Issue:OST and OpenSpaceOnline: The synchronicities and experience to date

Convenor:Michelle Cooper

Participants: Christa Gescher, Judith Richardson, Gabriella Ender, Sheila Isakson, Jessie

Summary of the meeting: Michelle and Judith recently had an opportunity to use OpenSpaceOnline with a provincial nurses' association. The power and possibilities of Open Space Online had been recognized for a long time, but we had not had an opportunity to engage a client in a large organization to have the experience. This opportunity presented itself as a result of the SARS crisis in Ontario. Many nurses are exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. The professional organization, in its role to support nurses, had implemented a SARS bulletin board, but that did not permit nurses to have dialogue with each other. Michelle became aware of this and contacted the association to explore the opportunity to used OpenSpaceOnline as an intervention and to conduct a needs assessment to identify what else the association could do to support nurses in the present and build capacity for coping with the new normal in the post-SARS environment.

The experience helped us to understand the power, similarities and differences with OST and what role an OST facilitator plays.

Recognized value for the sponsor and participants: -the OpenSpaceOnline environment provides real time dialogue- it became an intervention that enabled nurses who participated to support each other and learn from their mutual experiences as well as a tool for gathering data as a needs assessment -as in face to face OST, participants were able to post topics that they were passionate about - some people had need to share their story and grief and the forum allowed it to happen. -it was possible to connect people across a great distance. There were participants from the middle east as well as nurses from many communities across the Province of Ontario (the size of France, Spain and Portugal combined). The organization recognized that this would be a way for them to connect people for other consultation,needs assessment, policy work that complements local focus groups -the organizers and participants expressed that they felt they started to build community among the participants - participants suggested the organization do more of this work to -sponsor received recognition for their leadership and appreciation for enabling people to come together - as with OST, barriers are broken down and there is a better understanding among members and the leadership -it was very easy for the sponsor to set up the conference and despite no previous experience with OST, the sponsor and participants were able to quickly get to speed during the event. The first set of topics helped people to orientate to the session, the second set they were actively participating - the software guides people through each step with ease. -the online experience generated interest in OST face to face

Value of and Role for the OST Facilitator -OST facilitator can help organizations identify the opportunities for using OpenSpaceOnline -just as in OST, the prework with the sponsor is critical to identify the theme, givens and goals for the conference - this helps to create the framework for a successful event. Helping the sponsor with the first event builds their capacity to prepare independently for the next event - also builds relationship with the sponsor that evolves into future work with the organization -the follow up to help the sponsor leverage the results and to critically reflect on their learning - again as in OST, this is an important element to sustain the success and to ensure the great work done in the meeting does not just sit on the shelf and gather dust- Judi Brilliant people rarely take the time to reflect -change in role in the event - there are new competencies in this role - during the online event, the consultant does not facilitate, it is the software and comoso the virtual online facilitator who fills the role. The consultant is a meta-facilitator. This can provide an even greater level of objectivity as you move in and out of the sessions. The consultant does not need to be there during the few hours of the real time event although it is valuable to observe the dynamics and the emergent themes. One more level of letting go of outcome. There was concern expressed about leaving a thumbprint as each name shows up as you enter a conversation - But the consultant was not identified as a facilitator in this event. The participants take responsibility for the content and outcome and do not count on the consultant to fix anything e.g. arrange the chairs, intervene in a discussion etc. In our experience it was valuable to be there to answer questions that arose during the event about process, but the participants would likely have figured it out without our advice. We were present in a support and facilitator role to the sponsor. The consultants could participate in the conversations if desired where as in a face to face OST, as facilitators we usually focus energy on holding space and do not participate in discussions. -The consultant role in this case is to bridge the gap between the virtual world and off-line world.

Learnings: -just as in a face to face OST event, the theme, givens and invitation are critical elements to a successful event - thus the pre-work is important -will this work in a very heirarchical society or with other cultures (e.g., Christa is working in China)- discussion was that it can work within the heirarchy - we acknowledge the heirarchy as part of the givens for the event whether it is online or face to face - that just defines how much space exists for passion and responsibility - generally and outcome is increased understanding, feeling heard and respect. -this is the first time that many people logging on to the online event were at large hospitals, organizations that had multi-level firewalls in North America - some people could not log on because they did not take time to test nor did the consultants and sponsor emphasize this - in future, would ensure IT people are part of the planning group and we emphasize testing in advance to make connections through firewalls possible. It means for this sponsor to get the information and log-on information out at least two weeks before the event so that participants can get the support they need from their own IT people---the culture of some hospital bureaucracies is you need to give two weeks notice to get the help!! -works for networking, bringing together work groups - OpenSpaceOnline can be used before an event (OST or other) to help with planning or as a follow up to an event as well as THE event.- Work groups can learn about each other and to determine if they want to work together - are people open? - in some cases people are much more open in the online forum - can't be seen - on the other hand, comments are attached to names unlike OST event reports - works both ways. -although the event was a serious topic, participants had fun- playfulness and indicated this in the closing circle. People make an effort at the interpersonal. -it is not necessary to have experience with OST to be able to fully participate in OpenSpaceOnline - people who participate in OST may be curious about OpenSpaceOnline and OpenSpaceOnline generates interest in OST. -who is holding space - not a clear answer to this question - the software and comoso during the few hours - the sponsor and consultant on a meta-level - the participants for each other.

--- Follow up: - share our experiences and learning with Gabriella at OpenSpaceOnline GmbH? to build the FAQs and learning network. -change facilitator OpenSpaceOnline Conference in November as a place to share learning.

Online Comments: Great learning. Mine was similar is trying to use an external server and package for a more traditional meeting with government folks a couple of years ago. Getting permission to download a thin client onto institutional IT systems with their own firewalls and IT departments was much more difficult than was using the software or the meeting. I like OS Online and think Gabrielle has made a wonderful contribution. I'm glad to hear of your experience with it.