With our Art of Hosting | Collaborating for Change training in August fast approaching, we talked to Maria Scordialos, who is one the initiators of this leadership practice and part of our core training team. Maria shares why the Art of Hosting methods and tools are essential in a time of division and how these can help the private, public and nonprofit sectors innovate.
You’re one of the initiators of Art of Hosting. How did it come about?
Back in the late 1990s, I was working in local government in the UK on a national level project about changing the role of municipalities to not just be service providers that pick up waste or keep the roads in good condition, but to also be community leaders and work collaboratively on the difficult challenges our communities face. The project’s driving force was the idea that municipalities should bring together public, private and nonprofit organisations so that they could co-create strategic plans. We wanted to give citizens the chance to be part of what was then called ‘community planning’.
This project led me to find out about and start working with participative methods. I started to search for other people who were asking the same questions: how we are together, how could we meet, talk, share our ideas, debate conflicting perspectives in a generative, productive manner.
I soon met and started exchanging practices with people such as Monica Nissen, Toke Moeller and Tim Merry. That’s how the Art of Hosting was born, with a few people who cared about what’s going on in the world, who felt that many of the systems we’re part of are not fit for a change. We wanted to introduce a new, process-focued way of doing things. Invitations to give trainings and work in different contexts started coming in and haven’t stopped since.
Many people think of the Art of Hosting as another set of methodologies. How would you describe it?
The Art of Hosting is a world view, a way of looking at how things should operate. It is based on living systems versus a mechanistic way of thinking. Its perspective comes from Interconnectivity, complexity and chaos as a constant movement, not a lack of control, where order naturally emerges around anything that works. Our status quo is mechanistic, which is why we have hierarchies, bureaucracies, specialists and experts that focus on fixing parts of the machine that are in fact are completely interconnected. Art of Hosting is based on working generatively with the complexity of interconnection rather than trying to break things down into parts.
Why do we need the Art of Hosting right now?
With things like Brexit and elections where right-wing parties are entering parliaments in countries such as Germany, the need for Art of Hosting is increasing; it’s very important that people continue to speak to one other. The goal is not changing the whole system from the top, but inspiring people in the current system to create islands of newness that start to connect and exert a greater influence on the status quo. And as a system is dying, the Art of Hosting can help us find ways to survive or even exit the system as we allow a new system to emerge.
You have hosted trainings with massive players. Can you share the impact of the Art of Hosting process for organisations such as the EU Commission?
I was first invited to work with EU Commission in 2009 as part of a group that introduced training on what was dubbed the Art of Participative Leadership. Which is another way to describe what the Art of Hosting is: a leadership practice. Since 2009, more than 2,000 EU officials have participated in exactly the same training I will co-facilitate this November in Amsterdam.
And on the level of EU departments that work with external stakeholders, I have seen boring conferences replaced by events and meetings where people are actually in dialogue, co-creating, sharing different perspectives and their knowledge. For instance, for the DG Agriculture, we organised a two-day workshop with 350 people from 28 member states, who gathered to discuss new criteria for the Common Agricultural Policy. By using Art of Hosting methods such as Open Space, World Cafe and Appreciative Inquiry, we helped people generate ideas and recommendations that were actually used for drafting new policy guidelines by the relevant EU Commission. And that policy has been ratified and implemented.
Throughout the years, I have also seen positive changes effected by the Art of Hosting on a personal level as policymakers reconnected with their real purpose, their passion and care for the European peace project. With respect to groups, I have seen changes in the ways teams run, with more people participating, as well as a raising of staff morale as collaboration replaced competition.
Who else, other than policymakers, should attend an Art of Hosting training and why?
The Art of Hosting was born with the assumption that many of our current solutions aren’t working because we are facing new, complex challenges that need new thinking. Whether people work in the public, private or NGO sectors, these entrenched challenges are also facing their businesses, their public services, their customers and the beneficiaries of their services. Art of Hosting can help generate and test new prototypes to deal with our massive environmental, economic, political and social problems.
Another large organisation I worked with is Dutch development bank FMO, which brought together their client banks in the global south for a two-day conference on innovative markets. The 450 bankers that joined the event loved to be able to be in dialogue, to exchange ideas and to co-create new projects. As a result of techniques such as World Cafe and Open Space, some amazing projects were born, many of which have been taken forward, tested, prototyped and even scaled up.
The Art of Hosting way of working creates the kind of laboratory where innovation can emerge through the exchange of many different perspectives. Innovation or systemic change is one of the big areas where we can support any kind of organisation, whether it’s a corporate or a large NGO.
Want to stimulate participatory leadership and develop clear action plans for your work and organisation? Sign up now for the Art of Hosting | Collaborating for Change training taking place at Impact Hub Amsterdam between 29 and 31 August.
More about Maria Scordialos
Maria invites people to have conversations that matter: to generatively engage with their changing context, to see new possibilities, and to choose appropriate actions. Through process design and hosting, Maria, in partnership with clients and colleagues, crafts gatherings, trainings, and longer-term journeys of systemic change. Maria’s practice of designing and hosting has emerged from her diverse experience – from working as a manager of national-level pilot projects to being a strategic Corporate Director in UK local government. She has also co-initiated the Art of Participatory Leadership practice, hosted both grassroots and systemic level projects in different organisations and communities throughout the world, and co-founded a place of learning with nature in Greece