HEADING_COMMUNITY-CHANGEIMG_2540Universities traditionally have been perceived as a source of knowledge. This most obvious of ideas becomes problematic when we consider relationships between universities and the surrounding communities they engage, as the interactions are too often one-sided. In meetings between universities and communities, the institution provides information, and a community receives it. Both the university and community suffer as a result. The university does not learn from the discussion, and the community is not provided opportunities to contribute. What might happen if the University hosted communities instead?

Hosting requires a shift in perception. The university is now a convener of meaningful conversations—moving from organizing panels to inviting participation. This is not to say that meaningful conversations do not benefit from the being grounded in the theory and research data coming out of the University. They do. But by acting as hosts, members of the university recognize that the contextual experience of their guests is a form of knowledge and is a valuable contribution. Through hosting, we acknowledge there are multiple ways of knowing. New solutions can only be reached when both are brought together.

Building relationships with the community (volunteers, activists, residents, youth, elders, insert your definition here) is essential to achieve effective results. Meaningful conversation around topics that matter to both academics and community members provide such a vehicle. Employing hosting methodologies (such as powerful questions) with volunteers and community partners enriches relationships, leading to a heightened sense of ownership and engagement for all.

Hosting conversations for Community Change requires a paradigm shift for those of us in higher education. The stories included in this section exemplify that shift.

  • Gerdes’ story demonstrates the need to trust the process, as he finds himself being the “caller” of a group of strangers gathering to inform the complex task of redesigning the work of a statewide organization. Throughout, the importance of slowing down to go deeper is palpable.
  • Lundquist’s contribution highlights the importance of asking powerful questions when building partnerships between organizations, institutions, and community members as they deal with complex and challenging issues. In this case study the presence of different forms of “knowing” are clear and visible.
  • Doty and Kellerman’s story illustrates how Art of Hosting frameworks and methodologies impact the work of large government bodies such as Hennepin County and their interaction with the University. From large-scale events to routine meetings, the results have been more engaged conversations, better-informed employees, and a more collaborative mindset.
  • Straub describes the power of Art of Hosting in engaging volunteers by changing regular routines such as existing meetings and trainings. Allowing participants to be more present and tapping into the wisdom in the room has led to strengthened relationships and more engaged participation of volunteers with whom the University has a long-term, ongoing relationship.
  • Sotela Odor provides a glimpse at the importance of listening intently and acting intentionally while working in community. From the definition of purpose, to the invitation, to regular meetings and hosting of events, it becomes apparent that it is collaboration that leads to community building.

In an era of decreased resources and high public expectations, these activities point to exciting avenues for improving effectiveness within higher education.