This page has an overview of facilitation and hosting techniques practiced at FoAM for over a decade. The page is structured based on the lecture notes for the participatory Hosting Craft training sessions designed by Maja Kuzmanovic in 2013-2014. As such the page is still in progress…

With thanks to Maggie Buxton, Simone Poutnik, Hendrik Tiessinga (and others from The Art of Hosting community), Nick Payne, Ineke Van Mulders, Edel Maex, Christina Stadlbauer, Helga Hartl and many others who have facilitated workshops, held trainings and retreats through which we experienced the practice and the craft of hosting and facilitation.

Why call sessions about facilitation methods a craft? Because it is a practice, you can only learn it by doing. It is said that by the time you put in 10.000 hours, you can consider yourself to have mastered the basics. It is also artisanal, hand-made, customised for each occasion, never the same.

Facilitation, moderation, process guide, dialogue coaching and hosting. Hosting might capture this practice best: it is a service of being a host to a group of people - welcoming people into a place, making them feel at ease. As a good host, you pay attention to everyone's needs and make sure everyone's involved.

Dinner party

Exercise: If you think of a good dinner party:

  • How would you describe the host? write their characteristics and actions in a connected 'cloud' (e.g. a host is kind, energetic, perceptive, prepared, able to improvise on the spot, anticipates the guests needs, brings people together, designs the flow, guides conversations…)
  • What are the elements of a good dinner party? Make a list of key elements needed for a good dinner party (e.g. people, atmosphere, refreshments, flow, good conversation, energising group dynamics…)

Visualise a cloud of characteristics and actions of the host and another one of key elements of a dinner party.

Hosting workshops or meetings isn't too different from hosting a dinner party. The role of the host in both is to:

  • welcome guests
  • set the atmosphere
  • frame and guide conversations
  • make sure everyone is introduced to each other
  • encourage networking
  • resolve conflicts
  • manage flow and timing
  • wrap-up
  • send people home when it's time
  • conclude and follow-up.

A few key things to think about when hosting

  • People (host, participants)
  • Content, conversation topics
  • Flow
  • Space/Atmosphere
  • Refreshments
The Host

Every hosting session starts with the host, his/her presence. The host's inner and outer appearance can set the tone of the meeting. The frame of mind of a host can influence how the participants feel as well. If you're stressed or worried, this will carry into their conversations as well. It's important to take time to let your worries and moods go. The host is like a river bed that gives shape to the water (the flow of the conversations) an entity through which everything flows. If your 'river bed' consists of big mental boulders and emotional dams, the flow will be interrupted, steered away from its course, staled or rushed.

Begin a hosting session by making sure you're comfortable with yourself, the room, the format and the topics chosen. This begins with a good preparation, well in advance. When you arrive to the meeting spot, you should be confident in your plan. Even with good preparation, we all get nervous before a 'performance' It might be necessary for you to find a way to ground yourself, to 'cleanse' your body and mind, as well as the room you're in from anything that has come before this moment.

Exercise: Think about one or more small rituals that can help you feel at ease in the space and with yourself. For example:

  • a simple 3 minute breathing exercise: begin with asking yourself “what am I demanding from myself and others at this moment?” watch what arises in your mind and observe your reactions for about a minute. Then let go of your thoughts and breathe deeply, at least 10 breaths. Breathing out, you let go of your demands, breathing in, you feel fresh and open.
  • a longer 10-15 minute meditation: start with focusing your attention on your breath, then your whole body, the envelope of your body and its connection to the air, the air in the room, the sounds that the air brings to your ears, (what you can see without looking), the whole room and everything in it, and expand your attention to infinity, that includes the people you're hosting, their mind-states and expectations, then finally return to your body and your breath.

Aside from the inner presence, the outer presence - your appearance is as important. to begin with, your posture: try having a conversation while leaning in, sitting straight and comfortable, or hanging back, draped over a chair. How does each of the postures change your conversant's perception of your interest? Leaning in too much might drain your energy quicker, as you're probably forgetting to include yourself; leaning back might give your partner the feeling that you don't care and leave them alone to solve their problems; crossing your arms on your chest makes you feel distant and reserved, etc. Experiment with it and check with yourself while you're hosting - “how am I sitting/standing now?” and correct if necessary, until you feel present, centred and comfortable. Facial expressions are equally important as posture. If you feel tense, try lifting the corners of your mouth into a smile and see how that feels. Combined with one slow breath can do wonders in a tense situation, and it takes only 1-2 seconds. Watch what you do with your hands: are they relaxed in your lap, or wildly gesticulating, or something in between? You can use your hands to accentuate a point you're trying to make, or to involve people in the conversation. In tense situations, touch can be helpful (a little pat on the shoulder, or a light brush on the arm…) - but touch can also be perceived as too intimate, or culturally unacceptable, so you have to be careful to judge when it's ok to touch and when not.

Finally, what might seem frivolous - think about what you are going to wear. The lines of the clothing (angular and strict, flowing and relaxed, messy and playful…) and their colours can have an impact on the mood of the conversation as well. There are colour theories that you can look at, but you can also intuitively check with yourself what colours resonate with you - this will help you at least get in the right frame of mind.

The participants

The participants will necessarily have different character traits. They might be outgoing, team-spirits, introvert, rebellious, contrarian… There are people who like to take over conversations, and others who are silent, some listen, others don't. Depending on their characters, they will assume a different role in the group. There is always someone in the group who will be more difficult, or less involved. You might see them as people who make your job difficult, but be aware that these roles are necessary to have an interesting group dynamics. If everyone was always pliant and agreeable, they would never challenge the status quo and there wouldn't be much conversation. So it's important not to 'scapegoat' difficult individuals, but to see them as an important part of a dynamic system. It's interesting to observe that when you remove one of these 'difficult' individuals, someone else will assume the 'difficult' role.

If you have a chance to decide who is invited, take this opportunity to “design the group” that will include a diversity of people's interests and characters. An interesting way to do it, if you know the people involved is to look at every person and find at least two people with whom they share interests or expertise. At the end you should have a closed loop, with densely interconnected relationships.


However, even in a well thought trough invitee list, you still don't know what will happen. It is the hosts' task to observe the group dynamics as it is developing and to steer it gently, or a bit less gently if the conversations are going off-track, or in circles, or if some people dominate the conversations for too long. The words gentle and patient are crucial here. Think about how children react to a calm or an abrupt interruption of something they shouldn't be doing. The same principle applies in hosting. Only in rare occasions do you put people on the spot, most often you invite, suggest, offer different options, without forcing people to do anything (otherwise they might rebel…). For example:

  • how about we pause this conversation for now and return to …, we will continue this thread in our next session/over lunch…
  • I invite you to… / Let's / (Rather than You now have to…)
  • I'd like to suggest to…

Another important aspect of hosting is observation. It is your task to observe if people are engaged. You can see this not only in how they speak, but also in their facial expression, posture, eye movements… Most of us have an intuition that tells us if someone is paying attention to us speaking.

Exercise in pairs: Tell me a story

  • Take turns to tell a story. First person A talks, while person B listens. In the next round, person A continues to talk, but person B stops listening. Reverse roles after this round. Discuss your findings in the larger group.

