Open Space Technology

Have folks worked with this successfully?  Where?  How many have participated?

Open Space Technology

 

“In my experience open
space is based on the belief that we humans are intelligent, creative,
adaptive, meaning- and fun-seeking. It sets the context for such creatures to
come together knowing they are going to treat each other well. When this
happens there is no limit to what can unfold.” –
Alan Stewart

Open Space Technology was
created in the mid-1980s by organizational consultant Harrison Owen when he
discovered that people attending his conferences loved the coffee breaks better
than the formal presentations and plenary sessions. Combining that insight with
his experience of life in an African village, Owen created a totally new form
of conferencing.

 

Open Space conferences have
no keynote speakers, no pre-announced schedules of workshops, no panel
discussions, no organizational booths. Instead, sitting in a large circle,
participants learn in the first hour how they are going to create their own
conference. Almost before they realize it, they become each other’s teachers
and leaders.Anyone who wants to initiate
a discussion or activity, writes it down on a large sheet of paper in big
letters and then stands up and announces it to the group. After selecting one
of the many pre-established times and places, they post their proposed workshop
on a wall. When everyone who wants to has announced and posted their initial
offerings, it is time for what Owen calls "the village marketplace":
Participants mill around the wall, putting together their personal schedules
for the remainder of the conference. The first meetings begin immediately.

Open Space is, as Owen likes
to say, more highly organized than the best planning committee could possibly
manage. It is also chaotic, productive and fun. No one is in control. A
whirlwind of activity is guided from within by a handful of simple Open Space
principles.

The most basic principle is
that everyone who comes to an Open Space conference must be passionate about
the topic and willing to take some responsibility for creating things out of that
passion.

 Four other key principles
are:

1) Whoever comes is the right
people.

2) Whatever happens is the
only thing that could have.

3) Whenever it starts is the
right time.

4) When it is over it is
over.

 My favorite Open Space
principle is The Law of Two Feet: "If you find yourself in a situation
where you aren’t learning or contributing, go somewhere else." (To me,
this includes the possibility of moving to another level of awareness and
participation, as well as the more obvious one of moving to another activity.)
This law causes some participants to flit from activity to activity. Owen
rejoices in such people, calling them bumblebees because they cross-pollinate
all the workshops. He also celebrates participants who use The Law of Two Feet
to go off and sit by themselves. He dubs them butterflies, because they create
quiet centers of non-action for stillness, beauty, novelty or random
conversations to be born.

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One response to “Open Space Technology

  1. The process was used by a region of UU’s about 5 years ago–event happened in Kansas as I recall. A rather long report was made and used as a planning document from that experience. I have a copy, but would have to find it.

    I have used the process several times (training plus) with Methodists at Regional Conferences. I have seen this process used with almost 400 people to great advantage. Another key is that there be absolutely NO hidden agendas or assumed outcomes–this would be a great violation of TRUST.

    I also suggest that you take a gander at Harrison Owen’s latest book: The Power of Spirit–How Organizations Transform. This is a very powerful piece of writing that combines Open Space with Story. Also there is a consulting firm in Canada headed up by a UU woman who specializes in this work. Her last name is Ressler–I think???

    Cheerfully, Roger Kuhrt

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