By Rianna Raymond-Williams
As I reflect on the training course I attended just over a month ago with UBELE on the Art of Hosting (AOH) in Athens, Greece, I think back to how unaware and unprepared, but excited I was about taking part in the training course. I didn’t do any prior research on the topic, nor had I heard of the concept before the training was announced – both of which were unusual to me - but I applied and weeks later I was accepted to be a participant and with that alone I was keen to engage with an opened mind.
I knew that whatever I would receive on the course would be up to me. Positive or negative, I had the control over what I could take with me or leave. As an emerging leader, I totally believe that I am on a special spiritual, professional and personal journey to greatness. I always find myself in search of the next course or training to help me develop. It’s a gift and curse sometimes, because there always seems to be a never-ending list of things I could and should do to gain skills, acquire resources, generate income or reflect on my practice, but somehow, I always seem to find the right tools that work for me.
What helped the process even more was being around leaders who shared my experience of challenges and barriers, despite working on projects that were completely different to mine. Although our interest and specialisms differed, we shared the willingness to find solutions and talk though them, in addition tobeing opened enough to tease out these challenges among a groupof strangers, who each provided a different perspective and insight gathered through some of the methodologies of AOH, some of which include, The Circle Way, Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space Technology.
I now know that the Art of Hosting is a participatory leadership style that uses a range of interactive methodologies to develop and strengthen personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation. Here are a few of the key methods that stood out to mem that I look to incorporate in my practice along, with a brief narrative of how it was used during my week in Greece.
The Circle Way
· The circle is the basic form underlining all other forms of participatory process. In every type of organization or group, we meet in circles (even if they are around a boardroom table) to plan activity, handle crisis, and to listen to each other. In the Art of Hosting practice, we often begin and end meetings in a circle – it helps the process if participants can “check in” at the beginning about why they are participating, and “check out” at the end by reflect on what we’ve accomplished. Meeting in circle can be especially helpful when getting to know each other and the issue at hand, or as a means for deep reflection or consensus making.
We started the first session of the week in a circle where we engaged in an icebreaker as part of our introduction. In this icebreaker, we asked to say our name to the group followed by an action we associated with our name. This when round in a circle, until the circle was complete, but the catch to this activity was that we had to say the name and action of everyone else before throwing your own addition and name into the mix. Not so easy with a room of nearly 30 people.
Being an early morning start after a whole day of travelling the night before combined with the jetlag, some actions were morning stretches, others were dance routines, but every action and movement helped to make us feel comfortable and familiar as a group. But also have fun. The circle quickly became a space of security for myself, if not all in the group. We each equally participated in the conversation and instantly built a community of movers and shakers whilst introducing ourselves. Building rapport quickly with strangers can be difficult, but The Circle Way really worked well and helped us to engage more positively throughout the week. Every morning we would check into the circle with each other sharing how we felt or were feeling about any activities, expectation or any reflections and check out in the evening with any lasting thoughts or suggestion going forward.
· Instead of taking a problem-solving approach, Appreciative Inquiry offers a possibility focus, a move from “what is” to “what could be”. Based on a powerful, affirmative question, people interview each other to uncover experiences that resemble what we want to create. For example, if the challenge is teams not working well together, we might inquire into times when teams have been both collaborative and successful at the same time. Such experiences hold the keys to how we might bring about the future we’re visioning. In the Art of Hosting, we use Appreciative Inquiry to tap into the latent capabilities of the group to create the success they’re seeking.
As part of our introduction to the course we learnt the basics of powerful questions. With every project or business, leaders are usually aiming to solve a problem. But how can we begin to tackle the problem without a clear question?
Here as a group we began to develop our questioning skills, that in turn would help us strengthen our answers and call to action as leaders. There are always a handful of ways to solve problems and having a varied approach to problems solving enables creativity and fluidity in finding solutions. It recognises that we as emerging leaders are all different and come to communities and project with a host of different life experiences, so having a range of question to develop projects is important and helps to really add meat to the bare bones of an idea.
For example, if you’re project aims to address metal health among people of colour, questions to help develop this idea could be, What are you aiming to do? Who could support you on your journey? What does success look like? How will you measure impact? Who exist in this space and what are you doing differently? Why is this important? These questions and more help to create a story and foundation for the leader and helps to shape thecampaign they intend to deliver. Addressing mental health among people of colour is so broad, but by using appreciative inquiry to ask opened questions helps to build structure and achieve focus.
