STORIES, The Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US), Issue 3, March 2000


Purpose of the Newsletter

The purpose of the newsletter is to make our stories available to each other so that we continue to learn and grow. We hope they will serve you for education, examples, connection and pleasure.


This newsletter is intended for the use of friends and members of the Open Space Institute (US). It may be reproduced in any useful wau with acknowledgement. When copying, please include the author/contact/publication information at the end of each story.


In This Issue

1--Notes from the Editor

2--"It's Not Over Yet"--Using Open Space to Promote Literacy in Haiti

3--An OST Story from the West of Australia

4--Amazing OS in Vancouver on Friday

5--Some Provocative Comments

6--Coming Events

7--"Opening,"  a poem


Notes from the Editor

March. The Pacific Northwest, which didn't have much winter this year, is beginning to feel like spring. This issue's stories, too, hold a spring-like promise.


All three stories come from outside the US. All involve groups which are working with indigenous peoples--in Haiti, in western Australia, in Vancouver BC. Instead of a hierarchical environment where the government, the church, the schools have all the answers, the reports tell of meetings where Open Space Technology helped to create conditions of equality and self-responsibility.


To me, this is good news and good work. Wherever the structure of an organization is preventing people from being heard, we have tools that can help. It only requires that we, like our reporters, be impeccable facilitators, willing not to control results.


Happy March. May your springtime have sunshine and lots of Open Space.  JLE


 "It's Not Over Yet"--Using Open Space to Promote Literacy in Haiti

John Engle, Beyond Borders, Haiti

It was about 4:00 p.m. in a large classroom in a run-down university building in downtown Port au Prince, Haiti.  38 people were sitting on school chairs in the closing circle after a day of Open Space.  The group, which represented more than 25 different institutions and associations, had convened at 9:00 am on the theme, "Literacy and Alternative Education."  In the spirit of the native American talking stick ritual, the famous Tibetan chimes were being passed from one to the next: Haitians, several Canadians and Americans, an Australian.

 About half way through the circle, and probably 10-12 minutes of thoughtful and constructive comments, the chimes were placed into the hands of a white Haitian.  Normally, "white Haitian" signifies class of privilege.  Sad to say, it's not the norm for people of privilege to be sitting, discussing literacy, with popular class and NGO people.  Many present were curious as to who she was.

 This participant took the chimes into her hands and looked directly at Eddy Sterlin, my Haitian co-worker and a young man of 30 from the popular class. He had facilitated this day of pure Open Space.  "When you first started talking this morning, I was sure you were going to be a rotten facilitator. I was wrong. I wish to congratulate you.  This was a very unique experience."  She finished speaking and began clapping.  All the rest of us joined in, expressing gratitude to Eddy.  Though Eddy has much leadership experience, this was the first time he had facilitated pure Open Space.

The chimes passed through more hands and mutual appreciation and synergy flowed.  "Sister Liz," a known educator and advocate for literacy used the power granted her with the chimes to invite all present to a meeting on post literacy in two weeks.  The people in her breakout session on post literacy decided "it wasn't over" even though time allotted was up.  Almost two years later, they still don't think it's over.  They still meet faithfully, the second Friday of each month from 1:00 to 5:00.  People representing more than 20 organizations have involvement with this network that they've named GRAPSA (Reflection and Action Group - Post Literacy).  Currently, they are working on a guidebook for teachers that are involved in post-literacy efforts.

 This is one of many Open Space meetings in which I've been privileged to participate over the years with colleagues and co-workers in the U.S., Haiti, and France.   Here are some of the themes: "Building Organizational Capacity and Gaining Local Participation," "The Development of the Island of La Gonave" (located just off the coast of Haiti), "Working for a US/Haiti Policy which Supports Democracy, Justice, and Equitable Development," "Building Shared Vision in Working for Justice and Peace in Haiti," "Popular Education," "Developing a Five Year Plan for our Social-Cultural Center." Participation for these meetings has ranged between twenty-five and seventy-five.

 At Beyond Borders, a Philadelphia based non-profit and sister organization Limyč Lavi, a Haitian foundation, we are using pure and modified Open Space to promote collaboration among diverse organizations and sectors who are interested in, or working toward improvement in Haiti.  We are also using it to manage our two organizations and to manage our relationships with our partner organizations in Haiti, who receive funding from us.  Last September was our first attempt to use pure Open Space for the Beyond Borders' annual meeting.  Aside from board members, staff, and associates, there were 20 additional people present who either contribute finances and/or time to our cause.

