Art of Hosting as College-wide Change

Brad Hokanson and Kate Maple

During the summer of 2011, Brad participated in training around The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter (hereafter referred to as “Art of Hosting”) offered by the Center for Integrative Leadership. Recognizing the value of the processes, methods, and connections, he became an enthusiastic supporter. He knew a number of people in the College of Design who would enjoy and benefit from participation in Art of Hosting and strongly suggested they participate.

The College of Design is diverse in terms of disciplines, faculty, location, and staff, and communication is often a challenge. We believed developing in-house practitioners of Art of Hosting was seen as a move that would benefit the entire College and decided to “call” a training for January 2012. “Calling” is the term used in Art of Hosting to describe the initiation and organization of training. The College administration was supportive and a number of senior staff participated. The training was also opened to others in the University community, providing a richness of participation across many units.

In the last two years, more than 30 faculty, staff, and graduate students of the College of Design have participated in Art of Hosting training. This represents about 20% of the College staff and faculty and has included faculty, department heads, deans, academic staff, support staff, and graduate students. During the past two years, Art of Hosting techniques have been used in a variety of venues, demonstrating the high value of these methods. Additionally, this has had an overall positive effect on the College culture and working environment. This chapter is an opportunity to describe some of these results.

Art of Hosting techniques have been applied directly in a number of classes helping engage learners in a more active and collaborative learning environment. One of the authors of this writing has used various discussion formats such as World Café and ProAction Café to support conversations that reach a deep level of involvement, and that help ensure intellectual development. The activities have focused on reviewing readings and the development of new, divergent ideas.

In addition, one of our apparel instructors, Anna Carlson, took training in January 2012 and immediately put the techniques to use in her classes. She reported by email the following enthusiastic report: “WOW. This works! I used the Art of Hosting practices in my Apparel Design Research class: We started with a check-in, and continued with a brief ‘teach.’ They loved that I sat on the floor and drew pictures! There was a really great discussion about the first assignment, then check-out.”

We also have used the techniques in the governance of the College. They have been applied in a variety of meetings and employed the seemingly simple techniques such as check-in, Circle, and World Café. This has meant that we are moving away from the traditional meeting structuring of Robert’s Rules of Order, which is based on contention and conflict, and toward a more collaborative work environment.

postit picWe also applied Art of Hosting to larger planning efforts of the College. As with many organizations, the involvement of larger groups of people in decision-making process is often difficult, time consuming, and does not operate in a way that values all the voices present. The techniques that make Art of Hosting valuable in public meetings are also applicable and helpful within organizations. The distributed discussions help address many of these concerns and ensure a broad based public involvement.

For example, we used it in a daylong planning workshop called 8-in-3 that sought to examine the implementation implications of an eight-semester/three-year curriculum for undergraduate programs in graphic design and retail merchandising.

AGENDA 8-in-3(1)The workshop was called by Elizabeth Bye, department head for Design, Housing, and Apparel, and Kate Maple, Assistant Dean for Student Services. These two programs were selected by central administration to pilot a year-round, three-year baccalaureate. Stakeholders from within the college (students, faculty, and staff were invited to participate) as well as across the University (Student Finance, Housing and Residential Life, the Registrar, etc.) worked in small groups of focused interest using ProAction Café.

DSC_3748The daylong workshop, hosted by Art of Hosting practitioner Karen Zentner Bacig, identified a wide range of concerns and opportunities for the programs and the implementation, both close to home and across the University; these issues will be sorted and addressed by various working groups in the coming months. We received many positive comments from participants who had been expecting a day of sitting and listening, hence many pleasantly surprised and engaged colleagues!


It is our belief that Art of Hosting techniques can easily be integrated into the regular, ongoing work of a college, including teaching and administration. Both academic/pedagogical and managerial initiatives can be supported and strengthened by the full range of Art of Hosting techniques. The engaged classroom can benefit from World Café, ProAction Café and Open Space Technology. These techniques and others such as Reflective Listening can be used in administrative areas. The focusing and reflective techniques such as check-in can make classes and meetings much more effective.

It also appears that there have been substantial indirect and qualitative effects on the atmosphere of the College. Separations between different departments have been lessened and participants in hosted meetings report both knowing more members of the College community and respecting each other more. With more of the College of Design community participating in meaningful conversation, helping host meetings elsewhere, and attending larger outside events, the practice continues to be integrated into the College culture.