The Art of Hosting & Harvesting Conversations That Matter

3 day training  |  Bega Valley  |  September 2020

Kianinny Cottages Tathra

This training was a first for the Bega Valley, a strong call by David Newell in the wake of Black Summer bushfires that devastated the region's landscape and continues to impact on the lives of all of its citizens in many ways. 

It felt remarkable to meet face to face in the time of Covid. We were a small group, of just 3 training hosts, and 12 participants. Even within this group, we had a great deal of diversity, as invested volunteers from small communities across Bega Valley and beyond, people from organisations working in bushfire recovery and resilience, and others responding to the calling question: What’s possible when we support each other to strengthen and heal our communities? 

Here is one way of sharing what we've learned, as this group of hosts brings their practice to their work and lives.

Reflections

What has been the most meaningful aspect of the training for you?

  • The fact that I was given time, with open minded and open hearted company, to start thinking about listening, learning and the art of harvesting. That time is not very often given, it gave me the space and time to think about those things. It also let me see where I can implement this in my professional and private life. Von

  • The ability for people to come together in collaborative groups to look at problems, come up with some ideas and see where that takes them. Angela

  • My connection with others, and the ability to stop, drop in, connect and check in with myself. Bethany

  • The relational aspect. Everything we’ve done, you need to be doing it with other people. I believe that’s very important. Chris

  • It’s shown me that it’s continual life learning. We’re all leaders. Every single person in a process like this has the power to share wisdom and to create something together. Circle practice and all Art of Hosting processes are very clear and easy to embody. Anyone can do this, and it can support everyone in community. Deb

  • That crafting a powerful questions is an art that needs to be practiced. It’s really important. Henry

  • Reinforcing some of what I knew, and putting it into a process I could see is applicable to my work, my life and the way I’m working now. Liz

  • It’s helped me refine a future picture that’s tied into the joy of people coming together to find sublime solutions. I want to be involved in that. Ronan
     

What's one way that you'll use the skills that you've learned?

  • At community meetings I attend, as a way to encourage conversation, inclusiveness and keep things moving forward. Angela

  • To deepen the connection with others in my life and those I make in community. I’ll continue to use the lessons and the learning from these couple of days to check in with myself and make sure I am doing my self care. Bethany

  • I think all of this work at its core is: I am the project. A lot of personal growth, and then taking that culture out into my world. Chris

  • I’ve realised I’m already using a lot of these processes in my work. I’ve had a lot of reminders about bringing it into my everyday life, in how I deal with people in my family, walking down the street. I can bring these processes into every interaction I have, and I intend to do that. To continue to walk beside my family and community, learning together as we go and creating change together. Deb

  • To create a safe space for the people I work with, whether they be professionally in my job, at home, or with the sporting team that I coach. Henry

  • In my engagement with young people, ensuring it is done in a way that allows them to have a voice, and is genuine youth participation and a collaborative process. Liz

  • I realise that in a sense, circle is everywhere and we are using those skills all of the time. I’ve worked for a long time picking up the pieces down the river of people from the mistakes of society. My interest now is getting up the river and catching people before they drop in. This is a perfect way to do it. Ronan

DAY 1 - STEPPING IN 

We sat in circle - acknowledging the Djirriganj people of the Yuin nation as traditional owners of the land, and checking in with each other to slow down, arrive well, become present, and connect. Here is some of what was shared: 

 
What did the invitation spark in you? 


Rest

  • we are exhausted and overwhelmed

  • a hard year - to support, strengthen, heal community and me

  • find space for myself and reflection

  • hope, encouragement to continue being courageous

Personal learning

  • sitting in the not knowing and being comfortable with that

  • to find new ways of looking at things

  • be a better listener

  • adventure, excitement, possibility
     

To be of service

  • I want to be able to hold conversations, especially with young people

  • I want to learn how to host people well

  • how do I hold difference in groups of people? 

  • how do I get more comfortable with fewer and fewer answers?

  • to be part of the healing, help others open up

  • creating spaces for strength and vulnerability together

  • how can we strengthen and heal well?

  • the great need everywhere for this work

 

Storytelling 

We were introduced to the Four Levels of Listening (The Presencing Institute), and invited into deeper listening as we shared stories in groups of 3. We each told about a time when we stepped up with courage, using and learning an Appreciative Inquiry process.

We harvested the shared elements of our stories - forming our own recipe for courage.