 When we formed Beyond Borders and Limyč Lavi in 1993, we decided to experiment with a non-hierarchical staff structure.  The staff in Haiti and in the US is accountable to their respective board.  But there is no one person over another among the staff.  Organizational decisions are made by consensus.   We researched meeting models, which might help us to navigate this unknown terrain.   We came upon Open Space and have found it to be incredibly useful.

 So what is it that we're trying to accomplish here?  Last week during a discussion, Eddy Sterlin carefully articulated, "We're participating in developing a new type of leadership, especially in the domain of development and education."  Perhaps more in two-thirds world countries than anywhere, development work and education function in a milieu steeped with hierarchy and exclusiveness. Another co-worker, Steven Werlin, amused himself with his professor lingo and slid these words through a grin, "this is a collaborative practicum in leadership."

 Whatever it is, there seem to be a whole bunch of us investing in it.  In collaboration with Soros Foundation in Haiti, we are piloting an alternative educational methodology called Touchstones Discussion Project. It is very complementary to Open Space.  Breakout sessions go smoother and can be more productive with people who participate in Touchstones.  We are also working with the Rotary Club of Petion-Ville Haiti and other Rotary clubs to further literacy.  Here again, we are piloting a particular methodology where the teacher is more of a facilitator and the participants have greater power and responsibility in their learning process.

 Open Space meetings are a core strategy for carrying out these two pilot projects.  We will be bringing together 30 to 70 people, the actors in these programs, for one, two and three day meetings every two to three months during the next year.  Imagine the impact that a regular dose of Open Space is going to have on practitioners of these complimentary educational methods.  Teachers in Haiti especially need to be imparting "a new type of leadership" to the ever-growing population of Haitian children.

 Anyone interested in learning more about our experience and in contributing to it is welcome to join us at Beyond Borders' annual meeting the 15-17th of September 2000 in Philadelphia PA.

 John Engle for STORIES, the Newsletter of the Open Space Institute


An OST Story from the West of Australia

Brendan McKeague, Christian Centre for Social Action, Australia

Gathering:      The gathering was a small group of 25 religious order personnel (Catholic) and lay associates--the first time lay people gathered with ordained members in a semi-formal assembly. The group came from different parts of Australia and met for four days here in Perth (Western Australia)--three of which were dedicated entirely to Open Space.

 Why OST?        the clients were tentative about how to facilitate this gathering and had asked for some ideas. Having recently experienced an OST assembly, I suggested we try this.  I spent some hours over a period of weeks informing and educating the executive group about the concept and implications of OST--they also had an opportunity to discuss OST with members of another group who had previously experienced this process. This helped to ease their anxieties. While still uncertain about how the other members of their group would respond to this new approach, the executives became committed to the process and were prepared to hand over the responsibility for facilitation--a difficult transition for some who were conditioned to controlling both agendas and outcomes of such gatherings.


Theme:           This religious order has been present in Australia for 100 years and many members have spent most of their time working with Aboriginal people in the Kimberleys (remote parts of NW Australia). They also provide personnel for a three urban parishes, a remote Agricultural College for Aboriginal students and a youth and adult retreat centre. Many of their small group of approximately 40 members are aging, and they are wondering and concerned about the future of their various activities and ministries in Australia.  They chose as their theme question for this gathering: "Can Vincent score another hundred for Australia?" (Vincent is a reference to the founder of the Order).

Process:           this was a 'by-the-book' Open Space and my first time facilitating, having been a particpant in an Open Space a few months previously. I am an experienced group facilitator--I read the book twice and had conversations with a very helpful, experienced OST facilitator.

 The participants, feeling strange in an unusual process for them, seemed to think that they needed permission to begin and started off rather tentatively. Issues began to appear and seemed to be quite tame, polite and uncontroversial. However, in a relatively small group where everyone knew, or knew of, each other, preconceived attitudes, expectations, relationships existed--it was as though most people were intent on 'feeling their way' through the opening stages. However, there was full participation, and energies increased as the day progressed.

