Connections between cities, streams and collaboration

A social innovator’s journey into ecosystem science

I am like a child again, sitting with all I don’t know. I am part of a group that has followed a scientific researcher to his research site, a stream tucked away in a mountain, accessible via a bumpy rugged drive. To say he comes to this spot often is an understatement. In fact he spends days on end, pain painstakingly sampling the stream in hopes of capturing little bits of stream life that he can haul back to the lab for analysis, offering a single data entry into a multi-year study.

With enough data, over time, years even, conclusions can be made. When he asks us “Is the stream gathering water and moving it or do streams change it ?” we all look puzzled. Patient, he asks again in other words “Is the stream like a pipe or is something else happening ?” I sit with the simplicity of the question. Of course something is happening with the streams and it dawns on me that without specific data of exactly what, it is difficult to change the course of human development and action around streams. It begins to sink in how this work is a labor of love. I begin to see this young scientist and all his dedication with new eyes.

 We are at a training that brings together social innovators and ecosystem scientists to co-learn about participatory leadership and co-creation processes, and along the way, each other. It takes place at the most appropriate venue, the Biology Research Station of the University of Montreal in Canada, currently directed by Roxane Maranger, an aquatic ecosystem ecologist, and one of our “hosts”. Created in the 1960’s, the research station serves as a baseline, as a pristine data point, since the rest of the lands nearby have given way to human development. We have to remind ourselves that though it feels like a retreat centre due to the abundance of nature, in fact the mission of this place is research. Our training event is appropriately called There’s no planet B.

The young scientist, who goes by the name of Charles, taught me a new term that day : “ecosystem services”. While “natural resources” are things, ecosystem services weave in layers of complexity with all the interdependences within an ecosystem. We can begin to link how a network of healthy streams contribute to oxygenated water running into our rivers and seas. Charles has the weight of the dead zone in the gulf of Mexico on his shoulders and the possibility that here in Quebec, Canada we could have one too if we are not careful.* He knows all too well that when nature is deprived on doing her thing, removing nitrates in this case, disastrous effects can happen hundreds of kilometres away. Simply put, ecosystem services are benefits humans gain from nature, such as absorbing pollutants we put into the ecosystem, for free. With an ecosystem service lens we can look at a stream or a forest or a lake with all that it may offer as a service, nearby and far away. Some other ecosystem services include: climate regulation, flood control, air purification. Ecosystem science helps us to understand the ecosystem services that are invisible to the eye. That is why it is a labour of love and so essential to understand if we are to live sustainably.

 Where was ecosystem science making a difference? I wanted a tangible example where ecosystem science had been heeded by decision makers. I asked three scientists and each one gave me the same answer: the water treatment plant of New York City. It is a fascinating and powerful example.

In the 1990s New York City was at a turning point with its drinking water and needed to build a new water treatment plant to filter its water supply. The foreseen budget was 8–12 billion dollars plus 300 million dollars annual maintenance fees for the new plant. But another option was possible that was hugely cheaper. Rather than building a water treatment plant, New York could simply ensure the quality of water in the streams and rivers of its watershed in the Catskill Mountains and in so doing avoid the need to filter water all together.*** This meant buying up natural lands and protecting them from development, funding septic system upgrades and infrastructure repairs in the watershed communities and offering financial incentives for farmers to shift to non polluting agricultural practices.

 This is what they did, adopting in 1997 the New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. The ecosystem service strategy cost only 300 million dollars, saving the city billions of dollars and protecting an essential ecoservice now and into the future. Every day 1.2 billion gallons of water travels, mostly via gravity, from the Catskills providing 90% of New York’s drinking water. The bonus in the process is the Catskill Mountains watershed not only provides clean and affordable water that doesn’t require major treatment, but also the beauty of the region is protected.

This example shows that major multi-sector collaboration, ecosystem science and good will can help us find a way to work with nature to provide one of the cleanest drinking waters in the world. I learn that Roxanne and Charles are working on our own mini NYC with a local municipality and I am keen to collaborate.****

As I learn to truly face the physical limitations of the planet, the research of scientists like Charles gives me hope. I begin to see potential. At the same time, my work in co-creation, co-design, collaborative partnerships and platforms, seems more important than ever before. It’s going to take some serious conversation, collaboration and partnering to able to develop creative, smart solutions that can carry us into our future.

