WHAT IS POSSIBLE WHEN WE GATHER
This was the call for this Art of Hosting training for South East NSW. We chose Cobargo as a symbolic place of community-led bushfire recovery and also to acknowledge the hosting work that has already taken place here.
Cobargo is located on the Far South Coast, on the land of the Djiriganj people of the Yuin nation. The village forms part of the “Triangle” region, with Quaama to the South, Bermagui to the East and Tilba to the North - where the sacred mountain Gulaga rises.
The village of Cobargo and surrounding areas were severely impacted by the Black Summer fires, and since that time many in the community have been working hard to bring about recovery and renewal for the village and region. There has been a great deal of energy and work by many individuals, groups and agencies over many months. There is great need for this work and energy to continue well into the future.
Locating the training in Cobargo aims to support those who have been tirelessly working for the future of the village and region, by offering additional skills, motivation and energy to the recovery efforts. The training will also financially support local businesses and organisations who have been challenged by the double impacts of bushfire and Covid 19 restrictions.
Close to 50 people attended, mostly from the South East of NSW, particularly the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and the Shoalhaven. Others came from as far north as Cairns to Deniliquin in the West and the Oregon (USA) to the East.
The calling question for this 3 day training: What is possible when we gather to connect and strengthen our community to face the future together?
Rodney Kelly, Djiriganj Elder, offered us a smoking ceremony as part of his Welcome to Yuin Country. He shared the story of his ancestor, the Gweagal warrior Cooman, and how Captain James Cook and his men stole his shield and spears, and took them back to England. He spoke passionately about his quest to reclaim the precious shield and spears on behalf of his Gweagal people.
We shared our names and our Country to begin our time together.
We are sharing here what we learned, to serve as a reminder and inspiration for bringing this practice to our work and lives.
The gift I am taking with me:
I am grateful for:
OUR EXPERIMENTAL AND IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE
Over three days we were immersed in an experience for deepening competency and confidence in hosting participatory group processes, and our own personal leadership. Everyone was invited to step up to practice hosting and harvesting for the training, with the support of the hosting team. Here’s an overview of the ground we covered.
Art of Hosting practices
The Art of Hosting is more than a suite of participatory processes – it’s also a practice field for hosting and harvesting conversations that matter and our learning comes from practice. We were introduced and invited into these foundational practices:
The Four Fold Practice
The Four Fold Practice forms the basis of all good hosting and you can practice these any time. It is known as the ‘DNA’ of the Art of Hosting and is foundational to all that we do and how we show up in any situation.
Circle is both a foundational form and practice in Art of Hosting and a key process. The particular pattern we use in AoH is that of the Circle Way - described as a way of being in the world, a structure for deep conversation and wise outcomes, a methodology founded by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea and a growing movement of global practice.
The Circle Way gathers people into a circular shape with participants at the rim and the purpose in the centre. Each person has a voice and can see and hear every other person. Social agreements and practices help the practice of respectful conversation. Circle helps us move from social space into a reverent space of purposeful being and doing together.
The Art of Harvesting
What if we’re not planning for a meeting, rather we’re planning for a harvest?
We design our conversations around the ‘harvest’ we want to produce. The results we are seeking help to determine what processes we use and how.
Harvesting is a practice that begins well before the event, during the event and also continues afterwards.
We learned about:
Invitation is more than just how we invite people into conversations or work that matters. It’s a practice and attitude all of its own. The quality of the outcomes from participatory work is directly related to the quality, intention and active nature of invitation.
We learned the useful mnemonic ‘VALUE’ which represents a set of principles for invitation practice.
The VALUE of Invitation
Art of Hosting patterns
Conversations that begin from the perspective of worldview exploration are a way to invite people into dialogue.
What are the basic assumptions we work from in the Art of Hosting? What are the underpinning worldviews, assumptions, approaches and frameworks that inform our hosting and work? Many reflect nature and how the living world expresses and organises itself. These patterns are not abstractions or theories. They are patterns that are observable in natural systems.
These patterns can be useful to know where you are coming from and where you may be going. We saw them show up throughout the week, and were introduced to design processes based on some of these patterns.
We are beginning to understand and treat organisations and communities more like living systems than static machines.
Who is in our living system?
We explored our own forming community. We learned where we each lived, where we came from and how long we had lived on the planet. We discovered along the way that we had a diverse bunch of people from different parts of the country and from around the world. And a broad generational spread - from those in their 70s to those in their 20s.
The Chaordic Path
A pattern that identifies a way to respond to complex issues and wicked challenges, with an adaptive approach, made visible by Dee Hock, founder of Visa International. Hosting is a practice of walking this chaordic path - between chaos and order - holding space and processes to allow emergence and innovation to happen.
