The Art of Hosting – A Tale of Two Learning and Development Advisers

Note: This is a two part blog entry written by Sarah Holiday and Giulia Lucchini, Learning and Development Advisers at the City of Edinburgh Council

 Part One: Reflections on the Learning

I begin with a confession – my contribution to this blog missed its deadline. I was asked to reflect on my experience of the Art of Hosting Practice Retreat in Drymen and, optimistically, I had promised it within a few days, only to then be bombarded with back to back meetings and head frazzling tasks. I tried to do a bit here and there but the words were just not flowing. Now, as I sit in a colourful café with my laptop (picture Carrie Bradshaw minus the annoying voiceovers!), it all comes together relatively easily. This leads me to reflect on one of the key things I learnt from the Art of Hosting – the importance of creating the right space and conditions for emergence.

In physical terms, the conditions in Drymen were ideal. We had the backdrop of rugged Scottish mountains, accommodating meeting rooms with all manner of curious props and visuals as well as inviting gardens for when the rain subsided. But there were other important non-physical conditions – the shared frustration amongst participants with traditional, mechanistic ways of working which were not making an impact; the willingness to “step up” and be part of something new; and the strong desire to work collaboratively with communities and groups to shape the future.

The importance of creating the right space (physical, cognitive and emotional) to harness the wisdom and expertise of groups was also emphasised in some of the powerful tools we learned, such as the World Café and Open Space. What surprised me about the latter was the incredible way the group became self-directing. As a facilitator, this involved trusting the process and letting go of control once the stage was set. Rather than descend into chaos, purposeful conversations took place around the topic of how we could deepen our practice in Participatory Leadership. This wasn’t just luck, however. It was again due to creating the right conditions, a safe space and a robust structure to hold, harness and finally harvest the conversations which occurred.

The final day of the event involved bringing a real project to the group which would involve participatory ways of working and which we would value input into. My colleague Giulia and I brought a project in relation to engaging the workforce as part of the integration of Health and Social Care. The insights that others offered were profoundly illuminating and led to a reframing of what we thought of as being the key problem to address and therefore where we would focus our energy going forward. It was a real validation of the wisdom that can come from group processes.

So much of the event deeply resonated with my values, ways of thinking and interests. However, it did not merely confirm what I thought I Aalready knew – there were many moments of “aha” and surprise; a sense of taking the theory to another level and a renewed confidence in my practice.

Part Two: Making it happen in practice
Two months have passed since the Art of Hosting Practice retreat in Drymen and I still feel so inspired and re-energised by the extraordinary people I have met and the warmth, humor, genuine care I have experienced.

The three days in idyllic Drymen completely stimulated my mind, awakened my senses and greeted my spirit with honour.

It didn’t feel like training. It was a progressive and challenging journey of learning in an innovative and safe environment.

Coming back to Edinburgh, to my job, to the “real world” and the predictable routine, was a bit shocking but in my mind, I was clear that I wanted to find, somehow, a path that could blend the best of both worlds.

Having attended this journey with my colleague Sarah, my “partner in crime”, made things much easier: we both felt a strong sense of belonging and excitement and were super keen on doing everything we could to answer this question: “How can we help to communicate, share and grow this type of leadership in our organisation?”

The answer is PRACTICE: but not only the practice of tools, techniques, methods that we learned on the training. The deep practice of the spirit, values, principles of the Art of Hosting experience.

We have recently hosted a World Café. The session was based on few and simple ideas.

We started to think what we wanted to achieve and what the purpose of bringing the people together was. This helped us to come up with a “cutting edge” powerful question.

In the morning, before going to the training venue, we met at work and had a simultaneous “aha” moment.

We remembered all the emphasis in creating a welcoming, hospitable and colourful space and environment.

It all became a memorable adventure: finding a vase in the office seemed a “mission impossible”, so we had to be creative and a bit alternative.

The task of finding flowers took us to the Royal Mile and… mmm.. some private gardens J It was a lot of fun!

It was a simple touch which made a huge difference. The participants felt at ease, comfortable, connected and the conversation became so fascinating and meaningful.

The outcome of the session was extremely positive and the conversation generated new knowledge, ideas and examples of practice.

I am very excited to see what’s next and I look forward to generating new opportunities where we can experiment and practice more.

I feel like I’ve got a new “way of doing things”: in essence, I got my passion for being with people, learning and growth re-ignited.



  1. Zena Bernacca says

    lovely to read about the joys of world café and open space being used more and more – they are indeed, powerful tools and really open opportunities for more people to engage creatively in matters that concern them and finding synergy between people that can make things happen with much more ease and commitment than traditional ways of working.

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