The Art of Hosting

Stewardship is a word within the Art of Hosting community that has been the topic of many conversatons. People have been engaging in conversations to find out what it really is about and what it could be; both for the governance/stewardship of our own network and as an art that follows the cycle of: art of invitation -> art of hosting -> art of harvesting -> art of stewardship.

In the practice of offering your gifts to the community, some of us have named themselves and seen each other as stewards of this pattern in the world because we care for the whole and care for the DNA of this pattern. In this circle of Stewards of Art of Hosting has been an interesting conversation going on (via email in 2011). Later, in 2014, there was a revival of this conversation with some beautiful contributions.

Everyone is invited to join this conversation here. Be welcome!

(some context for the governance/stewardship of our network you can find here)

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This interesting thread was started (Jan.23, 2011) by Stephen Duns, stewarding the AoH pattern in Australia.

Hello fellow Stewards,

We are contemplating a “Stewardship Development” program, here in the land of Oz, targeted on people in organisations we work with and who have made a deep commitment to AoH practice.  Three different organisations are wanting to take their AoH practice “to the next level” in a sustainable way.  They are very eager to ensure the quality of practice is maintained at a high level throughout their organisations.  We have proposed the idea of them identifying some champions who could undertake a program to become stewards in their organisation.

We have in mind a six-month program with a half- or one-day per month where they could work together to deepen their practice and theory, including the design piece (e.g. tent poles).

So, do we think this is a good idea?  How could we make it work really well?  What might be the essential elements?

As we develop our thinking I’ll send info to anyone who is interested for feedback and sharing.  So please let me know if you are interested.

Kind regards,

Stephen -

This reach out was immediately followed by a first reaction by Helen Titchen Beeth, working within the European Commission in Brussels.

Dear Stephen,

This is an exciting development. I would love to hear the story of what is unfolding in Oz in more depth. Have you written anything yet? Would you like to be invited into a listening field to tell it?
We are starting to feel our way in this direction at the European Commission, also. What are the elements that you see?
At the Commission, we are beginning also to support the field of practice by offering a diversity of perspectives on the question of how to create the conditions for, and support, the purposeful flourishing of that part of the living system that we are. So not only do we run regular 3-day trainings in the art of participatory leadership, we also offer:
(a) training in action learning (how to be an effective coach/facilitator of this small-group process that focuses on the art of asking questions)
(b) we are about to develop and pilot a specific 2-day session focusing on harvesting - which I suspect will also include an element of storytelling
(c)  the art of consulting - inspired by the wonderful Peter Block - three one-day modules in the various aspects of consulting as a means to influence a system where you yourself have no authority. This is a valuable framework within which to create participatory events and introduce a hosting approach to getting stuff done.
(d) a new focus on understanding the different aspects of adult development, how to understand where people are at in their meaning-making and how to support them, when faced with a stretch, to take the next step (and not a step too far)
(e) a regular forum in which to experience systemic constellations - putting our own projects in the centre. This helps us to understand the wider systemic issues that we are working with, providing insights into difficult sticking points and who else to invite into the conversation in order to open up the field...
Another innovation is that anyone who has attended any of the above offerings is invited to attend monthly 'practice days', designed and hosted by volunteers from among the participants, so that learning can continue and everybody can find support for their project.
One recent insight for me has been the importance, not so much of strong 'stewards', but of having as many 'generations' as possible present and active in the field. From the experienced veterans all the way to the absolute newbies. Having the 'elders' present in the field - even if they are less visibly active in the hosting of events, etc. - is one way of ensuring the 'quality of the field', which is ultimately what we are seeking.
One of the challenges that we see in the Commission - which I assume is common to most organisations - is the obsessive focus on 'core business', and the difficulty individuals encounter in extracting themselves from the daily routine in order to spend time in the 'dojo' with their mates. There is a prevalent mindset of 'needing permission' from the hierarchy or the wider system in order to practice. Which creates a catch-22 situation where the system cannot understand the benefits of having a strong practice field because it won't release people from business as usual for the time it takes to create the conditions for the field to strengthen... What I have noticed is that individual practitioners self-select to champion the field - they are those who value the potential of AoH strongly enough to take a personal stand (sometimes perceived as a 'risk' - although I have never seen anyone actually lose by it!) and make the time and space, one way or another, to create these conditions for their organisation. These are the people with the stuff of 'stewardship' in them. Studies in adult development suggest that these individuals are more 'mature', more 'self-authoring'. We find them spread throughout the organisation, and I notice that they all find ways of developing relationships/friendships with each other, to seek and lend mutual support and learning. I believe that creating occasions for them to come together as a group to inquiry into their next level of practice, and so pool their 'seeing' of the larger system, can exponentially strengthen the field throughout the organisation.
I wonder, though, whether it is possible to devise a 'curriculum' for this... What do others think?


