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Chris Corrigan
RR#1 E3
Bowen Island, BC
Canada V0N 1G0

+1 604 947 9236

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Capacity, engagement and authentic learning

I think there is probably nothing new under the sun.  Engagement work has been tried, refined and improved all over the world in the last couple of decades that I wonder if there is anything new we can learn?  It does seem to fall into “authentic engagement” and “engagement washing” – if I can coin a couple of phrases.  But I haven’t seen radically new thinking or practice for a while.

What we are getting instead is some terrific collections of tools, handbooks and harvests of processes.  This .pdf of a Handbook for Civic Engagement prepared for a community process in the United States is an excellent example of the kind of harvesting that is useful.  It sums up lessons learned from engagement process, proceeds from practice to inform theory and provides some useful invitations for practice and application.  This is an artifact which has emerged out of the space of engagement “praxis” – the gap between theory and practice.  I’m interested in tis inquiry at the moment, and stumbling across things like this in my quest to understand what is useful in harvesting from initiatives that sustain the capacity and learning begun in real engagement.

“Engagement washing” initiatives don’t usually leave these kinds of documents in the places where the engagement took place.  It should be a hall mark of good practice that process learnings are shared and tools are developed as well as results documented.

Learning in the New year

You’ll see on the sidebar a bunch of different offerings for this year.  Seems my Art of Hosting teaching practice is making a couple of shifts.  First, there are lots of places around the world where you can go and do a basic introductory Art of Hosting.  The schedule is getting pretty crowded actually if you are willing to travel!  You can find the list of offerings here at the Art of Hosting website.

This represents something of the shift in the world of this practice.  Over the past ten years the Art of Hosting community has grown widely and there are many many people out there now offering the basic workshop with different flavours.  Most of these folks are known to me, so if you have questions about the various offerings and you don’t know who else to call, drop me a line.

As a result, those of us that have been at it for a number of years have begun to develop new offerings to support advanced practice.  Hendrik Tiesinga, Simone Poutnik and Rowan Simonsen have pulled together a great group of teachers for the first online Art of Hosting – Advanced Practice, aimed at deepening and advancing one’s practice, and structured around design, hosting and implementation of a process to address specific challenges.

Tim Merry, Caitlin Frost, Tuesday Ryan-Hart and I have put together our Art of Hosting Beyond the Basics offering which is aimed at folks who are extending participatory leadership practice to broader and deeper contexts, including systems change, widespread community engagement and working with power.  This course will be a deep dive into personal practice and systemic impact.

Jerry Nagel, Stephen Duns, Kathy Jourdain, Roshanda Cummings and Dave Ellis are offering Growing Hosting Artistry in Minnesota that is more focused on deepening personal hosting practice for those that have tasted that aspect at other Art of Hosting workshops.

For myself, I have been working closely with Amanda Fenton on creating a set of offerings for the Vancouver area Art of Hosting community of practice, so expect more news on that very soon.  We are planning regular community of practice Pro-Action Cafes, year end Open Space events, deep dive workshops into specific methodologies and land based retreats and gatherings.

I am also in the early stages of creating a more specific offering for small teams and individuals to support leadership retreats here on Bowen Island.  This offering will use the land and sea as a partner in designing, thinking, innovating and grounding new practices and approaches to complex challenges.  I’ll be making further announcements about this in the next few months.

So there are lots of ways to dive into learning this year.  And I’d welcome anyone who wants to co- create more specific offerings in the Vancouver area as well.

Workshops on tap for this year

March-June 2014

Art of Hosting Advanced Practice Online
with Simone Poutnik, Hendrick Tiesinga, Rowan Simonsen, and a bunch of special guests.

March 7-9, 2014
Art of Participatory Leadership: Building Resilient Communities and Organizations – Creating Change
Petaluma, California
with Teresa Posakony, Jeff Aitken, Dana Perlman, Sam Ruark and Carolyn Stanton.