The process

  • a chance to give people a voice and share personal stories

  • how quickly we can drop in, with trust, deep respect 

  • the questions feel very important

  • a way to open up and deepen connection quickly, and harvest the essence of the stories for a purpose, many applications

A recipe for courage

Connection to something bigger

  • facing my own healing for bigger healing

  • giving a voice to a larger issue

  • standing for something bigger than ourselves

  • stepping back to see the big picture

​Self awareness and leadership 

  • connection to values

  • persistence

  • openness, authenticity

  • acceptance

  • no expectations

Relationship with others

  • trust, connection, relationship

  • respectful communication​

Being in the unknowing

  • throwing the script away

  • sit in the fire of unknowing

  • entering the unknown leads to growth

Art of Hosting worldviews

We were introduced to a few of the worldviews and assumptions of Art of Hosting practice: Living systems (complex, adaptive systems), the Breath Pattern (Sam Kaner's Diamond of Participation), and the Chaordic Path (Dee Hock).

Reflection:

  • patterns in the chaos help us to let go and not have fear

  • raising children, it’s tempting to stay in the order and control, and work with what we know

  • living systems, links with Indigenous ways of being

  • hosting - a way to bring the living system into the mechanistic

  • to solve complex issues, we need to do something different

  • the Breath pattern - the complexity of moving through on an individual or collective level. Where am I?

  • lots of unlearning to do. It’s what we know well (mechanistic worldview and systems)

Cafe conversations

We used The World Cafe, a powerful conversational process, to explore our central question for the training. We sat in groups of 4, moving tables over three rounds to connect, cross pollinate and build on ideas. The pictures show Angela's sensemaking of our contributions. Here are some of the insights:

1. What’s possible when we feel really supported in our work & in our communities?
  • courage and resilience

  • inspiration and energy

  • connection

  • sustainability

  • collaboration

  • find the best way forward together

  • anything is possible!

2. What’s needed for us to be supported?
  • clarity of purpose

  • playfulness, joy and creativity

  • equity of opportunity

  • a culture that trusts people as experts of themselves

  • mates - someone having your back

  • presence, self care

  • self awareness, acceptance and acknowledging worth

  • be listened to, heard, accepted

  • tolerance, respect and compassion

  • time and a safe space to ask for and receive support

  • cups of tea (ritual)

  • support looks different for everyone

3. How can we show up to support each other?
  • be authentic and open (vulnerability & boundaries)

  • sit back and listen - then make a clear offer, without attachment, with an open heart

  • to understand and then be understood

  • step in and step out when needed

  • leave your ego at the door

  • self awareness - am I the right person to support?

  • support people and let them be free

  • surrender and let go

  • acknowledge anger is valid

  • take the long view

  • being open minded and optimistic

  • giving time and acceptance

  • responsibilities: to listen, be present, be available, be respectful, be objective

  • listen and drink tea

The Four Fold Practice

This is the underlying practice of the Art of Hosting - what's underneath it all, the DNA if you like. 

What are you taking with you from this day? 

The training is experiential, so we were invited to step into hosting and harvesting roles for day 2, coached and supported by members of the hosting team. We checked out at the end of the day, reflecting on what we were taking with us

  • time to stop and think

  • appreciate doing this

  • respect and some lightness

  • chaordic path - comfort in chaos

  • listening is a skill that requires constant attention

  • curiosity, respect for each of you

  • good feeling of safety. Feeling courageous

  • confidence - a good decision to come. Thanks for the openness

  • connection, deep listening

  • gratitude, nourishment, new ideas

  • peace, slowing down, co-creation, flow

DAY 2 - STEPPING UP

Ronan hosted a presencing and check in to start the day, and we were introduced to the Cynefin framework as a way to think about appropriate responses to challenges. 

We learned more about the power of questions, playing the Wicked question game to practice crafting and improving our own questions.

Then we considered the concept and metaphor of Harvesting, as the other half of the Art of Hosting - how to make meaning and sense of what we know and learn together and making sure it is fed back into our systems to improve them.
A full morning and lots to reflect on!

Open Space Technology

Von and Denis introduced Open Space, a social technology with maximum freedom and responsibility for all participants, and a way to address sticky challenges with diversity of views in a short amount of time. We created the agenda by calling for our own conversations. 

In our work to strengthen and heal our communities - what are the conversations we need to have now?

The word community is written everywhere at the moment. What if it doesn’t really exist in our current society?

Chris

3 insights

  • remembering / harvesting a culture

  • remembering how to have conversations again

  • remember how it feels

Are all players included? Overcoming barriers to communication.

Angela

3 insights

  • connectivity - electronic & physical

  • ways to bridge gaps through supportive actions

  • have realistic timeframes and evaluate these often

How can I start a mother’s singing group?

Henry 

3 insights

  • creating a gift of a safe space

  • shepherd the circumstances (people and space) BUT

  • own the process

As mainstream Australians – how do we begin to heal our colonial past?

