iCo–The Power of Co-hosting

Colleagues in the global Vibrancy community have been working for many years on the concept of co-hosting.  We have found it to be a very powerful way of inviting and leading much greater impact resilience.

First of all, what do we mean by co-hosting?  We started with the analogy of a party.  Are we holding a party, like a meeting, where we are trying to lift the whole thing by ourselves?  It’s heavy, because in the holding gesture we are trying to manage the whole and each of the interactions of the part.  Surely you have been to a party or a committee meeting where you were micromanaged.  How was it?  We realized that we liked parties that were hosted more than parties that were held by someone.  The host tended to create an environment for a fun party, guide us periodically with food, music, or occasional introductions, generally leaving us to our own devices.  By looking for great hosting, we began to notice experiences that were even better than being hosted, where we were invited to be co-responsible for the experience and the outcomes.  We were invited to be co-hosts, hosting tougher, with all of us being responsible.  That is when we started to play with co-hosting.

When we look at co-hosting through the four lenses of the agreements evidence map–the economic, political, cultural, and social lenses–we begin to see a coherent set of practices that we have observed in very vibrant groups that achieve very high levels of impact resilience.

Co-investing.  Through the economic lens, we see co-investing.  What are the light, verb, noun resources we each bring to our interactions with each other?  When we bring all of who we are and all that we can see to the game, we bring potential, development, and outcomes.  We each bring something.  I do not contract you to bring only the capacities you already have, rather I invite you into investing with me, co-investing, everything you bring and everything I bring.  We have found the co-investing gesture to dramatically change our agreements with each other and with the organizations and communities we engage with in our work.  We have begun to measure the outcomes co-investing by assessing the return on impact-resilience co-investment–the increased return on our investment, in terms of greater impact and resilience from lower costs of scarcity achieved through more powerful agreements.

Integrated conversations.  Through the political lens, we see integrated conversations.  Our colleagues at THORLO call them ICCs, for integrated collaborative conversations.  With decision making and enforcement based on all five primary relationships, who decides and enforces–the political lens–depends completely on the specific relationship-context.  Is it a decision for the self, for the other, for the group, for the creative, tangibilization process, or for the source of creativity?  They each co-exist within an integrated conversation, each with their own principles and responsibilities.  In highly vibrant integrated conversations, we find people contribute freely, interact freely and with mutual responsibility, with the responsibility to participate fully, respecting, witnessing, and learning in the creative process, looking for the sources of creativity everywhere.  Doing this turns out to be easy, very practical, and highly engaging.

Deeper shared purpose.  Through the cultural lens, we see that people are united by a deeper shared purpose.  This deeper shared purpose is what brings us all together, in any specific circumstance, whether we are aware of it or not.  Being clear on what that deeper shared purpose is turns out to be very powerful, as it taps into the deeper values that guide our interactions and invite our greater commitment and contributions.  We have found that by being explicit about the outcomes and experience we expect from our interactions, we are able to consciously choose agreements that align with these deeper value and the ethical principles that guide our interactions.

Collaboration.  Through the social lens, we see that people design their interactions for segregation, for flocking, or for collaboration.  In collaboration we are united, each necessary for our unique contributions to achieving the whole that we all want and need each other to achieve.   While many people say they are collaborating, we find they actually mean something very different.  We have found processes for inviting in and presencing collaboration, which we have synthesized with the O Process. In collaboration, we have found that people are able to continuously evolve their agreements by witnessing what is happening at every step of the creative tangibilization process, from seeing potential, and seeing pathways to manifest that potential, to seeing the outcomes from those pathways.  All an experiment in multiple levels of perceived reality, learning and evolving along the way, a process we now call tangibilization.

