Open Space Technology

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Identification
Alternative names: 
Open Space, OST, OS
Level of process: 
Application
Method
Intervention
Intent or purpose: 
Open Space is a method for convening people for fully-participatory conferences, retreats, action planning and task work. Participants co-create an agenda and lead their own discussion and action sessions in a dynamic way that invites interdisciplinary and inter-group thinking. _________________________ When your organization or community has a complex problem, you are completely out of ideas regarding a solution, you have a diversity of people that you can bring to the process, and the time for resolving this situation was yesterday --- This is a great time for Open Space. Participants emerge from the process invigorated, refreshed, and proud of their individual and collective accomplishments. _________________________ The use of Open Space Technology has been effective since the mid-1980?s in a diversity of settings, cultures and countries. The method has been used by communities working towards peace, chemists designing new polymers, tribal and governmental leaders planning land use, community advocates and local government designing literacy programs, conference organizers holding action conferences, architects designing pavilions for the Olympics, an entire town having a simultaneous discussion town meeting, and neighbors helping each other rebuild and heal after times of war. _________________________ This tool can be utilized by groups of 5 to over 2000 and the dynamics and the results are always the same: input from stakeholders at all levels, new ways of thinking and working, large amounts of work done rapidly, bringing perceived competitors together on issues and projects, organizational flexibility, interdepartmental or intercommunity teamwork, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of passion and energy for the challenges ahead.
Used as component of: 
This method can be used as the format for a conference, retreat, meeting or community gathering. _________________________ It is not recommended to add Open Space into an event at the beginning and then move to another method / dynamic -- rather, it is recommended that if Open Space is to be part of (not the entire format for) an event it should be designed for the end section, such as a last day of a conference (for participants to process what they've learned, share ideas and resources and network).
Recognizable Components: 
Opening Circle and participant co-creation of agenda, a marketplace of concurrent participant-led discussion groups, participants' freedom to move from discussion to discussion depending on what has interest and meaning for them, participant-generated notes compiled into a book of proceedings for the entire event, closing circle for reflection and comment.
Types of Participants: 
This method works for all ages and cultures of people and has been used in many countries and settings. It is especially effective for combining people of diverse interests and works very well when there is conflict or a challenging power dynamic among invited participants. And it is an excellent format for a conference.
Recommended size of group: 
1 person can facilitate groups of from 5 to over 2000
Optimal amount of time needed: 
Deliverables vary depending on 1/2, 1, 2 or 2.5 day event
Howto
Usual or Expected Outcomes: 
A 1.2 day Open Space: networking, resource-sharing, noting who shares the same interests and passions, seeing people in new ways, sharing diverse points of view. A 1 day event: more time for cross-pollination and exploration. 2 or 2.5 days: better for high-conflict situations plus an option to create a full Book of Proceedings during the event. For all of these, participants have the option to create a full book of proceedings.
Level of participation: 
As in many of our processes, some people participate by speaking and some by witnessing. All are welcome in Open Space.
Ideal Conditions: 
When your organization or community has a complex problem, you are completely out of ideas regarding a solution, you have a diversity of people that you can bring to the process, and the time for resolving this situation was yesterday --- even when there is perceived or actual conflict: This is a great time for Open Space.
Potential Pitfalls: 
Unavailable
How is success evaluated: 
Closing comments can be scribed, the book of proceedings can be used for summaries and further work, if the organization has designed ways to leverage the momentum and actions that come of this meeting there can be regular follow-up meetings and Open Spaces to see where things are and what is next, participants can report progress at monthly meetings, particpants can be interviewed at several intervals post-event...
Examples of successes and failures: 
The use of Open Space Technology has been effective since the mid-1980?s in a diversity of settings, cultures and countries. The method has been used by communities working towards peace, chemists designing new polymers, tribal and governmental leaders planning land use, community advocates and local government designing literacy programs, conference organizers holding action conferences, architects designing pavilions for the Olympics, an entire town having a simultaneous discussion town meeting, and neighbors helping each other rebuild and heal after times of war. _________________________ It only 'fails' if the facilitator feels that s/he must intervene - this method is based on participants taking responsibility for their own self-organized discussions, topics and actions, and any intervention on the part of the facilitator disrespects that agreement and can 'implode' the meeting. _________________________ In 20 years of Open Space used around the world including in very high conflict issues and communities (such as Northern Iraq, East Timor, convening Israelis and Palestinans, convening different ethnic communities post-war) - there has *never* been an incident of physical conflict during an Open Space. The principles and guidelines offer participants a framework for taking care of themselves and only remaining in discussions where they feel they are productive and engaged.
Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: 
Good thoughtful understanding of the method plus research and support on when to use / when not and what *not* to do in Open Space are required. One does *not* have to be a professional facilitator to be a great convenor of Open Space. _________________________ Client is host / sponsor; and like any of our methods, facilitator does extensive work (interviews, coaching on inviting a diverse group, working with a client team on logistics, etc.) before the event and follows-up with the client post-event.
Level of Difficulty to Facilitate: 
Facilitation skills required
Facilitator Personality Fit: 
Facilitators in Open Space have to believe in the ability of the participants to discuss what matters, to interact thoughtfully, to take care of their own needs. This is not for a facilitator who feels the need to control the process or intervene if conflict arises (contrary to what we may do when using some of the other methods we use). _________________________ This is a great method for someone to practice faith that the participants are amazing and can do incredible things. It is very humbling for a facilitator to find that their own 'jewel words' are not what creates success, but the power of the participants to communicate for themselves in Open Space.
Setting and Materials: 
Ideally, a room twice as large as the number of participants, big enough for an all-participant circle of chairs, food tables, one long unobstructed wall for taping up agenda items as the agenda is co-created, paper, markers, tape, notes-taker forms. In some cases laptops and other technology can be used but this is not required.
Resources Needed: 
Ideally, a large room, chairs, and a few office supplies.
Pre-Work Required: 
The same pre-work as any thoughtful facilitation job - interviews with clients, working with a client team on logistics, theme and invitation, discussing with client how the momentum and actions from the event will be continued post-event, discussion of how the book of proceedings will be distributed. Plus what any good facilitator would do: resting, eating, clearing one's mind and heart for the work at hand.
Procedures: 