As we were leaving the site, Charles had us stop for a moment and look out at the view. “What’s that ecosystem service there?” he asked, giving us a moment. As I tried to come up with a smart scientific answer, Charles, gently smiling, states, “Beauty and calming”, that is another ecosystem service.



*Roxane offers further science on this point: Human activities, such as extensive farming, have loaded excess nutrients to the Gulf coast through the streams that feed the Mississippi River, which has resulted in excessive plant growth, its decay, and subsequent oxygen loss in coastal waters that deprive fish and other species of their habit. This oxygen loss, or hypoxia, is an important threat to many coastal ecosystems all over the world

** Charles Charrier-Tremblay has two co-advisors Roxane Maranger and Jean-François Lapierre

***Roxane offers some scientific nuance: All drinking water that comes from surface water needs to be treated at some level, even if it is really clean. The difference is the degree of treatment which is what made this decision so incredibly brilliant!

****Roxane is creating a Lab, called RéseauLab, which mixes ecoservice science with codesign methods to work with stakeholders for social-ecological innovation. It is currently being tested in a relationship with a local municipality to protect their ground and surface water. Working closely with stakeholders, research from graduate students provides both the understanding of the threats as well as the solutions as to which areas need more protection in order to maintain water quality into the future.

Further reading

The historic 1997 New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement

A 2011 article in State of the Planet, Earth Institute, Columbia University providing and update on all 3 NYC watersheds: Maintaining the Superiority of NYC’s Drinking Water

Recent 2018 article in New York Times providing an update on further efforts to protect New York’s watersheds that supply unfiltered water: A Billion Dollar Investment in New York’s Water

Information on the Art of Hosting training There is No Planet B and other Art of Hosting trainings that take place around the world.

Information on the University of Montreal Biology Field Station (in French)


Announcement: We will be organizing another social innovator-scientist gathering at the Field station outside Montreal in July 2019. Stay tuned!


Methodologies and tools: art-of-hosting-en

The joy of a bilingual event


* Article originally written in Montreal Art of Hosting Website, July 2013


I love Montreal and its intermixing messiness with French and English. It seems natural that the Art of hosting trainings here are bilingual. But this needs to be done with care, as Montréal is a city where language gets talked about a whole lot; there is much playfulness, but also sensitivities.  For the January 2013 event, we created moments of exchange where people can be in their own language. There were french speaking, english speaking and bilingual groups. We opted for informal whispering translation rather than formal translation services.

For Raquel Penalosa, whispering translation was a positive experience.

Translating helped me be mindful and present. I had to be very aligned, listening to the message and how it was being received. It is an act of generosity.

Raquel ensuring whispering translation for Toke.

Toke Moller, international co-host from Denmark was there to remind us that:

This work is about being humans and transcending our differences. Language is a detail that cannot hinder that.

Working the world around, part of Toke’s stewardship is to remind us of the higher need we are serving, all the while honoring local traditions and language.

Elizabeth Hunt, a bilingual Montréaler and participant at the January 2013 event, appreciated the inclusiveness:

People were insistent on translation, often more out of concern for others than out of need for themselves. There was a real awareness. People were making sure that everybody understood and nobody felt left out.

Elizabeth has a wish for the upcoming October event:

We should create even more opportunities for people who are bilingual to step up as a way to help host others.


If you have never experienced it though, it can be hard to imagine.  Here is an email exchange I had recently with a potential participant for the October event:

Question: Can you let me know how the bilingual session is run?  Is the training in English with French slides, in French with English slides, …?

Answer: Last time the language « issue » flowed less as an issue and more as a gift. People are invited to speak in English or French as they feel comfortable. Participants volunteer to do whispering translations for those who need it and make it known. Small group work is done in the language of choice of the groups. There are no slides – everything is produced live on site. The explicit training is offered by the team of trainers in smaller groups that function in English/French or bilingually and participants are free to attend with the group they wish.