In looking at our experience of co-hosting, we now see through the 4 lenses that successful co-hosting requires a coherent set of practices that integrate co-investing, integrated conversations, deeper shared purpose, and collaboration, as four different ways of seeing one experience, that of co-hosting.  When the evidence in the agreements evidence map shows that one of these is at a lower level of agreements, then the co-hosting set is not coherent.  A high level of co-hosting requires coherence of all 4 at the same level of agreements.  While this seems complex at first, in practice it is not.  It is a matter of holding oneself to these principles, leading to a much more vibrant experience and much better outcomes.  Greater impact resilience.

A colleague told me the other day that she thought of herself as a “co” person, because she found herself constantly working in collaboration and co-investment as a co-host.  A very powerful way to invite each of us to be at our best, making our best contributions in our interactions.  Maybe that makes her an iCo.


What Happens When We “Go It Alone” In Complex Systems?

While the need to collaborate seems obvious to many of us who play in the multi-stakeholder, complex-systems space, most people still do not–even many of the “systems thinkers” I have met.  Some say that collaboration is just too hard, while others say that they collaborate, when they don’t.  What they say might sound like collaboration, but when you look at the underlying agreements, you see that they are not.

So what?  Is collaboration just a “nice” thing to do?  Or is there a real “cost” to not collaborating?   Does collaboration bring possible benefits or does the lack of collaboration directly decrease the impact and resilience of large-scale efforts?  In 2016 professors from Stanford, Harvard, and UC Boulder published their study of the state of the science and practice of sustainable social-environmental systems in their book Pursuing Sustainability (2016 Princeton Univ Press).  They provide such an eloquent and brief survey of examples of the unintended consequences of not having a systemic understanding across space (multiple stakeholders) and time (multiple generation), that I quote it in full.

“The new ‘water closets’ of early nineteenth century London achieved their purpose of ridding houses and their adjoining alleys of foul-smelling human wastes.  But by conveying these untreated wastes into Thames River, they inadvertently poisoned the city’s principal source for drinking water.  The innovation of CFCs greatly enhanced society’s ability to provide safe refrigeration of food, but through a perversely complex chain of unforeseen connections it also put the world at risk by causing depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.  With the introduction of modern technology into the headworks of Nepal’s irrigation system, it indeed worked better at controlling water.  However, because the system was under the control of new technology and nonlocal managers, the local farmers lost their incentive to cooperate with one another, which led to a decay of overall system productivity.  Numerous additional cases can be drawn from today’s headlines–for example, the unintended effects on food prices of government subsidies to promote biofuels over fossil fuels” (pp 63-64).

While we humans are not yet capable of perfectly modeling and predicting the behavior of complex systems or how to intervene in them, a practice of collaborative study, reflection, and purposeful experimentation is far superior to going it alone, and assuming that you know how everyone else will respond or that it does not matter.

How Co-hosting Influenced My Leadership Approach — 14 European Leaders Share Their Experiences

My colleagues Ana Claudia, Christoph, and I recently shared, in a series of 4 blogposts, what we at Vibrancy and the Institute for Strategic Clarity learned, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.

In this blogpost we want to share what leaders of the BUILD UPON team, from across Europe, learned on how to effectively ‘co-host’ large-scale cross-sector collaboration,  In the following set of video interviews, we explored how their application of the co-hosting principles over six months in their own specific contexts had changed their leadership approaches.

Watch the 3 – 4 minute videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqKLcbOXltc&list=UUba8q8uz9c3e1r7Fm5eXc7A

Agreements of Transformation — Research with 22 Leaders Across 18 Countries

This blog highlights insights from research into the agreements of transformation.  This research with 22 people across 18 countries on 3 continents was supported by the Institute for Strategic Clarity and the UBA, the German Environmental Protection Agency.


Individuals and groups in different cultures face situations of change in fundamental agreements on a daily basis, addressing complex and large-scale social issues, as well as daily dysfunctional interactions.  We wanted to understand and describe why people respond to these issues by taking on societal-scale transformations, and how they do it.


