Hosting the Toughest Conversations of Our Time

*Join us for the Art of Participatory Leadership training in Saco, Maine, April 11-13*

Last weekend I had the incredible opportunity to join a three-day Art of Participatory Leadership training, organized by members of the Art of Hosting network in partnership with Transition US, on the theme of “Building Resilient Communities & Organizations ~ Creating Change.”

The second Art of Participatory Leadership training in Northern California, it was a transformative experience of building deep bonds with fellow Transitioners and community resilience builders from throughout our region while practicing hosting techniques that create an environment from which creativity and collective genius can emerge.

I’m still carrying the glow from those three-days spent with kindred spirits in a setting rich with natural beauty and trying to integrate all that I’ve learned, but while it’s still fresh I wanted to share a few key takeaways:

The art of hosting is key to building resilient communities. We are navigating a societal and economic paradigm shift, hosting the toughest conversations of our time. In order to succeed in our work we must create a welcoming environment that invites participation, cultivates trust, and allows ideas to emerge and take shape organically, with buy-in from the communities we represent and serve.

The art of hosting contains ingredients as simple as a warm greeting and a safe space, and as human as a smile and a circle practice -- but if we don’t make a conscious effort to “host” within our Transition Initiatives, sometimes these very basic yet essential components are forgotten or overlooked in the interest of getting things done (the classic tension of “being vs doing”). Once these foundational pieces are in place, there are a number of advanced facilitation and hosting practices we can bring into our groups and communities that allow diverse perspectives to come together to form a shared vision and purpose, such as Open Space, World Café, and ProAction Café.

Strong core teams, built on trust, are vital to the success of our work. Strong, dynamic core teams can alleviate burnout, build a more robust and diverse vision, and are a much more resilient model than having a single leader. Some essential elements of a thriving core team include:

  • A foundation of trust, which allows core members to show up fully, bringing vulnerability, authenticity, and healing into our work. To facilitate this, we practiced an exercise called “If you really knew me,” where we broke into groups of three and each took 5 minutes to share, from a place of depth, our emotions, perspective, life experiences, and challenges, while the other two group members listened. It takes a lot of trust just to practice this exercise together!
  • A shared vision and purpose. It might take some time to arrive at the shared vision and purpose, so remember to be patient and incorporate elements of fun to keep the process from getting too heavy.
  • Shared agreements around group culture, expectations, and process. The Effective Groups toolkit is a great place to get started in developing shared agreements.
  • Roles and responsibilities that empower core team members based on their respective passions and gifts.

Our numbers are growing. While we might not all identify as Transitioners, there are SO MANY of us out there who believe the current system has failed and share a positive vision for societal transformation. Our training included participants who are involved in Transition, permaculture, restorative justice, youth empowerment, alternative education, social justice, new economy, healthcare, the study of human consciousness, music, art, and more. Transition can play a unique role in convening these diverse stakeholders and weaving a resilient, interconnected movement… if we are skilled in the art of hosting!


In the week that has passed since the training, Transitioners throughout Northern California are already scheming to organize coordinated World Cafés on the topic of community resilience during the month of May (as part of the upcoming Community Resilience Challenge), which will be a great opportunity for building deep relationships and shared vision among various community resilience initiatives. We invite other Transition groups across the country to join us in this practice (stay tuned for more details or email if you want to participate).


If you feel like you’ve missed out after reading this, have no fear. There is another opportunity for Transitioners to participate in an Art of Participatory Leadership training coming up next month in Saco, Maine. Learn more and register here, or contact to request a scholarship application if you are part of a Transition group and will need financial support to participate.


If you can’t make it to the training, you can check out the Art of Hosting website for upcoming trainings and additional resources. To start learning now, check out this suggested reading listand listen to the recordings of these Art of Hosting teleseminars Transition US convened last year:

·         Art of Hosting: Participatory Leadership Practices that Change the Way We Meet with Teresa Posakony and Tenneson Woolf

·         Art of Hosting: Exploring a Framework for Working with Complexity with Chris Corrigan

A heartfelt thank you to the very dedicated and talented Art of Participatory Leadership Northern California hosting team: Chris, Teresa, Jeff, Dana, Angelo, Sam, Mikyö, Gabriel, Heather, and Fedor.

Photos are from the Art of Participatory Leadership Training March 7-9, 2014, at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, CA. Courtesy of Fedor Ovchinnikov.

Article by Marissa Mommaerts, Transition US Communications & Operations Manager.

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