The art of holding space

April 02, 2019 Béatrice Bretton Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences

Rating: 4.6 out of 5


On 19th February 2019, I led a Lunch n’ Learn at SDC on what it means to ‘hold space’. 17 people joined, intrigued by the title, simply curious or deeply interested in improving their inter-personal communication skills at work and in their personal lives.




Aurélie de Lalande  – Process facilitator

Holding space is about opening a broad space for another person, where he/she can be completely himself/herself and experience the benefit of feeling fully welcome for a moment.

As the space holder, my sole intention is to be fully present to the other person’s experience, and to sit with his/her discomfort, pain, irritation or whatever it is he or she is experiencing at that moment.

As the space holder, I do NOT: have a project over him/her, bring up unasked for solutions, give advice, try and fix anything nor control the outcome. In other words, I will not try to bring the other person where he or she is not. I am simply offering fresh curiosity and presence to a fellow human being sharing his/her experience with me. It is like walking next to someone and holding their hand while quietly listening.


In order to practice holding space for others, just remember to:

1. Check if you are up for it 

We do not always have the capacity, space, availability or willingness to hold space for someone at a particular moment. It is important to recognize it and not try offer what we do not have. Let’s be realistic, and then genuine about it.

2. Create space within yourself

You can for example take 3 conscious deep breaths, visualizing a big warm sun in your belly. Afterwards, gently bring your attention to the person who is coming to you and remind yourself ‘I am going to let her/him be exactly the way she/he is’.

3. Hold space for the other person – and for yourself simultaneously! 

I am mentioning holding space for yourself because sitting with someone’s pain, irritation or any other intense feeling can be very uncomfortable – which is one of the reasons why we usually try to get them out of it!

4. Be gentle towards yourself

Holding space is a practice. We are not used to do this, and it does take courage to show up and sit in the fire and the rawness.

Enjoy practicing offering space to yourself and others!


Ayant vécu les limites des structures de management et de gouvernance ‘à l’ancienne’,  Aurélie se passionne pour l’écologie relationnelle, la collaboration et l’émergence de nouveaux leaderships. Formée à la Communication NonViolente (CNV) et aux outils de la gouvernance partagée, Aurélie facilite des processus de transformation, individuels et collectifs.


To explore further, you may want to check out Heather Plett’s website :

Upgrade your workshop with a background story!

September 06, 2018 annavonsury Let's Talk Visual, Methods & Tools, SDC Networks

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

NadiaHynek Bures neu

How to create an immersive workshop experience, where your participants bathe in the juices of the workshop’s topics? Immersive doesn’t require virtual reality headsets, foremost it requires a story. Here a practical example.

Nadia von Holzen, learning moments and Hynek Bures, dubbed perceptions


For the DDLGN 2018 face-to-face event, we – Nadia as facilitator and Hynek as multimedia reporter – came up with a low-tech idea to tell the network’s background story: A timeline that portraits the network, its members, its achievements.

For your info: SDC’s face to face events are organized by the agency’s thematic networks, where participants exchange on the networks’ topics. In this case on democratization, decentralization, and local governance. This year’s event coincided with the network’s ten years anniversary.


Reading recommendations for facilitators

August 02, 2017 Blog Admin Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.7 out of 5

NadiaThere is no shortcut in learning to facilitate. The best teacher is practice followed by observation and reflection through peer exchange, trainings and reading. Facilitation is creative work. Every workshop is an invitation to build anew the reflection and conversation space for participants to explore, learn and understand. This blog post presents three books for facilitators, beginners as well as experienced facilitators; they provide insights and ideas for planning and designing successful workshops

Nadia von Holzen, Learning Moments (more…)

Value-creation stories for monitoring the value of networks

November 01, 2016 Leonie Pock Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.3 out of 5

Beverly Wenger-TraynerIn SDC learning is taking place in the networks – learning about approaches, about experiences and about good practices. The networks meet regularly in f2f-events in order to engage in this learning. But does it have an effect? What is the outcome of these events? By Beverly Wenger-Trayner, co-author of the Value Creation Framework




Kanban – an amazing technique to get a grip on your work

April 26, 2016 Leonie Pock Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.8 out of 5

nadjaschnetzler_1321302641_63Kanban is a Japanese word which signifies «visual signal». In the industry, for instance in car production kanbans are used to singnalize important information in the workflow: When do I need to reorder materials, for instance. The idea of kanban has spread to other industries in the last 15 years. Two pioneers of kanban in knowledge work are David Anderson and Jim Benson. They started using kanban to optimize the flow of work for individuals, teams or whole organisations. If you are interested in their work, you can read «Personal Kanban» by Jim Benson and Tonianne de Maria Barry or «Kanban – successful evolutionary change for your organisaton» by David Anderson. Using kanban for your own individual work is fairly straightforward and easy. What is demanding is to keep using it and evolving with it. 

