At the 2014 American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference, I attended a dynamic session on “The Art of Hosting,” with Rita S Fierro of Fierro Consulting and Alissa Schwartz of Solid Fire Consulting. The concept was new to me, and after one workshop I’m certainly not an expert, but the idea of “hosting” meetings rather than “running” them is intriguing. Especially with current trends toward engagement and participatory evaluation.
So what is the Art of Hosting (AOH)?
For me it’s about creating welcoming environments, which honor the knowledge of those attending and encourage meaningful dialogue. “The Art of Hosting is an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges.” (1)
The AOH requires that you have the time to engage in conversation and learn from the results. Most AOH events are 2-3 days and focus on some type of organization or community issue that needs to be addressed. But there are techniques which can be used to create dialogue in other types of meetings as well. In all cases the AOH starts with a question, not an answer. Key to the success of the gathering is asking the right question.
At the AEA convention, Fierro and Schwartz didn’t hand out an agenda. Instead they drew a map on paper on the wall and talked about the steps on our journey for the day. The session started in circle with an icebreaker.* At various points during the day the hosts would come to the center of the circle for a “teach in” which was a short 10-15 minute explanation of a key concept. The host wrote some terms on paper as she talked. Some people took notes, others just listened.
We would then break into groups to discuss the topic.
Sometimes the room was set up with chairs in a large or small circles. Sometimes there were small tables with chairs. We participated in small group discussions using the AOH methods of World Café and Open Space Technology. The rules for each style of discussion were written on the wall as well. At the end of every discussion there was a “harvest”. A larger group discussion on what was learned and how to apply this new knowledge. I appreciated the AOH workshop because it promoted respect among participants and the hosts used many formats for learning (auditory, visual, and kinetic).
The AOH wouldn’t work in every situation. There are times when participants are looking for a speaker to “teach” using a PowerPoint, agenda, and handouts. It’s not as effective when there are time limits, as in most conference presentations. But for those who have the time and the interest to engage others in thoughtful discussions which promote shared leadership toward consequential results, AOH may be worth checking out. While the concept appears to be directed toward adults, I would think the tools could also be used with older youth. As long as the facilitators think of themselves as hosts not leaders.
You can find more information about the overall framework and some of the techniques on the AOH website. Facilitator trainings are also listed.
*For our icebreaker, the hosts had us look at an object that we had in our pocket or bag and describe it from the view of a scientist. After we finished they had us look at the same object as an artist. We then took turns introducing ourselves and our two descriptions of the object. There was a special item which we passed around the room and only the person holding it could speak. Anyone could pass if they wanted. It was fascinating to listen to people’s perspectives.
For breakfast today I had vanilla yogurt, granola, and dried cranberries, yum!
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