Category Archives: Government & Public Sector

Civil Society Government & Public Sector Multi-Stakeholder

Meditations on Surfing Democracy II

Leading with the question “How can we surf the wave of participative democracy?”, our intention was to open and facilitate a process for learning, reflection and exchange. The surfing metaphor emerged in response to the physical stance of one of the facilitators – like standing on a surfboard on a mighty wave.

Initiated by the Büro für Zukunftsfragen (Office for future-related issues) in Vorarlberg/Austria, the European Institute for Public Participation and the Staatsministerium Baden-Württemberg (State Ministry of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany) the Surfing Democracy II conference brought together facilitators, public administrators, civil society actors, foundations, researchers, and politicians committed to public participation and participative democracy.

Business Civil Society Government & Public Sector Health Home & Family

Beyond Presentations and Panels: Public Engagement Through Meaningful Conversation

This story describes the impact intentionality around developing a hosting team, the invitation that is offered, constructing powerful questions and creatively sharing what emerges can have in fostering an authentic public engagement effort as a University partner.

Civil Society Government & Public Sector Multi-Stakeholder

Manifesting a second-order revolution in Brazil

The whole story is at:

Street protests will not disappear (nor should they), but perhaps the demonstrations of the future will include a walk of millions, followed by thousands of dialogue circles. Perhaps the definition of new laws will be preceded by open conversations that take place in a public park near you, and hosted by anyone who is interested. Imagine what might happen if political representatives were to join these conversations to meet with their constituents face to face. No longer will political responsibility be delegated to the few. Instead, the public could take much closer ownership of the political process.

Arts & Culture Business Civil Society Education Environment Government & Public Sector Health Home & Family Multi-Stakeholder

New Conversations fora Better Future – Pacific Ocean coast SE Australia

Our current crucial public conversations are dominated by win-lose politics and media driven, crisis focussed drama and short-termism. People don’t fully engage or are depicted as hapless victims; and leaders are criticised as never good enough, continually letting us down. We often feel frustrated and stuck.

We need a new conversation. We need people strong enough to hold a container to host and lead these new conversations.

Our positive and engaging future lies in collaboration and innovation. This requires a conversation of trust. possibility and engagement.

The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter demonstrates and teaches the structures, processes and skills to lead crucial multi-stakeholder conversations.

If these challenges and opportunities speak to you please join us for New Conversations for A Better Future an Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations That Matter training workshop for all people interested in dialogue, collaboration and participative decision making. It will be held at Murramarang Eco Resort on the NSW south coast east of Canberra on 28-31 July.

Education Government & Public Sector

Hosting the classroom

Being introduced to the Art of Hosting has fundamentally changed how I teach in ways that I can clearly discern. Being introduced to hosting has enhanced how I prepare my students to practice engagement, facilitation, and hosting. But it also helps me reflect on and advance not only my practice as a host, but also my practice as a teacher. The two are closely intertwined; I now regard the classroom as a hosting environment and have reoriented my role to being a host of professional learning.

Arts & Culture Business Civil Society Education Environment Government & Public Sector Multi-Stakeholder

The Living Soil Forum: Building a Movement to Steward Living Soil

This is a story with which any grower will be familiar. It is the practice of sowing and harvesting; the cycle of growth and decay; the dance between chaos and order. It is a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the planning of the first Living Soil Forum; a humble gathering of soil stewards designed to grow a movement to secure a better future for our soils.

As a gardener I am fascinated by the potential of seeds. As a process host I am fascinated by potential of questions. Jostein Gaarder writes, “An answer is always the part of the road that is behind you. Only questions point to the future.” This statement asks its own questions to a culture where many of us look to so-called experts for answers or solutions to complex problems. “What if solutions can also be found by asking the right questions?” “What if wiser action can come through activating collective intelligence or by utilising the knowledge and resources at our disposal”?

In March, 2013 the ‘Summer of Soil’ team met together for the first time in person. Six young change-makers from Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand. We asked ourselves: “How could we sow the seeds of a collaborative and regenerative agricultural system?” “What if the principles and processes we apply to grow good food could also be used to grow a movement to steward soil”? If questions like these represent seeds of the Summer of Soil, then the Living Soil Forum is a fruit of these seeds.