Question:  Small group work is done in the language of choice.  I’m assuming the rest then is in French – is this correct?  Can you tell me roughly what percentage is done in a larger group (and presumably French)?

Answer: The large group work – is led in the language of the person speaking. Because we are a team of 13 who start this off and then the training participants join in on days 2 and 3, it is not really possible to put a percentage on that.  I can say that our three international hosts will all be intervening in English as they do not speak French. Some local people who do not speak English will be intervening in French. And so it will unfold with some of this and a bit of that. All I can say from the January experience is that we all found that the language flow really added to the event – about embracing diversity in a positive way.

From where I stand, participating in an event with two languages helps us cultivate our humanity in a multi-lingual world and that is very much part of the art of (inter)action.



Methodologies and tools: art-of-hosting-en

Calling the Art of Humaning

as you take a step back to listen

to what is alive now

as you take a step back to listen

to the whispers

can you slow down

walk and see

what life is whispering

to me

to you

what is being called

into existence?


as I take a step back to listen

in the sounds

at the heart of the noise

I hear the echo of something old and true

as we are in turbulence

emergence is what we breathe

can we learn to be in it


and consciously

and with generosity

and grace

recognize it

and thrive

and become?

can we learn

to host each other

in our capacity to become

the best humans we can be?

can we discover

our collective muscle

and learn to flex

in service of all that is alive

all that was

and all that will be?

can we learn together

and practice

being better ancestors?

can we name together

the complexity of here and now

and craft our weapons of love?


why do we need this

art of humaning?

we cannot change

the systems we are

when we stay where we are

addicted to the

already known

the predictable

the fragmented

and the linear

I want to learn to hold

movement and stillness

I need to see

the parts in the whole

can we learn

the subtle art of listening

for the patterns

that guide us to what needs to be?

can we become

in awareness

of the systems

of power

that shape and constrict us and

the field where we breathe

and feel

and find nourishment

and pain?

can we learn and practice together

to see and name

what we are up against?

and with the force of our stillness

move into action?

why do we need this

art of humaning?


our power to work beyond

our structures of ego

to discover our future as eco

to co-create

to reconstruct

and discover

what we can truly do


our future as co-sensing

and practicing grace

as we call out for collaborations

we cannot see yet

what happens when we put together

our whole capacities of fully sensing

human beings

in the service of a shift

towards eco-system conciousness?

what can we learn to sense


what can we shift when we

discover and enter

our full collective power?


I need to see the art of humaning

and inquiring about the world

and ourselves

as we enter in the questions

we listen together

the art of humaning

finds stillness

in nature

I breathe

I take a step back

I see life

I see the art of humaning

to help usher an old culture

where we can listen think and act wisely

as the multitudes we all are

where power and love are the

anchors of the inquiry

and experiences

and stories

connect us

and help us see the future

and the complexity

that moves us

act in complexity, wisely

try the art of trying (shit out)

try the art of listening

be strategy

I listen to the whispers

of the present that is yet to come

I want presence

I want my steps

to discover the new paradigm

of the alliance of humankind

with life

in my steps in the new snow

I see our ability

to see one another

for the miracles we already are

I call for the art of humaning

I call for our gift of sensing together

what expects to be born

in the places we work

in the places we live

in the places we love

something is simmering

and awaits to rise to its possibility

I call for our capacity to call

I call for our capacity to hear

I call for our capacity to dance

I call for our capacity to love

and sustain life

I call for our capacity to do together

what can’t be done

and yet is done

countless times, everyday, forever

I call for our capacity to hear the screams

beyond walls and borders

with clarity

in the chaos

in the noise

I call for our capacity to dream together

and grow in dreaming

and grow in humaning

and grow in gardening our connections

and our learnings

and our heartbreaks

and our joys

I call for our freedom in the face of complexity

I call to see and be seen

in the web of life and change

what is the discovery path

we are carving for ourselves

and how will we care for each other

on the way?

