Within the historic buildings with marble columns, beige conference rooms, and traditional classrooms throughout the University of Minnesota campuses, there are people working differently. Chairs in circles, markers and tablecloths on tables, agendas that are drawn out with pictures, signal something is different. But beyond those physical artifacts, the people invited into these spaces are entering into meaningful conversations around
powerful questions
. The Art of Hosting is alive at the University of Minnesota and this eBook captures stories of how some of the faculty, staff, and students have been motivated to change how they work with each other, with diverse external communities, even how they understand themselves. From conversation to transformation, the Art of Hosting goes far beyond hospitality.

Some initial interview-based research revealed that University of Minnesota faculty, staff, and students trained in the Art of Hosting were using the approach to shape their work in a myriad of ways (Carrier, et al., 2012). The stories included in this volume effectively illustrate the breadth and depth of what is unfolding at the University of Minnesota, even if they are only a fraction of what is happening.

The Art of Hosting Approach

On the face of it, the Art of Hosting merely looks like a range of engagement techniques well recognized in the field of facilitation and participatory democracy (Sandfort, Stuber & Quick, 2012). Peer Circle Process, Open Space Technology, World Café, and Appreciative Inquiry are all engagement techniques included in the three-day training; participants leave that training having either experienced or trained others in all these approaches.

Yet, more fundamentally, Art of Hosting also is a vehicle for leadership of emergent change in complex systems. It scales from the personal to the systemic, using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation, and co-creation of innovation. Read together, the chapters of this volume emphasize these dimensions quite explicitly. Art of Hosting is based on the assumptions that we humans have enormous untapped wisdom and resilience. And that sustainable solutions can be created when this wisdom is shared with each other. While this is a systems-based approach to change, there are a few unique dimensions that differentiate this approach from others (Holman, Devane & Cady, 2007; Wheatley & Frieze, 2011; Block, 2009).

First, the Art of Hosting brings a number of engagement techniques together. The techniques included in the toolkit are shared openly and freely by their developers, much as open source computer programmers have shared intellectual property to improve the internet. They also share frameworks that others have found effective for supporting change within complex human systems. In fact, the materials taught at the three-day Art of Hosting training are developed and shared by an international community of process experts who work together voluntarily. There is no organization representing the Art of Hosting brand or approach. This international community is held together by shared values, volunteer stewards, and web-based communications platforms. The hosting model is used in a range of locations and sectors around the world to address problems in integrated, collaborative ways. For example, it has been used by a diverse group of community leaders in Columbus, Ohio, to re-envision health care, higher education, business networks, and social services in that community, as well by the European Union Commission, and by communities of practitioners in Canada, Greece, and Zimbabwe, among other places (Wheatley & Freize, 2011).

Secondly, the engagement techniques (such as World Café, Circle, or Open Space Technology) are applied through practical frameworks that help support the actual implementation in engagement processes. For example, some frameworks assist with design, helping facilitators think holistically, including paying attention to needs, purpose and principles, and invitation, in addition to mere meeting logistics and agendas. Other frameworks stress the importance of “Harvesting” of information, insight, and decisions made in gatherings. harvesting enables collective meaning making through the creation of tangible artifacts to synthesize and document what was accomplished. It can take many forms: personal journaling, visual artifacts (such as photographs, drawings, collages), videos, song, as well as more conventional formal proceedings. Still other frameworks assist facilitators in understanding the ambiguity of group process, the divergence/convergence among people that often happens within group meetings.

Thirdly, the techniques and practical frameworks are taught through intensive three-day workshops. Structured as an experiential learning practicum, the workshop engages participants in just-in-time learning. While each workshop covers similar topics, the design of each particular offering is unique and crafted by a hosting team the day before the three-day session begins. This team collectively implements the training without formal leaders. As a result, from the opening activities, participants experience a community of equals. There are no leaders who command space or convey expertise; rather, the workshop focuses on creating experiences for learning the various engagement techniques and practice frameworks. After receiving coaching and support from hosting team members, participants teach techniques to the larger group. Thus, by design, the workshop invites practicing the content, coaching through uncertainty, and learning by doing. Because participation is voluntary and structure decentralized, the workshop experience actually simulates a self-organizing, complex adaptive system often found in community change efforts. In fact, all of these elements explicitly focus on acquainting participants with deeper experience with participatory engagement processes and understanding of how order arises out of chaos within complex social systems (Holman, 2010; Wheatley, 2006; Sandfort, et al., 2012; Success Works, 2011). See chapter in this volume by Lundquist and Sandfort for more detailed description of the training process.