Having an intuition about people's attention helps decide when to let the conversations take their course, when to step up, calm things down or take them sideways.

A course that can help develop your own communication skills and be more aware of how others communicate: Mindfulness en communicatie by Edel Maex in Antwerp. Maex uses a tool he calls “Communication compass” in this course, to be able to talk about communication.

perspective of the other

information ——o—— experience

  my own perspective

A good conversation is somewhere in the centre of the two axes. If you place yourself too much on either side of the perspective axis, the conversation will become a monologue (sometimes this can happen even if both people are speaking, e.g. in a conflict where both people are convinced that they are 'right' about something can close the communication channels, and put you too much in the 'my own perspective' camp.

Exercise in pairs: describe yourself, speaking as:

  • a person who is very close to you
  • a person with whom you have a problematic relationship.

The horizontal range is a continuum between information and experience. The two are often confused, for example when a person describe their own experience as 'objective information', which often happens with statements such as “This is like that”, but it actually means “I have experienced this as that”. The latter statement gives an opening to the perspective of the other person. This happens often in schools: the teacher presents everything they say as 'objective information', while some of it might be their own experience (or inexperience). When a student raises their hand to disagree, the teacher retreats to 'my own perspective', that is again presented as information “i am a teacher, so what i say is true”. It's also important to listen whether people want to hear information or experience: for example the question “what is wrong” should be answered differently if you are a plumber or a nurse in intensive care.

Exercise in pairs: tell each other 2 stories (Person A tells story 1, person B listens; reverse roles, then move onto story 2):

  • job description, focusing only on listing tasks that you do as part of your job
  • describe how you feel at your work.

Compare notes in the group. How do you talk when you describe facts/emotions? How is it to listen to the different topics and ways of communicating them?

As a conversation host, you can be the compass for the group and pay attention where the conversation is going, paying attention to people's perspectives, as well as noting whether information and experience are being confused. It is crucial for you to remain open and aware, regardless of whether you agree with the topics or directions of the conversation (remember, you're just a river bed letting the flow pass over you!). You can just steer the conversation back to the centre of the compass, by pointing to things people said and asking e.g. “is this a fact, or your opinion”, “thank you for sharing your view, would you mind hearing how mr X sees the same situation?”

In most participatory meetings the conversations should be dialogues, rather than debates. Edel Maex describes this as:

  • dialogue: who are you, who am I, what are our views, and what is the vision that surpasses (or builds on) our distinct views
  • debate: this is me and this is you, this is my view and this is yours. in a debate people come out as winners or losers, or through a compromise where everyone supposedly wins, but the vision is lost (aka belgisch compromis / poldermodel).

When designing your meeting/workshop/conversation, think about what is important for the group, in order to know whether you want to steer towards a dialogue or a debate.

“In communicatie maak je jezelf kwetsbaar, in een machtstrijd niet”

Throughout the session you're hosting, you should observe how the communication unfolds, look for signs of loss of attention, skewed perspectives, mixing experiences and facts, and keep an eye on how the collective vision is developing.


Whoever comes through the door, has come from somewhere else, and this somewhere else has necessarily an impact on how they will participate in the conversations. It needs to be acknowledged that just by walking into a space people haven't necessarily arrived. It's important to have at least 10-15 minutes with no 'content', where people can have a drink, engage in small-talk, go to the toilet…

The moment of gathering the group together is always a bit awkward. You can use a clear sound signal (a bell, a gong, a tea spoon on a glass…), or just project your voice and invite people to come to the space where your session will take place and pause their conversations.

To begin, it's good to have a short “check-in” or “ice-breaking” session. In this session it is your task to help people really arrive, meaning that they should let go of whatever came before and focus on being fully present now with the people in the room, committed to each other and the process. There are many ways to do this, and it depends on your group how you choose to do it. It helps to do something “physical”, but it isn't necessary. What's important is to give everyone a chance to introduce themselves and to see each other as fellow humans, regardless of their social standing, place in a hierarchy, or a job title. A few examples:

  • “How are you?”
  • “Shake off your worries and expectations”
  • “Introduce yourself in 3 keywords”
  • Sociometry exercises - “How old are you”, “Where do you come from”, “Touch the person you've known the longest”…
  • “Choose a new name”
  • “Pick a plant and describe why”
  • “Describe your inner weather”
  • “Pick an animal that resonates with your character and describe it”
  • “Pick a word that describes what you're passionate about”

Exercise: Everyone hosts one or two ice-breaking sessions. At the end of each ice-breaker, discuss about the effects of the exercises (what worked, what didn't, when should it be used…).

By now we should have all the participants in the room, they arrived and introduced themselves to each other, and there is a nice buzz of anticipation. At a dinner party, people have had their aperitifs, have sat down in anticipation and you might now bring out the menu and an amuse bouche. In gatherings that we're talking about this moment is called “framing”. The menu in our case describes of the flow of the session and the amuse the topic of conversation. Framing is about creating a more or less fuzzy boundary around all the possible conversations that could arise. Good framing does the same as the frame of a painting, it separates the painting from the rest of the wall, it draws our attention to what's inside it, without being overly present. As with a painting, you start with looking at the painting first to experience it as a whole, then look at its the technical aspects - with framing it's best to first talk about the content of the conversations, then give instructions about the flow. If you are not the person who frames the content, then you should do a short introduction first about the objective of the gathering and the flow, and then invite the 'content person' to briefly talk about the topic.

Thematic framing and powerful questions

Aside from defining the boundaries, framing can tickle people's imagination, making the topic of the conversation tangible and exciting. Framing the topic of a conversation as a question invites curiosity, dialogue and participation - our brains are wired to look for answers to questions, while a theme or topic can sometimes not speak or engage us enough (or we feel that we're not knowledgeable enough about it to be able to hold a meaningful conversation). Asking a good question is an art in itself. You should give this sufficient attention when preparing. There is an excellent paper on "powerful questions" that can help you prepare.

Questions for group conversations are the ones that can't be answered with a simple yes or no, this or that. Otherwise the discussion will be very short. For example, a question “will we survive the next winter” is better asked as:

  • how will we live next winter?
  • what will our next winter be like?
  • why are we afraid of the winter?
  • what will we do to survive (and thrive) next winter?

What (if), how and why questions usually have sufficiently juicy answers to allow for interesting conversations and multiple perspectives. Why questions can be seen as patronising, so the tone of voice in delivering a why question is important. A good question will stay in the heads of the participants throughout a session. It should be clear and probing, able to stir stale conversations. It should touch people's lives, where they are at that moment and make them curious about where they could or would like to be.

Exercise: try posing a yes/no question and finding a few more open or inspiring alternatives.