The Living Soil Forum (LSF) took place at Kulturcentrum Järna , Sweden from 22-26 July, 2013; part of a larger five-week festival called the Summer of Soil. This festival also offered a series of courses designed to raise awareness and share knowledge on a range of soil related topics, and a beautiful exhibition showcasing the power, potential and vulnerability of our soils. The Forum itself brought together 130 policy-makers, scientists, artists, farmers, retailers and youth; concerned citizens from around the world. No ordinary conference, the Forum has been celebrated for succeeding where many conferences fail, by effectively engaging and connecting people and ideas; creating common understanding; integrating existing initiatives; and promoting genuine, cross-sector collaboration.

This story also represents a harvest, so to speak, of the LSF journey from intention to realisation. And it offers some personal insight into the arts of convening, hosting and harvesting meaningful conversations like those held at the LSF.

“Collective clarity of purpose is the invisible leader” Mary Parker Follett

It could be argued that the success of any initiative, organisation or action begins with, and depends upon, the skilful alignment of need and purpose. The Summer of Soil began as an impulse; a response to a clear need. Many readers will be familiar with issue of soil degradation. Yet sadly, despite being one of the most critical challenges of our time, it is still largely unknown to the majority. The issue affects the future of not only our species, but of all life. So the question of maintaining healthy, living soil should be central to conversations on biodiversity, food-security, health, climate and more. The challenge of soil degradation is of a magnitude and complexity such that it is beyond the power of any single organisation, industry or country to address alone. A broad-scale, cross-sector, collaborative approach is needed. Collective will and collective wisdom are needed. And they are needed now! Our first important step was to recognise and respond directly to this urgent need. We did so with the following statement of purpose; the objectives for the Living Soil Forum:

• Build an inclusive, global soil movement
• Inspire concerned consumers and especially youth to become active soil stewards
• Promote soil awareness throughout the entire agricultural system
• Showcase innovative practices and inspirational centres of agricultural production, living soil conservation and regeneration
• Design and initiate real projects and campaigns to leverage soil acupuncture points across the globe

This purpose resonated enough with others we contacted to enable them to step forward in support of the project. What had begun as a core team of six suddenly became a much larger field. 

“The quality of the field determines the quality of the yield.” Otto Scharmer

It is hard to overemphasise the importance of preparing the field. Wise growers understand that healthy soil is a living system in and of itself. It is essential for supporting healthy crops, healthy ecosystems and healthy humans. So it follows that stewarding living soil should be the principle practice of every grower. The same is true when it comes to nurturing life and health in our communities and organisations, only here, the field of practice takes a more intangible form as we create and host spaces for relationships to deepen and grow.

What emerged from the LSF, after roughly six months of preparation, was only possible due to help from the local community. Within this existing field, time and energy was invested in maintaining collective clarity of purpose; building a broad support network of international partners, sponsors and contributors; and gathering a team of dedicated interns and volunteers from across Europe to assist with practicalities. In all of these areas, the quality of the field depends on the consciousness and the intention with which people are invited into relationship.

“The need translates into a clear purpose and some defined outcomes. These two fixed-points can offer the coordinates for a good harvest.” Nissen, Corrigan et al.

Very few growers would plant a crop without a clear purpose. It would be foolish to invest time preparing the field, sowing the seeds and tending the crop only to find that it bears no fruit; that the fruit is of no use; or worst of all, that perfectly good fruit goes to waste. Yet this is precisely what many of us experience all too often in meetings, conferences and strategic conversations where despite the best intentions, results leave us feeling unsatisfied.

When we plan a meeting, what we are really doing is planning a harvest. To avoid frustration or failure it is important to establish clarity around purpose and desired outcomes. When these are clear, planning a meeting becomes more focused as we can now imagine which practical elements are necessary to generate a harvest that can be put to best use.

