Patterns of Process – The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter

Impressions from the Steering Group Meeting November 6-8, 2016 in Berlin by Lisa Schulze (MitOst)


In November, the CitizensLab Steering Group, consisting of members and the funders of our network held their first Strategic Meeting in Berlin. The C-Labbers discussed how to create a solid foundation for a strong, vibrant and participatory network. We re-connected to the network’s purpose, started to co-design our Network Meetings, discussed the question, how new members can join our community and how we want to manage our knowledge. We also re-calibrated internal and external communication measures as well as our decision-making processes. It was evident from the very beginning that one of our biggest needs for the meeting was clarity on the above mentioned issues.

A Need for Clarity

Vishal Jodhani, an Art of Hosting Facilitator, guided us through the process and by that helped us to find this clarity. Art of Hosting is a practice that assists groups in self-organising their collaboration and helps their collective wisdom emerge. Meaningful connections and conversations between individuals are central to this approach. The Art of Hosting is a global community of practice. There is no formal or legal structure to it; they have no appointed leader or controlling body.  Like in CitizensLab, learning, sharing and supporting each other are central to this network’s mentality and concepts.

Logic, Principles and Working Modes


During the Steering Group Meeting we experienced The Art of Hosting not only in the logic of the meeting, its flow, but also in the principles or work ethics we tried to follow along. Art of Hosting was also present in the different working modes and us switching between them. The inherent logic of the meeting helped us to ensure that the conversations we had were not only meaningful, but also relevant for the further development of our network. We kicked off our three days of intensive collaboration by connecting to the Why, to the purpose both of the meeting and CitizensLab. It was crucial that this connection was not only an intellectual one, made by the head, but also an emotional one, made by the heart.  Through the strong connection to our common purpose, the latter could become the invisible leader of the meeting. In the subsequent sessions we discussed six topics (thematic areas, knowledge management, new members, network meetings, communication, decision-making).  During those conversations we first dedicated ourselves to the What of the network, i.e. to its processes and governance. Finally, we talked about the How, about tools and methods that we can and want to utilize. By starting off from the value-related core of the network going to more concrete actionable steps of implementation we were able to productively engage our heads, hearts and hands.

201611_citizenslab_strategicmeeting_ninalinkel28The principles that guided our working process were “Speak with intention”, “Listen with attention” and “Look after the well-being of the whole”. Those principles very much reflect why we talk about the Art of Hosting. In times of increasing complexity and accelerating pace really seeing the other, having meaningful conversations and making authentic connections seems to be an art of its own. And, we talk about hosting, because Vishal was not the classic moderator, but rather created the space (material and immaterial) for us to be able to take care of ourselves and others during the meeting.


The working modes we engaged in changed from working in the Circle (plenary), Triangle (working groups) and Square (consultancy). We began and ended each day in the Circle to make sure that we started and closed in a state of common understanding and consensus (even if this consensus was the agreement to disagree). The second working modus was the Triangle. Working groups of 3-5 people intensively worked on one of the above mentioned topics. In a next round, the Square modus, one person of each working group stayed at their respective table and could get counseling from other working groups’ ambassadors. After this round of coaching the initial working groups convened again to integrate the feedback in their original concepts. The session closed with a presentation of each working group in the Circle. This ensured that everybody could work on the topic they were especially interested in, but could at the same time also contribute to the other topics.  The working process we went through consisted of different phases. In a first phase ideas and insights also from our Lumen discussions that took place prior to the meeting were collected without them necessarily yet fitting into a consistent concept (diverging phase). The second phase was the most conflictual one when everybody tried to advocate for their ideas (groan zone). But, this was also the phase were the collective wisdom was very much at work as most connections were made and the most aha-moments popped up  (grown zone). In the last phase, the fragments and morsels of individual wisdom were joined in a coherent concept (converging phase). The product of this process are the proposals presented in Lumen.

Reflection and (Self-)Awareness

201611_citizenslab_strategicmeeting_ninalinkel23Reflection is also an important part of an Art of Hosting process to help make meaning from what emerges from the collective wisdom. Therefore, each meeting as well as each day started with a Check-In circle and was concluded with a Check-Out Circle for personal and collective reflection. Questions like “Out of all places I could have been, why did I chose to come here?”, “How am I arriving today?” or “How am I leaving this meeting?” and “What are my next wise steps?” helped us to reflect and connect with ourselves and the others. Moreover, we had a mindfulness trainer with us who with little exercises on physical, mental and emotional (self-)awareness helped us to focus.

Harvesting Conversations

Besides conversation another equally essential element of The Art of Hosting is the Harvesting process. As part of the collective meaning-making, Harvesting captures the essence of the conversations, but also by discovers emerging patterns. It also serves as a collective memory, an archive of a group process. Therefore, it is crucial for generating actions and concrete next steps. During our meeting we took pictures, recorded a video (thank you, Ed!), took digital notes and made posters for each working group. The condensed product of the harvesting are the proposals that were shared with the entire CitizensLab group on our online communication platform Lumen.

To me personally, the meeting was very empowering as we achieved a very productive balance between reflection and action.

Further Resources:
Art of Hosting Reading List:


Lisa loves to explore the city, discover urban interventions and be surprised by the city’s hidden beauties. She very much interested in a minimalist lifestyle and practices like sharing, upcycling and DIY. She is convinced that we as citizens can and should shape the society we want to live in every day.





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