Paraphrasing from The art of powerful questions: a powerful question is a three-dimensional one. The three dimensions are: construction, scope and assumptions. Construction is about phrasing of the question (see the paragraphs above) - which words you use can inspire or demotivate people. The scope is about tailoring the question to the capacity of people's action - where can people make immediate difference (e.g. family, organisation, community, global society). Finally, every question will have your or wider assumptions built into it, assumptions that might not be shared in the group. We should be especially aware of negative assumptions (“what did we do wrong?” could be better phrased as “what can we learn from what happened?”). Having a question focus on the problem, can make people defensive or disengaged. It's helpful to check if the question encourages learning, reflection, collaboration and/or exploration rather than blaming, competition or justifying.

Before the gathering design several questions and check with someone you trust to see which one resonates better and is seen as more 'powerful'. Play around with changing the construction and the scope of a question and check your assumptions. Even if you come up with a question that satisfies you, check with the group if they can find themselves in it. Or even better, help the right question emerge from the group (time allowing!). In this way the 'ownership of' or familiarity with the question will be stronger in the group.

Exercise: Design a powerful question. Context: A bureaucrat from the Flemish Authorities asks you to host a workshop about the “future of the art sector in Belgium”. The participants are a mix of government officials, business people, representatives of arts organisations, artists, designers and journalists. You know that the topic is extremely dry and has been discussed for years, making the people from the sector are overly saturated and feel that they don't have enough agency to make a difference for this future. Challenge: Design a question and frame it in a way to make the invitees excited to participate. Result: Each person presents their framing and the question. We discuss the questions and experiences in the group. Which characteristics of powerful questions can we distill?

(From our exercise on 20131031) A powerful question:

  • invites you personally, not you as a group to engage with the topic (you can't hide behind the group)
  • is phrased in a positive and stimulating way
  • calls out for creativity
  • connects to the participants through intuition and feeling (this might not work in all groups, the framing of the question should pad it in enough intellectual substance to speak to the more fact- and perception oriented people)
  • has the ability to take you elsewhere and allow you to leave the burden behind
  • works inclusively, even for very diverse groups of people
  • speaks to imagination, can be seen as poetic and beautiful (again, not for all groups)
  • makes the participant think: “i want to be a part of this”
  • uses speculation and imagination to stimulate forward thinking
  • encourages playfulness and flights of fancy (can be even seen as 'crazy')
  • can be delivered with a joy and excitement in the voice or with calmness, softness and earnestness, depending on the topic
  • reminds people of the importance of the topic (waardering, back to the fundamentals…)

Framing the flow and participation

The flow is the 'menu' of the session. “This will be served now, then comes this, then this.” Flow should be described as clearly and succinctly as possible. If possible have it written up on a wall or on individual hand-outs. People tend to like to know what will happen next, or how far they got. Throughout the session it helps to keep repeating what you did and what is still to come. It seems to reassure people that you're on the right track. It is important to mention why people are there and where they're expected to go. Many people want to know what the goal or the outcome is, but make sure you allow enough space for exploration (for some too much structure can be stifling).

You can start by framing the goal of the session (even if it is something like “we're here to get to know each other better”), as related to the topic or question. Then describe the flow from beginning to end, without too much detail. There will be a separate session on how to design a flow of a gathering (e.g. U theory) once we learned some simple hosting techniques.

With the goal and the flow people will have a picture of what will happen, but still need guidelines to know how they're expected to behave - an etiquette of a sort. For example:

  • please chose to talk to people you don't know (so well)
  • observe, then interact
  • people with blue tags join breakout group in the blue corner

There can also be instructions to avoid disruptive behaviours (“house rules”), which can be defined beforehand, or co-created with the group on the spot:

  • allow others to finish their sentences
  • please switch your mobile phones
  • try to use “I” statements

These instructions should be short, clear and memorable. Specific instructions what to do for each session can be given in the beginning of a session.

next session: 20131216 12-16h: hosting conversations

After receiving the people, framing a question and setting guidelines, we finally come to the core of the hosting craft: the conversation. The central question for every host is how to host a group conversation, where everyone's voice is heard, the results are shared and the vision arising from the conversation is collective?

Before getting into the myriad of known formats, there are a few basic forms that anyone can host without too many rules:

Personal - solo

A few minutes of individual contemplation is important when the topics discussed are complex, or emotionally charged. It allows people to explore both their thoughts and their gut-feelings and come up with considered, honest answers. Posing a question and allowing a few minutes for thinking about the question, taking notes and composing one's thoughts can substantially deepen the group conversation. This type of 'conversation' can be used at any moment in a workshop, but works particularly well in the beginning (to connect the participants own experience with the topic of conversations), middle (as a 'breathing space' after expansive, high paced conversations in larger groups) and at the end (a moment of quiet reflection).

Exercise: This exercise allows the participants to reflect on their personal motivations, as well as connect with the motivations of others in the group. Frame the exercise and pose the question 'what motivates you to get up in the morning and face the day?' (or something similar). Explain that people can individually reflect on the question for a few minutes, write down one or more answers. Give a small bunch of post-its to every participant, instruct them to write one answer per post it. Inform the participants that the answers will be shared with the group, and that the goal is to create a collective map of motivations.

Participants' comments on characteristics of solo conversation:

  • It brings you closer to yourself
  • The clustering of individual responses connects the group
  • The question from the exercise is quite existential, and made the participants feel vulnerable
  • Knowing that there would be a reporting to the group focused the 'conversation with self'

Intimate - duo

A dialogue in a pair can be experienced as the most intimate, but also demanding type of conversation. Both participants have to be active (either speaking or listening), so no 'drifting' is possible (unless you want to offend your conversation partner). The conversation can be structured in different ways, for example:

  • an interview (one person speaks, the other only asks questions, then exchange roles). The value of this kind of conversation is that there is enough space for both people to speak, without the other person stepping in too much, except to ask questions - which can be perceived as encouragement and engagement. Because both participants take turns, they are aware of both roles (speaker/listener) and are more supportive of each other.
  • a monologue (one person speaks, the other one listens, then exchange roles), allows a lot of space, but can be experienced as quite confronting. It is important for the listener to give appropriate non-verbal signs to show his/her attention or engagement. This form might work better with participants who know each other well.
  • free flow (the common form when we talk with friends). This is the most informal form and it is comfortable for most people. The danger is that one of the people might be dominant and talking most of the time. In this case the facilitator might have to discretely step in to allow some space to the other person.

When reporting to the larger group, it's interesting to let one person report what the other person has said. If the participants know this in advance, they might pay closer attention to what each other are saying.

Exercise (from Appreciative Inquiry): Frame the conversation as an exercise in finding out which situations are inspiring and energising for the participants, and investigating which factors made this situation possible. Explain that the session will happen in pairs, where one person speaks first, while the other one 'interviews' them, using a given set of questions, and takes notes. After five minutes, they swap roles. At the end, the person who took notes reports about their partner's experience to the whole group, focusing less on a specific situation and more on the characteristics that could be generalised. Task:

  • Think of a time when you felt inspired and energised (at work). Describe the situation.
  • How did you feel?
  • What did you do?
  • What made this situation possible?

At the end, the person who took notes reports in a few words the feelings, actions and resources that make inspiring situations possible. The facilitator (or a volunteer) summarises the key points.

