Open Space Technology

I’m in a large conference room in a hotel just south of SFO with 85 National Speakers Association members about to experience “Open Space Technology” for the first time.

The meeting has just begun, and inside a large circle of chairs, the facilitator Ric Giardina is slowly walking the perimeter of the room making eye contact with each person, promising us that “whatever happens is the only thing that could happen”. This Zen-like statement is followed by others, such as “Whoever shows up are the right people” and “When it’s over it’s over”.
Open Space Beginning

Luckily, these ‘technology’ behind these platitudes is quickly explained in very concrete, practical terms.

What is Open Space?

Open Space sets up an environment to make the coffee breaks, the spontaneous conversations, the exchanges, the participants’ energy and interests, and the self-selected groupings the very heart of the conference. Open Space is constantly being refined and adapted to different situations, but remains grounded in its original principles and in the commitment of the facilitator to the empowerment process.

How Does Open Space Work?

Before the meeting, the organizers articulate a powerful theme statement to galvanize people’s interest and provide a broad scope for the development of sessions on topics participants feel are important.

The day of the event, all participants convene in a room — the “Open Space” — that is large enough for everyone to sit comfortably in a circle. On one wall of the room is an empty schedule; to the side is a matrix of yellow “Post-Its”: the columns are headed by the names of available meeting rooms and the rows represent times of the day in which sessions can be offered. The facilitator explains the theme and the process. He then asks that anyone who feels passionately about a topic within the general theme and who is willing to give some leadership to a session on that topic, to come get a poster-sized piece of paper and write on it:

  • the title for the session; and
  • his or her name, leaving space at the bottom of the sheet for people to sign up later.
  • Each person with a completed poster (a “convener”):

  • makes a room/time reservation by taking a Post-It from the matrix for the room and time preferred;
  • comes to the center of the circle and announces the title and time of his session, and makes any other brief promotional or explanatory comments; and
  • places the poster on the wall schedule at the appropriate time location.
  • This is exactly what happened on Saturday. Those who jumped to the center instantly became conveners and wrote down their topics:
    Open Space Activity

    The topics were posted on the wall, centered on the theme ‘Taking My Speaking Career Where I want to Go”

    Open Space Wall

    All part of the village marketplace of meetings about to happen, or not (if no-one chose to attend):

    Open Space Village Marketplace

    Ric made another few circuits of the room asking anyone thinking “why hasn’t anyone written down the issue I really want to see discussed” to get into the center and create a poster for that topic.

    The results:

  • A coupla dozen lively workshops, with discussion on a wide variety of topics.
  • A self-selecting group of people attracted to each topic, free to move on when they felt ready to, exchanging ideas and ‘cross pollinating’ from one group to another.
  • A debrief (The Evening News) – where delighted people said how much they got out of it.

    Bottom Line: Open Space is a great idea for your next corporate training event. Learn more here.

  • 2 Comments so far
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    Open Space requires at least 3 hours to work and might not be a good idea for small groups.

    Here’s a video on Open Space Technology.

    In 16:18 minutes, it takes you from the beginning of an event held by U S WEST through its completion. In addition, Harrison Owen, originator of Open Space Technology, describes the basics.

    The video follows several participants back into the work place. Through participant interviews, scenes from the event and explanations by Harrison, you will begin to understand the potential of Open Space Technology.



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