At the core of the Art of Hosting is the Four-Fold Practice. As it suggests, a practice means regularly engaging in an activity—often with discipline—to maintain or build on a skill. The first fold is hosting yourself, being mindful and attentive to caring for yourself so you can be present and go into difficult conversations in a grounded way. The second fold is being hosted, to practice and participate in conversations with a sense of curiosity by listening deeply. The third fold is hosting others in conversation by calling the question, inviting others, creating the container for authentic engagement, and sense making. The fourth fold is being part of a community of practice that co-creates while learning together to build relationships and skills; as noted below and throughout the chapters, this dimension of the practice is being to good use in the University of Minnesota community of practitioners. As we practice the Four-Fold Practice, we learn individually, learn together, become a community that learns, and a community that integrates learning. It is this working, learning, and sharing with each other that is the foundational concept in the Art of Hosting approach that is reflected in how the work took root at the University of Minnesota.

Four-Fold Practice Graphic Representation of Four-Fold Practice: A Core Art of Hosting Framework

The Art of Hosting at the University of Minnesota

In 2009, then-University President Robert Bruininks sponsored an innovative design process with the Bush Foundation to consider how the University might better support the effectiveness of community-based leadership throughout Minnesota. The resulting initiative, InCommons, which operated from 2010–2013, focused on connecting individuals so they could find and share credible tools, knowledge, and resources to solve community problems (Sandfort & Bloomberg, 2012). Although Minnesota’s land grant tradition is well established, with a robust Leadership and Civic Engagement division in the Extension Service and an Office of Public Engagement, the mere size and scope of the University creates barriers for authentic engagement with citizen groups.

The University’s Center for Integrative Leadership (CIL) was an operational partner of InCommons and, in the spirit of the initiative, focused attention on building capacity within the University for effective and widespread community engagement. CIL leaders, along with a handful of University of Minnesota faculty and staff, were trained in the first three-day Art of Hosting training workshop with other participant from Minnesota sponsored by the Bush Foundation in January 2011. The success of the training inspired CIL and other units on campus to initiate the training program for members of the University across its four campuses (see Table below). To date, more than 175 people working for the University, including faculty, students, teaching, research, administrative staff, and collegiate deans are trained.

University of Minnesota (UMN) Participants in Art of Hosting Trainings

Trainings TablePerceiving the potential of these practices to help advance the work of both faculty and staff across the University, two individuals trained in Summer 2011—Susan Geller and Jen Mein—began to explore models for supporting Art of Hosting practitioners across the University beyond the three-day training. Through conversations with individuals who participate in Art of Hosting throughout the world and those who had advanced a community of hosting practitioners at The Ohio State University, they learned about the following community of practice model:

CoP Purpose GraphicArt of Hosting Community of Practice Model

Applying this approach to the University shaped their next decisions. It seemed likely the community could be sustained, yet remain nimble, if structured through a shared leadership model where three individuals would share a commitment to serving as core stewards for the community of practice for one year. In the inaugural year, Susan and Jen were joined as stewards by Leah Lundquist of the CIL.

In June 2012, the three issued an invitation to all those who had been trained to join in determining an overarching purpose and designing networking (online and in-person), co-learning, and practice opportunities for the community. All those who had been trained were added to an email distribution list and would receive communications about these opportunities to engage with the community of practitioners, unless they opted out.