By Nadja Schnetzler


Joint Learning on Pastoralism – a process of experience capitalization among SDC Programme Officers

March 03, 2016 Leonie Pock Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Manuel Flury SDC Programme Officers of West Africa and the Horn of Africa engaged in a joint learning process on pastoralism. In a series of meetings they collected, synthesized and exchanged experiences in eight key topics of this area. Manuel Flury and Charlotte Nager take a step back and reflect about the added value and the limitations of such an experience capitalization process.

By Manuel Flury, SDC, Addis Ababa and Charlotte Nager, SDC, Berne


Documenting the process: The long road to a good story

December 23, 2015 Blog-Admin1 Let's Talk Visual, Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences, SDC Networks

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

Hynek X-masThis post tells the story of documenting a learning process. The initiative to systematize experiences in the area of pastoralism was launched in collaboration with the Agriculture and Food Security network. The Learning & Networking team decided to document exactly this process. Two ‘reporters’, Charlotte Nager and Hynek Bures, joined the workshop in Kenia, where around 20 people gathered to learn from each others’ experiences in the field of pastoralism. While the participants were involved in thematic thinking the two ‘reporters’ added an additional layer of reflection. This challenging endeavor will hopefully inspire future stories about learning.

By Hynek Bures, dubbed perceptions (more…)

Spaghetti Tower, an experiment to observe learning patterns in teams and networks

November 20, 2013 Blog-Admin1 Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Ernst Bolliger

You definitely participated once in your live in a team building exercise: Several teams compete with each other. The lessons learned are about the organization of the team. In a recent similar experiment the question was: “What is the knowledge interaction among teams in a competing situation and how do the knowledge patterns change with changing competition rules?”

Ernst Bolliger, Agridea (more…)

Ideas for a more agile practice of learning lessons

October 02, 2013 bit-wartung Learning Elsewhere, SDC Experiences

Rating: 4.3 out of 5

The KM4dev discussion: Lessons Learned – The Loch Ness Monster of KM made us think about our own practice of drawing and using lessons learnt. Our conclusion: We need a more agile practice of drawing and using lessons learnt.

By Manuel Etter and Nadia von Holzen, SDC

Lessons Learnt


Cooperation Offices and Networks – Valuable networking: between gaining information and taming the information beast

July 24, 2013 bit-wartung SDC Experiences, SDC Networks

Rating: none

The crew of the Swiss Cooperation Office (SCO) Moldova is member in several networks of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC). They are engaged and sometimes busy absorbing the wealth of information coming from networks. The team has expectations but also a few ideas how to tame the information beast and how to make networking time more valuable. (more…)

Farmers, town planners and architects jointly build a town. A real life learning experience

July 03, 2013 bit-wartung SDC Experiences

Rating: none

Manuel FluryThe model town BuraNEST in Ethiopia is a learning project involving inhabitants, local masons, carpenters, female soil workers, and the planners and architects from Addis Ababa and Zurich. The blog post from Manuel Flury demonstrates that learning happens “on the job” “while doing” and that joint reflection and celebrating are important rituals in learning. (more…)

Two good examples how networks support the result orientation of development programmes

May 29, 2013 bit-wartung SDC Experiences, SDC Networks

Rating: none

Networks and result orientation of development programmes? Yes! While the network members are busy with result monitoring and reporting the networks are well positioned to gain an overview and to support this task. Two networks developed reference indicators in their domain of expertise. Result reporting is a great entry point to feed the networks’ learning back into the operations. (more…)

The SDC network Democratization, Decentralization and Local Governance: lively, dynamic, innovative and planting seeds for action

May 08, 2013 bit-wartung SDC Networks

Rating: none

Connecting to peers, being exposed to new thinking and exchanging experiences are most valuable to members of the Democratization, Decentralization and Local Governance network (DLGN). Storytelling on knowledge sharing and learning within the DLGN network suggests that this networking translates into concrete innovations in the field. (more…)

Joint Learning Journeys: with your travel agent GIZ!

April 03, 2013 bit-wartung Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences

Rating: none

A recent lunch event at SDC in Bern sparked some interesting thinking. It featured guest speaker Kerstin Kude-Osman from the Academy for International Cooperation, a part of the German development agency GIZ. Kerstin told us about the recently developed Joint Learning Journey (JLJ) method, which is a way to bring small groups of people involved and interested in a particular set of issues together, to come up with effective and innovative ways of doing things better. (more…)

Train your gut feeling through continuous learning!

March 06, 2013 bit-wartung Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Complex situations resist our analytical capacities, they are unpredictable. In these situations, we cannot base our decisions on data. Hence, our decisions often based on intuition, gut feeling, and rules of thumb. Through continuous learning, we can train our intuition and become better equipped to manage our projects in complex environments. (more…)

What is learning?

February 20, 2013 bit-wartung Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

By Nadia von Holzen, SDC

Learning has many facets, colours and forms. Tracey Martin wrote a poem on his very personal personal reflection on learning, what it means to him, how it happens and how incredible precious it is.


