Every place we go has its own tone, texture and timing. It is part of what makes Art of Hosting – or in the case of California in August 2012, the Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation – so hard to define. “We” being whatever configuration of hosting and calling team has coalesced around an identified need or opportunity. Every training is different because every place is different, every group that responds to the call is unique.
People who are just coming across Art of Hosting want to know, what is it? One way to think of it is, at its core, a set of patterns and practices that help us be successful in complex circumstances. Developing skill in using these patterns and practices is particularly helpful now at a time when long term strategic planning doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) because we don’t know and can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like. One thing many of us have a growing awareness of is that what has worked in the past – strategies, practices, principles – doesn’t seem to work anymore – if it ever did.
The world is providing us with increasing complexity – in the environments in which we operate, our communities and in our organizations, especially as things seem to move faster and faster. Social innovation is a response to this increasing complexity. Rigid protocols have limited application in complexity. Complexity calls for a different set of leadership skills – skills that tune in and are responsive to emergent circumstances. Complex systems share behaviours that cannot be explained by their parts. This requires a different set of frameworks to see and understand it. In the Art of Participatory Leadership we draw on world view, chaordic path, divergence/convergence, the 2 loops of systems change, theory U and other frameworks as lenses through which to think about complexity and social innovation. Social innovation looks for an alignment of circumstances that makes action possible – the relationship among elements.
One of the names we use for this type of experiential learning is the Art of Participatory Leadership because it also calls forth a new set of leadership skills required to deal with complexity and social innovation, quite different from how we think about traditional leadership. Participatory leadership focuses on participation and engagement strategies, knowing from experience there is wisdom and knowledge that exists within a group, a team, an organization, a system. When we make it visible in a group, it moves into the realm of collective wisdom, knowledge and understanding leading to a different kind of action and ultimately different results.
Participatory leadership connects well in high pressure situations. Some of its core characteristics are curiosity or non-judgement, staying in the space of not knowing, generosity or openness, a belief that conversations matter and that good conversation leads to wise action.
It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet for problems that have existed and have been evolving over long periods of time. However, there are often very immediate results for individuals as they examine and reflect on their own leadership practices. This is also why we encourage teams to participate so they have a new common language and are more able to hold each other accountable to create a path of behaviour change and organization practices that will be sustainable.
A core element of the Art of Participatory Leadership is for each of us to deepen our own capacity to effect transformation – in ourselves and in a complex world.
Where have these practices and patterns been used? In community, private sector, academia, healthcare, and educational settings as well as social change efforts around the world. The stories are only just beginning to be documented because many of us have been deep in the work rather than the writing about the work. Stories are alive in Nova Scotia, Ohio, Minnesota, Europe and Brazil and many, many more places.
Art of Hosting is also a global self-organizing community of practitioners who use these integrated participative change processes, methods, maps, and planning tools (like circle practice, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and open space technology) to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.
The hosting and calling team for this first Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California: myself, Jerry Nagel, Ann Badillo, Sherri Cannon, Dana Pearlman and Mia Pond will weave stories of where this work is alive in the world into these three days of co-created emergent design and process – a little taste of what we do in the world and what is possible.