Yesterday I spent over half an hour viewing the “The Art of Hosting” video with interest as I have both attended and helped to host local AoH events. For me, the contribution of AoH to the field of facilitation and the nexus for change is about the integration, design, and flow of wholistic group methods that enable and support meaningful conversations and outcomes. I admit, however, to being dismayed to see rise up again the theme of wanting to create a dichotomy that sets “hosting” apart from “facilitation”. As I understand it, the distinction suggests that facilitation comes from a ‘mechanistic view’ of organizations and communities, whereas hosting comes from a ‘living systems’ view. Quotes from the video that exemplify this:
Ravi Tangri: “A facilitator for me stands outside of the group like a symphony conductor guiding and controlling them with various processes. A host steps into the field of the system and senses what it needs to support itself on its way forward; a host provides the minimum amount of structure to allow the living system to align and self-organize and go where it needs to go.”
Monica Nissen: “Facilitation for me has more a quality of entering outside the field and ‘doing something – making things easier’, whereas hosting is actually entering into the field and inviting people into your own field – the quality with which we tend to hold these processes.”
This sense of a dichotomy is one that I have previously taken up on my blog – see Facilitation and Hosting: A Dichotomy or a Continuum with my colleague Chris Corrigan (and posted to the Art of Hosting listserve), and challenged as creating a real disservice to the field. The end result is that Chris agreed with the notion of a continuum, though he also advocated the importance of charting a path of wisdom from the start, so that facilitators learn how to work as a servant leader (or host) as they acquire new methods and processes.
Perhaps a clue to some of the underlying assumptions at play in the AoH community can be found in this statement on the video by Ravi Tangri: “While a good facilitator can work with maybe 50 people, a hosting team can work with 100’s and 1000’s of people at the same time, working with them as a living system.”
As an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator who has used and blended whole system, large group interactive change methodologies such as Open Space, Real Time Strategic Change, Whole Scale Change, The Conference Model For Work Redesign, World Café, Appreciative Inquiry, Dialogue, Future Search, the ICA Technology of Participation, and many others since 1990, this statement is very surprising and reveals a misunderstanding of what a good facilitator actually is capable of doing and how s/he works. In my world, facilitators: 1) are skilled in large group methods; 2) do work collaboratively in partnership teams composed of facilitators and the client group; and 3) engage in real time redesign during sessions, as needed to respond to emerging issues and needs.
Leaving dichotomies of ‘hosting’ vs. ‘facilitation’ aside, as I continued to listen to the AoH video, to me the key point being made by Ravi Tangri and others which I fully agree with (though do not believe is unique to AoH) is the importance of attending to the living, interactive, conversational space that is created as we blend methods and processes. As servant leaders, our intent should be to ensure meaningful conversations and real work occur around those questions that profoundly matter to the client organizations and communities we serve, such that greater health and wholeness of the system is fostered.
(Ravi Tangri, AoH video) “… it is what connects all those practices, a resonance, a life pattern, a living systems pattern – all the methods are ways or entry points of how to be different with one another.”
For me, masterful facilitation is both an outer art and an inner practice. “Outer facilitation” is the art (and technology) of assisting a community of participants to achieve their stated purpose and desired outcomes, through the skilful use and blending of methods and processes in accordance with principles and other articulated norms for working together. “Inner facilitation’ – which my AoH friends would refer to as ‘presence’ is attending to what is actually emerging in the ‘living field of interaction and community’, and being willing to change the design to best serve the health and wholeness of the group in the moment.
(quote from AoH video) “… it is not the methodologies, because you can use those tools out of books, but about the art of what is needed inside oneself to sense what tools to use, how to design the processes the group needs to go through, what is needed inside yourself to hold a group of people”.