The planned harvest of the LSF led to outcomes whose impact can be seen and measured as well as those whose impact is felt or sensed. These intangible outcomes are no less important as they support the life and health of the metaphorical field and create favourable conditions for the seeds of tangible action to germinate.

“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place, but a seed to be planted and to bear more seeds toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.” John Ciardi

If good questions are seeds of ideas and potential, a clear, purposeful invitation ensures that a seed finds a good seedbed in a fertile field of relationships. Appropriate timing ensures the temperature is right for the idea to break dormancy. Publicity provides the oxygen to allow the metabolic exchange of ideas. And good communication and dialogue behave as water to activate the growth of an idea and transfer nutrients around the living system. Once the idea has sprouted, collective will photosynthesises inspiration into energy for continued growth.

Much attention was given to crafting the LSF invitation. Our audience was anyone concerned enough about the state of the world’s soils to want to be part of the solution. Care was taken to clearly communicate the need and purpose to them, with seeds being planted in the form of calling questions around key focus areas. Communicating our objectives and intentions through the invitation was the best way to ensure that those who responded shared our intention. The invitation also planted expectations of a different way of working and collaborating; one that focused not on problems, but on solutions that work to secure and restore healthy, living soil.

“Who we are together will always be different and more, than who we are alone.” Margaret Wheatley

Just as working with the land is a practice, working and meeting well with others is a practice. It involves exploring the deeper patterns around effective relationships within groups and designing meetings where people can do their best work together. Experience shows that when working in complexity, dialogue-based methodologies and participatory processes are a way to generate fruitful results. These provide sufficient structure without prescribing the outcome, and they allow for the emergence of new insights and collective wisdom.

At the LSF itself, simple yet powerful processes were carefully chosen to serve the intended harvest. The program was composed of three main elements:
• Inspiration in the form of keynote talks and workshops,
• Conversation and participant led dialogue around the four Focus Areas, and
• Designing for Wiser Action, a 2-3 day design process in which participants formed design teams to collaborate on the development of actionable projects.

Work was balanced with generous breaks and mealtimes during which local, organic/biodynamic food was thoroughly enjoyed. Evenings provided opportunities to connect informally with other participants around cultural offerings and time was dedicated before breakfast each morning for those participants wishing to get their hands dirty by taking part in fieldwork.

“The fruits of our most important conversations need to be harvested if they are to have an impact in the world.” Nissen, Corrigan et al.

Picking the fruits corresponds to creating a collective memory. Collective meaning can then be generated by processing these fruits. During the LSF a team of ‘harvesters’ worked tirelessly to pick the fruits of the program. These were captured using a variety of media, from written word, film, photography and graphics to art installations. Many fruits were picked and fed back to the Forum right away. Some are undergoing further processing and some will be saved as seed for the next season to inspire future collaboration.

The LSF was a success on many levels with each of its objectives being met in some way. Tangible outcomes of the Forum included the coming together of 130 colleagues and friends, comprehensive documentation of inspiration and conversation tracks in multiple media, and 13 active projects for securing and restoring healthy, living soil. These projects included Solidarity, a volunteer program aimed at enhancing soils through organised engagements; a crowd-built, online course called Understanding Soil hosted by Allversity; and plans for a global network of beacon farms, research training and innovation centres for ecological restoration. Intangible outcomes were also significant and included a shared sense of purpose, a strong network of relationships in the field of trust and goodwill, renewed energy, inspiration, collective insight on a number of key questions, and individual and collective learning.

It was inspiring to witness the energy generated by the LSF 2013. Participants spoke of lives changed and commitments made as we accepted collective responsibility to work together, to restore and maintain living soils. Many of us came as growers with experience of stewarding life in the soil. All of us left as growers of a movement committed to stewarding soil for life. The Living Soil Movement continues to grow, with Forum participants planting its seeds widely into other initiatives and with projects initiated at the LSF already bearing fruit.

Visit for more information on how to join the Living Soil Movement and for details on the outcomes of the Living Soil Forum and the Summer of Soil. Or contact James Ede, Summer of Soil core-team member and coordinator of the Living Soil Forum, 2013

Government & Public Sector

How can we better live and work together, in the service of the population ?

