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 :

Equal opportunities: working in the SDC as a blind person

January 08, 2019 annavonsury Change Stories, SDC Experiences

Rating: 4.2 out of 5

 anna3 (2)Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-13 um 11.59.39Have you ever wondered how it would be to work in the SDC as a blind person? How would you find your office? How would you recognize your colleagues? And how would you read all the papers you receive daily? 


Mawoussi Mauron, SDC and Anna von Sury (more…)

Lab office series, episode 3: Dare to experiment!

June 29, 2017 Natalie Frei Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

quadraticAfter the last two episodes, we know how to design and furnish a lab office and which doors to knock at for advice. The last episode of this trilogy focuses on how to become operational and how to develop your lab’s full potential. Most importantly, we will explore how to make a lab office a real innovative lab space.

By Natalie Frei, SDC

Lab office series, episode 2: The Google Effect

June 22, 2017 Natalie Frei Change Stories, Learning Elsewhere

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

quadraticLab offices and coworking spaces are popping up like mushrooms. After the last episode, in which SDC’s Knowledge-Learning-Culture division visited different labs in the international cooperation field, this episode tries to get behind the global lab hype with a focus on philosophy and interior design. As you might have guessed, Google is at the forefront of this trend.

By Natalie Frei, SDC (more…)

Lab office series, episode 1: Discovery Tour

June 13, 2017 Natalie Frei Change Stories, Methods & Tools

Rating: 4.7 out of 5

quadraticIn May, a delegation of SDC’s Knowledge-Learning-Culture division went on an expedition to discover new forms of office design and collaboration. Excited about the prospect of reorganizing our division, we set out to seek inspiration in the global lab trend. We visited five organizations with laboratory aspects in the international cooperation field and took notes.

By Natalie Frei, SDC


K4D and the Trouble of Measuring Impact

April 21, 2017 Natalie Frei Change Stories, Learning Elsewhere

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

quadraticAt the beginning of April, Knowledge Managers from diverse backgrounds travelled to Geneva to witness the formal inauguration of the Knowledge for Development (K4D) Partnership and to honor the UN Joint Inspection Unit’s (JIU) report on Knowledge Management in the United Nations system. There was a broad consensus that the lack of ways to measure impact inhibits the potential of knowledge management and that the community needs to raise awareness for the importance of KM in preventing reinventions of the wheel.

By Natalie Frei, SDC


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




White water rafting with Duncan Green

June 23, 2015 Blog-Admin1 Learning Elsewhere

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In an inspiring speech at the Annual Meeting of learn4dev, Duncan Green, senior advisor of Oxfam GB, compared the environment in which we are going to work in the post-2015-landscape to white water rafting. The landscape changes – new actors emerge, CSO, private sector, new donors -, the challenges may be others than we perceive them to be, and we do not have the appropriate solutions to emerging challenges.

By Charlotte Nager, SDC

New challenges


Take up a challenge – visualise democracy!

December 04, 2013 Blog-Admin1 Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools

Rating: none


Have you ever tried to imagine democracy? How does it look like? Do you see it as close as your neighbourhood or as far as the national state? We posed similar questions to more than 20 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were challenged to revoke, analyse and visualise very intimate relationships in the society and their bonds with the state. This process created new spaces for people – space for revoking personal stories, space for visualisation of experiences, space for learning, space for establishing relationships, and space for deepening knowledge about democracy.

By Snezana Mišić Mihajlović,  Centre for Management, Development and Planning, Doboj, Bosnia and Herzegovina


Tomorrow’s Power of Knowledge

March 14, 2012 LND Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

Manuel EtterKnowledge is Power In today’s blog post Manuel Etter follows the historical traces of this saying emphasizing an action-oriented quality of knowledge rather than its power maintaining virtue. In a second step he links this historical meaning of knowledge with the future of development cooperation. He questions the conditions and determinants that permit to find adequate answers to the issues of the future. He asks how development cooperation and above all knowledge management and exchange should be organized in order to meet increasingly global challenges. (more…)