A team of interviewers at the Institute for Strategic Clarity invited 22 professionals from around the globe who met a diverse set of criteria to be interviewed for and engage in this research project.

•We asked them to “Reflect on a situation, of which you have been part, where you experienced a change at a fundamental level and basic assumptions in a group (e.g. institution, organization, network) or your area of impact (field, industry, sector, region etc.)?“

•Transformation is defined as: “Involving structural changes and shifts in systemic as well as underlying assumptions in order to change how the components in a system relate to one another, thus achieving fundamental change in relationships, systems boundaries, governing variables, actions and strategies as well as outcomes and consequences.“


The team, led by Christoph Hinske, engaged 22 practitioners in a 60-minute, semi-structured, dialog-based, expert interview.  The interviews were then analyzed with narrative-based agreements evidence map to find agreements in a simple but robust way in the practices, structures and processes described during the interviews.


The interviewees indicated that they achieved transformation by starting with an assumption of abundance of resources, creating experiences of higher vibrancy, and organizing in a way that they achieved greater harmony in their interactions with others.

  • “Conversation partners shared that money and other resources were often perceived to be limited, but never as scarce.“
  • “Decisions and enforcements (un)consciously strengthen the primary relationships.“
  • “People are in such processes because they want to exponentially increase what they value most.“
  • “Societal scale transformation is a journey into the unknown, framed by a ‘psychologically safe’ support structure, in which members enable each other to find ways to walk into the future they see together.”

You can find out more about the research and its findings in the following sources: 

We Don’t Collaborate Because It Is A “Nice” Thing To Do, Rather Because We Have To–What Science Tells Us

“The most important implication[s] of the complexity of social-environmental systems is that you can’t do just one thing (p 63) […and] fitting the pieces together..requires an ability to understand how changes in one..asset..are likely to interact with the other assets…Doing this perfectly is not within our reach.  But the revolutionary advances of the last decades understanding the dynamics of social-environmental systems provide a solid foundation on which to do it better” (p 51), according to Stanford’s Professor Matson, Harvard’s Clark, and UC Boulder’s Andersson in their recent framing of the emerging science and practices of social-environmental system resilience, in their book Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice (2016 Princeton Univ Press).

To do more than “merely one thing” is to realize that everything is connected to something else, and that each of those “something elses” belongs to someone, someone who makes decisions about it.  This level of understanding of how parts of the system interact, and how local decision structures influence them focuses on systemic decision structures.

While the complexity of dealing with many moving parts, which are each influenced by multiple, different stakeholders, can seem overwhelming at first glance, many of us in the fields of decision and systems sciences have spent many years finding efficient ways to integrate the best of human understanding and wisdom with robust technologies, increasing the strategic clarity a group of individuals can achieve together.  You can find many examples of strategic systems mappings of large-scale, complex systemic decision structures (here), as well as examples of groups mapping the underlying systemic agreement structures that influence the decisions made in the system (here).

“Without an integrated appreciation and understanding of the social-environmental systems in which decisions are being made, unintended and negative consequences will too often result” (p 53).

Seeing What We See–Another Perspective on The Agreements We Accept

The British philosopher Alan Watts observed, “If I draw a circle, most people, when asked what I have drawn, will say that I have drawn a circle, or a disc, or a ball.  Very few people will ever suggest that I have drawn a hole in a wall, because people think of the inside first, rather than thinking of the outside. But actually these two sides go together–you cannot have what is ‘in here’ unless you have what is ‘out there.’

What agreements have I unconsciously accepted, such as seeing the circle from the inside, that limit my ability to see the circle from the outside?  How many ways have I boxed myself into a corner, from which I cannot see the possibilities I am seeking?  Watts’ observation invites me to remember that I was the one that boxed myself in–with the agreements I unconsciously accepted–so I can remove those boxes I put in place, the constraints on what I can see, consciously choosing the agreements I accept.

