Facilitation or hosting?

Chris Corrigan writes about a distinction between facilitation and hosting.

Facilitation comes from a mechanistic view of organizations that they are machines that can be fixed. Facilitators typically take a neutral stand bring their tools and tool kits to help things run easier. The facilitator is the mechanic and the group is the machine.

Hosting, on the other hand, is a practice of leading from within a living system. It’s like entering the machine, becoming a part of it and changing it by being there. In a living system you cannot enter the field without affecting the field.

I think the distinction is important, and I’m very much drawn to the hosting model.

The notion of operating from within a living system resonates strongly. This relates fairly directly to the stuff Senge and Co have to say about presencing.

Here’s some more of Chris’ wisdom:

From a complexity stand point, facilitation is seen as a reductionist activity, reducing complexity to simple problems with simple outcomes and a simple path for getting there. Facilitators help groups to seek answers and end states. Hosting from within the field however is more aligned with the nature of complex systems, where there are no answers, but instead only choices to make around the next question, and the paths where those questions lead us. There are no end states. The idea of a healthy community is a vector, not a point. It is a direction to move, not something that can be acheived and then crossed off the list.

The only slight caution I have is the labelling as I’d quite like to use the word facilitation to describe what Chris calls hosting. Hosting as a word comes with its own potential for confusion.

This comes to mind if I think of a point I often like to make. I’m not David Dimbleby. (Celebrated UK anchorman type). This is not televison where the “host” hogs the mike, interrupts experts and purports to represent the audience. I think groups often have that notion of my job and sometimes get a lot of anxious eye contact during awkward silences where it seems that people want me to say something. On the whole, I want them to say it themselves. I don’t see myself as the pivot around which the group moves.

Dave Snowden picks up indirectly on the ideas Chris raises and talks about another important issue.

In effect most of the material I read in articles and the blogosphere, and most the presentations I witness at conferences fit within the dominant atomistic assumptions of anglo saxon tradition: the individual is seen as primary, with communities understood as aggregations of individual self-interest and needs.

I think Chris’s notion of hosting embodies a less atomistic and more connected worldview; we’re not separate from the group, we are part of it.

3 thoughts on “Facilitation or hosting?

  1. Nancy White

    Hi Johnnie…thanks for this. On the labelling piece, I am interested in these particular distinctions specifically because I am often asked to defeing the difference between facilitation and hosting in the context of the Art of Hosting community of practice.

    But beyond that, the word facilitation DOES have a certain mechanistic weight to it, in it’s etymology if nothing else. I have become more and more aware that my work is sometimes not about making things easier, but helping groups seek simplicity. That is a very different thing, especially because the simplicity I love is the collective simplicity that lives beyond complexity.

    The shift is not complicated to easy, but rather complex to simple.

    AND, despite it all, I do still use the word facilitation, at least initially in describing what I do because it does bring the mind of a listener to rest on a certain field of practice.


    I’m nodding in agreement with all of this – the distinctions, and the diverse use of the word “facilitation.” I know that my view and beliefs around “facilitating” and “being a facilitator” have grown much wider than when I started and very much reflect what y’all are writing here.

    Perhaps this is the transition from the mechanistic to the systemic – and part of that just comes from experience. In youth I had the delusion of control. As I age, I have the experience of participation. And some day, I’ll really be free of the control *(#$&*%&. 😉

    But I would not say that facilitation is a reductionist field. I’d say that some facilitators have a reductionist practice.

    And heck, what does “easy” mean anyway. Grin

    Waving to y’all


  2. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks so much for the comments.

    I think that’s a great point, Chris, about the etymology of facilitation suggesting it’s about making things easy. That’s a slippery notion and can cause a lot of trouble. I think some of the best work I have done has been more about sitting with discomfort and NOT rescuing or making easy.

    I’m intrigued by distinctions between complex, complicated and simple (Dave’s work on this is especially interesting). I’m especially wary of treating the complex as complicated, as so many organisational diagrams do.

    I do like the idea of providing simple structures that allow the people to be complex.

    Reflecting on language, I realise that the phrase you so often use, “holding space” feels more and more evocative to me. It’s nicely paradoxical and feels good as a way of thinking about the work, even if it might not make such easy sense to customers.

    Nancy, I like your point about reductionist practice vs reductionist field.

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