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Notes on 'Open Space - Face to Face communication'

by Erich Kolenaty

What is it

A methodology and philosophy of creating space/communication between people in meetings and conferences. Open Space was discovered in 1985 by Harrison Owen and has been successfully used in more than 100 countries all over the world in groups with 3 -2000 people. For details see http://www.openspaceworld.org. You may want to look at a "Open Space - Photostory" at http://www.transformation.at. Look at "Resources".

How does it work

You need a burning issue and people who are willing and able to work on it. A basic structure and workplaces for the groups are prepared, but there are no contents prepared in advance (except the main issue). You start in a circle, a sponsor works out briefly what it is all about, what is the broad direction, what are the limits. Then the facilitator "opens the space" and introduces how to work in an open space. Then it is time for the participants to raise up topics within the main issue, they want to work on with others in a group. In short time the participants create together the schedule of the meeting. The schedule is organized in timeslots for the workinggroups (between 2 and 8 timeslots for working sessions, depending on the duration of the meeting) At the same time between 2 and 15 working groups may take place (depending on the number of participants).

After the schedule is finished, the groups start to work selforganized. "Morning news" and "Evening News" frame the groupwork to share impressions and learnings, add workshop topics and for organizational stuff. Every group reports their outcomes either on a papertemplate, in a data file or directly in a wiki.

The reportsheets are collected immediately and copies are put on a "Reportwall".

If there is the want to go on further with actionplans, the "Book", the copied reportsheets is given out to every participant to read through to get an overview, what was going on so far. After some reading time, the group does some "convergence" work, to identify the most important threads. In new groups this topics are worked out detailed to next steps/action plans. An Open space traditionally finishes with a "working-stick-round", where a talking stick is passed to share personal learnings.

Open Space is run by a few principles and one law: - who ever comes is the right person. - whenever it start is the right time - what ever happens ist the only thing could have. - when it's over it's over, when it's not over, it's not over

"The law of the two feet" is of huge importance in Open space: Everybody is responsible to check if he or she is able to contribute or learn, if you don't learn or contribute - go to a place where you can learn/participate or have fun. The "law of two feet" gives all responsibility and freedom back to participants

What you can experience

High "Energy" Level - High degree of participation, concentration, and learnings. Outcomes of surprising quality Open Space is driven by passion, resposibility and freedom. "The Space closes", if someone tries to keep control.

When does Open space work best

When there is a burning question, Participants are Volunteers, Complexity of issue (nobody knows the solution), Wide range of different people / different points of view, High time pressure "Decition time is yesterday"

You need for an Open Space

Lots of space, Appropriate time: 4 hours for a good discussion, 1,5 days for a good, discussion and rough actionplan, 2 - 2,5 days for a deep discussion with a detailed working program. Ressources for documentation. Openness for the outcomes. Readiness for self organization.

[1] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Space

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_space_conference