May 7-9
Art of Social Innovation
Toronto, Ont.
with Jennifer Chan, Rachel Caroline Derrah, Sophia Horwitz,Violetta Ilkiw and Satsuko VanAntwerp.

Art of Hosting Beyond the Basics: Breadth, Depth, Friendship and Power
with Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Tim Merry and Caitlin Frost
Columbus OH, April 4-6
Mahone Bay NS, May 15-17
Bowen Island BC, Sept. 21-24
Pureto Vallarta MX, Jan. 29-31, 2015

And coming soon in 2014 and 2015…
Events and workshops in Vancouver BC, Toronto ON and on Bowen Island, BC Email me for more information at

24 years

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student


Designing with introverts in mind


A long time ago I was an introverted person and over the years that has completely changed.  If you know me, you’ll know I love talking to others, being around people and engaging in meaningful social interaction.  I still love my solitude but I love hanging anround in my local coffee shop and pub more.

As a process designer, creating good meeting and learning spaces for introverts has long been a blind spot for me.  Facilitators by definition bring people together.  If we are extroverted, the processes we design can often contain an overwhelming amount of social interaction for introverts which actually alienates them from the group and marginalizes their contributions.  Sometimes I have run meetings where the introverts never contributed at all.  That wasn’t through their fault – it was the fault of my process design that never took their learning styles into account.

You might call it extrovert privilege.

Back in June I was on the hosting team for an Art of Hosting in northern California.  A long time friend was there – Tree Fitzpatrick –  one of the most deeply intensive introverts I know.  She is also a long time process designer and facilitator nd she knowns her stuff.  She left after the first hour of the workshop, but not without having a long conversation with me about what she was experiencing.  She later made a beautiful gift of sharing her insights with me in a long email on designing processes for introverts.  In the past six months, these insights have been a gorgeous gift to my own practice and have radically shifted the way I design, by actually putting the needs of introverted people at the centre of the work.  The core of her message to me was this, quoting:

“Please consider integrating some introvert work into your designs. You don’t have to worry about the extroverts: while you give the group quiet time, which is giving the introverts permission to reflect inwardly, most extroverts will just go on doing whatever they want to do but the introverts will feel better if you give them permission to reflect. It only has to be a minute of reflection before speaking but it can make a huge difference to the introvert’s experience in small group talk.”

In the past six months, I have done several things to attend to this.

  • Be aware of your “extrovert privilege.”  You will know that you suffer from this if silence and solitude seems anaethma to you in a group setting.  You will often find introverts confusing and will lose patience with their demands for personal space.  You may harbour thoughts about them that are mean spirited, feeling like they are acting out or making some kind of victimization power play.  These are your thoughts, and they are not reality.  Work on them and recognize your extrovert privilege.  I have been working over the past six months to take long periods of solitude for myself just to build up that capacity.  I have come to deeply appreciate it as a learning modality
  • Introverts need silence and space.   When you are working with silence, make sure you build a strong container for it.  Sometimes this means really enforcing the silence, but I do this by explaining why this is important and invite people who are uncomfortable with silence to see it as a challenge worthy of their leadership.  It’s fierce hosting work, because extroverts are very dismissive of it, and I haven’t always been successful. In Ireland in September we had a particularly gregarious group of Irish language scholars and activists, and I learned about “Irish silence” which something of a dull roar rather than a raucous buzz!  Our hosting team was highly amused at my attempts to get anything better than that in the room!
  • Build in long periods of silence before asking people to engage in conversation. A minute sounds good but two minutes is better.  For deeper conversations even five minutes of silence is powerful.  The extroverts will get fidgety, so invite them to write their thoughts down to give them something to do with their hands.
  • Provide a meaningful time for reflection at the end of a day.  At Rivendell, one of our local spaces for retreat here on Bowen Island, the whole space goes into an hour of silence at 5pm.  Anything happening at the facility must also go into this period of silence – it is one of the conditions for being there.  For the core group that maintains the space, this is a spiritual practice, although people working there are free to see it in another way.  The first time I encountered it I found it a nuisance because at the end of a day of learning usually the groups I am with are bubbly and excited to chat.  But working at Rivendell over the years has exposed me to the deep wisdom of building in long periods of silent and solo reflection.  It takes all of the learning from the day and plunges it deep into the heart.
  • In larger learning initiatives, build in long periods of reflection time out of doors.  In Theory U based change labs, the solo presencing retreat is a crucial part of the work.  This is where participants spend time alone on the land reflecting.  I have been building in long periods of solo time on the land recently.  In Ireland our team there uses half day guided walks in The Burren to deepen relationships between people and immerse them in what the land has to offer.  I have brought that approach back to Bowen Island and in recent leadership development work we have been doing here, a half day process including an hour long silent period on the land is a core part of the work.  This needs to be hosted very strongly…we invite people to hold the silence together from the time we leave, through the solo time, until the time we return.  This is a powerful experience for introverts and extroverts alike.
  • In smaller settings, building in reflection activities is easy.  The reflection toolkit from the Northwest Service Academy in Portland, Oregon is a fabulous resource to share with groups and to invite groups members to lead one or more of these exercises throughout your process.  My colleague Jerry Nagel inserted this kit into a training workbook we used with the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation in Minnesota and was immediately useful.

This has evolved into a really fabulous learning edge for me both personally and professionally and I am grateful to Tree for setting me on the path.



Time for hobbits

We have opened our Art of Hosting at Rivendell, on Bowen Island.  These words are in my ear, words spoken by Elrond at his Council at the mythical Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring.  The council was deliberating on who should carry out the quest to destroy the One Ring, and so end the world and nrid it of the domination of the evil Sauron.  The question of the humble hobbits ndoing the work came up and this was Elrond’s response:

“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere”

Come, hobbits.  The time for work is here.


Being hosted by the land

Bowen Island oriented with Snug Cove pointing towards you, as the entrance to the Island.


Yesterday in our five day residential we invited the participants out on the land for a solo retreat.  Bowen Island, where I live, is an incredible place.  To get here, you have to take a boat across the Queen Charlotte Channel, a deep body of water at the entrance to Howe Sound.  Howe Sounda was formed by glaciers and mountain making processes, and now is a fjord surround by walls of 1200 meters or more.

Entry to Bowen is through Snug Cove, a small and protected harbour that s part of of a bigger bay called Mannion Bay.  it is a deep round sanctuary that serves as a channel into the island, and a kind of birth canal when you leave.  I have never tired of the process of crossing this threshold.

Once you are here, the Island draws you ever inward, with our one main road branching into three at the crossroads and later into dozens of ever smaller roads and lanes ending at beaches, bays, lakes, mountains or sometimes just petering out into the forest.  There are no real loop roads here: once you take a path you have to retunr pretty much the way you came.

This landscape sets us up for a beautiful retreat.  When I have helped people have solo experiences here I have always framed them first with a noticing of the threshold that is crossed.  Richard Rohr captures the power of these kinds of thresholds here:

The edge of things is a liminal space – a very sacred place where guardian angels are especially available and needed. The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there.  To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position.  You are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.  When you are at the center of something, you usually confuse the essentials with the non-essentials, and get tied down by trivia, loyalty tests, and job security.   Not much truth can happen there.

via On the Edge of the Inside: The Prophetic Position by Richard Rohr, OFM.

Once we have crossed the threshold, typically a person’s experience will consist of three phases: a moving out onto the land, a resting phases in stillness and a return.  It is a mythic journey in many ways.  In going out I invite people to dwell on what they are getting ready to leave.  In resting I invite people to be still for at least an hour in the forest or by the sea, which is enough time to let the forest close back around a person and let it reveal itself to you.  And the return journey is always accompanied by a gift; you are bringing something back.  These little out and back pilgrimages are important and very powerful for people.  As I learn more about the way this land works us, I feel like I can let it more fully host me and the people I work with and the insights can come.