Comments from participants:

  • There isn't much time to reflect: listening and processing has to happen at the same time, so it's difficult to ask the 'right' questions
  • Having to speak while someone else is intently listening causes a 'swimming pool' of confused ideas
  • Important to share with the group, the person listening can convey non verbal communication as well, which helps with getting a deeper understanding of the other
  • AI - it feels good to talk about 'good times'
  • The feeling of being self-conscious and vulnerable is helped as both people have to assume the same role
    • you end up helping each other and encouraging openness
    • the person who listens has to sense what the other needs
    • it helps to be honest about your own insecurity, then allowing each other to be uncertain
    • fear needs to be acknowledged from the beginning
  • time pressure is difficult to get into a deep conversation.

Active - trio

Talking between three people makes for an active conversation. The introduction of a third person in a dialogue creates a new dynamics, that is less intimate, but can be more energised. Again, many forms are possible:

  • one person talks, the other two ask questions
  • one person talks, one asks questions, the third one takes notes and reports (everyone should have a chance to inhabit every role)
  • everyone talks when they want, they share the same piece of paper to make notes…

Exercise in active listening. Explain that the group will be split in several trios. There will be three rounds of five minutes, where one person speaks, the second one listens, paraphrases, asks clarifying questions and the third person takes notes. Every person should have a chance to take on each role. At the end everyone's stories will be summarised by the persons who took notes (so everyone gets to report back). The question is What surprised or delighted you in this year?. At the end, everyone reports back, not their owns story, but the one they noted down, summarising the highlights of the year. The facilitator (or a volunteer) summarises the key points.

Diverse - break-out groups

This is a very common way to split large groups into smaller ones (4-7 people), in order to allow everyone to have a chance to speak and to have a conversation with new people. The challenge or breakout groups is to find a quick way for people to move into the groups without using time and attention. If the choice of breakout groups isn't free, there needs to be a quick and easy way to mix people who don't know each other (colours, symbols, numbers, rows, pre-assigned randomised groups…). You have to be clear and concise in your instructions, to avoid delays and confusion. For example, you can say:

  • in the next exercise we will break out into smaller groups. We will take 20 minutes to explore the question “xxx”. At the end of this period, one of you will summarise the findings to the whole group. In order to for you to get a chance to talk to new people, we have pre-assigned you to a specific breakout space. In your participants' packs you have received notebooks in different colours. Choose the breakout space of the same colour and take your place. You can find the question and instructions written down in each break out space. Now when you're ready feel free to move to your designated space and start the conversation. I will come around to help with the process and answer any questions that might arise.

In a break-out group it helps to have one or two people to moderate the conversation, take notes and report back to the group. There are (at least) two ways to assign the moderator/reporter:

  • pre-assigned. You and/or the organisers of the event can decide beforehand who should moderate and/or report from each breakout group. You can brief them before hand about the topic and some basic moderation principles, so they in a way become your 'ambassadors'. This is useful if the topic is complex, you need to get to specific results, you need someone with specific prior knowledge, the time is short, and/or you want to be sure that the moderators/reporters have the appropriate social intelligence and facilitation skills.
  • emerging spontaneously on the spot. This allows for more 'organic' conversation, where the group itself agrees on the roles, they 'own' the process and feel more engaged. The risk is that the loudest voices might dominate the group, and that the report might be biased towards one person's opinion.

The breakout-moderators' task is the same as yours, but in a smaller group: they make sure that everyone is introduced and heard, as well as guide the conversation towards a meaningful conclusion, in a specified amount of time. It helps to have a big paper (or other writing surface) on the wall or table of each break-out group, so that the participants can jointly note things down and jointly see and agree what the coming out of the conversation (the paper can be taken back into the bigger group to use as a reporting tool). Reporting back from breakout groups can be tedious if there are many of them, and if the people reporting attempt to describe the whole conversation. You should give clear guidelines about how the conversation should be reported (e.g. 3 key points, only conclusions). You can also choose to have a visual or physical reporting (a wall of notes and diagrams, or still image/freeze frame representations made by the whole breakout group. However you decide to do the reporting, you have to give every group about the same amount of time - which is easier said than done. Gently but firmly, you help the reporters get to the point and note down most important insights, that you can pool together from all groups and make a group-wide summary at the end of the session.

We didn't have enough people to practice break-out conversations, but an exercise would be: Frame the conversation in the whole group. Give instructions about the break-outs, the topic, etiquette, duration and format of the conversation, as well as the format of the reporting to the larger group. Assign moderators and reporters (or let them emerge from the group). Find a quick and easy way for people to find which breakout group to go to. During the conversations, walk around and remind people of the topic and the instructions (if needed). Host the reporting and summarise the key points at the end.

Comments from participants:

  • difficult to find volunteers to moderate and/or report back (possible solutions - having someone from the hosting team act as a 'pollinator' who reports back, find a way to do visual reporting (mind maps, freeze frames…), have a whole group report back and support each other through physical closeness
  • there has to be sufficient clarity of instructions, otherwise it's difficult for the participants - they need a clear question, written in breakout spaces
  • breakouts over several days can become like a supportive 'family' inside a larger community, giving a feeling of safety and security to the participants
  • breakouts help with sharing a 'vibe' and making connections
  • shy people feel more comfortable speaking in breakouts
  • danger: the moderator imposing where the conversations should go. Good to separate the roles of moderator and reporter to avoid this.

Unifying - whole group

Usually done in a circle, or semi-circle, with or without a table in the middle (be aware that some people have a problem with the circle). The benefit of a whole group conversation is that everyone can be involved and no reporting back is needed. In practice there are always people who speak longer and louder and others who remain silent. There are different ways to try to include everyone's voice in the conversation:

  • a listening circle: going around clock-wise or counter clock-wise, where one person speaks, the others listen and do not ask questions or add anything until the circle is completed;
  • 'pop-corn' with a talking piece (a soft squishy ball helps people who are nervous about speaking, but anything will do): similar to listening circle but in unpredictable order, chosen in different ways:
    • people picking up a talking piece from the middle of the circle when they are ready to speak
    • the speaker offers the talking piece to the person they want to hear next)
    • facilitator or a volunteer pick names out of a hat…

Exercise: cadavre exquis in a circle. Try out three different listening circles using the talking piece. Frame the exercise as a collaborative storytelling, where each person says one sentence, and the next one builds on it. First try out the circle where one person starts and gives the talking piece to the person on their left. Next put the talking piece in the centre of the circle, let one person start and pass the talking piece to a person whom they'd like to hear next. Finally, put the talking piece in the centre and invite the participants to pick it up and speak when they feel ready.

Comments from participants:

  • It feels calmer when the ordering is set and you know your turn. Listening becomes easy, because you don't have to think of the order, on the other hand some participants then keep thinking of what they're going to say instead of listening.
  • Listening is best when you don't know when your turn is, but the reflection is shallower
  • Choosing feels most comfortable. If there is a choice, some people want to go last (out of politeness), so there are longer silences.
  • Choosing which circle form to use depends on circumstance and topic.