Every group meeting or larger initiative follows a repeating pattern. This pattern was named by Sam Kaner and his colleagues as The Diamond of Participation. It's as natural as breathing, which is why it is known in the Art of Hosting community as "the Breath Pattern". As a host, it pays to know this pattern and how to navigate through it with your group for more meaningful results.
Cynefin, developed by Complexity scientist Dave Snowden, is very useful for identifying appropriate decision making and responses to problems. The Art of Hosting practices and processes are used to address challenges in the complex domain. We looked at these patterns through our own experiences in work and life, and larger systemic responses to the bushfires and Coronavirus pandemic.
Two loops theory of systems change
Placing ourselves where we are in our systems, and exploring how we can have impact and support the dying system or the new one emerging.
Berkana’s Two Loops Theory - Video with Debra Frieze
A written summary
Art of Hosting processes
We learned, experienced and reflected on some of the best known participatory processes that are part of Art of Hosting practice (and a few more).
The Circle Way
The Circle Way is the core process of the Art of Hosting. It helps us remember ancient ways of meeting and making wise decisions together. We experienced circles in a number of different ways (and sizes!). We checked in and out of each day in circle, we held smaller circles to practice hosting this way of being in dialogue together. The circle also shows up in all of the other methodologies. A leader in every chair.
The Circle Way website
The Circle Way guidelines
The Circle Way video
Here are some of the powerful questions that we offered as part of our circle experiences:
The World Cafe
We participated in a World Cafe, a powerful conversation process for digging beneath and move beyond opinion and position and moving to new and shared understanding. We explored the following questions over 3 rounds:
Here’s our reflection on the World Cafe process:
We were invited to a process of collective sensemaking, a powerful way for people to see patterns in their own contributions, rather than outsiders doing it for them. This themed ‘data’ was taken by a group of us to make more sense of the patterns. This is what was offered back to the group on the final day:
An introduction to Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to engaging stakeholders in self-determined change, and to storytelling trios as a process of storytelling, deepening connection and harvesting insights.
Sharing the roles of storyteller, listener and witness, we all had a chance to share a story of a time when we stepped up with courage. Listeners harvested the elements that supported that courage, collectively creating our own recipe for courage, summarised here:
Powerful Questions & The Wicked Question Game
Asking a powerful question is an effective way of opening up a conversation, keeping it engaging, hearing different perspectives and making it useful. Each of the processes used as part of the Art of Hosting has a powerful question at its core. We learned about powerful questions and their importance in working in complexity. How can we learn to ask more and better questions rather than focussing on having all of the answers?
We explored our own questions by playing the Wicked Question Game, inviting people to respond to our question with a question, as a way of helping us get more clarity.
The power of a good question
Chaordic Stepping Stones
We stepped through the Chaordic Stepping Stones, a simple participatory design tool. It helps us walk the chaordic path, creating the minimal structure needed to co-design an initiative or project, large or small, when working in complexity.
Other design tools and processes useful for working in complex spaces include:
Designing for Wiser Action
The Designing for Wiser Action process was an opportunity to ask for help and the rest of us an opportunity to practise both collaborative design and generosity. These were the projects we worked on together:
Thank you most of all to the people who stepped up with courage to participate in the training, and special thanks to the harvesters who collected much of the words, pictures and videos you see here.
The self-organising international and Australian Art of Hosting community is a generous one. Thank you to all of the stewards and practitioners who have contributed to this work, and our learning, and all of us who continue to do so. Thank you to the emerging South Coast Community of Practitioners for calling this training, and energetically supporting it to happen.
We acknowledge the Djiringanj people of the Yuin nation as traditional custodians of the land on which we met and learned together. We pay deep respect to elders past, present and emerging, and to all of the wisdom holders who have come before. We appreciate Djiringanj elder Rodney Kelly for welcoming us on to Country with generosity, warmth and passion, and for sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us.
Thank you to our funding partners for recognising and appreciating the value of this work in healing and strengthening communities.
The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, through its Strengthening Rural Communities Program, and the generosity of the Waislitz Family Foundation in partnership with Australian Community Media, supported 22 scholarships for people working and volunteering in bushfire impacted communities across south east NSW. The Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund provided scholarships for 7 people from the Triangle region.
It was a privilege and delight to host you all, and learn alongside you. We wish you well in your practice. Please know we are here to support you.
Your hosting team: Mel Geltch, David Newell, Peter Pigott, Steve Ryman, Jane Geltch, Nick Takavadii, Pi Wei Lim, Daryl Cook, Jane O'Brien, Liane Munro and Ronan O’Connor. We were supported by a dedicated team of local hosts: Von Hutcheson, Debra Summer, Bethany Thurtell and David Hillhorst.
Funded by the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal & the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund