The art of participatory leadership


I was at the first Scottish Rural Parliament in Oban last month. 400 folk from across the rural regions, each one with their own unique set of expectations. Many workshops held, many presentations given, more than 1,000 ideas generated.

One of the events was a bit different: an Open Space event.


Open Space is one of many tools used by Participatory Leadership (also known as Art of Hosting); see the table above. The hosting team led by Toke Moller selected this as a way of engaging the delegates in a new, active, energetic way. He chose a format whereby everyone present had a two-fold opportunity to speak on a project which inspired them.

Beforehand I thought: “how is this going to work? They’ll be up to 200 people there and we only have a couple of hours – including two break-out slots for workshops, so what if everyone wants to say something? It might end in chaos.”

I needn’t have worried because it was planned and facilitated in such a way that the participants became listeners, and only spoke if they felt moved to do so. As they worked through its clear structure they did, indeed, become participatory leaders. This was in contrast to other events at the Parliament which were led by keynote speakers, with questions afterwards from the floor. This time everyone was “on the floor”, and there was plenty of moving around. A sense of dynamic energy and engagement was created, instead of an “us and them” situation, with the speaker standing and the rest forced to stay seated.


The other impressive thing about the event was the recording of what went on (in PL terminology, “harvesting”). A team of volunteers were responsible for collating and digitising all the results of the many individual workshops, plus the statements from those moved to speak. This is being made publically available. So often in such events the information is left on flip charts, folded away and forgotten.

If you want to transform your meetings, contact the Art of Hosting Scottish team via their website. With their help you can finally find an alternative to the all-to-familiar scenario described below:

“Many people experience meetings that waste time, conversations that feel more like debates, and invitations to input which turn out to be something altogether different.  People want to contribute, but they can’t see how.  Leaders want contribution, but they don’t know how to get it.”

About edwardtyler

I live in Kintyre, the long peninsula acting as a natural breakwater for the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. A Permaculture and Transition practitioner, I am working with fellow community activists to co-create a resilient and vibrant local bioregion.

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