The Participant’s Shoes

November 21, 2012 bit-wartung Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Make your face-to-face meetings more learner-centered to foster stronger commitment and greater learning. Networks’ face-to-face meetings are a great opportunities for learning. What does it need to make it a learning happening? How do adults learn? What are the key ingredients to be taken into account already at the planning stage? (more…)

NEWS & TRENDS October 2012

October 09, 2012 bit-wartung Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none


The next week’s NeuroLeadership Summet in New-York. A brain friendly f2f meeting. (more…)

Blog reading? Reasons to read our sdclan Blog

August 22, 2012 LND Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Nadia von HolzenNadia LanfranchiThis blog post asks about the motivation of reading our sdclan Blog. We are curious to know why you – dear blog reader – are with us, week for week, reading our posts and the posts of our guests. (more…)

Good practice in development and humanitarian cooperation of SDC

June 26, 2012 bit-wartung Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Michèle Marin“Good practice” or even “best practice” are ubiquitous terms in international cooperation, commonly designating one of the keys to successful development work. In SDC, particular network-structures for learning in thematic domains have been conceived to continuously “develop Good Technical Practice”. Yet, what does this mean at all? With today’s article the SDC Knowledge and Learning processes division introduces a new electronic working aid, meant as practical guidance for new SDC-staff, as resourcekit for more experienced ones.

By Michèle Marin

“Good practice” or even “best practice” are ubiquitous terms in international cooperation and the running issue of any Learning Organisation. In SDC, particular network-structures have been conceived to “develop Good Practice” in selected technical areas (e.g. Water, Gender, financial management etc.). Commonly designating one of the keys to successful development work, it is yet hard to seize what the notion implies. Often used in relation with technical competence in a particular thematic area, e.g. the “how to do” in agriculture, it can equally designate more general procedural and methodological quality of interventions.

In fact, the buzz word hides quite a story – let me illustrate it by one… (more…)

Strolling along the Border between Implicit and Explicit Knowledge Management

June 12, 2012 LND Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Ernst BolligerMake implicit knowledge explicit und thus accessible to everybody! This is a request I often come across dealing with knowledge management issues. In how far is this possible? Kitchen recipes make it clear: Basic knowledge and skills can be described, but what about mastery skills? There are limits in transforming implicit into explicit knowledge. (more…)

SDC Networks – In the Shaping

April 17, 2012 LND SDC Networks

Rating: none

Manuel FluryIn 2008 SDC has introduced networks as “caretakers” of knowledge and competence. Networks imply a particular mode of work, less hierarchical and self-managed. In what ways have the networks led to a changed way of learning? Could SDC secure its competence and operational quality? There are no final answers yet. The networks are developing their particular shapes and modes of sharing and learning. The key challenge remains for SDC and its collaborators: To engage in sharing in a trustful environment, both personally and institutionally. (more…)

Changing perspectives as opportunities for learning – 3 months in Vientiane

November 01, 2011 BLOGadmin SDC Experiences

Rating: none

By Adrian Gnägi

Adrian picture for sdclanManuel Flury recently published a post on changing perspectives as opportunities for learning. When Manuel and I went for overseas postings in the middle of 2011, we decided to continue writing posts for sdclan. We wanted to document how the change of work context affects our way of understanding things. I have written several posts since moving to Laos. They all related to my former work situation: the post on the political economy of result terminologies was inspired by a course on impact monitoring I attended back in July, the post I wrote with dlgn colleagues on the “learning project” methodology reflected on our joint capitalization work on donor support for sustainable municipal finances during the past 2 years, and the post written with Bertha Camacho in August reflected on experiences with e-discussion campaigns we made in February. (more…)

Revisiting Storytelling

October 25, 2011 LND Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.2 out of 5

By Riff Fullan, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation

2010_riff_fullan copy“If many people from different hierarchies and countries come together there are always those who think they know less about a subject and participate less in the discussion. They may be afraid to say something wrong. To start with personal stories demonstrates that everyone has a valuable experience to share and we can share it in the language we feel comfortable” (reflection of SDC gender team member on using stories in a workshop context, SDC Story Guide, p. 30).

Conscious engagement with storytelling for knowledge sharing and learning began almost 10 years ago within SDC and was pursued with some energy, especially in the first years. (more…)

Distillation of „experience based good practices“

September 06, 2011 Adrian Gnägi SDC Experiences

Rating: none


by Kuno Schläfli, Romana Tedeschi, Katharina Walker, Michael Reimann, Matthias Boss, and Adrian Gnägi

SDC used to be structured as a matrix organization. Operational geographic units managed funds and local context, technical units managed thematic knowledge, and together they were thought to implement effective projects. This setup became perceived to have improvement potential. In 2008, technical units were replaced by learning and exchange networks. One of the justifications for this move was that guidance and policies elaborated by the technical units were sometimes perceived to be too abstract, too general, not enough evidence based. One of the expectations towards the newly created networks therefore was that their guidance should look, feel, and act differently – “experience based good practice” was the orientation received. This post documents one of the first attempts by one of the new networks to distill “experience based good practice”.

SDC’s “decentralization and local governance network” (dlgn) met for its first-ever face-to-face encounter in November 2009 in Delhi. (more…)