In all of the conversation forms above, the role of the host is the same:

  • Explaining the exercise and what is expected (framing flow and topic)
  • Moderating/Facilitating the conversation
    • Steering conversations to the topic/question
    • Keeping watch over group dynamics and people's energy levels ('holding the space')
    • Including everyone in the conversation
    • Reminding people of instructions and house rules (discretely)
  • Time keeping and announcing (think about what would be an appropriate prop - bells, cymbals, alarm, gong, wine glass, soft→loud music…)
  • Summarising, summarising, summarising
  • Note taking (or harvesting, can be delegated if there is someone else available).

Using a combination of solo, duo, trio, break-outs and circles, you can design many different flows and formats. When combining different conversation forms together, think about what kind of conversation is most appropriate for the topic and the goals. Some need more contemplation or intimate sharing, others more active and unifying conversations, some can benefit form having all the forms above, put together in a 'logical flow. We will deal with how to design flows in one of the next sessions, For now, think about how the different conversation forms would fit in a U format.

Next time (April 2014): 'Harvesting': note taking and summarising, with a side note on listening and public speaking.

While the participants are 'conversing' one of the most important roles of the host is to listen and summarise conversations, find overarching patterns and distill the essence of the discussions.


A few notes on Active Listening

  • understanding what the other person is saying.
  • shared meaning, language, jargon issues
  • memory: related to making meaning (memory fills in the blanks - 'kunstendecreet', 'slacktivism'
  • different memories, different meanings attached to the same statement

We can’t retain everything we hear, several reasons:

  • cramming: a lot of info at the same time stored in short term memory, then purged
  • not paying attention to what is being said
  • not finding something important - looses meaning
  • lack motivation to better remember what is being said: using info immediately after it was received increases our ability to retain information
  • if in an interaction (conversation rather than lecture), you’re required to respond, it makes your listening more active
  • mindless listening ↔ mindful (active) listening
Active listening
  • both words and non-verbal signals (body language)
  • hearing, then restating/paraphrasing what has been heard in your own words/language


  • distractions (physical - sounds, visual…)
  • trigger words
  • vocabulary
  • limited attention span
  • making assumptions based on our own experience, rather than really listening
  • conversational narcissism, shift response - listen to what someone says, then turning the conversation to you without showing interest whether the others are listening, or whether what you’re saying is continuing/diverting the conversational flow
  • support response - opposite of shift response: focus conversational attention to the other person, encourages cooperation (remember compass) - not me-oriented but we-oriented

What to do:

  • put personal emotions aside
  • ask clarifying questions
  • paraphrase and repeat to make sure you understand
  • try to overcome all environmental distractions
  • not judging or arguing prematurely (holding onto a personal opinion)
  • eye contact (in most EU cultures) and appropriate body language (mirroring, or middle position)
  • empathise, try to listen from within the others’ shoes
  • intonation and stressing particular words can keep listeners from being distracted

Exercise: In pairs: one person speaks, the other(s) listen, ask questions, repeat/paraphrase at the end, check if correct. What to talk about? Describe a painful situation/conflict/dilemma you’re currently faced with


i.e. Restating main ideas of a conversation in as few words as possible. Summary is like a quilt that pulls together very different pieces of fabric

In a summary the host takes what everyone has said into account, distills essential points in a concise and clear language. It's important to pay attention to what kind of information you’re summarising (is it describing the context, is it a call for action, opinions, answers to questions), especially if there are 'next steps' to be done. Always end by asking if people agree with your summary, if they have something to add, if something is unclear or if you misunderstood something - “did I get it right, did i get it all?” By the end of the summary, people should have a sense of closure, that the discussion is rounded up and there isn’t more to be said.

A good summary:

  • uses the words of the speaker so they maintain ownership of what is said
  • enables an overview of the discussion/situation that is played back to the group, using their own words as much as possible
  • finds the essence in the jungle of words and opinions
  • no advice, opinion or re-interpretation
  • it doesn’t have to be perfect - it allows the group to reflect on whether you understood correctly - and if not, maybe others didn’t either…
  • it gives the speakers a chance to 'hear themselves' as they have been heard - they can review their thoughts and feelings from a more detached position
  • sees things as a whole, when all the details, distractions, emotions… are removed
  • ensures clear communication
How to structure summaries

Be short and to the point, keep in mind what the topic or the question of the conversation is and find a words to pull together possible answers/clear descriptions.

Begin with a statement that shows that you’re summarising:

  • let me see if i understand so far…
  • here’s what i’ve heard, let me know if i’m missing something
  • let me see if i have all of this…
  • we’re coming to a close and i’d like to try to pull together what we said, to see where we are and where we’re going…

If there are different opinions or options, make sure to include them all

  • on the one hand… while on the other…
  • at the same time…
  • and…

End with an open question:

  • what else?
  • what other points are there to consider?

When to summarise?

  • at transition points
  • in between sessions
  • when changing topics
  • to wrap up a session
  • in the beginning and/or end of the day

Exercise: pick a range of different videos of speeches, lectures, TED / PechaKucha talks, interviews and debates. Watch and listen to them, take notes and verbally summarise what you heard. Try getting a very different range of people and topics: from politics, science, culture, activism… and if you speak different languages, try it out with a few different ones as well

Impromptu public speaking

When summarising, you usually don’t have time to prepare a considered speech (unless the workshop spreads across multiple days, and you summarise the previous day in the morning - which you should always try to do). If it is possible to find some time to consider your words, that’s great, If not - a few things to keep in mind when you’re trying to be persuasive/holding people’s attention (Suggestions from Marie Danziger:

A speech has 3 elements, and so does a summary:

  • logos (content and structure)
  • pathos (emotional impact)
  • ethos (personal credibility and likeability)

(all three depend on the audience’s sensitivity)


  • keep it simple and easy to remember
  • establish common ground
  • think about what might be objections and counter arguments


  • acknowledge your audience’s values and feelings
  • share your own feelings and reactions
  • use striking facts and contrasts
  • be personal and visual


  • show that you care
  • acknowledge the colour of your lens
  • use examples
  • refer to people
  • be real and interactive

Exercise: Have a casual group conversation about a topic of your choice. For example:

  • how does your life change with your children on school holidays
  • what does climate chaos and unpredictable weather conditions impact your life?
  • how do you deal with exhaustion?
  • what could we work on together?
  • etc.

Each host-in-training should have a chance to listen and summarise, so you should have as many rounds as hosts. Make the conversations 5-10 minutes long, then have the host summarise. Discuss the delivery and content of the summary together (did the host capture the gist of the conversation? was the summary helpful to make sense of what was discussed? what was the delivery of the summary like (think about logos, pathos, ethos)? etc…) Then move to the next conversation, until all hosts had their turn.

Next session (20140612 at 2PM): Graphic Harvesting/Recording

Many thanks to Nik Payne for much of the information in this session comes from him…

What is graphic harvesting/visual recording/visual facilitation?

