I love Open Space. I love its high energy, spirited flow of thoughts and ideas. From the opening circle until several days after the event, my feet don’t touch the ground.


How is it that a person who is teased for their compulsiveness in managing details can let it all go and have a great time? Simple. I meet my need for the linear sequential before entering Open Space by planning as many details as possible in advance. If you, too, need to do some advance planning, I offer the checklist that follows to speed you on your way. Enjoy the trip!

Peggy Holman
Last Revised: 3/12/98





Pre-event Planning  

Pick theme


Determine who to invite, set target number for attendance


Set date


Select space (make sure it's okay to put tape on the walls!!)


   Main Room (adequate space = room capacity/2)


   Breakout Rooms (5 per 100 people)


   Smoking area


   Registration area


Decide what, if anything, to do about measurement


Plan stakeholdering


Send invitation


Work with "Space" staff on set-up


   Provide an article or book on OST to staff


   Circle for main room, flexible breakout room configurations


   Get list of breakout room names, maps to rooms


Plan meals (buffet; food that can be out for several hours)


   Arrange details with caterer (breakfast, lunch, dinner, breaks)


   Arrange for any special food needs


Arrange for computers (about 5 per 100 people)


   1 Laser printer


   Adequate power, tables for computers


   Software for compiling proceedings


Arrange for wireless microphone, plus spare battery


Get supplies


   Masking tape (1 roll per breakout room)


   Magic markers (x per breakout room, x for main circle)


   Flip charts (1 per breakout room, spare chart paper)


   Paper for Issues (quarter chart paper; more than # of people)


   Post-its (2 packs per breakout room)


Any legal issues?


Any union issues?


Signage required?


Travel Support (hotel rooms, cars, maps)


Name tags and other welcome materials (journal, pen)


Cover for proceedings


Set date for debrief


Arrange for copying proceedings


Arrange for typing participant phone numbers, addresses for proceedings


Day of event set up


   Prep sponsor for doing opening and their role


   Have sponsor write proceedings cover page sometime during the event


   Set up registration table (sign, name tags, pens, list: names, phone #s, addresses)


   Set up message area, registration table, signage, computers, microphone


   Make time/room matrix, signs (law, principles, surprise, mission control, theme)


   Make circle, put supplies in break out rooms, circle

Post Event  

Hold debrief


Copy and distribute proceedings


Write thank you’s


Any measurement activities?




Things to Discuss with Someone Considering Sponsoring an Open Space


When to use Open Space

Use it when there is conflict, diversity, confusion and you need answers yesterday.


Do not use it when you know the answer, think you know the answer or have to know the answer.


Discuss other alternatives to Open Space: what have they considered; are the conditions appropriate?


What is the need they want to address?


Choosing the theme and who is invited (the broader the diversity, the greater the potential for innovation) are the most critical elements to consider.

What are the expectations of the session; what outcomes and what will be done with them? Who are the people affected by the theme? Consider any constraints that may have an impact.


Understand that this will "let the genie out of the bottle." Do not use it if you cannot live with the consequences. Once it starts, it has to run, the sponsor must play by the same rules as everyone else; it is a sacred trust and must be honored or there will be consequences.



Notes on the Invitation Contents


Just to be sure that whatever can be turned into a list has been, what follows are topics for the invitation. Include:


something that clarifies that this is an invitation

(there is choice about attending)

the purpose of the session and desired outcome(s)

the host

some information about the approach

(in 25 words or less, what is Open Space?)

times; start and end times for each day

allow for registration period on first day



hotel, meal and transportation information

appropriate dress

how to register

who received the invitation

if numbers limited, then "first come" message

idea that people should come for the whole event (no drop-ins)

how to contact someone for more information



Coaching for the Sponsor on the Types of Things They Might Say When Opening the Session


Thanks for being here


Talk about their commitment to the group: what they personally will do with what comes out the other side (e.g., will support people in implementing whatever is within their span of control; will work with them for those things outside). Acknowledge any constraints (e.g., time, budget).


Talk about their hopes and expectations for the group and what it can become


Talk about who was invited.