Choosing Our Agreements, Consciously — 4 Quotes

A core tenet of my work is that we unconsciously accept most of the agreements that fundamentally influence our experience and our outcomes, and that it is possible to see these agreements and to consciously choose them.  In my recent readings, I came across some quotes looking at this choice.

Nobel laureate in literature, George Bernard Shaw, in Maxims for Revolutionists, wrote, The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Once British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, in Lothair, wrote, “Action may not always be happiness,..but here is no happiness without action.”  I suggest that choice might not always bring happiness, but there is no resilient capacity for happiness or wellness, however one defines it for oneself, without conscious choice.

Nobel laureate in physics, Richard Feynman, in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, wrote, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool” (p 343).  To be okay with unconsciously accepting the agreements that most influence your experience and outcomes is to give over the power of your will, your future, to someone else.

In his bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek, a manifesto on rethinking our basic agreements about working and living, Timothy Ferriss observes, “If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way and the results are subpar, this is the time to ask, What if I did the opposite? Don’t follow a model that doesn’t work” (p 30).  Just because everyone seems to accept a set of agreements, consciously or unconsciously, does not mean that these agreements actually lead to the experience and outcomes they say they do or that these agreements are right for you.  To know that, you have to ask the question.

A hat tip to Timothy Ferriss for these four quotes.

The Creative Spark — Recommended Reading

Fuentes, Agustin. The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional2017, New York: Dutton.

We human beings prefer experiences where our unique creative expression is invited into a group’s work, and where it is actively engaged, according to our survey research in 98 countries and our field research in 39 countries.  In The Creative Spark, Professor Agustin Fuentes provides an anthropologist’s view on the impact of human imagination.

He starts with the observation that, “the initial condition of any creative act is collaboration…This cocktail of creativity and collaboration distinguishes our species–no other species has ever been able to do it so well–and has propelled the development of our bodies, minds, and cultures, both for good and for bad” (p 2).  His research suggests that there are “four big misconceptions of human evolution:…we are the species that is supremely good at being bad; we are a species of supercooperators, supremely good at being good; [we are] a species still better adapted to traditional lives as hunter-gatherers than to modern, mechanized, urbanized, and tech-connected life; [or that we are] the Promethean breed, who, having made all the world our dominion, are now running it, and ultimately ourselves, into ruin” (p 3). He suggests that vast amounts of research in “anthropology, evolutionary biology, psychology, economics, and sociology over the past twenty years” (p. 4) have shown these predominant arguments are at best incomplete.  “Perhaps most important, these popular accounts have obscured the wonderful story at the heart of our evolution–the story of how, from the days of our earliest, protohuman ancestors, we have survived and increasingly thrived because of our exceptional capacity for creative collaboration” (p 4).  “A new synthesis demonstrates that humans acquired a distinctive set of neurological, physiological, and social skills that enabled us, starting from the earliest days, to work together and think together in order to purposefully cooperate.

Professor Fuentes takes us on the long journey over two million years of how we evolved, through our increasing ability for creative collaboration, to the beings we are today.  Along the way, he explores how we co-evolved with our environment through food, war, sex, religion, art, and science.  As the capacity for collaboration, and how collaboration differs from pure competition or coopetition lies at the core of our work in ecosynomics, this look across the data from hundreds of communities and hundreds of thousands of years, highlights our innate capacities as Homo lumens.  A very interesting, well written and documented read, which I highly recommend.

Scaling Impact — What We Are Learning from BUILD UPON Cambridge, Madrid, and Brussels

In this 4th of a series of 4 blogposts, we share what we are learning, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.


In BUILD UPON, we are working regionally, as Europe, across 28 member states, and within each member state.  We have spent the last two years working with thousands of stakeholder groups who influence the building renovation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency industries, across geographic, economic, political, cultural, and social diversities.  To scale the impact of all of this local, national, and regional work, we saw that six steps were necessary.  