Fifteen individuals responded to that invitation and gathered together for two hours to action plan, resulting in smaller teams that continued to work on articulating an overarching purpose for the community, determining an online communications strategy, designing learning opportunities, mobilizing smaller affinity groups for more specific topics of interest (e.g., book club) and exploring the possibility of using hosting practices in service of an issue that was in need of a high level of engagement across the University. The group’s purpose was defined:

The University of Minnesota Art of Hosting Community of Practice fosters collaborative practices and dynamic learning to address emerging and complex challenges.

In the first year of the community of practice’s existence a Google sitea Facebook page, anda community blog were created to connect anyone interested in participatory engagement practices at the University with this emerging community. Two co-learning gatherings were held—one focused on visual facilitation and another focused on the application of art of hosting in teaching. A monthly book club was initiated, focused on exploring books related to participatory facilitation and engagement. And, a particular hosting technique—the World Café—was incorporated into the launch of a University-wide effort to design a unified online portal for all faculty, staff, and students.

Documenting What is Resulting

Beyond this community-wide activity, other individuals were incorporating Art of Hosting into their personal lives, teaching, research, and community engagement work at the University. During February 2013, a design team assembled to consider how to best document the range of activities, creatively and authentically practicing storycatching (Baldwin, 2005). What resulted is this eBook, documenting the acts of leadership across the University of Minnesota—both bold and more subtle, professional and more personal—that have resulted from the training and community of practitioners. As a result of the collaborative authoring and editing process, new relationships were formed and existing relationships strengthened among design team members across the University.

What is evident in these stories is that Art of Hosting is empowering us to make the leap from conversation to transformation and wise action. Individuals are growing leadership through reflection and practice. Hosts and hosting teams are being intentional in planning gatherings that are happening in meeting rooms, classrooms, and community spaces in ways that allow relationships to deepen, curiosity and creativity to flourish, and collective wisdom to surface. Participants in hosted conversations are moved from a place of habitual jumping into solutions to experiencing a process that generates deeper understanding and more connected collaborative engagement. People are being invited to participate in authentic ways and more voices are being heard and appreciated, leading to work and learning that is sustainable.

We hope this eBook will not only cultivate change in the University of Minnesota and other higher education institutions, but provide new insights relevant to the international Art of Hosting community. Practicing the Art of Hosting within a professional, complex bureaucratic environment is very different than practicing it within grassroots community organizations. While the University provides a ripe context for these techniques and frameworks to take root as staff, faculty, and students help the institution adapt, the terminology and practices must be adapted to be adopted by individuals trained to be analytical and incentivized to excel individually. As Art of Hosting continues to evolve, and be applied in diverse contexts, the stories here offer initial harvesting of what is being learned in this academic application.

While we have organized the volume into five substantive parts, the eBook hyperlinking capacity allows readers to move through the pieces along a number of different paths. So follow your interests.

Part One focuses on Personal Transformation. These stories capture a foundational idea of the Art of Hosting approach—personal reflection, analysis, and engagement is essential for fueling change. When engaging in hosting practice, people learn about themselves, their communities, and the assets contained within both.

Part Two focuses on a key dimension of Universities’ work, Teaching and Training. The stories in this section showcase Art of Hosting as providing pedagogical tools and substantive content for engaging students and professionals.

Part Three considers another vital dimension of a land grant university’s work, Community Change, showcasing diverse settings where the University is now enabling Minnesotans to be better together through conversations that change hearts and seed action.

Finally, Parts Four and Five examine how hosting is changing how the organization, itself, is managed and run internally. By considering applications to Organizational Change at the departmental or collegiate levels, these essays illuminate how conversations change organizational culture in powerful ways. Part Five documents systemic-wide applications focused on Institutional Effectiveness where Hosting has enabled significant numbers of people to engage in developing more effective solutions to pressing institutional problems.

The Epilogue recounts how this eBook was created.

Finally, an Appendix provides quick definitions of some of the Art of Hosting techniques and frameworks used by authors throughout the book, as well as references to published and web-based materials for readers interested in learning more.    

We hope this collection of stories will further pique the curiosity of many; from University administrators, faculty, and staff to leadership trainers, engagement specialists, and Art of Hosting practitioners globally. We believe this is only the start of a meaningful conversation about how we approach personal and institutional change within the academy and beyond.