 Day two saw the emergence of some hot new topics, and passions started to flow more freely. While the age range of the group would have been between 50 - 70, the infusion of the new lay members and their response to a totally different process combined to release a fresh flow of energy.

 It was not until day three, however, that there was a very clear sense that Open Space had been fully understood and accepted--something about living through the experience which enabled those participating to appreciate the concept and to make choices accordingly--participants were truly able to apply the principles and the Law without hesitation.

 On day three, we went through the prioritising (using Nominal Group Technique) and action steps process which generated a lot of ideas and decisions--a full morning's activity and a very positive closing session after lunch. In fact, suggestions for further action included the creation of more 'open spaces' for others to explore the emerging issues. 

The Facilitator:        I only needed to intervene on two occasions - to remind folks to respect the open space (not a forum for open discussion of an issue)  and to put responsibility back on the individuals who wished to create agenda outside of the open space.

 The technology went really well with participants pleased to have their reports in their hot little hands as they departed to all points of the country. We even had a prepared, laminated front cover and included a contents page.

 I also realise the significance of having 'thematic surroundings'-- symbols, artifacts, music, art work, cafe....all contribute powerfully to participant welcome, comfort and subsequent release of passion & energy.

 From my perspective, this was a great process of empowerment and liberation--the gathering was put at ease with their introduction to the four principles and the Law of Two Feet--even though it took them a little while to actually apply these.  I found the process to be very much in keeping with both a spirituality and practise of nonviolence and...I'm very much looking forward to next one!

 Brendan McKeague for STORIES, the Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US)


Amazing Open Space in Vancouver on Friday

Chris Corrigan, Vancouver, BC

 Amazing OS in Vancouver on Friday.  The theme was "Making lives better for urban Aboriginal People...Let's stop talking about it...let's start doing it!"

 175 people in attendance, including a federal cabinet minister, two deputy ministers, two chiefs, many leaders from throughout the Aboriginal community and dozens of community members, program staff, private sector representatives, and clients.

 Opened with a a prayer and a song sung by Leonard George, a local chief and son of the great actor Chief Dan George.  My opening stressed that traditional nature of the technology, how this was how we always met to solve our community's problems.  Stressed passion, responsibility AND self-management, which equates to self-government, a very important value in our communities.  The particpants were charged up and by the time I had finished the opening, there was a stampede...five people jumped out of their seats.  I had to call for more markers!

 It took us twenty minutes to set 45 agenda items, most of them proposed by strong young women.  Very few of the agenda items were proposed by the leadership that was present.  Instead they found themselves actively involved in a meeting where the agenda had been set by people who never get a chance to set an agenda.

 My notes remind me that the groups were very large and initially quite close together.  The location was the Vancouver Friendship Centre gymnasium, an Aboriginal community centre, chosen for it's locality and the realized possibility of lots of drop ins.  In my experience, there is nothing you can do to encourage Aboriginal people to meet in smaller groups.  Has anybody else found this?   First Nations people seem to like crowds...

 This made the organizers a little nervous...shouldn't they be further apart?  Shouldn't the groups be smaller?  Over the day of course, the participants managed to spread themselves out nicely, and a nice self-ordering came out of it.

 In the vein of "trust the process" comes this story...We didn't break for lunch, with the result that the whole crowd lined up for chow at 12:00 and didn't get into the 12:00 sessions by about 12:40.  The organizers were going nuts..."make an announcement!"  I refused.  By 2:00, the meeting was running only 15 minutes behind, and by 4:00 ON THE DOT we were back in the circle and beginning the closing, right on schedule.  I asked the organizers if they had ever seen a conference that was running late bring itself back on time and not drop anything. They were amazed.  I was amazed too.  175 people, with no leadership or influence, ran 40 minutes late and brought themselves back on time. Remarkable.

 Closing was very powerful.  We were lucky to have many traditional people in attendance, so many prayers were offered.  This kind of thing wouldn't make it in the business community, but as a facilitator working in the Aboriginal community, I am lucky to have built in openings and closings at my disposal.  Sharing ranged from a woman who was a recovered drug user/alcoholic/prostitute making a committment to action as a result of the day to a man who lightened us up by coming into the circle, giving his name and occupation and stating that he was looking for a wife.   Someone called out "how many horses have you got?" Laughter...his response: "None.  They ran away and we were too lazy to brand them!"   I LOVE the way we laugh at ourselves!

 This was a remarkable event and very important in the life of the impoverished urban aboriginal community of Vancouver.  Open Space has opened a tremendous set of opportunities for people.  A whole new leadership came forward, and a fresh momentum was established.  And equally important, this may become known as the event during which Open Space took hold in the Aboriginal community in British Columbia. Everybody is now talking about using it.  First Nations people recognize this technology, as I've said before, and meeting this way is a very profound process of rediscovery and is very important to unleashing the cultural models that have colonized us for hundreds of years.  There is a HUGE appetite for this now...I can't state it enough.

 So thanks for all of you who wished me well.  This was easily the most important facilitation I've ever done.  Your support was invaluable.

 I'd also like to thank Harrison, on behalf of the many people who thanked me yesterday for the technology.  You have given us a great gift, even if it was only by holding a mirror up to ourselves.  Open Space represents a beautifully natural and indigenous technology that is reawakening a power among a great many First Nations people in this area.  It's very exciting to be a part of that.

 Chi meegwetch.  Sorry for my overstated ebulience.   I'm thrilled...

 Chris Corrigan for STORIES, the Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US)


Some Provocative Comments

Florian Fischer sent the following comments to Peg Holman, the OS Listserve, and myself.  I enjoyed her comparisons of OSI's two online media, and thought you might find them thought-provoking as well. We'd love to hear your comments.

""" hi, peg,

i don“t hesitate to welcome further ideas to communicate open!space. but let me think, that we have already the best medium to communicate open!space representing in itself the spirit of open!space: the oslist. there is the priority of questions there is the variety and the openness of answers. there is  permanent actuality there is steady change of the points of view there is never a complete story. what is boring on complete stories ? that there must be a lot of redundant information and that the story-teller sits in front instead of something in the middle of interest.

let“s stay open.


Florian Fischer  florian for STORIES, the Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US)


Coming Events:

 June 27 - July 1 Organization Transformation 18, Stowe, VT This year's theme: We made it! Or did we? Contact Harrison Owen at

 October 20 - 23, 2000 Berlin, Germany Open Space on Open Space VIII. a gathering for experienced practitioners. Contact: Michael M. Pannwitz, or Gabriela Ender, Detailed information is on the World-wide OS website,


Upcoming Open Space Workshops:

Detailed information for each workshop is on the World-wide OS website,

 March 23-28 St. Catherines, ON, Canada Birgitt Bolton at

 April 4 - 8 San Francisco Open Space Training Harrison Owen/Rae Levine Contact Rae at

 April 18-21 Cleveland, OH, USA Birgitt Bolton at

 May 15-18 Halifax, NS, Canada Birgitt Williams at

 May 29-31 Miramichi, NB, Canada Birgitt Williams at

 August 1-4 Brisbane, Australia Birgitt Williams at

 September 19 - 23 Chicago, IL Open Space Training Harrison Owen/Michael Herman Contact Michael at

 October 1-4 Raleigh, NC, USA Birgitt Williams at

 November 12-15 Stockholm, Sweden Birgitt Bolton at


Advanced Training in OST focusing on the Open Space organization Birgitt Williams at March 19-22 Oakville, ON, Canada

 August 14-16 Melbourne, Australia

 November 16-18 Stockholm, Sweden

 November 27-30 Raleigh, NC, USA



Something in me wants to shine,
Wants to grow overnight,
Wants to stretch thin new branches,
Open buds and spread leaflets
Delicately against the morning sky.

Something in me wants to sing
The crescent moon rising,
Tangled in black-leafed branches,
Wants to spin an evening song

Counterpoint to the frog's refrain.

Something in me wants to flash
As hot and bright as a meteor
Dancing across a summer sky,
Telling secrets to a few lucky sky-watchers,
Turning myself from stone to light.

There's a space in my chest that's crowded with
Opening leaves and clumps of white flowers
And words and moonlight and music
And a stone with the path of a meteor
Scribed on its dark underside, in tears.

                    --Joelle Lyons Everett


STORIES is published online 3 - 4 times a year by the Open Space Institute (US). To subscribe, or to find out more about the Open Space Institute(US), contact Peggy Holman, To submit your story, contact Joelle Everett, editor,