two ideas that I am playing with and finding helpful and finding that people get them very easily...

Smiles Bhav...
Hello Bhavesh and community. I really appreciate this piece about parables and stories. Folk tales and fairy tales and the "once long ago" or "way back when stories" really do hold a lot of meaning, that can be digested in many ways. And they are inspiring and can be used in a spacious way that allows for diversity and the shared exploration of meaning and mystery.  Thanks Bhavesh.  Rose

Ah yes. One of the reasons why the story of hobbits has traveled through our community over the year is that it contains many lessons about "mateship" trust and having each other's back. The lord of the rings is sort of a users guide to the kind of community of practice that we see among AoH practitioners. This particular parable contains much essential information that would be lost in a traditional terms of reference. Chris Corrigan
onward hobbits, fairies, trees, humans, wizards and dwarfes, the journey never have would have succeeded without all of you and your special gifts and flaws... rose

Happy to share and here are a couple of blogs to dig a bit deeper:


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