The Art of Hosting

From the emaillist, September '12:

Spent the afternoon today in a collective story harvest process with 25 indigenous nation builders from across the USA.  Four stories harvested through five arcs.  Last week we did the same with 35 people involved in creating community conversations about immigrant and refugee issues in the USA.
In both of these Art of Hosting gatherings we used a World Cafe to ask the question along the lines of "what do we need to learn to accelerate our work?"  The harvest from the cafe were questions which were worked over by a group to create story arcs that we could take to the story harvest process.  Was wonderful to tie the concrete harvest of a Cafe into a learning journey through the story arcs.  Highly recommended as a design.
Also today a couple of us were thinking about using CSH as a methodology for working with keynotes in a conference.  Imagine sitting at eight person conference tables, with everyone receiving a story arc to harvest.  They listen to the keynote, go meet the others who carried the same arcs and then report out their findings to crowd, or just tweet them on a hashtag or something.  Would make the worst part of conferences waaaay better.

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Another story shared by Mary Alice, Oct.'12:

Hello mates!

The latest — and small! -- version of the Collective Story Harvest document is attached (in the coming days we do more of this method this week, another email is coming!).

We’ve just finished our AoH training in Kalundborg, Denmark.  We were a very international and experienced field of 40, including a hosting team.  Many of the participants had been to a prior training and many came with specific projects and initiatives they wanted support on.  The calling question was: HOW CAN WE DEVELOP OUR COLLABORATION WITH PARTNERS AND STAKEHOLDERS IN SERVICE OF THE COMMON GOOD?

Last night we had a powerful Collective Story Harvest.  We listened to four stories:

  • Two from Israel/Palestine — stories of pain and coming together and the continuing struggle for peaceful coexistence
  • One from Japan around the triple disaster — how this experience changed from “going to help the victims” to “supporting us all to live better lives”
  • And from Europe, on the eve of the Nobel Peace Prize award, the story of how the European Union is founded on a story of peace and how Art of Hosting is now moving through this system.

Here are the systemic questions I harvested which could be used anywhere:


  • What give you the ability to move on what you most desire, even if you’re afraid?
  • How do you invite the invitation?
  • What framework or container creates the feeling of embrace with participants?
  • How can we create the spaces where our stories of pain and joy can touch each other?
  • What helps us understand the powerful forces that shape our lives?
  • How do we continue to build and extend the bridges we need to stay in connection and communication with each other?
  • What gives you the energy to break the cycle and create something new?
  • What supports the ability to continue to look forward in hope?
  • What supports us to continue to act from and cherish our humanity?

“I believe our life experience is shaping us, making us who we are.” – Ibrahim
“The real leader is the one who can turn negative energy into positive.” – Ibrahim’s father


  • How do you create a space for the dialogue of difference?
  • What helps to reset a social system to be equally supportive of everyone?
  • What is the beautiful dance between the individual and the collective?
  • What if the focus is simple to help us all have a better life?


  • What causes the “taming” of aggression or conflicted parties?
  • What form could carry the seeds of peace into manifestation?
  • How can pain be the threshold to great collaboration?
  • What helps someone learn something new and be useful when they do?
  • What are the conditions you need to do your best work?
  • What helps us treat each other as partners in our endeavour?
  • What helps us stay joyful in the face of sadness and challenge?
  • What axis needs to be gone into, to shift the current dynamic? Where is the acupuncture point?
  • What minimal structure can support participation and magic to happen?

I have just experienced a Japanese tea ceremony here (thank you, Yurie!) and I raise a cup of the beautiful green brew in your honour,

Mary Alice


Would like to share with you a way I have used CSH in a setting in which the framing of the event was harvested with CSH. Sounds like what Chris and others were contemplating. I used this on two occasions with a group of healthcare innovators in Minnesota. The first winner of a large national grant for healthcare innovation was announced and the story of their work was offered to the other innovators gathered in a keynote address. I did discuss with the presenters what the audience would be listening for ahead of time. One of five arcs were harvested at each table and then the essence was discussed at the tables and harvested to the whole and recorded. The arcs were:

1)What can we learn from this story for application in our own or other systems?

2)What can we learn from this story for use on a larger scale?

3)What questions arise in this story, that we can ask of any system?

4)What happened that may have been a pivotal point? synchronicity? Were there some myth buster moments?

5)What principles of working with complex patients might be applied to working in a complex system?

I mentioned to the "audience" that they were both receiving and giving a gift. The director of the organization telling the story was very moved by the harvest and expressed his appreciation to me individually. Jerry and I co-hosted this group of about 60 innovators last June. I have used this a few times since and it has been well received each time. While this way wasn't as graphic as the beautiful CSHs I have participated in with AoH gatherings, it was an introduction for a "red/blue energy" group of folks that nudged them out of their comfort zones and allowed them to experience collective harvesting:-)


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