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The Art of Hosting & Harvesting Conversations That Matter

3 day training  |  November 2020

Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens, Batemans Bay

There was a strong call for this training in the wake of the bushfires that devastated the region last summer, and continues to impact the lives of residents and communities in many ways. It followed a training in the Bega Valley two months earlier.

We were a small group of 16 participants, some returning, and three training hosts. Within the group, we had a great deal of diversity, as invested volunteers from small communities across Eurobodalla and beyond, people from agencies, local and state government working in bushfire recovery and resilience, and others who responded to the calling question: What’s possible when we support each other to strengthen and heal our communities? 

We are sharing here some what we learned, as we bring some of this practice to our work and lives in our communities.


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The most meaningful aspect of this training …

The Circle Way. Sitting in a circle with each other, having the opportunity to express whatever arises in the moment, and listening with attention. I will carry this practice with me. Jade Bridger


Learning to dive deep into topics and access people’s emerging thoughts, not just their initial opinions. When people listen to other people and are attentive to the work, often deeper thoughts can emerge and there is tremendous empathy and understanding within the group. Simon Stroud, Environment NSW


There’s been a really deep shift in the opportunities that I see for my work. Currently I feel responsible for coming up with a lot of solutions. I'm seeing that if I want to achieve larger shifts and greater outcomes, the only way to do that is partnering with the community and having them help deliver the work. The processes we’ve gone through provides a roadmap for how we can have meaningful conversations with the community and how we can engage them, not just in the process of idea generation, but also in delivering the meaningful work. Matt Neason, Eurobodalla Shire Council 


I really felt in the room these past three days, a sense of renewed faith that there is a way forward and that there are people out there who are intentional about making the progress they want to see in the world.
I came into this thinking we were stuck, and that there was this enormous sense of overwhelm in the community, and that overwhelm has led to impasse and paralysis. The act of holding space to tell stories - and there were a lot of stories about the trauma and the impact of the fires that this year has had on everybody in that room. It felt like a chance to let some blood out and to leave it behind. 

Kate Dezarnaulds, Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal

I’m going to use the skills that I’ve learned …

I’d like to use these practices in my close relationships, with my partner and family members when resolving conflict and having uncomfortable and hard conversations. Jade Bridger


Those beautiful principles of Open Space - Whoever is there are the people who are meant to be there, and whenever it starts is the right time to start. So perfect for my work with the Aboriginal community. Zoe Morgan, Eurobodalla Shire Council


... In meetings! If we can get more quality meetings and more emergent thoughts I believe (they) will be more inspiring, more engaging and they’ll be more productive. Simon Stroud, Environment NSW


Deep listening. The ability to stop holding in your head whilst somebody is talking, the planned answer that you have, or the responsibility to fill the space or the need to be clever or insightful. To re-train the brain to slow down to listen to what people are really saying, what they’re saying beneath the surface. To be able to tune into all of the different layers of communication that are going on. When we are so focussed on putting forward our point of view, our argument, our contribution, we get really one tracked and problems become intractable. Kate Dezarnaulds, Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal

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What am I leaving with?
  • I feel great hope. I think the strength we’ve built is possible. We need it so badly. So thankful for many rich conversations.

  • Delightful. My faith restored, tolerance increased, cynicism dialled down. There is a leader in every chair!

  • We are all the right people. I’ve felt so present here, such a safe space to stop. I’ve felt I can be my full self. I’m leaving so inspired.

  • So many deep conversations - feeling satisfied. Curious how I’ll take these practices with me. I’m reminded of what is possible - a certain kind of magic.

  • I’ve had my reset button pressed. I’m re-booted and ready to go, with very powerful questions.

  • A sense of hope, connection, community, understanding and openness

  • An open mind, resource and abilities for interpersonal connection and tools to apply

  • I’m leaving with lots of questions, which is a very good thing. I have good opportunity to bring this work into Council

  • We’ve been gifted some of the sharpest tools in the toolbox for the future.


Some of our favourites from the training:

  • Slow down, there’s a lot to do!

  • The Present. It’s the place to be

  • Be ok in the unknown

  • Listen to understand

  • Before the activism, start with the “innervism”

  • Speak less, say more

  • Whoever comes are the right people

  • Whenever it starts is the right time

  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

  • When it's over it's over

  • Follow your passion, take your responsibility

  • The time is now!

  • Leaders come in all shapes and sizes

  • Every bit counts

  • You don’t need to conquer the ocean, just learn to ride the waves

Personal reflection

I entered the training program with a sense of intrigue. I had heard about the ‘Art of Hosting’ and had supposedly witnessed elements of this style of consultation but did not really know what it was or how it was used.