Staying on the road

Halfway through our five day residency with leaders from the community sector and the Ministry for Children and Families here in BC.  Times like this, at middle of a five day retreat, we turn our thoughts to what comes next and we forget to be present.  This is our day of practicing presence however, and later today we will be going out on the land and allow ourselves to be hosted by the forest, the rain and our island.  This is the time for a fierce recommitment to the here and now.

My colleague and friend Annemarie Travers, who is on our hosting team and who leads learning in the Ministry shared a beautiful framing for our day together.  She and her husband Geoff recently completed the Camino pilgrimage and she wrote dozens of poems during her journey.  This morning she shared one that speaks powerfully to what it is like to be distracted by the near end:

Staying “Here”

The closer we get to the end of our walk, the harder it is to stay present
We think ahead to achieving our goal, beginning to be proud of our accomplishment

We have also started to think about home, and all that waits for us there
But we need to focus on enjoying these last few days as much as we dare

While we feel the Camino has given us both what we need
We know it’s not done with us yet, their is still more to come, indeed!

These last few days are characterized by more traffic on the paths
And as we weave our way through,  some draw our wrath

Then we remind ourselves of the Camino spirit, and breathe deeply, just let it go
(Hopefully not while passing a farm – we are regularly assaulted by manure smells you know)

We forget to be grateful for the simple pleasures of the day
It was supposed to rain today, but the rain stayed away!

This all has the effect of limiting our opportunities for meditative walking
Our minds go to the usual worries, and we begin talking

About the end of the trip, and what we will do when we return
So we made a pact with ourselves with the intent to turn

The train of our thoughts, to focus on the here and now
Enjoy what this day brings, not the manure, but the  beauty of the cow…

Such a beautiful reminder to remain present, to enjoy the source of everything that continues to work with us!

The advice you have for others…

…is the best wisdom for yourself:

The advice you’ve been giving your family and friends turns out to be advice for you to live, not us. You become the wise teacher as you become a student of yourself. It stops mattering if anyone else hears you, because you’re listening. You are the wisdom you offer us, breathing and walking and effortlessly moving on, as you make your business deal, buy your groceries, or do the dishes.

– Byron Katie

Loving being with my partner Caitlin Frost as she teaches this powerful stuff to a group of leaders whose freedom and resourcefulness makes a huge difference in the lives of vulnerable humans in this world.

Soliciting questions from inside and out

Working with a group of leaders this week all of whom are engaged in bringing their full selves to complex problems largely in the community, family and social services sector.  Tonight we are co-initiating our work together and I led them through this exercise which was inspired by my friend and colleague Roq Garreau of Centrespoke Consulting:.

  1. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half so that you have a little book with four pages.
  2. On the front of the little book write your leadership challenge, something that you are called into doing, something that occupies much of your attention and that seems unresolvable, something you feel you have to DO.
  3. Write 12 questions down relating to this challenge.  Make them open ended questions and spread out the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.  These are questions you cannot easily answer.
  4. Turn to a fresh page in your litle book and rewrite your challenge
  5. Now mill in the room and pair up with another person.  Simply read your leadership challenge and listen as they offer you three questions.  Don’t explain, don’t justify, just listen.  Those offering questions can just offer the first three things that come to mind.
  6. Once you have collected nine questions, rest and rewrite your challenge one more time.

We then went around the circle and had people read these challenges out. It is a very vulnerable exercise as people shared what they don’t know how to do.  And they become equipped with questions that are deeply embedded in the centre of their work and curveball questions that come from the margins.  These marginal questions have a powerful effect on people and it is a useful reminder that change and challenge often comes from outside of what we think we know.

In the debrief a participant suggested a further step: she offered that embedded in every challenge is a vision of how we want things to be and that in rushing to DOING, we forget PURPOSE.  This is a useful antidote to the more common complaint that “we are spending too much time thinking about PURPOSE and not enough attention on ACTION.”  Purpose and Action are therefore held in a creative tension.