  • Not just about pretty pictures! It is much more about listening, digesting, synthesizing, organising, visualising and summarising conversations. So don’t worry if you feel that you can’t draw. Listening, distilling and spatial awareness are much more important to begin with.
  • When the budget is tight, the facilitator can be the graphic harvester as well, but if possible it’s better to have a facilitator focusing on hosting and the recorder on harvesting. The relationship between the host and the recorder is a very important one to cultivate - you’re there to support each other…
Why do it?
  • It helps to keep your and other participants’ attention on the subject, to see patterns and key insights from the forest of words and discussions. It isn’t just about the result itself, but about the participants seeing the whole grow throughout the session: they can SEE the process evolve and remember more and make sense of what is happening.
  • Engaging multiple senses - not just audio and text, but also visuals (engaging other senses is another story). Our brain can process much more information when multiple senses are involved - illuminated manuscripts, graphic novels…
What do you need for graphic harvesting?
  • People and conversations
  • Room with one or more big flat surfaces (walls, windows) and enough space to move (step back to see the big picture)
  • Paper (or blackboards / whiteboards)
  • Pens/Markers/Chalk
  • Masking tape (or other tape that is strong enough, but won’t damage the walls)
  • Knife (to cut the paper)
  • (big) sticky address labels (for covering up mistakes)
  • pastels to create blocks of colour

What is the process of graphic harvesting?


Questions to ask:

  • What is the need
  • Who are the people
  • What is the purpose
  • What is the outcome desired
  • What is the process (and hosting)

What is the desired format (images, video, graphics, quotes…)

  • depends on purpose and outcome
  • depends on who it is intended for:
    • individual - notes
    • collective - graphic
    • others who were not a part of the process - graphic for others

To prepare yourself:

  • what do I know about the context and the subject? What I don’t know, can I find out?
  • What is the nature of the discussion, is there a structure?
  • What are the sought outcomes, how can I make sure to capture and visualise them?
  • Be aware that in the moment things might go differently, so be prepared to improvise

Important to remember that it doesn’t matter what you (the harvester) think. See yourself as a surface (e.g. surface of a lake) - when your mind is still, you can reflect things as they are, when it’s disturbed/wavy, you deform things, or make them murky… Be aware of your own lenses and try to keep them as clear as possible. You are there to support, not to give opinions: capture what is important to them, not to you. So first thing to do is BREATHE! It helps with staying calm and focused (and alive). The second thing is to LISTEN. Not just to what is said, but how it is said. The third thing is to THINK on your feet - just for a brief moment to help you DISTILL what is said. Put the pen on paper asap. TIME is of the essence…

The first task is to gather data. Find flow and meaning in the words…

The second (and most important task) is to distill and process data (what is the essence that can inform the outcome):

  • Highlight meaning and recurring insight - what is this conversation really about? find keywords (even if they are not said), patterns, name them… Capture things that made the room react, things that they repeat..
  • Relationships and connections (e.g. network maps, clusters, mind maps…)
  • Capacities, resources and methods (that can help the group achieve the outcomes)
  • Actions (things people mention in passing that already points to 'next steps')

The final task is to create imagery (if there is time).

  • Feeding back and feeding forward: using harvesting to make meaning of what happened and to inform the group towards next steps
  • Try to get the opportunity to explain what you have done and to ask for feedback (what have I missed?)

Harvesting tools

  • Letters (speed vs legibility): if things are going fast, write things up as you can, don’t worry about graphics
  • Spacing and structuring of space (frame, flow - e.g. inside→outside, left, right, up, down…)
  • Lines: grouping, connection, separation, emphasis
  • Shapes: enforcing separation and grouping (different shapes have different associations: eg. circle = wholeness, square = contrast, stability, rigidity, star - importance, bright, rank), diagrams (venn, matrixes, curves…)
  • Symbols: maths, music, religious, monetary, airport, road…
  • Visual conventions: add meanings and contexts: speech bubbles, speed lines, emotional emphasis, hearts, excalamation marks, typographic playfulness (eg. shivering letters for the word cold)
  • Colours: group, separate, enrich meaning, stimulate (take time to consider which colours to use! (exercise: associations to red, blue, yellow, orange, green, purple, white (thin blue line around white letter), black)
  • Insignia: flags, logos
  • Life: people and things
  • Icons: use to visualise - steal, or build your own iconography.


Below are a few quick exercises we did during a three hour session, each of which can expand to fill in weeks and months of practice. After each exercise take your tome to reflect on what you observed

  • Write the alphabet as quickly and legibly as possible, in a straight line (or lines).
  • Have someone read a magazine article out to you and try to:
    • a) write it all down as quickly as possible not worrying about where on the paper you place the text
    • b) take another article and write it out spatially. think about what is talked about and decide where to place the text. (left-right, up-down, centre-periphery, left bottom corner - right top corner). Note how the different spatial structuring effects the meaning and mood of the text
  • Write down 3-4 words with sufficient space between them. Then draw different lines:
    • one line to group two or more words
    • one line to connect two or more words
    • one line to separate two or more words
    • one line to emphasize one or more words
    • try to make a story based on what you see
  • Write the same word four times. Then draw a circle around the first word, a square around the next one, a star around or next the following word, a cloud around the final one. Then look at the different words and reflect on the meaning the different shapes add to the written words
  • Divide the paper into four parts. Write two words in the first, three in the second, four in the third and five in the fourth.
    • In the first part create a venn diagram to connect the two words
    • In the second create an xy graph and connect the words with an arrow
    • In the third create a 2x2 matrix and place one word in each quadrant
    • In the fourth connect the five words in a mind map
  • Divide your paper into two columns and ~10 rows. In the left column write a word, in the right draw a symbol. The facilitator says words one by one, the participants write and draw: Eg. music, restaurant, toilet, money, love, death, religion, go left, no parking, Belgium, Michelin, Apple…
  • The facilitator says words describing emotional states and actions, the participants draw them (using visual conventions, such as speech bubbles, speed lines, symbols…); Eg. hate, rest, death, love, thinking, yelling, running, laughing, sadness…
  • The facilitator shows one coloured card at the time, the participants free associate. What does this colour bring out in you (emotion, action, mood…)
  • The facilitator shows different ways of drawing people (star people, balloon people, stick figures, squiggles…) and invites participants to create a scene using different kinds of 'people' doing different things. At the end the participants describe what they see in each other's scenes
  • Play a short video (5-10 minutes) of a public speech (politicians, TED talks, Pecha Kucha talks, debates…) and attempt to graphically record the talk using all the 'tools' learned so far.

See also other explanations of graphic recording:

Next session: Flow, or how to design long form sessions that are composed of different types of conversations and exercises. This session is planned for the 18th December 2014.

This session is co-created and hosted by Maja Kuzmanovic and Simone Tiesinga-Poutnik

Designing a flow in participatory processes concerns the design of the process as a whole and the connections and relationships between different elements (sessions, participants, spaces, content…). Flow is both spatial and temporal. A spatial flow includes movement of people in, out and through the place in which the process takes place. Temporal flow is about the sequence in which different sessions or processes happen. You might call this a 'programme' or 'agenda' or 'schedule'. By naming it differently we set a different tone and intention in a process.