Robust Management for Social Change

February 07, 2012 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclan

Recently, there was a meeting in USAID on complexity theory and development. DEVCO is developing guidance on political economy analysis. The World Bank just published a research paper on participation that singles out standard management approaches as main reasons why participatory approaches normally do not work. In our business, when the big ones start talking about something, there is change in the air. And in fact similar developments are taking place in most donor agencies. (more…)

On the political economy of results terminology

October 04, 2011 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

By Adrian Gnägi

Adrian picture for sdclanA few weeks ago I participated in a training course on impact oriented monitoring and evaluation. The course really helped me organizing my thinking on managing development programs for impact. Time and money very well invested, I found. One critical moment for me was when one of the trainers presented an overview on results terminology. Even though her presentation was introduced with a Confucius citation (my translation: “if the concepts are not right, the order of things is lost”), she presented the 4 terminology clusters as “some do it like this, others do it like that”. I felt compelled to explain why I think this free choice of results terminology to be wrong. Since I was struggling to explain it in simple words, I decided to write it up. That’s what this post is all about: why results terminology matters. (more…)


“Voices 2.0”- Revolutionizing Participation within Development Cooperation

July 12, 2011 bit-wartung SDC Experiences

Rating: none

Patrick KalasThe “Facebook Revolution” is in everyone’s mouth: How come? What does the power of web 2.0 imply for operational activities aiming to increase participation in socio, economic and political change processes? Patrick Kalas (former ICT4D officer/SDC) illuminates the phenomenon, not without sparking a critical reflection on its side-effects, and shares keyfindings from an upcoming SDC workingpaper on the issue.

“……..I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul”
(Invictus by William Ernest Henley)

The genie is out of the bottle. Scanning the news reveals that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, Internet, Satellite television and social media are having an effect on events in the so-called Arab Spring. The “Facebook Revolution” is becoming a buzzword. Not sure how and why, click here. Does this have any practical significance for our operational activities in projects or programs aiming to increase participation in socio, economic and political change processes? (more…)

Why do managers need alternatives to LogFrame, too?

February 23, 2011 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclan



by Adrian Gnägi




How is it possible that

  • social change is emergent and therefore cannot be precisely planned for, but
  • LogFrame is the standard tool in aid for planning and reporting on social transformation?

Is theory wrong or are development practitioners systematically lying about what they are doing? In this post I argue that the issue is not lying, but rather precariously muddling through. Imprecision and cascade reporting are the two main techniques used in our business to reconcile LogFrame and emergence. This is unhealthy.


In a recent blog post on what has gone wrong with MfDR (Managing for Development Results) I argued that support for social transformation should not be conceived using LogFrames. In a comment, Rick Davies expressed puzzlement with this demand. I can easily understand why people do not want to let go of LogFrame. The LogFrame approach is backed by the most powerful lobby in our organizations: it is the middle managers who make it our standard. LogFrames are still here after 50 years because middle managers get from them what they need: a nutshell project summary; the link between resources, activities and results; and indicators for measurement and reporting. LogFrames are a great tool for organizing funding relationships. Unfortunately, they are utterly inappropriate as guidance for implementation (see my earlier post on the usefullness of different program formats). This is why we need to go for the institutional struggle, that’s why the standard must fall. (more…)

What is wrong with MfDR?

January 19, 2011 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclan

By Adrian Gnägi 
There is growing international frustration with the way the MfDR (managing for development results) agenda developed. In this post, I reflect on a widely read article by Andrew Natsios, former head of USAID.

A few weeks ago IDS organized an event entitled “the big push back meeting”. The aim of the meeting was to galvanize a movement against the “current trend for funding organisations to support only those programmes designed to deliver easily measurable results”. During the event, a recent essay by Andrew Natsios on what has gone bad with the results agenda in aid was frequently referred to. Natsios message is that “Obsessive Measurement Disorder” (OMD, “… an intellectual dysfunction rooted in the notion that counting everything in government programs will produce better policy choices and improved management”, p.4 ) has spread in development agencies to a degree that it nowadays prevents transformational development. He claims that the drive for transparency and accountability has become the major enemy of good development practice, the main obstacle for developmental impact. Natsios is careful in pointing out that the results agenda was well intended and produced some desirable change in aid. His focus is on the loss of balance, though, on the sickening consequences of taking into account what is measured only. (more…)

