Open Space Technology

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Open Space

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Open Space Technology

You’ve heard about it, but you aren’t sure if it’s a new Feng-Shui technique or the latest operating system for a smart phone! Read on to find out the top 10 things you need to know about Open Space Technology.

1. What Is Open Space Technology?

Like the Lean Coffee format, Open Space Technology, sometimes referred to as just Open Space,  is a way to conduct an agenda-less meeting with just a small group of about 20 people to thousands who voluntarily attend the Open Space.
The format, designed to nurture creativity and leadership in people, create an environment that encourages those who attend to collaborate in topics they create and are passionate about.

2. Who Created the Concept of Open Space Technology?

Sometimes the best ideas are formed while sitting at the bar having a couple of cocktails. No, really. Just ask Harrison Owen the creator of the Open Space Technology. He sort of set the bar for Open Space Technology at the bar.
Mr. Owen, a priest and consultant has spent years studying how we can live full, meaningful, lives with purpose and productivity. He has a unique perspective on how to approach organizational transformation. Mr. Owen is also the author of several books including “The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform” and “Open Space Technology:A User’s Guide“.

3. How did the concept come up?

One could say that Mr. Owen’s “ah ha” moment was when he realized that no matter how much effort he put into creating his own conferences, his attendees looked forward to the coffee breaks the most which was the part of his conferences he had no control over! Why not flip the responsibilities and instead of creating a formal agenda, allow the attendees to create it?

A meeting without a formal agenda? Are you thinking Mr. Owen must have been a little tipsy to even think that this idea could work? This is exactly what I thought and this concept certainly sparked skepticism. However, it has been used for over 2o years and in over 132 countries. 

4. Why does it work?

The secret sauce to an Open Space Technology meeting is that they are designed to create and sustain an environment for self-organization. They operate under four principles and the Law of Two Feet.

The four principles are:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  3. When it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over it’s over

The Law of Two Feet states that you are to stand on your own two feet and take responsibility for what you care about. If you find that you are neither learning or contributing, use your own two feet to move somewhere you can.

5. How do you conduct an Open Space?

The steps to create an Open Space environment are super easy to implement.

What you need:

  • An open space large enough for people to move around with plenty of wall space.
  • A facilitator
  • A simple, open invitation that states the purpose, place and time of the meeting
  • The length of your Open Space can be one day or more
  • In the open space, arrange the chairs in a large circle, concentric ones if you expect many people
  • In the center of the circle, place large pieces of paper, markers and tape – people will use these to write down their issues and tape them to the large wall that becomes the “Marketplace”
  • Printouts of the four principles and the Law of Two Feet.

For a more extensive list of items, check out Chris Corrigan’s planning checklist.

Now that we have an overview, what happens at the meeting?

OPEN: The facilitator will open the meeting and will explain how Open Space meetings work and then they allow some time for the group to think about issues they are passionate about.

CREATION OF THE AGENDA: Once people are ready, they are invited to the center of the circle to write down their issue on the supplied paper, announce it to the group and then tape their issue on the wall.
These contributors become known as “convener”, someone who brings people together to address an issue. They are to take personal responsibility to ensure that there is a discussion around their issue.
SELF-ORGANIZATION: After everyone has had the opportunity to write down their issues and tape it on the wall, then the facilitator invites everyone to the Marketplace where all the issues are posted.
They are invited to group like issues together, sign up for issues to discuss, form their own groups, create their own agenda along with meeting times and location.

CLOSING CIRCLE: At the end of the meeting, there is a brief “closing of the circle”. In the same style as the opening, invite people back to the circle and allow people to share any new insights  or anything that they have learned that they can take away with them to the real world.  If the group is small enough, pass around a “talking stick” and ask everyone to share one by one. And lastly, celebrate! 

6. What is the role of the facilitator?

The facilitator opens and closes the meeting, ensures that everything is running smoothly logistically and that the atmosphere allows for creativity and self-organization.

7. What type of topic should be discussed?

The topic should be something very urgent, has a level of high complexity, the outcome is completely unknown and there is some conflict in the organization that could be preventing the ability for change to take place.
It could be policy making, strategic direction, new vision for a department or even a reorganization.

8. How many people should attend?

Preferably an odd number and anything less than 20, the group tends to lose its diversity, however Open Space meetings have been successful with only 5 participants.

9. Who should attend?

Attending and participating in an Open Space meeting is voluntary. Invite those who have the power to change. Those that attend will do so because they have the desire and passion to change and will be the right people.

10. What are the expected outcomes?

Concrete outcomes are difficult to determine since the outcome of an Open Space Technology meeting is completely dependent on the people who attend.
If all works well, then all issues raised are now “out in the open” and there are action items created by those who care about those issues.

If you want more information check out Open Space World and if you have conducted or participated in an Open Space, please share your comments!

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