This was followed by a message from another part of the world, South-Africa - Zimbabwe, by Marianne Knuth (Jan.24, 2011).
I think this is a lovely idea, and I would love to learn more. We are in the early stages of creating a community of practice here, and whilst your intention is for stewardship, I think that including some such offering from early on feels like a really powerful way to build the capacity of our community here.
Marianne -

And a whole lot more emails on the same day! Next one came from New York:
In the US and in business communities in particular, we also see the champions spread out throughout the system that is dying (reference to the 2-loop model developed by Berkana). They are the hospice workers that also in many ways are championing what is being born. Its an important function. In working within their organization they shelter and nourish the prototype when it is in a vulnerable state. They also sense tipping points and can introduce and suggest change at that point. Also, importantly they can support others outside their system by offering resources and wisdom.
So its not just about walking out. Some that remain are providing critical support.

But its also important that they have support. To this end a community like ours that is open, and other translocal communities of practice need to connect and share stories and wisdom. An AoH "event" is just one step in the journey. Increasingly in the US we are connecting together beyond the event and in sustained community across professions.

Another powerful hobbit tool is a personal practice that connects one's life purpose to the larger source.

Martin Siesta

Bob Wing, from Colorado in the US and Aikido practitioner since very long, thanked Stephen for opening this conversation and added:
Of course I am always interested in "next level" adventures and quality of practices. Please keep sharing with me and I will be happy contributing as seems useful.

Next again a voice from Europe, this time Croatia:
I am interested too to be part of this journey... I was for years with my friend and colleague Jasmina in a similar position in a large organisation. Structured help and support would have been a great help (although we got as much as possible from the AoH network). Our organisation was not ready to take that "official" step to support us form outside, so maybe my insights can support those who are willing to do it! Happy to help by reflecting, co-creating ... whatever fits to your plans.
Many regards,

(more in the next comments)

Back to the original thread of Stewardship Development, and a template of how it could be done, build on own experience by Nancy Fritsche Eagan:

Hi Stephen,

I like what you are proposing.  After my first AoH at Bowen Island in 2005 where - even though we had a superb hosting team (including Tenneson, Teresa and Toke) - my colleague Angela Amel and I realized that we were not prepared to dive into this work on our own.  On the way back home to New York City and on a layover at the airport - we got online and began to look into how we could study each of the practices on its own - to really understand the structures and uses of each process.  So we signed up for a Circle Practicum with Christina and Ann; we took a 4-day Appreciative Inquiry course; a 3-day retreat with Harrison Owen on Open Space Technology; a 3-day retreat with Otto Scharmer on U-Theory; and we attended several systems theory and World Café workshops at Pegasus conferences.  We called it a "our year of learning".  
We also called an AoH in the New York area - after which we formed a Community of Practice and met every 2-4 weeks to practice and co-learn together.  We apprenticed at other AoH's and we began to weave ourselves into this AoH learning community.  In addition we sought coaching from some of the AoH stewards.
I offer this template of a development program because I think that it is invaluable to understand the distinctions of each process/practice and that the AoH integration is intentional and offers how to design, weave and host strategic conversations.  There are so many practices to learn - including the 6 breaths of design and the chaordic stepping stones, etc.  The process of invitation and harvesting is also further deepened in our AoH work.  This journey can be done in monthly segments and some AoH practitioners may also want to wander out to study a practice and bring that back to your learning community.  We are now in a deep inquiry on "harvesting and sustainable change" and are looking to learn "holocracy" -- weaving this back into our work.  We are also part of a trans-local community of practitioners (primarily in the eastern portion of North America) - inquiring into how we can learn from other CoP's particularly in working with the realities of their organizations and communities.  
I recommend that as part of the "Stewardship Development" you consider offering the Circle Practicum with Christina and Ann who also use World Cafe and Open Space in their design. It provides an understanding of the power of circle and how it is used in all of these methodologies. It also attends to the role of host and guardian and building a strong container.  It is difficult to duplicate this depth of learning in a monthly format. 
It will be wonderful to hear about your "Stewardship Development" journey and love what others are also offering here.
Take care,
(more to come)
Still from the same date, and now relating to one of the first documents written in this AoH community:
Hello Nancy, I really appreciate your wanting to go deeply into the different methodologies - respecting the deeper patterns and assumptions behind each of them.
Knowing the basics well is probably a prerequsite to "improvisation".

