Green World Trust
- Open Space -

Open Space Technology

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 sessions.

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 read this page on Open Space. It's also well worth visiting the Open 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 Question" was:

how do we sustainably expand and support the network of communities working on transition?

Here are examples of brainstorms (from open space time in the bedZED Transition Towns training weekend):

How do we engage people? ¦ How can we support Transition in a city? ¦ Sustainability Research: how to engage universities?


Harrison 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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