there is

so much to learn

and to ask of ourselves

and of others

asking for help

is the kind

and wise

thing to do

as we are practicing


world making

to unlock the potential

of the human field

to unlock the power to call

conversations that matter

what is the conversation you are craving?

if this is about life

then let the world be part of the conversation

then let imagination flow

in all its human

and non-human


what becomes possible

when we learn together

to be present

to the world?

a community

sensing and practicing


change as a constant part of life

this is not about you

you are just practicing

modeling something

in honesty

and vulnerability

calling is

letting go

of old patterns

and old ideas that are not in service

of the work

calling names

what is non negotiable

what is not negotiable

is allowing space for paradoxes

to live

what is not negotiable is

the humanness in nature

and the nature in humanness

what is not negotiable is

practicing in honesty

and openness

and transparency

what is not negotiable is

space to fumble

and work out loud

through our tensions

and our paradoxes

what is not negotiable is

talking about money

and value

what is not negotiable is

kindness and learning

what is not negotiable is

walking the line

between openness and boundaries

what is not negotiable is

conversations about complexity and power

within ourselves

within our communities

what is not negotiable is

the art

in the art of humaning


we invent the dance

of what good work is

and feels like

we dance in our bodies and our hearts

we dance our new structures

of possibility

and belonging

and in the dance

we hold each other

in learning

in growing

in exploring

in grieving

in trembling

we are learning to be

the archeologists of our future

what can we dream together?

are we breathing new worlds yet?

where is our center of gravity

in all of this?

what will hold the new together?

what holds us back?

I am calling

a life full of meaning

and work that makes me feel


I am calling the revolution of humaning

can we live it yet?

I am calling

the revolution

of humaning


Also publish in Medium



Methodologies and tools: art-of-hosting-en

Invitation : Discovery Art of Hosting France, January 31 – February 2, 2018


  • Lieu

    Sommières, France

    Adresse : CART, 31 rue Emilien Dumas, 30250 Sommières, France

  • Date

    January 31 to February 2, 2018

  • Heures

    Dès 17h30

  • Organisateur

    Percolab France

For more than twenty years, Art of Hosting has modelled a way forward in collective intelligence all over the world. Come discover for yourself, during a 3 day intensive training in the beautiful south of France #AoHFrance

In addition to the usual fixed rate to cover the hosting and teaching costs (€1250 *) we are therefore innovating by also inviting you to participate in a shared economy experiment. This is a cooperative approach whereby the financial responsibility for the seminar is shared by the community of both participants and hosting team. For this seminar, we invite your willingness to open up to different ways of seeing ourselves and the world. In practice, this means that you will decide on the sum of money that represents the richness of these 3 days, taking account of the costs of the event, its value to you and your own financial resources.   Payment will take place in two installments: a first instalment, the same for everyone, before the seminar, and the second at the end.  1st instalment: 450€, payable in advance on this website : he minimum contribution needed to organise and run the seminar (logistics, materials, communication, website)  2nd instalment: at the end of the seminar, you will choose the amount to honour and appreciate the work of the hosting team. We will be dedicating time and attention during the seminar to open this conversation – always an enriching experience – about the value of this seminar to you and the ways in which we as a community can cover the budget. You can find a more detailed explanation of this financial model and its ethos at

* Percolab est un organisme de formation exonéré de TVA. Cet enregistrement ne vaut pas agrément de l’Etat.

* Percolab is a TVA exempt training center

  • Nom de l’organisateur/trice

    Nadine Jouanen, SAS percolab Europe

  • Contact

    Courriel :  infofrance [at]

    Téléphone : +33 6 17 79 83 10



Methodologies and tools: art-of-hosting-en

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Invitation : Art of Hosting in New Zealand, 5th – 8th February 2018


  • Location

    Otaki, New Zealand

    Address : Riverslea Retreat, 733 Otaki Gorge Road, Otaki, Wellington 5582, New Zealand

  • Date

    5th – 8th February 2018

  • Organizer


How can a deeper understanding of facilitation & hosting allow us to lead more intentionally?

We know we need to get better at governance and do better organising and better leadership. Much of the thinking and practices being transmitted and modelled in the organizations we navigate within just don’t feel right.