“What it means to renovate the entire building stock. It means comfort.  It means better housing, more energy security. It means engagement.  We need to get industry stakeholders, policy makers, finance, all together, and that needs to be sustained over time.”

Celine Carre, Saint-Gobain

First, we need to identify the one, unifying deeper shared purpose that would bring us together to collaborate across all of these diversities.  We achieved a next step towards this with our Common Vision, developed with 100+ stakeholder representatives in Madrid, described in the earlier blogpost “Realizing the Deeper Shared Purpose.”

BUILD UPON social network analysis, EU member states

Second, we need to gather the people together, around this deeper shared purpose.  People who are committed to shifting the economic, environmental, health, and social impacts of energy and buildings in Europe.  We have a critical mass of those people engaged in BUILD UPON, ready to move forward together.

Third, thousands of positive deviants are figuring out many of the parts of this, within their own specific cultures.  We need to identify them, study them, and showcase them, so that others at the local, national, and regional levels can learn from and with them about their technical and social innovations.

Fourth, we need to gather with each other and learn from each other, taking advantage of the many platforms for learning with and from each other that already exist, are gaining broad support, and are evolving and maturing.

Fifth, we are now clear that through collaboration, we can achieve far more together than we can alone or through simple cooperation—more, in the same places, at the same time, regionally, nationally, and locally.

Sixth, we have already begun to experience the very tangible impacts and greater resilience of co-hosting this collaboration together.

So, now we are focusing simultaneously on regional, national, and local-level efforts, highlighting what we are learning about (1) our best efforts everywhere, (2) local positive deviants, (3) how to share insights across professional, industrial, geographic, and linguistic cultures, and (4) coming across with a simple and effective measurement system that allows us to focus on the impacts we want to generate and to track the collective effort at the same time we capture feedback to improve local and national initiatives.  We have to, because we agree that it is important to achieve our social impacts, and to achieve them we see clearly that we must collaborate.

We thank our colleagues at the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the BUILD UPON team, the co-hosts (link to previous blog in series on “co-hosting collaboration), the Madrid participants, the Institute for Strategic Clarity, and Vibrancy—all co-investors in this process together.

Measuring Impact Resilience — What We Are Learning from BUILD UPON Cambridge, Madrid, and Brussels

In this 3rd of a series of 4 blogposts, we share what we are learning, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.


The potential we see.  With a shared deeper purpose that brings many diverse stakeholders together, across many countries and industries, the BUILD UPON effort is now ready to ground this abstract purpose, making it a daily reality for all of these stakeholders, showing how they can work together, from their own worlds, in achieving something bigger, locally, nationally, and regionally.  Measurement can support that grounding process, by clarifying:

  1. what we mean by our shared purpose, in very specific terms
  2. how we plan to achieve our purpose, with the unique contribution of each of our efforts
  3. how we can identify and highlight what we are each learning in the development of technical and social innovations

In many organizations, we measure because we are expected to measure, and we manage to the measures.  The reason to measure and manage to the measures is given, by someone else.  While the apparent simplicity of some measures might make them seem straightforward, they rarely are.  For example, profits are revenues minus costs.  For more profits, increase the revenues and decrease the costs.  Simple, until the methods for increasing revenues increase costs faster, or the ways to decrease costs also decrease revenues, such as lower product or service quality.  Or, to decrease the environmental impact of buildings, increase the number of renovated buildings, by increasing demand.  You can do this by making people do it through regulations or by making it cheaper to do through subsidies.  Simple, until the regulations make the technologies much more expensive or the subsidies outpace the supply.

From an impact resilience perspective, we are looking for a more systemic understanding that integrates the multiple stakeholder perspectives on the impacts we are trying to achieve.  With this integrated perspective, we can measure a systemic set of indicators that let us know how resilient we are in achieving our systemic set of impacts.  