I think that we defined some principles in the Stewards Gathering at the Shire in 2005 - this was one of them. (to be found on this page)

Nurturing stewardship and being a community that learns is for me the most attractive way of stewarding the quality and integrity of AoH. (It appels to me more than systems, definitions & rules etc.)

So thanks Stephen for starting this thread and thanks for everyone's contributions!


And one more voice to stress the importance of ongoing practice in relation to stewardship - by Toke:
Thank you Nancy and Stephen for your sincere and sustained efforts and ongoing practice for your self and others. It is - I find too - indeed an ever deepening journey of practice, connecting, understanding, trying it out and falling in love with the inner flow and the basics of the methods and tools... working it all in the fire of real work, for real people and our beautiful planet at this time.

Loving life within and in all makes it so come alive...

Other voices who supported this inquiry, and then Nancy again, replying to Monica:
Hi Monica, Yes, I do think that knowing the basics is a pre-requisite to "improvisation." And I do chose "improvisation" and AoH over any single process. And I do wonder what would have been different if there was a local community of practice in place to learn with at the beginning of my journey. And I loved the journey we took. Our community has evolved. I love that about AoH. And the rules and structures don't matter - except if you don't understand that there were rules and structures, you are not appreciating the story and the nuance of a particular practice or methodology. I love that we are a learning community - experimenting with the edges - filled with purpose and intention -- inviting what wants to come and acting on what we are being called to do at this time in the world. It is about love.
Thank you again Stephen.
Take care.

(a few more!)
Hunger for the next - more of Circle Practice - the message from Tenneson:
The hunger for that next is strong in me also. It shows up in many of the beginnings now. As intention. As need. Similar to Nancy has spoken, my experience has been to recommend more circle practice. I feel that if people can get that, the stillness, the deliberateness, the conditions for life to flow through -- then it is easier to take other practices to a deeper level.

I have also given much attention to CoP in the last year. To get a rhythm of meeting that is focused on one project per time. That has worked well to deepen relationship in service to specific projects.

All simple. All learned and strengthened with support from many of the mates here.


And I know that it is getting kind of long, but this is information that is really at play, and gives a sense of what is living right now in the community.
So, next one is Lina, offering a practical proposal, sending her message from Argentina, but...
Speaking for Chicago / Illinois, we are very interested in deepening our practice here to respond to demand and to expand our reach. We are eager to build our CoP and learn with others. As our respective CoPs grow across the globe, I propose that we take advantage of the World Cafe's Virtual Cafe capacity - via Maestro. I believe it would be a very effective way for us to meet, be in the same inquiry and deepen our respective & collective understanding and practice.

Abrazos del sur

More on the Community of Practice, by Jerry:
Hello Stephen and mates, Thank you to all for this thread of exploration opened by Stephen. Much has been offered and the sharing has been helpful as we explore similar questions here in Minnesota. We are developing a CoP associated with an initiative called InCommons. 34 people participated in an AoH in January (co-hosted by Toke, Tuesday and me) and 30 more will participate in April (to be co-hosted by Toke, Monica, Tuesday and me). All participants are committed to engaging their communities in dialogues on issues of local concern. We expect this community of hosts to grow in the coming years. It is hoped that over time how conversations take place in Minnesota will shift – much like Columbus - Ohio. To help sustain the effort and maintain a degree of integrity a small group of stewards is emerging. This group is exploring what it means to be a steward, how they can be of service to the larger InCommons initiative and to the hosting practitioners. They are also exploring ways to support and deepen the co-learning of the practitioners from the AoH trainings by holding webinars, conference calls, and one-day trainings that explore at a deeper level specific practices like circle or Theory U or others.