When we entered the training area and saw the lovely jars of herbal teas, cocoa and plunger coffee you could quickly tell that this was not going to be a usual talk and text seminar. Small elements such as the name badges which were timber offcuts and individual bowls of Texta markers and sticky notes made this training one of the more memorable that I have participated in.

I really did not have three days to spare, and am in fact still catching up on lost time … but I am extremely grateful that I did take the time out of my regular local government role to learn how to have richer, deeper and more connected conversations with people.

The teaching methodology used in the training suited my learning style, with lots of role modelling to demonstrate how to host groups of various sizes. This was followed by supported opportunities to ‘have a go’ and participate in more practical sessions.

By the end of the third day we had built a strong group connection and it was very surprising the profound belief and trust that I walked away with. It was a sense of ‘knowing’ and sort of intuition that this type of conversation was what people had been doing for centuries. 

I have already put into practice some of the skills learnt which has benefitted my work and my team relationships. As time goes by I look forward to implementing more strategies reaping the benefits of successful ‘hosting’ and harvesting conversations that matter.

Zoe Morgan, Eurobodalla Shire Council

Our experiential 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 practice

The Art of Hosting is more than a suite of methods – it’s also a practice field for hosting 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. 

The Art of Harvesting

In the Art of Hosting, we plan our conversation design around the ‘harvest’ we want to produce.  The results we are seeking help to determine what methods we use and how. We learned about:

  • The harvesting metaphor and how it applies to hosting conversations and work that matters. 

  • The principles of harvesting - PLUME 

We also practiced using a matrix to map out the harvest of our training, as a way of understanding more about the intangible (outcomes) and tangible (outputs).

Powerful questions

Each of the methodologies 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?

Learning expedition

We identified our own questions during the training, resulting in an offer of three concurrent opportunities for deeper exploration around the themes of the questions. The topics were:  

  1. How do we design for conversations and projects that matter? 

  2. How can we host meetings that engage and inspire?

  3. How can we invite and host well in diversity and conflict?

Art of Hosting worldviews

Conversations that begin from the perspective of worldview exploration are a way to invite people into dialogue. It is also important to understand some of the underlying patterns, or worldviews, that support the Art of Hosting and participatory leadership:


We are beginning to understand and treat organisations and communities more like living systems, or complex adaptive systems, than static machines.

The Chaordic Path

The Chaordic Path identifies a way to respond to complex issues and wicked challenges, with an adaptive approach. Walking the path between chaos and order as a natural rhythm, named by Visa co-founder Dee Hock. Moving between chaos and order - the path of leadership, innovation and emergence.

Breath Pattern

Every group meeting or larger initiative follows a repeating pattern. Named by Sam Kaner and his colleagues as The Diamond of Participation. It's as natural as breathing, which is why we call it 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 framework

Cynefin is a framework 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 the Coronavirus pandemic.


  • How do we support people not to converge too soon?

  • How do I find time to be in living systems? 

  • How do I be okay in the not knowing?

  • All are useful, and knowing where we are is needed

  • I feel conflict in how leadership can find a home in authority

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. 



  • Innovation - look for other I can draw on in hosting others

  • When not all the voices are heard, the system can go off track

  • Transition - people need help to move from one to the other

  • Where am I now and how can I do this role well?

  • Good to know where we are and notice the tension

  • How do we bring consciousness in this?

Living systems

Art of Hosting methods

We learned, experienced and reflected on some of the core and best known methods that are part of Art of Hosting practice (and a few more).

The Circle Way

The Circle Way is the core methodology 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

Appreciative Inquiry

An introduction to Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to engaging stakeholders in self-determined change, and to triads as a method of storytelling, deepening connection and harvesting insights.

We used a process of storytelling triads - sharing the roles of storyteller, listener and witness, we all had a chance to share a story ...

Tell about a time when you stepped up with courage

Listeners harvested the elements that supported that courage, and the triads collectively created a recipe for courage:


A recipe for courage:

  • Speaking your truth

  • Confidence

  • Support

  • Patience with self and other

  • Assist others

  • Protection

  • Primal instinct

  • Taking initiative

  • Overcoming one's doubt

  • Constant courage for others to grow

  • ​Obligation

  • Known and unknown courage

  • Vulnerable

  • Keep going

  • Step outside comfort zone

  • Self belief

  • Support / clarity

  • Being vulnerable with the uncertainty

The World Cafe

We hosted and 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:

Round 1: What’s possible when we feel really supported in our work and in our communities?

Round 2: What’s needed for us to be supported in our work and in our communities?

Round 3: How can we show up to support each other in our work and in our communities?

We spent each round experiencing and practicing deeper dialogue, harvesting our key insights at the end of each round, and sharing our final insights at the end.

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’ from the final question of World Cafe, was taken by the Harvest team and shared back at the end of the training. Here is what they came up with in answer to the question: How can we show up to support each other in our work and in our communities?