Exercise: associate words, concepts and atmospheres that come up in your mind when you hear the word:

  • programme
  • schedule
  • ark
  • flow

Flow across fields

Flow in spiritual practices

It won’t surprise you that flow is often associated with fluidity & spontaneity. This connotation is embedded in our language. Flow is one of those holistic terms that is applicable across disciplines and cultures. For example, in taoism, flow is related to the notion of wei wu wei - action without action or effortless doing. The texts talk about the yielding nature of water that can assume any shape it inhabits - a lake, waterfall, rain… Water adapts to its environment, without loosing its essence: it always remains water in whatever shape or form.

One of the important taoist lessons is that to achieve flow it’s important to let go of struggle, to stop fighting against the current to make things happen. It doesn’t mean that we should become apathetic and allow anything to happen, but that it’s important to observe what’s happening and act from an awareness of the situation, rather than holding on to goals that might not be realistic in a given situation. It also teaches us to embrace uncertainty, without fearing it. This is of course easier said than done: it’s all about practice of observing and interacting - wei wu wei not something that can be learned from books.

A similar concept is found in hinduism and tantric buddhism, something called Sahaja - 'spontaneous spirituality’ or 'naturalness'. It talks about flow that is always there, although can be obscured by afflictive emotions, civilisation and grasping.

“The tree grows according to Sahaja, natural and spontaneous in complete conformity with the Natural Law of the Universe. Nobody tells it what to do or how to grow. It has no swadharma or rules, duties and obligations incurred by birth. It has only its own inborn self or essence - to guide it. Sahaja is that nature which, when established in oneself, brings the state of absolute freedom and peace.”

Flow in ecology and permaculture

In the science of ecology flow is about the flow of energy in self-organising systems, a way of maintaining a dynamic balance. For example, we talk about energy flows in the food chain: solar energy fixed by plants, moving to primary consumers, herbivores who eat the plants, then to secondary consumers, carnivores and predators who eat the herbivores and finally the decomposers the fungi, maggots and insects who eat all that decays.

In permaculture it is important to harness the natural flows of energies as water, traffic and wildlife. Flow is the dynamic and changeable aspect of permaculture design. Another aspect of flow in permaculture is the flow of energy conservation, where a self-sustaining system divides its energy into three phases. 1/3 energy used to preserve yourself, 1/3 energy you give to smaller components that can feed you and finally 1/3 of your energy goes to maintaining the larger system on which you are dependent.

Crowd dynamics

Behaviour of crowds is modelled using fluid dynamics, which studies the physical aspects of liquids. Crowd dynamics is used in urban planning, architecture, disaster drills, risk and crowd control (protests, manifestations). Crowds are a flowing continuum (a term from borrowed from fluid mechanics). In fluid mechanics equations applicable to thinking fluids can for example be used to assist crowd control to prevent deaths due to aggressive mob dynamics, for example in the muslim hajj, traffic jams, battles, evacuation, etc.

Crowd is non-linear, time dependent and has a particular type of intelligence of its own, that is different to the sum of intelligencies of each individual in the crowd. It can be related to swarm dynamics of social insects (bees, ants, bird-flocks) - where we collectively behave more like water - in waves, rather than particles…

Traditional medicine

Within our bodies, according to ancient healing systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine (TAM), humans are made up of channels through which both liquids and energy flow.

In TCM, the Flow of Qi or life energy happens through a network of meridians that criss-cross our bodies. We use acupuncture to stimulate the flow in the meridians. In TAM illness is caused by blockages in the flow of fluids and energy through the body that can only be cleared using a holistic approach - massage, diet, meditation, movement and environmental stimuli. The physical and energetic flows are inextricably connected - something that contemporary reductionist and disciplinary approaches to medicine are lacking. Integrative medicine is an interesting approach where the knowledge flows between alternative and evidence based approaches.

Human flow experiences

Our mental flows influence the way we interact with the world. Particular activities make us feel as if things flow from inside us to the outside and back again - we say we feel 'energised' or 'drained' by some people and situations. When we’re energised - things flow smoothly and interactions build on each other - energy you put into the system feeds you as well. When we feel drained - we put a lot of energy into a system but it gives nothing back, leading to exhaustion, or we want to put energy into it, but something is blocking us, leading to frustration. When we say there is a good flow, there is usually a positive feedback loop between yourself and others, feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself. Some activities are known to produce flow experiences more easily than others, for example, improvisation, sports, creative endeavours, rituals, religious/spiritual practice, play and games… All share the same type of flow experience.

Exercise: What characterises the experience of flow in different human endeavours? List characteristics in terms of emotions, actions, resources.

In our exercise the answers were the following:

  • an intrinsic goal, the activity is the goal itself
  • a pleasant relationship with time, joyful
  • intense focus without distractions, almost meditative
  • concentrated energy
  • disappearance/irrelevance of self/ego
  • crossing the treshold, a point of no return
  • a dance with pleasure and pain
  • spontaneity and serendipity

Flow in Psychology

Flow (aka Zone) in psychology, according to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, “is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

According to the flow theory three conditions that have to be met in order to reach 'the zone':

  • involvement in an activity with clear goals and progress
  • clear feedback must exist between your action and its effect on the task (so you can adjust what you’re doing to remain in the flow state)
  • a good balance between perceived challenges and your own perceived skills - you must be confident that you are able to complete the task at hand.

Flow model

When deliberately designing for flow experiences it’s good to keep these conditions and their effects in mind. It is therefore important to know beforehand who the people are, what is their skill level and what they’re interested in.

Flow loop model (Schaffer) is another tool that might help:

opportunity for action → action → performance feedback → opportunity for action → action → …

In Schaffer’s model several conditions must be met:

  • Knowing what to do
  • Knowing how to do it
  • Knowing how well you are doing
  • Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  • High perceived challenges
  • High perceived skills
  • Freedom from distractions

Something similar is often used in game design:

Group flow

So far we talked about individual flow experiences, but what interest us in Hosting Craft is how to achieve group flows where individual members can remain 'in the zone' for extended periods of time - hours or days at the time.

There are some characteristics of groups that psychologists suggest we should think about:

  • Creative spatial arrangements: Chairs, pin walls, charts, but no tables; thus work primarily standing and moving
  • Playground design: Charts for information inputs, flow graphs, project summary, craziness (here also craziness has a place), safe place (here all may say what is otherwise only thought), result wall, open topics
  • Parallel, organized working
  • Target group focus
  • Prototyping and visualising, making ideas concrete
  • Using differences among participants as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle

See more about Flow Psychology on Wikipedia

Spatial Flow: How will people move in space, what is there to guide them, how do you steer movement, is there enough personal space?

Useful metaphors

  • different forms of water - raindrops, brook, river, waterfall, lake, puddle, ocean…
  • swarms, flocks - group made of individual particles

Temporal flow: How will the group move towards its purpose while staying engaged and energised?

Useful metaphors

  • ebb & flow
  • breathing, pulsing
  • birth, growth, decay, death
  • day, season, year, decade…
  • cycles within cycles - a flow is rarely linear progress
  • bodily rhythms - different processes occurring simultaneously… think about flows for individuals (different shades of introverts and extroverts), small groups, whole group, their distant networks…

Designing group flows

We tend to rely on a combination of intuition (which comes through practice - our craft) and on proven techniques (either developed by ourselves or others). Intuition cant be taught. It comes from an iterative practice of designing a flow beforehand then running through it in your minds eye and check what your gut feeling says, then adjust accordingly. It also helps to run through the flow with someone you trust - whether they are co-facilitating with you or not - as if you’re crowdsourcing your intuition.