The stakeholders
• The Mayor, sponsor of the event
• The General Director of the Townhall Services (DGS), project manager and co- facilitator
• The DGS team, organizer of the event
• The Services and Departments Managers, team workshop facilitators
• The 220 Municipal Agents, participants

Context of the intervention
• Early September, I went to help the DGS of a city in Vendée to organize a first seminar with all city agents.
• Three goals were targeted for this seminar :
o Arouse the pride of agents for the role they play within their job and for the public service
o Promote dialogue and solidarity between agents and services
o Open space so that the agents be empowered in their work and willingly contribute to the collaborative project of the municipality
• One major constraint was to be managed: the separation of school agents from the rest of services for reasons of continuity of service.
Also a challenge and opportunity at the same time was to co-organize and co-facilitate an event with a team not accustomed to facilitation.

The flow
After having met the DGS and his team, the HR Director, the Mayor and most of Services and Departments Managers, we chose the flow as follows:
• Introduction and framing
o Welcome words
o Purpose, agenda and principles for the day
• World-Cafe in the morning, led from three questions, to help the agents to go back to the meaning in their work
o Who am I and what makes me particularly proud in my work today?
o How can we know that we do a good job?
o We are in 2016 and the magic happened. The municipal services of the city are as you had dreamt them 3 years ago. You are proud and happy to work there today. The city is shown as an example outside and agents from other cities come to meet you so that you tell them what happened. Tell them the story of what happened…
• Team workshop in early afternoon, to (re)discover the mission of each team/service
o What are the main activities that we take care of in our team/service?
o What is the overall mission emerging out of those activities for our service?
o Who are the members of our team ?
o What animal, image, music is … would well describe our team/service ?
• Quick Open-Space start in the late afternoon, in plenary, to allow agents to launch actions together
o What impactful actions we can start as of Monday, to improve the quality of our work and of our relationship between services?
• Closure
o A word of each participant on how the day was for her/him, graphically captured
o Closing words and thanks of the Mayor

• Overall, the intervention was considered as a success, to be reiterated.
o A working and friendly atmosphere ; people sharing happily ; cohesion and adhesion to a collective project ; a time to step back and reflect ; the discovered potential of being actor of the project of the municipality.
• Of course, some learnings and questions arouse too when we did the later debrief :
o Was the flow of the second day too long? ; it was an extraordinary morning and the afternoon was not as well understood and perceived ; next time we should involve employee representatives as of the beginning.

A vision on the key success factors of the project
• The time taken to build relationship and trust between stakeholders and the openness of all of them
• The listening quality and responsiveness of the sponsor and organizers

Education Government & Public Sector Health Home & Family Multi-Stakeholder

The Journey Home: Back to Ourselves and Into Our Community

I’ve heard folks say that a “3 day Art of Hosting does not a practitioner make” and I would add that it’s the start of a practitioners journey. I’ve just completed a 2 day capstone experience with a community of practice through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in Baltimore, MD. The hosting team included Fabio Lomelino and Laura Griffin, Community Conversation staff that have helped convene a 10 month learning journey – convening community builders from across the US that do work with refugee and immigrant resettlement services across the country. I’ve never had an opportunity quite like this- how often do we host a 3 day Art of Hosting, provide ongoing learning and connection throughout 10 months and then reconvene to deepen relationships and distill the learning? The stories that surfaced throughout our 2 day gathering were that of personal transformation- transformation from the inside out. People gathered in September thinking they were getting tools to bring back to use in their community and what ended up happening was a collective learning journey of how to integrate this practice into our being- transforming ourselves, our relationships, our organizations, and our communities.

The design for the 2 day was intentional in that we wanted to step into the not knowing of what would emerge – we created our purpose statement:

“Contributing the learning from our experience and deepening our relationships to co-create a vision for sparking and activating transformation within ourselves, our organizations and our communities.”