How can a deeper understanding of facilitation & hosting allow us to lead more intentionally? strengthen our work? interconnect and support each other? unleash our individual and collective potential?

This is a 3-day massively hands-on training where we will be in practice and co-learning around a different way of organising, leading and governing.

No matter what our domain of work or our role, facilitation and hosting are a part of it. They are key skills for our times. This training is for anyone, from New Zealand or elsewhere, who is interested in developing skills and consciousness in the way facilitation and hosting weave into our work – a form of “facilitative leadership”.

During the training, you will be invited to

– host conversations that matter to transform the systems you are in

– explore the inner state of the host, which invites emergence

– discover different collaborative methods and practices

– explore your own leadership, your relationship to entrepreneurship and money

– experience the potential of the collective to co-create real results in which everyone enjoys participating.

The training will support your learning by teaching the underpinning theory of Participatory Leadership, give real-time experience through using the dialogue methods and coaching those who are ready to begin hosting during the training. Participants will be in the practice of hosting whilst learning about it.

You will experience models, methods, and process design techniques that will support you to explore working with collaboration strategically so that diverse or even conflicting perspectives can create a new future. On a personal level, you will experience a sense of belonging to a community where you can share similar fears, anxieties, hopes and ideas.

We are honoured to be hosted by Ria Baeck from Belgium, and Samantha Slade and Paul Messer from Montreal.

Ria Baeck, Percolab and Spotted Zebras, Belgium

A psychologist and therapist by training, Ria’s almost 30 years’ professional experience, her enduring curiosity and her capacity to create safe learning spaces, have made her a master support for real participatory and innovative approaches. Always scanning what’s new in work, collaboration and co-creation, she combines a range of tools and practices that are useful and effective. She is known for her embodied presence and inner repose, as well as her highly developed sensing skills, crucial in designing emergent processes. The question that always guides Ria’s work is: what is the next bit of potential that is ready to take form – in individuals, teams, organizations and large systems – with just a little bit of help?

Samantha Slade, Percolab, Montreal, Canada

A conscious entrepreneur, Samantha co-founded the international Percolab network and a coworking coop in Montreal. For over 20 years, she has been putting her background in anthropology and learning design in service of innovation work in North America and internationally. Emergent process, design thinking, ethnography and a vast range of participatory approaches are her tools. Samantha is actively engaged in the international commons movement and the Art of Hosting community.

Author of Going Horizontal – Creating a Non-Hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time (BK Publishers, fall 2018), Samantha believes organizations can be a microcosm of the world we want to live in.

For more information on the Art of Hosting please visit

Price includes 3 nights accommodation (shared) and all meals.


  • Organizer name

    Suzan Basterfield

  • Contact



Methodologies and tools: art-of-hosting-en

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Invitation : 5 to 7 Series Tasting our practices, January 23, 30 and February 6, 2018 Montreal



  • Location

    Montréal, Canada

    ECTO, 936 av. Mont-Royal Est, 2e étage, Montréal H2J 1X2

  • Date

    January 23, 30 and February 6, 2018

  • Hours

    5:30 PM

  • Organizer


In January, percolab is offering a series of gatherings to help you put the human at the center of your work and (why not?) join the revolution of organizations. A learning & networking event in one, light and enjoyable with drinks and snacks after work, to share a few practices that we use at Percolab daily.

#1 (January 23) – Opening. How to open up to new possibilities? Energize your practices to open and close your meetings well.
#2 (January 30) – Emergence. How to respond to what is emerging and live with uncertainty? Adjusting with agility and listening to what is there.
#3 (February 6)- Decision. How to converge on a collective decision that allows us to move forward. Practice consent-based decision making.

Cost: We invite you to engage with the shared economy. (We openly share the costs associated with running the event, and as a group we share those costs and look at value openly. The last time we hosted an evening workshop like this people contributed between $15 and $50)

More information about our experiences using this model:

  • Organizer name

    Meghan and Laurence

  • Contact

    meghan [at],  laurence [at]



Methodologies and tools: art-of-hosting-en

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