These challenges and questions will travel with people this week, and we have invited our participants to see these as friends.

Art of Hosting beyond the basics: a new offering


Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Tim Merry, Caitlin Frost and I are just returning from a gathering of experienced Art of Hosting practitioners from around the world.  One of the threads in our gathering was and exploration of how the practice of hosting and harvest conversations in the world can be applied to working with groups in ever increasing scale and influence.
This is the core inquiry of our new Beyond the Basics offering.. Being skillful facilitators of dialogue is obviously not enough to make shifts in systems, although dialogue is a powerful place for people in a system to start to understand the complexity, diversity and challenges that we are dealing with.  It is also the prime vehicle for locating the innovation at the edge of the collective intelligence in the system that helps design innovations in systems of all kinds. .  But  alone, dialogue is not enough.  Shifting systems requires us to apply dialogic practices and participatory leadership in a series of connected events throughout a system.  Dealing with the complexity of shifting systems requires that we build depth in the capacity of core teams that are holding the work.

A key part of our work is nto build capacity and depth in core teams to host systems work together.  Building the capacities of core teams is a marker of the success and sustainability of the kinds of participatory initiatives that achieve lasting results and outcomes.  Where we have worked with systems where the consulting team retains the capacity, the initiative tends to fizzle when the contract ends.

Sustainability and lasting results lie at the intersection of depth, breadth, friendship and power.  Core teams need to operate deeply, which means that they need to be engaging beyond the facilitation of hosted events.  Good core teams ARE the field they are influencing and therefore they have to be practiced at going deep into their own dynamics to begin to make changes in a system.  And they hold a level of depth that allows them to see and sense together strategically as an initiative unfolds.

To scale up initiatives, a team needs to then achieve breadth without sacrificing depth.  More people need to be involved in core hosting of the work.  But this cannot be a classical “train the trainer” model.  It takes time for more practitioners to come into the field. The initial core team must not only train others in systems work but also become teachers and mentors of new practitioners and protect the work as it gets off to it’s shaky start.  Going nto scale means lots of learning happening in public, so connecting people together in learning becomes crucial.

The architecture that keeps breadth connected to depth rests on trust, and so friendship becomes a powerful part of the operating system.  In complex systems work there are times when formal accountabilities don’t ensure the levels of trust and commitment that is needed, and only a field of deep trust between people will sustain the practice and sustain the resilience as groups go through the difficult parts of systemic evolution.

The challenge here is that we then need a new conception of power, because power in existing systems tends to come from accountabilities for results delivered against known and predictable plans.  Participatory work is a huge challenge to power because it requires everyone in the system, to work from a position of trust and uncertainty while still staying accountable for results.  When working in any human system, issues of visible and invisible power and privilege are important strategic acupuncture points for change.  And if we don’t pay attention to them we can find ourselves mired in simple relationship building projects or in oppositional and combative power struggles.  We find trust and commitment eroding and we lose the breadth required for impact.

As a team this is our learning edge.  We have many stories to share and tools and practices that help us be in this work, but we are also excited for our BtB offering to be a place where we co-discover with others the deepest challenges at these edges and perhaps even co-create new collective knowledge about how the art of hosting and harvesting can work in these domains.

Our beyond the basics offerings is informed by and structured around learning, discovering and implementing practices that integrate these approaches to working in complex environments with complex challenges.  We have discovered that there are personal practices of coaching, mentoring and support that complement a deep skill set in designing, hosting and harvesting participatory process and a fierce commitment to creating architectures of implementation that respect and work with the existing power structures in a way that protects results while also building the capacity for uncertainty.

As we work towards the BtB workshops in 2014- and 2015 we will be continuing to share learnings, resources and case studies here on this blog and we invite your own questions and inquires about this practice as we move towards learning together.