[This is excerpted from an article by Lisa Heft -- "Opening Space for Collaboration and Communication with Open Space Technology"
_________________________

The room is empty of tables and all the chairs are arranged in one big circle.
_________________________

The facilitator welcomes the group, explains the theme and focus of their work together and invites them to think of what they want to hold discussions about. She gives a few guidelines for the discussion groups:
_________________________

Whoever comes is the right person - You don't need every person in the organization, just whoever cares the most. And if you're the only one who comes, you might finally have some rich, focused quiet time for thinking and writing on that issue.
_________________________

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have - Let go of your expectations and work with whatever unfolds.
_________________________

Whenever it starts is the right time - Creativity doesn't happen on a schedule.
_________________________

Whenever it's over, it's over. - If you find a solution in 20 minutes, move on to the next group. If it takes 2 hours, keep the conversation rolling.
_________________________

One more thought: Be prepared to be surprised - Don't carry in your own agenda and by doing so miss some amazing thing that could come out of more creative minds working on the same issue...
_________________________

There is only one rule: originally called the Law of Two Feet (or because we do not all have two feet: the Law of Motion and Responsibility) -- if you are neither learning nor contributing in a session you are required to get up and leave and join another session in progress where you feel you'll be more useful and inspired.
_________________________

The facilitator then invites participants to come to the center of the circle to announce what they would like to discuss and work on regarding this theme. Whatever they want to talk about - whatever has heart and meaning for them around this theme - and for which they are willing to convene a 1 hour or 75-minute discussion group.
_________________________

At first, everyone looks at the facilitator, who is now sitting down silently in the circle. They look at the center of the circle, at the markers and paper there. They look back at the facilitator. They look at each other.
_________________________

Then after a long moment someone walks into the center, writes down their topic, announces it to the group and posts it on a long empty wall. Then two more people. Then six. Then the center of the circle is full of people scribbling and holding up their topics and announcing them and posting them and the agenda wall fills up with 60, 80, 100 topics.
_________________________

And so the day unfolds, as people pull their chairs together into groups of 2 or 20 and begin to talk and get more animated and trade ideas and learn from one another. Then it's time for them to move on to their next group, and their next group, and so on - to whatever topic inspires them.
_________________________

Who facilitates the groups? The individuals in that group. What if someone is talking too much? Well you can be sure that anyone bothered by that will not choose to be around that person for their next discussion. They can always leave the group to go where they'll feel they can contribute. Notes are taken in each discussion -- what if you don't like the way someone took notes? Then you'll probably choose to be the note-taker in your next group. Each group consists of individuals with the capacity to self-organize. And so the groups self-regulate throughout the day, each individual meeting his or her own needs.
_________________________

Now people are chattering and scribbling on their notepads and others are walking around the room to grab a coffee or alight in a new group, and notes-takers enter the proceedings into a bank of computers then float back into another session. The day passes with everyone moving from issue to issue and idea to idea and the proceedings from each meeting are posted on the wall for everyone to read throughout the day. It looks like chaos - that is, if you are used to quiet meetings around conference tables. But if you look again, you see a teeming hub of activity, animated discussion, scribbling out of ideas and, even considering the urgency of the issue...laughter.
_________________________

They continue talking over coffee. They continue over lunch. They are animated and passionate and people are communicating with each other in ways that break through the barriers they carried with them. Before they leave the group identifies actions and sets timelines and individuals offer themselves as point-persons for the work that must be done after this event. And a huge amount of work gets done in a very little amount of time. Two days covers more issues and solutions than six months worth of task forces or committees could ever do. As they gather in a closing circle for reflections, observation and insights on their time together, they don't say, "Boy, she was a great facilitator." They say, "Look what we accomplished together!"

How flexible is the process?: 
Unavailable
Follow-Up Required: 
As in any good facilitation consultation, it is ideal to meet with the clients for follow-up and review.
Background
Developer: 
Harrison Owen
Derived from: 
Harrison Owen coordinated a conference, and when he observed it he noticed that all the collaboration, networking, resource sharing, dealmaking and new ideas happened...in the coffee breaks. So he decided to develop a method where it is all coffee-break energy, all the time...
History of Development: 

Originated in 1985

References: 
Read Harrison Owen's book, "Open Space Technology: A User's Guide" -- there are also materials and resources free for sharing at Lisa Heft's website: http://www.openingspace.net
License Model: 
Open
Suppliers
Creators: 
Trainers: 
Namesort descending City Country
Genius loci Facilitation & Development milan Italy
Imaginal Training Groningen Netherlands
Learning Matters Singapore Singapore
Lisa Heft / Opening Space based in Berkeley California; clients are worldwide United States
Lisa Kimball washington, dc United States
Ozone Experiential Learning Tech Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore India
Consultants: 
Namesort descending City Country
Affinity Consulting Edmonton Canada
Andi Roberts El Puerto de Santa Maria Spain
Genius loci Facilitation & Development milan Italy
Imaginal Training Groningen Netherlands
Learning Matters Singapore Singapore
Lisa Heft / Opening Space based in Berkeley California; clients are worldwide United States
Lisa Kimball washington, dc United States
the coachouse den haag Netherlands
worksmarts Tuckahoe United States
Online: 
Namesort descending City Country
Lisa Kimball washington, dc United States
Supporters: