About Open Space
About Open Space Technology
What is an Open Space Technology meeting?
Open Space has been used for years by organizations, large and small, to access the creativity and enthusiasm of its staff around a given topic. It is a method that allows participation, shared leadership, and a sense of empowered involvement with the subject at hand.
“Open Space is the most effective process for organizations and communities to identify critical issues, voice to their passions and concerns, learn from each other, and, when appropriate, take collective responsibility for finding solutions. The goal of an Open Space Technology meeting is to create time and space for people to engage deeply and creatively around issues of concern to them. The agenda is set by people with the power and desire to see it through, and typically, Open Space meetings result in transformative experiences for the individuals and groups involved.” — Chris Corrigan
What is Open Space Technology best used for?
Open Space sessions allow an organization to know itself more fully. Organizational “self-knowledge” allows decisions to be made that are more likely to lead to accomplishing desired goals. This is especially true when this organizational understanding is widespread. We have all heard of organizational change initiatives that are met with apathy or active resistance. This does not happen with change initiated by Open Space because everyone understands its foundation and intent.
“Open Space Technology is useful in almost any context including strategic direction setting, envisioning the future, conflict resolution, morale building, consultation with stakeholders, community planning, collaboration and deep learning about issues and perspectives.” — Chris Corrigan
Use in Assessment
Open Space meetings are extremely useful as a component of organizational assessment. This is because underlying dynamics are brought to the surface and hidden systems and cultural aspects are revealed.
During a firm retreat at CD Architects, it came out that staff members felt competitive toward one another. They talked about feeling pressure to perform and to always look busy, which somehow transferred into a need to appear better than the person sitting next to them.
This revelation shocked the Principal who prided himself in creating what he thought was a friendly, collaborative feeling at the firm. It gave the Principal the opportunity to say that he believed that excellent performance was best achieved through collaboration not competition. He also had the opportunity to consider what messages he was giving that made his staff think otherwise. Just the awareness that the issue existed, plus the chance for honest communication about it, was enough to initiate change.
Use in Knowledge Sharing and Creation
Open Space is also an effective method of enabling shared learning and knowledge creation within a community of practice.
AIA Seattle uses Open Space methods at its Annual Board retreats, known as Mossroots. This method allows all participants to tackle the issues and opportunities of the organization in a highly democratic and transparent manner. The in-coming and out-going Directors, along with AIA Seattle staff, discuss the topics that are the most interesting and important to them. The outcome has been an annual strategic plan with innovative ideas and priorities set in each of the four mission areas, and a sense of engagement by all involved.
As explained by Harrison Owen, originator of Open Space Technology:
“Open Space Technology is effective in situations where a diverse group of people must deal with complex and potentially conflicting material in innovative and productive ways. It is particularly powerful when nobody knows the answer and the ongoing participation of a number of people is required to deal with the questions. Conversely, Open Space Technology will not work in any situation where the answer is already known, where someone at a high level thinks he or she knows the answer...”
How does an Open Space Technology meeting work?
With the theme determined in advance, participants create an agenda for the meeting during the first hour of the get-together. Any participant is empowered to suggest a topic for the agenda and to convene a small group meeting on that topic. Through simple organizational tools, a schedule of these meetings, including location and times throughout the afternoon, will be generated and displayed.
Small group conversations on the agenda topics take place in 45-60 minute sessions held in designated places and during distinct time slots. Participants will be free to move from conversation to conversation, insuring that they will always be involved in dialogue that is meaningful and interesting to them, and providing cross-pollination of ideas. Although the theme may be very broad, all aspects of the theme that are important and exciting to those present will be discussed.
At the concluding session, all participants will be invited to make remarks about the experience of the meeting. Because everyone has had the opportunity to spend the time in dialogue about ideas that are important to them, themes will emerge and related issues will converge. These concluding remarks are often insightful, creative, energetic and lead to action for change.
What outcomes can I expect from an Open Space Technology Meeting?
Typically, results from an Open Space session fall into two categories. The first kind of results are action items that can easily be done right away. These actions arise from the many good and practical ideas that are always generated when people converse about topics they really care about. An example of this might be a simple change to a work process that makes it more efficient.
The second kind of results are ideas, insights, and creative imaginings that require more thought or research before action can be taken. These outcomes sometime generate task-force formation, or suggest a basic reconsideration of procedures or structure. Often the surfacing of issues that involve the deeply embedded culture of an organization will cause widespread surprise among participants.
Owen, Harrison, Open Space Technology: A User's Guide, Barrett Koehler Publishers Inc., San Francisco, 1997 http://openspaceworld.com/ Web site of Harrison Owen http://chriscorrigan.com/ Web site of Vancouver BC consultant, Chris Corrigan
RM Klein Consulting offers facilitation Open Space events for all kinds of organization including non-profits, and is best used for annual retreats, to initiate work process improvement and to a begin strategic planning process.