In addition, another 40+ people in Minnesota have participated in AoH/AoPL (Art of Participatory Leadership) trainings and 30+ in South Dakota. It is possible another 39+ will participate in an AoH this year in South Dakota. So, our community is growing. Which also brings in questions of how we can connect these various practicing and learning groups into a regional CoP. We are also working with participants in AoPL training that Chris, Ginny and I are doing in Minnesota to support and strengthen their use of practices at the local level by offering shorter one or two-day trainings to introduce AoH to local colleagues. We have several of these scheduled.

Finally we are committed to building the capacity in our little region of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota to be able to co-host AoH trainings ourselves. At the January AoH that Toke, Tuesday and I co-hosted we had 5 apprentice hosts. In April Toke, Monica, Tuesday and I will work with four of those apprentice hosts and 2-4 more. These apprentice hosts will be invited to continue there learning as hosts at the one-day introduction activities mentioned above.

So, I welcome joining in this exploration and hope our experiences and learnings here on the prairies can contribute in some small way and that we can co-learn from all of you as we travel this journey. As we explore this thread, one area I am interested in and writing about is the Art of Hosting worldview. I am interested in deepening our understanding beyond the living systems (natural sciences) to include human sciences (postmodernism). Many people that are familiar with the dialogic practices that I introduce to Art of Hosting tell me that what really makes a difference for them is the wholeness of AoH and that it brings together the practices into a way of being, seeing and practicing in the world.

Thank you Nancy for sharing your journey and to all for reminding us of the importance of deepening our own learning. Your journey is much like mine. I too, after years of practicing World Café and then participating in a weeklong Otto Sharmer workshop, sought to deepen my practice. That led me to my first AoH in Gold Lake in 2006, to a 3-day OST training with Lisa Heft, a 4-day Appreciative Inquiry training, the Circle Practicum with Christina and Ann and now a deep exploration into Compassionate Listening.

In peace,
jerry -
(still not finished!)
More on Circle Practice and the power of Communities of Practice from Tenneson:
A few offerings into it...

Teresa and I just finished hosting in Boston. As closing reflections I offered something I've been sharing for about a year now. Intended as invitation for people to deepen in, go further. I've been pointing them to circle (yes to PeerSpirit). An "if you like what is here and want to improve your ability, get circle. Get the silence. Get the listening. Get the energetic tending. Get the experience of creating a center through which inspiration can arrive." Something like that.

Whenever I host in OS sessions, I follow the pattern of welcoming, checking in, sharing, harvesting, checking out, closing. Such a good rhythm. I still see aha's from people when they participate. "Oh wait, I get it. You're hosting a circle in this OS learning group. Cool." Fun to see the lights go on.

Nancy and the NY gang have been big inspirations for me on going from AoH into deeper dives with any of the methods. Yea. Thanks. Over the years, I feel like you've lived and invited CoP that is rich in shared learning. I particularly like how some of you have gone out to learn on behalf of the whole, and then bring it back to share.

In my local CoP I stewarded a lot and offered four workshops in 2010. These were half-day trainings. Circle. Cafe. Open Space. 12 Principles for Healthy Community Change. And, we began meeting monthly in a Practitioners Circle. The date is always the same -- 3rd Thursday of each month. We have two criteria for meeting. One to meet in circle (welcome, checkin, topic dialogue, harvest, checkout). Two, it must be for applied use (one person's project per month). This is a model I've shared in AoH that Chris, Teresa, Caitlin and I have done the last eight months or so to kick off or strengthen local CoPs in Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary, Boston -- cool to see it being helpful as one choice to get started. Have been sharing basic invitations, formats, etc. that people can start with and then riff from.

