OPEN SPACE TECHNOLOGY
for conferences, meetings and workshops
'When you listen to somebody else, whether you like it or not, what they say becomes a part of you..... the common pool is created, where people begin suspending their own opinions and listening to other people's .... At some point people begin recognising that the common pool is more important than their separate pools.'
Open Space Technology creates the conditions for respectful conversation. It is a powerful way of bringing people together to search for solutions to complex issues. All participants have the opportunity to express what they consider to be important and to take responsibility for their passions. In doing so they discover new ways of working cooperatively.
It enables organisations to address directly complex issues in which nobody knows the answer and the ongoing participation of a number of people is required to deal with the questions. Questions such as 'How to adapt to changing circumstances? What vision to pursue? How to achieve cooperation between people who may have very different views of the issues to be considered?
These issues can be addressed through the Open Space approach because it provides people with experiences of genuine empowerment. In doing so they achieve a degree of collaboration that they previously would have considered impossible. Having done this, they discover that doing it again on an everyday basis is a matter of choice.
It releases creative energy to address real business issues in organisations such as government departments, business associations, educational institutions, community organisations and in industry and commerce.
Working in Open Space is a novel experience for many people. Yet one of its special features is how it promotes cooperation by allowing learning of new ways of working and being together in a relaxed and natural manner. Perhaps it reminds us of old ways that have been neglected; we humans have an affiliative, trusting side to our nature which we do well to bring out more and to honour.
There are four principles which underpin the process:
* Whoever comes are the right people.
* Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
* Whenever it starts is the right time.
* When it is over it is over.
There is also The Law of Two Feet which indicates that if anyone finds her or himself in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they can use their two feet to go to a more productive place. This law emphasises that everyone is present voluntarily.
Where is it used?
It works best with issues such as strategic/future planning, new product development, conflict resolution and market research - issues of passionate concern to stakeholders who address a specific issue. According to Harrison Owen, the creator of Open Space, there are two fundamentals: passion and responsibility. Without passion, nobody is interested. Without responsibility, nothing will get done.
What happens in an Open Space gathering?
When people gather in Open Space there is no preset agenda other than the topic previously agreed to and the time allotted for the meeting. There are no planned panel discussions and plenary sessions. The agenda is created through the facilitator inviting everyone present to nominate issues that he or she feels passionately about and is prepared to take responsibility for.
Once the agenda has been generated all the participants choose which sessions to attend and the meeting is underway. From then on until the agreed end time people meet in groups to discuss and make recommendations for action which they consider are relevant to the specific issue. Groups large and small (5-1000+) demonstrate their capacity to rapidly create effective meeting agendas and deal with highly conflicted issues.
What are the outcomes?
The reports of every small group discussion are the proceedings of the meeting. (With high speed printing, these can be available to all participants very soon after the completion of the meeting). These proceedings, owned by all present, become the foundation for later decision making.
Most tangible is widespread ownership of possible solutions from which action plans can be devised. This is also reported as a change of mood of the organisation to being more trusting, nurturing and supportive.
In a curious way Open Space always seems to work. Often reported outcomes are release of ideas and creativity that nobody knew were there, self managed work teams, distributed leadership, a spirit of ongoing learning, greatly increased levels of productivity and experiences of high playfulness and FUN.
Who has used it?
Some of the organisations that have used Open Space to good effect are Levi Strauss in Sydney, the Australian Taxation Office in Melbourne, Brisbane City Council and a large number of organisations in the USA, including Honeywell, Owens Corning Fibreglass and PepsiCo. It was also used widely in South Africa in the lead up to the 1994 elections.
A key component of a successful Open Space meeting is skilled facilitation by someone from outside the organisation staging the meeting. One facilitator can manage very large groups.
Dr Alan Stewart and his colleagues in MultiMind Solutions are skilled in the use of Open Space Technology. We consult carefully with clients to determine the suitability of Open Space to their purposes. If it is we help formulate the question which is the focus of the meeting and help plan and organise and then facilitate the meeting.
Once you have experienced a full OST gathering you know the spirited performance, teamwork and breakthroughs that emerge. These 'high points' can become part of the ongoing life of organisations, not just of a one time meeting. Increasingly they must be.
We are at the edge of learning the relationship of structures and self-organising processes. We are becoming conscious of what it takes for leadership to have clear intent and yet flow with teams to perform beyond expectations
The 'technology' of Open Space meetings is simple. Management gives the meeting intention and focus. The participants organise the agenda and run the meeting. Facilitation is required to 'hold the space' and manage the information systems.
Performing at the level of an Open Space meeting in the ongoing life of your corporation or community service requires your brains, heart and spirit. It requires the ability to focus, let-go and learn. It is physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding. Positive spirit can be threatening.
It is also fun, exhilarating and productive.
Call us now to see how we may assist you.
Ph (61 8) 8232 6393 Fax (618) 8232 0241
PO Box 6250, Halifax St
ADELAIDE SA 5000