Both intuition and known techniques can give us enough grounding to include more experimental methods, which we always do - otherwise the sessions can become stale and routine. Most participatory processes are akin to the creative process which consists of phases of divergence and convergence, with an interesting, but usually difficult emergence zone in the middle, also known as “the groan zone”:

Divergence, emergence, convergence

It’s good to prepare the flow (in quite a bit of detail) beforehand, then adjust on the spot if something doesn’t feel right. No predesigned flow is ever perfect. It’s like a canal vs. a river. A canal cuts through a landscape according to a plan, a river carves its way through a landscape on its lowest points, where there is least resistance. To recognise the resistance the hosts rely on their keen perception and observation: you watch carefully not just the explicit communication, but also pay attention to body language, sounds, light and other material and immaterial signs.

Designing a flow must be an iterative process. It’s like breathing - there is a progress but it develops through different cycles (e.g agreeing on purpose, action, reflection). In the Art of Hosting one of the approaches to designing the flow is a process called The 8 Breaths:

  1. The Call: the caller formulates the question and creates commitment in the team (with hosts help)
  2. Clarify: clarifying the purpose and context, agree on the core team and people’s roles
  3. Invite: “the art of invitation” - deciding who are the stakeholders who should be present - who cares about the matter, who should but can’t be heard. The invitation can be open or closed, curated or allowing for serendipity - it all depends on the call and the context.
  4. Design: create the 'recipe' with its ingredients and methods (purpose, flow, skills, resources, harvesting…). Design a detailed script, including all the logistics; over-prepare in order to be free
  5. Meet: before starting, check-in with the team and make sure you’re all present and grounded… It’s good to have someone to do 'space hosting' - have a birds' eye view on the whole, to avoid getting lost in the details. Recording and HARVESTING is crucial - it’s often said that we don’t design the process but the harvest, the thing that remains after the process ends.
  6. Harvest: reflection: a good framework to use is the so called "what? so what? now what?" framework.
  7. Act: communication, documentation, follow-up. Participants want to know what happens with the results of a process, or they might feel betrayed…
  8. Reflection: breathe, celebrate, connect back to the purpose and the call

Hosting as Art and Craft

In designing flows we have to remember that it isn’t all about methodologies and formats - the stakes are much higher than that. Focusing on the techniques alone cannot produce life-changing experiences. Integral Facilitation, based on Integral theory by Ken Wilber talks about a much more holistic approach.

The image above by Simone Tiesinga-Poutnik describes a holistic approach to hosting. Grounded in our own source of life, we must pay attention to the world-views - our own and those present in the group (e.g. relational, mechanistic…), they are usually under the surface, but will influence conversations and can easily be disturbed. Just above ground we’ll find the purpose or reason for a process, that should be shaped into powerful questions. A host is there to help people to stand up for what they want to do. Metaphors and mental models (such as divergence-convergence, chaordic process…) can help us frame the the overall scope of the process. Above the models we come to the processes and methods, which are chosen based on the purpose, woven together into a flow. Only then we come to the techniques - which is what people tend to think is the core of facilitation (but as we have seen in Hosting Craft, it definitely isn’t!). There are many techniques that can be used, combined, adapted, re-mixed and woven together. See links to several techniques below. All techniques begin and end in conversations - the fruits of the participatory process. Fruits need to be harvested, which is an often overlooked part of facilitation. We should harvest both tangible and intangible results and always have a surplus - a harvest should be abundant (images, notes, audio, video… have back-up plans…) - better harvest too much than too little. At the end of the process participants like to have something to take away (a newsletter for example). If you don’t have the resources to make it yourself, get people to make something themselves… Don’t just leave them hanging as unwanted fruit… And to end, don’t forget to celebrate!

Participatory techniques

Here are a few links to (compilations of) existing techniques:

  • Collaborative Innovation Guide by Natural Innovation, an extensive compilation including the explanation of the 8 breaths and a range of participatory methods and techniques, from appreciative inquiry to open space and many more.
  • Hosting in a Hurry by Chris Corrigan is an excellent quick guide to the Art of Hosting in practice
  • (see also the reference links at the bottom of this page)

Flow exercise

As our hosting craft session was close to the winter solstice, our flow exercise was to collectively design a solstice ritual.

Exercise: Design a ritual The Call
hat is the purpose of the ritual? One or more people can succinctly describe the call, which can be discussed until everyone agrees on the purpose. The Ingredients
Brainstorm (first individually, then in the group) what are the ingredients of the ritual (elements, modalities, atmospheres, sensations…). Everyone writes a few ingredients on post-its (one per post-it). The participants present their ingredients and the facilitator makes a rough series of clusters (with everyone’s help). The clusters can become the 'sessions/components' in the ritual. The Flow
Combine the components into the flow of the ritual. How does it begin, where does it end? What are the inputs and outputs of each component? What is missing? Do we need additional/transitional ingredients? Look back at the purpose: does each of the components, and the flow as a whole lead towards the fulfilment of our purpose? What is the spatial flow of the ritual - where does each component happen and how do the people move from one component/space to the other? The Production
Once you are satisfied with the flow, work on the details - the practicalities and logistics. Decide on the roles - who is doing what? Do they know what their role entails? Do they need anything from others? Think about the resources needed - materials, media, scents, foods or any other physical elements that might need to be made or procured. The Rehearsal
Run through the ritual with everyone. First talk through the flow, then actually do it, by briefly walking through the spaces you’ll be using, inviting the people responsible for different components to explain what will be happening. The Ritual
Set the intention to go through the ritual and fulfil its purpose. Check-in with the team and do a short grounding/breathing exercise before you start. Once you start, go through it from beginning to end without stopping. The Reflection
After a short break have a brief reflection on what people experienced (possibly using the “what? so what? then what?” framework. The Celebration
End the session in a celebration of your choosing. It can be as simple as toasting to each other, or as elaborate as a whole party. It’s up to you, you are - after all - the host!

The end

With the flow and the ritual, we come to the end of the Hosting Craft training. It was an inspiring learning journey. From now on we will transform into a community of practice, sharing experiences and supporting each other’s facilitation effort.

My warm thanks to Simone Tiesinga-Poutnik who much enriched the last session on flow. But most of all I’d like to thank the gracious host-trainees: Eva Peeters, Eva De Groote, Rasa Alksnyte, Kathleen Melis, Luea Ritter, Michka Melo, Alkan Chipperfield, Barbara Raes and Stevie Wishart. I wish you all the most wonderful hosting experiences and hope to see you at our upcoming Hosting Craft gatherings - which you’re welcome to initiate yourself!

A few experiments that we at FoAM scavenged and adapted from various methods

  • hosting_craft.txt
  • Last modified: 2024-01-18 13:24
  • by timbo