My energy personally is far more in working the long term change with people, be it in a region for open-enrollment AoH or with a client system. Exploring from the start, 1-2 year plans/choices with them for what we hope is broader skill, capacity, commitment to learning, friendship, and shared work. I'm also finding that my energy is shifting into other aspects of AoH that I'm committing time to learning and experiencing well. One for me is intuitive knowing or intuitive intelligence. Another is consciousness shifting from some of the physics world.

Wanting to share some of this out, the sparks from this thread. And a bit of a voice from the circle into the center on the excitement here, as well as some of the ideas of possibility.


and a nice overview on Communities of Practice by Teresa:

I think this is a very interesting thread. I do think within our communities of practice we are looking well beyond the initial AoH into several things: 1) Deeping individual “methods/models” training or experience within a community of Practice. Looking for a year to 18-month plan for an AoH community that grows skills/practice opportunities and knowledge. It’s not just in “apprenticing on AoHs” that we get that skill/training. Some communities of practice have these skills within, others are needing to go on “out” to find them. What if we are offering 1-2 day sessions on individual processes to help support people getting deeper? What if we’re encouraging local communities of practice to bring in the gifted folks in their own community to help with learning. (Like in Chicago there is a long AI tradition with Imagine Chicago, and great OS talent).

2) Strategically using AoH as part of larger change efforts: seeing where we can be applying these skills in our local context to create change. If this is in an Org Context then growing the team to take those on together. We’re building this capacity in March with the National Park Service and Lauri Prest has done this within Providence care as part of the change leadership capacity. (among other examples)

3) Working wiser as a NETWORK – leaning into the skills/wisdom here. I do think more COPs like the Healthcare one will help us move things within a network and connect the learning. Other constellations are also necessary. I was thinking of some of “domain” expertise each of us has and how we use that. For example talking locally with Domestic Violence shelter and knowing I’d want to have Tuesday as a thinking partner for the “dialogs around prevention.” And Monica Puhlmann around some of the sustainability work, and Chris this last year on fisheries. We’re also connecting around “kids and families” and reducing childhood trauma. It looks so far like Washington, Illinois, and perhaps NY. The domains are very compelling to me as we become “trans-local communities of practice” – and need each others case-stories to drive change. We also need to be making this type of strategic connection.

YES to intentionally growing COPs at a local level, Yes to individual learning journeys deep into the tools and models, YES to naming the local strategic work and using our web to connect it translocally and make our work more powerful.

That’s really exciting to me and it really is the “go in” story as we are founding local COPs these days. Just this weekend Massachusetts and Vermont started their COPs. We’ll be working with them in alignment with this framework.

Love Teresa
Ria - sending you much gratitude for sharing this tapestry of conversation. I confess that the art of stewardship is still veiled in mystery for me (I haven't yet read all the documents in the link you provided), but as someone in their early steps in the AoH I loved reading this, particularly Nancy's description... I'm doing nearly the same thing by going into deep learning on each practice. And Tenneson's comment about more circle practice...  that holds something for me but I'm not quite sure what it is (but I know the wise one in me knows!).

Thanks Amanda, for your nice words.

I think what is to find in deeper circle practice is the deeper and subtler listening that we all need in this work, and in how we are moving to the next iteration...

Dear Ria:

Thank you for harvesting the nuggets of this thread and weaving them here. Several of us are holding conversations regarding open conference calls we will hold regarding Stewarding. I will be happy to update people and announce the invitations to join the calls here in the coming months. Lisa

Thanks Lisa, will be a great contribution here!
I want to offer in this tread also a documented that started to be written by Chris C. and his wife Caitlin, Tenneson and Teresa. I have editted some to make it more readable and it links the concept and practice of stewardship with apprenticing. Enjoy reading and as always: reflections more than welcome!

Thanks for starting this conversation, Ria! I found it enormously helpful and illuminating, especially the document you referenced in your 9/9/11 post. Tim Merry's video ( is also quite brilliant! It helped me get a better sense of where I'm at with AOH (I would venture to say a practitioner in need of more practice and apprenticeship!), what stewards offer, and where I'd like to go.

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