To compensate for a lack of clarity of what we are trying to achieve amongst many stakeholder perspectives, we tend to believe that lots of measurement — lots of variable and lots of data — shows that we are very serious.  We measure dozens to hundreds of key performance indicators (KPIs).  To measure lots of variables, we tend to focus on easier to measure variables that are often means to an unspecified, higher-order purpose of the whole effort.  We also leave measures of creativity and collaboration out of the equation, since they seem hard to measure, yet they are critical to the generative processes of creative collaboration.

In the development of a scorecard for impact resilience, we look for a small set of measures that cover the higher-order impacts we want, the strategic areas we want to impact, and the processes that leverage our impact.  While this small set of 10-15 measures can be supported by more detailed reports, specifying how they were achieved in more detail, we want to focus on the most strategic variables and our narrative—our theory of impact resilience—of how they all fit together.  We want to use proxies that directly let us know how we are doing on the strategic variables.  In the impact resilience scorecard, we attempt to do this.

“Committing to measuring process, strategic, social impacts on local, national, international levels would allow the stakeholders joining multilevel collaborative platforms to see the whole and the meaning of their (and others) contribution, but also to improve the way those platforms can work together and, so, achieve greater impact. Sharing simple, meaningful proxies, would allow necessary flexibility, and to get a clear sense of the final purposes all over a complex group of groups. Moreover, and crucially, learnings from best practices could grow geometrically with the network’s dimensions, increasing the ability to be effective, and resilient over time.”

— Sebastiano Cristoforetti, International and Certification Manager, GBC Italia

What we might do.  To assess social, strategic, and process impacts across Europe, at the local, national, and regional levels simultaneously, we can develop a coherent set of a few measures that we can track to identify the common impacts and the specific innovations happening at each level.  As we saw in an earlier blog in this series [link to blogpost “Realizing the Deeper Shared Purpose,”] we developed a draft “Common Vision” with a wide-ranging group of stakeholders across the energy efficiency, renewable energies, and building renovation communities.  The following systems map captures the key elements of that Common Vision, showing how they all fit together (see the blogpost “Realizing the Deeper Shared Purpose” for a description of the systems map).

As these collaborative-process efforts drive the strategic areas and subsequently the social impacts, the growing demand and supply for renovation drives a scaling factor that accelerates social and technical innovation.  Having the clarity of the purpose we share and the dynamics of our system, we can focus the measurement scorecard on the critical variables that express the impacts we want to achieve together.

To measure these social, strategic, and process impacts, we can simplify the work of BUILD UPON into 12 high-level metrics, which can then be supported with detailed metrics, showing systemically how they influence each of the high-level impacts.

The metrics in an Impact Resilience Scorecard, exemplified in the figure above, highlight the social, strategic, and process impacts of a system that leads to greater resilience of the renovation system, at the local, member state, and European levels.  Proxies for each impact measure are provided, which could also include current levels and agreed-upon target levels.

After being exposed to this systemic and high-impact approach to measuring individual and collective success, the participants were asked to reflect on, “What would I need to know and share to fully step up and invest in the future we started to see together?”  The participants shared the need for more knowledge on positively deviating behavior of other members, to be able to increase their own success. Furthermore, they highlighted the importance of continuing the conversation on a strategic level to support their ability to increase their impact and strengthen their resilience. See movie footage here of what they shared.

What could happen.  Much greater collaboration is possible, and it means that the many stakeholders involved in energy efficiency, renewable energies, and building renovation have to see the value in it.  It has to become more than a nice exercise; it has to be interwoven into their ability to succeed individually and together. Collaborative impact is a simple choice, not a complicated option.  A choice we can make every day.  Like the groups we are finding around the world, members of BUILD UPON too can choose their experience and the outcomes they  achieve.
We thank our colleagues at the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the BUILD UPON team, the World Green Building Council, the co-hosts, the Madrid and Brussels participants, the Institute for Strategic Clarity, and Vibrancy—all co-investors in this process together.