Ronan

3 insights

  • begin by working with yourself

  • part of the work is holding both compassion / generosity with anger / grief 

  • acknowledge the woundedness of the whole, that we all carry

Dialogue walk and reflective practice

We were introduced to two more practices from the Presencing Institute - a dialogue walk, and individual reflection through journalling. Firstly we walked with each other, in deep listening and witnessing, as we each shared what we were learning for ourselves. We were offered journalling questions to consider over the week before we meet again. Peter helped us check out from this second day, often the time where we end up in the emergent phase or 'groan zone'.

  • a little calmer

  • at peace

  • content

  • very grateful and inspired

  • I have never felt nervous!

  • satisfied, grateful, tired, more energised than I have been for a very long time

  • tired and content. Very grateful 

  • grateful for time and connections

  • tired and inside myself in deep reflection. A sense of being within a fold - a warm and nurturing community

 

DAY 3 - STEPPING OUT

The Circle Way

To connect back in after a week away, 6 of us stepped up to host and guardian small circles, using The Circle Way. We checked in with this question:

Since we last sat together, what possibilities have emerged for you?
Participatory design

Day 3 is all about what learning and practices we will take with us back to our communities, organisations and families. The focus is on designing participatory conversations and work (projects, programs, even organisations), especially when working in complex spaces.

 

We were introduced to two frameworks for designing - the 8 Breaths of Design (based on the Breath Pattern) and the Chaordic Stepping Stones, as a way of collaborative design. Creating this training was used as an example for how both frameworks are applied.

Design Cafe

We got to spend time diving into preparing for and hosting good meetings, and designing bigger pieces of work. We had many questions, and some learning: 

  • Take the little wins – not everything at once

  • Ongoing – keeping the atmosphere welcoming

  • Establish common values

  • Stealth & intuition

  • Think about inviting.. not as an outlook calendar

  • Good questions – long term view

  • Courage and attention to the steps

  • Being a 'good host' is a life-time practice. It doesn’t just sit in meetings or teams

  • From prep to designing - it takes practice

  • Moving from believing a practice to will work to acting like I believe it

 

Designing for Wiser Action

Three of us brought our projects to practice collaborative design, using a process known as Designing for Wiser Action, the has emerged from participatory design frameworks. It gave us all a chance to practice designing, and our collaboration skills. We also got to help others move their projects forward. 

The three projects were:

Tathra Community Gardens - Angela

Managing cats on dairy farms - Olivia

Youth participation project - Liz

How are you leaving, and what are you taking with you?

We sat together in circle one more time, to check out of our time together. The idea for a Community of Practitioners has been sparked, and a few of us stepped up to invite that. Here's some of what we said as we said thanks and farewell:

  • I’m leaving with profound gratitude to our 3 hosts for carrying us, with the level of support and warmth. This has felt like a privileged place to be

  • I’m leaving feeling a lot calmer, more courageous and confident to go out and practice. I’m taking connection and support - it’s reassuring, awesome and I’m feeling more capable of what I need to do

  • It’s very satisfying being in a deep learning environment. I’m taking deep learning and possibilities of application.

  • I’m feeling restored. Coming here, learning alongside you. I find my sincerity is protected. I value that very much.

  • I have a renewed sense of connection and belief. I’m looking forward to practising in our family life. Gratitude to you all.

  • I have a feeling of being in the right place at the right time. I’m grateful for all of the invisible work. Thank you for bringing an open heart. I’m taking confidence and I’ll look for opportunities to practice. 

  • I’m leaving hopeful, deeply nourished and deeply grateful. It’s been quite profound. I’m taking a wise, generous tribe to walk beside me. It gives me confidence and trust.

  • I’m leaving reassured about my previous skills, about good people in the world. I’m taking a challenge for myself around limiting beliefs that I can’t do this work in the system. 

  • I’m leaving refreshed. This has come at the right time. I’m taking hope, skills, and a network. 

  • I have a feeling my colour has been brightened. Thank you for the care, patience and guidance.

This training was hosted by Mel Geltch, David Newell and Peter Pigott. Thank you to Campfire Co-op and Resilience NSW for the support to enable this to happen, and to Andrew and Che from Kianinny Cottages for hosting us so well in such a beautiful place. 

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 these words, pictures and videos here - Phil, Olivia, Deb, Bethany and Angela. 

We have a strong commitment to the lowest possible impact when we host, in terms of resources and waste. We did well, with just a handful of waste heading to landfill. Our training was Covid safe. Several people in the training were from the same household, hence some not-so-distancing in our group photo :).

 

Art of Hosting practices are open source - from a very generous self-organising international and Australian community. 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.

 

For more, visit www.artofhosting.org or contact Mel Geltch mel@campfire.coop