We gathered in the Fredrick-Douglas Isaac Meyers Maritime Museum, a beautiful open space with wood floors, brick walls, and windows on all sides that face out the eastern seaboard. The site was fitting in more ways than we could even begin to imagine. Our planning calls helped frame our thinking around the questions with past, present, and future. Throughout the museum the art and artifacts were all laid out with a “past, present, future” context.

The quote that helped us think about our work during these two days was:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work- but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

This event was unique in many ways. LIRS is converging on their strategic plan and wanted to hear from the collective wisdom of the group as their plans transitions from Community Conversations out of a separate program and integrate its practices into the work they do as a network host. We started our day with a brief check-in that lead to a teach on the Theory U Levels of Listening. We then went into a Collective Story Harvest with four different storytellers from the Community Conversations group. They shared their story with participants and the Strategic Council members from LIRS. Throughout the story sharing, key pieces surfaced that affirmed what LIRS was looking to continue to explore with their strategic plan.

After lunch, the Strategic Council headed back and the rest of the participants went into a World Café’ where we explored the following questions:
1. Share a story of how you have brought Community Conversations home to your organization and community.
2. What new learning has surfaced for you from engaging with Community Conversations?
3. How do we transition Community Conversation from a project into a practice? From events we organize to how we operate?

We harvested the learning between rounds which helped the collective wisdom to continue to grow and emerge as we deepened our conversations in each round. We revisited the 4 Fold Practice from last September and explored what happens when you integrate the learning from a Community of Practice back into how we host our self. We closed the day with the question, “What is dying to be born?”

The next day participants lead our check-in with a breathing exercise and a conversation around what surfaced with the question we closed the previous day with. We then hosted a teach on the Systems Change Map that deepened our understanding of what Community Conversations was transitioning out of and explored what was beginning to emerge with the relationships in the room.

We broke into smaller groups to explore a conversation around the sustainability and adaptability of our group, together we explored:
1. What is the most important piece of this for you to continue forward with as the capstone comes to a close?
2. What do you need to sustain this?
3. What commitment do you personally make to sustaining this?

Conversations around relationships, local capacity building, connecting to a community of practitioners swirled around the room as we began growing in our learning from our local experiences. We came back to Circle and shared out our personal commitments to the group- making visible what we were responsibly agreeing to carry forward with our passion for this work. Over lunch, we convened in smaller groups to explore the common threads of our commitments and started to sense into a deeper level of connection and practice.

We explored in the afternoon the invitation from the collective to the commons – exploring how story builds a desire to connect- fulfilling a longing for community. Hosting hospitality into who we are as humans, creating welcome and building belonging into our communities. Our check out question for our final day together was “What is quaking in you as you prepare for your journey home?”

What surfaced in our check-out was a deep reminder for all of us… that this journey was a collective remembering of who we are as human beings and how we collectively strengthen our communities through sharing our story, our experience, and our learning along the journey. This was a journey of bringing us home – back into ourselves and our community.

Government & Public Sector

Self-hosted Organisational Change in the European Parliament

In April and May 2012 I worked together with two colleagues – Rainer von Leoprechting and Mary-Alice Arthur – on a collaborative inquiry with the European Parliament exploring how to make the work of the European Parliament more efficient and meaningful. Rather than us designing and hosting the 3 day conference, our role was to train and coach staff members to facilitate their colleagues.

A group of about twenty staff was selected and we had 2 days to train them on how to facilitate their ca. 300 colleagues from all different units of their directorate in sharing their insights and thinking together about areas of improvement for the organisation.

Each of us consultants was supporting a team of around six people as they hosted and harvested three parallel thee-day workshops, each with a different theme. At the end of each day the three parallel streams came together in plenary to share the major findings and insights of each workshop.

Nick Payne, a colleague and graphic facilitator captured the major insights from the days in a gigantic drawing that reflected not only the spoken words but also the spirit of the event – see photograph.

After the event we had a follow up day with the team of facilitators to consolidate harvest. The main themes and findings were fed back to the leadership team of the organisation to take them forward into their strategic planning. The process created a lot of momentum for positive change in the directorate, change generated by the staff themselves rather than done to them.