Open Space Technology
· When we want to harness the power of a group – especially a diverse one with many interests and skills – to meet a present challenge, Open Space Technology is the method we choose. Whenever we need the contribution and innovative genius of everyone – because a competitor has just entered the market, or we need to drastically overhaul our operations, or there is a crisis at the manufacturing plant, or we want to break down the silos within the business, or our community needs to create a strategic plan for its future. Convened around a core calling question, the group is made aware of any givens – budget, leadership, etc. – and then the space is opened for anyone to pose a session topic. Over the course of the meeting, people are free to choose which session(s) they most want to attend, bringing maximum enthusiasm and commitment for conversation and action. Personal buy-in and committed action can be achieved in a remarkably short time.
After building rapport using the methodologies above, we each had the chance to get feedback on ideas and challenges. Here, those who were interested, could present their project idea or challenge to the group with the aim of talking through the issue amongst the community we had built. For example, How can we engage adults in sex education? As a sexual health practitioner, a bulk of my work for the last 8 years has been engaging young people to have healthy conversations about sex and relations, but I feel strongly that if the adults in their lives are not equipped to have and hold these conversations and reinforce messages about healthier and safer sex behaviour it can be problematic. Posing this question to the group allowed me to stimulate discussion and generate ideas on how I could begin tackling this as well as bring others along with me to do the work.
Additional, topics ranged from health to homelessness, STEM and Storytelling and creativity. Host of the topics were asked to sit at a table with their topic on flipchart paper and we as a group were free to gravitate towards the topics we had interests in to share our thoughts and ideas or just take seat and listen to what was being discussed around the topic. Here we could move freely between topics to share and listen with the aim of providing the host with some areas to consider.
This worked well as it gave us as participants the freedom to give our insight on a range of areas or even learn about something we had no prior knowledge about. For hosts, it gave them a chance to sit with their topics and also talk it through with an unbiased audience with the aim of developing it further.
All the above tools helped me to think more about my approach as a leader in addition to challenging myself to develop more participatory methods within my organisation. Through engaging in a week-long program of participatory learning activities I was able to reflect on my practice as a leader, and identify and focus on key themes to help me overcome some of the hurdles I currently face in my business.
Shine ALOUD UK
I started my social enterprise journey just over 8 years ago now, before I really knew what the term social enterprise really meant. However, what I did know at the time was, there was a problem I saw with the way young people engaged in sexual health and relationship information and I wanted to change using the media skills I had acquired both academically and professional. This led to me coordinating and publishing the first issue of my sexual health publication Shine ALOUD Magazine, what was meant to be a one of project that successful allowed me tosecure £300 grant funding from O2 Think Big, quicklysnowballed into a larger than life empire that has a few moving parts.
Shine ALOUD UK C.I.C is a sexual health awareness social enterprise based in, North London, UK. We use creative solutions to discuss sexual health and relationships among young people under 25 and adults working with young people under 25. Through the work that we do, we aim to empower our audience to have healthier conversations about sex and relationships, and thereby pride ourselves in entertaining, educating and empowering ALL to have healthier sexual health outcomes.
Our flagship publication Shine ALOUD Magazine has been a major part of this work which has allowed us to work with a range of young creatives to produce our unique publication in addition to publishing age appropriate and relevant content to tackle a range of topics relating to sexuality, some of which include parenthood, peer pressure, contraception and personal hygiene. Through the work that we do, we are keen to create sex positivity and tackle sexual health inequalities particularly among marginalised groups.
The Art of Hosting (AOH) training was pivotal to my journey as a leader, it came at a time when I was unknowingly seeking support and guidance to develop my business, in addition to searching for a space that would both motivate and encourage me to trust myself through the process of change and take the leap to grow and scale my business. It can be a hard decision to make and take, but being surrounded by a room of qualified and able leaders gave me confirmation that I was in the right space to be vulnerable about sharing some of the challenges I face in my practice.
(Explanations of the methodologies have been taken from the following website - https://www.artofhosting.org/what-is-aoh/methods/)