Open Space Technology is an extraordinary
tool. It has been described as ‘a simple way to run
productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people, and a powerful
way to lead any kind of organization, in everyday practice
and ongoing change’. In theory it ought not to work.
A large group of people comes together to explore a particular
topic or issue, with no agenda, no timetable, no obvious co-ordinator
and no minute takers. Yet by the end of the process, everyone
has said what they needed to, extensive notes have been taken
and typed up, lots of networking has taken place, and a huge
number of ideas have been identified and visions set out.
The most basic principle is that everyone who
comes to an Open Space event must be passionate about the
topic and willing to take some responsibility for creating
things out of that passion. The four key principles are:
1. Whoever comes is the right people.
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
4. When it is over it is over.
Set up a venue which has space
for several groups of people to cluster. Advertise your "overarching
question" and give people time to bring the specific
questions they want to brainstorm, like "how can we cope
creatively with transport issues that follow from oil scarcity?"
You can have more than one session - this allows a total number
of questions/groups equal to the number of sessions multiplied
by the number of rooms/spaces available. Have breaks in between
People "post" their
burning issues on A4 sheets under the different spaces. People
choose which group they want to join. Some "bumblebees"
will visit the lot, gathering nectar to distil into a common
wisdom. Some "butterflies" will just like to dip
into different discussions. Vote with your feet. It's all
part of the pattern. Use big sheets of paper to brainstorm.
Find someone who will turn this into a permanent record for
those who could not attend because they were in other groups.
Finally, it's probably a good idea to gather as one big group
just to wind up and see that not too much gets lost.
Rob Hopkins encourages users to
page on Open Space. It's also well worth visiting the
Space write-up from the Transition Towns conference in
May 2007. In total there were 21 discussions covering a wide
range of topics. The original plan was to set each of these
up as Forums so that the discussion could continue. The "Overarching
how do we sustainably
expand and support the network of communities working
Here are examples of brainstorms
(from open space time in the bedZED Transition Towns training
do we engage people? ¦ How
can we support Transition in a city? ¦ Sustainability
Research: how to engage universities?
Owen "assembled" the principles of Open Space:
"One thing must be clear from the outset. Open Space
Technology is not the proprietary product of H.H.Owen and
Company. This is not a matter of altruism, or as some might
suspect, pure madness. It is rather a simple acknowledgement
of the truth... I have written this book [the original OST:
A User’s Guide], not so much as the definitive statement
of the right way to proceed, but rather as an invitation to
join the process and do it better.
"So use this book [and
this website!] as seems fitting, and please join me in what
has been, and will continue to be, a marvelous co-creative
adventure. Of course, there is one small responsibility that
accompanies this invitation. Please share what you discover
and we will all be the richer."
Pics are from Harrison Owen's
website, of "Meshforum" post-its advertising the
groups, and a group in Moscow 2006.
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