Open Space Technology – an Overview

Open Space Technology is one way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to create inspired meetings and events. In Open Space meetings, events and organizations, participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance.

How does it work?
At the beginning of an Open Space the participants sit in a circle. The facilitator invites all participants to identify any issue or opportunity related to the theme. Participants willing to raise a topic will come to the centre of the circle, write it on a sheet of paper and announce it to the group before choosing a time and a place for discussion and posting it on a wall. That wall becomes the agenda for the meeting.

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You don’t need to be the expert of the topic you propose. Putting it on the wall means that you have a real interest in the issue. That means you trust the group to help solve or clarify it. Just do it!

Prepare to be surprised!

Some outcomes of the discussions are really important for you, so be prepared and take down notes and visualize on paper the discussion.

When all the issues have been posted, participants sign up and attend those individual sessions. Sessions last for 45 min. The opening and agenda creation lasts about an hour, even with a very large group.

After the opening and agenda creation, the individual groups go to work. The attendees organize each session; people may freely decide which session they want to attend, and may switch to another one at any time. Online networking can occur both before and following the actual face-to-face meetings so discussions can continue seamlessly. All discussion papers are shared in the end with all participants.

In this way, Open Space Technology begins without any pre-determined agenda, but work is directed by a “theme” or “purpose” or “invitation” that is carefully articulated by leaders, in advance of the meeting.

“Four Principles” and “One Law”
Harrison Owen, the creator of Open Space Technology has articulated “Four Principles” and “One Law” that make this type of meeting successful. These explanations describe rather than control the process. The four principles are:

Whoever comes is the right people …reminds participants that they don’t need the CEO and 100 people to get something done, you need people who care. And, absent the direction or control exerted in a traditional meeting, that’s who shows up in the various breakout sessions of an open space meeting.
Whenever it starts is the right time …reminds participants that “spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.”
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have …reminds participants that once something has happened, it’s done—and no amount of fretting, complaining or otherwise rehashing can change that. Move on.
When it’s over, it’s over ...reminds participants that we never know how long it will take to resolve an issue, once raised, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on to the next thing. Don’t keep rehashing just because there’s 30 minutes left in the session. Do the work, not the time.

The “Law of Two Feet” or “The Law of Mobility is the center of the Open Space Technology:

“If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.”

In this way, all participants are given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution, which the Law assumes only they, themselves, can ultimately judge and control. When participants lose interest and get bored in a breakout session, or accomplish and share all that they can, the charge is to move on, the “polite” thing to do is go somewhere else.

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See you at the event!

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