Translating System’s Thinking into Systemic Support Programs: strategy map

September 14, 2010 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclanBy Adrian Gnägi
I had a beer with a friend a few days ago. He was upset with one of the projects in his portfolio and had to spit his frustration out:

  • The project manager is an agronomist by training. He does his best. But since the project is to support the development of municipalities, he is on a very steep learning curve.
  • The project management team was planned with 4 professionals. Since some of the funding proposals were turned down by donors, the partner organization only recruited 2 staff. They did not adapt the activity plan, though, so staff are constantly overstretched.
  • And so on: the IT system is not working properly and project staff therefore cannot access guidelines and templates in head office, the desk officer is on maternity leave and the project team therefore is cut off from advice and governance, the project was conceived without Government consultation and therefore is not integrated into the national dynamic, the partner organization is new in the country and therefore has no allies yet etc etc..

 Bad, really bad. Not entirely unfamiliar, though. But what really left me speechless was my friend’s conclusion: “I will make sure this agronomist is put through an at least 5 day project management training next year”. (more…)

Learning in times of organisational change

August 26, 2010 Manuel Flury SDC Experiences

Rating: none

The need for a trustful (learning) culture that is open for emerging patterns of collaboration

Manuel picture for sdclanBy Manuel Flury
SDC experiences a period of far reaching organisational change. The management informs the collaborators via the SDC-Intraweb and exchanges with the middle cadre. Collaborators share their questions in the cafeteria, chatting around filing cabinets and walking through the corridors:
“What thematic policies are still valid?” – “Is poverty alleviation now just one of several aims of SDC or still the main “raison d’être”?” – “Nobody knows exactly how thematic experts may bring in their concerns!” – “There is lacking information, and the interfaces are not clear.” – “The service level agreement  with the newly created support at Ministry level was elaborated without even consulting us.” – “The new regulations and guidelines for elaborating credit proposals are nowhere to be found on the Intraweb.” – “The guidelines for the office management report are just approved, there is no scope for any adjustments now.”

What is a good program document?

July 27, 2010 Adrian Gnägi Methods & Tools

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclanBy Adrian Gnägi
This is the third post inspired by the conference “Evaluation Revisited: improving the quality of evaluative practice by embracing complexity” held in Utrecht on 20./21. May 2010.

A few weeks ago, Freiburgstrasse 130 (SDC Head Office) was struck by an earthquake. Work flows stopped, the atmosphere changed, some colleagues shut their office doors and stopped talking, others wandered from office to office and talked for days. Something unprecedented had happened: In one single operations committee meeting, 3 entry proposals for local governance programs were turned down. Millions of Swiss Francs, months of preparatory work, scores of people concerned. Emotions, arguments, alliances, strategies, formal and tacit norms – one huge mess. But one overriding impression – what had happened was not right. Within days, roughly one fifth of SDC Head Office staff had signed a petition to senior management. No one can remember having seen something like this before.


Theories of Change to guide Development Interventions

July 20, 2010 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclan

By Adrian Gnägi
A few days ago, a colleague working in a partner country passed by in SDC Head Office and gave a presentation about his work. He presented frighteningly impressive graphs that show how fast desertification is advancing. Many rural herding families will be forced to migrate to the cities in the coming ten years if nothing happens. Luckily, the Government drew up a state-of-the-art national action plan, based on the international convention against desertification. Donors have aligned with this action plan and support the Government through harmonized aid modalities. The country is moving towards a mining economy with few new jobs outside agriculture, though, the colleague concluded, and the major challenge for the future will be to channel some of the mining revenues to poor rural families. (more…)

Influencing Social Change – a Complex Task

July 14, 2010 Adrian Gnägi Learning Elsewhere

Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclanBy Adrian Gnägi
On May 20th/21st 2010 I participated in a conference entitled „Evaluation revisited – improving the quality of evaluative practice by embracing complexity“. In the lines below I sum up my take on this most inspiring event.