STORIES, The Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US)

Issue 6, October, 2003


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 way with acknowledgement.  When copying, please include the author/contact/publication information at the end of each story.


In This Issue


1—Three Short Stories About My Journey Within Open Space

2—Open Space Applied to Cross-Cultural New Product Development

3—Footprints In the Wind

4—Another Lesson in Letting Go

5—Be Prepared to Be Surprised

6—Living in Invitation

7—Coming Events





Mikk Sarv, OS Facilitator, Estonia




November, the 10th of 2001 found me sitting in Open Space, the opening circle of Scottish Community Woodland annual conference in the small township of Dalbeattie.  The space was opened by Lars Johansson, a Swedish environmental, forestry and media activist.  He followed Harrison Owen's User's Guide, but didn't mention either the bumblebees or the butterflies. He himself attended himself a working group on international co-operation and communication between community woodland groups in Scotland, Sweden, Estonia and Russia, made proposals and presentation. This breakout group had high energy, everything seemed to be easily implied and realised.


The reports were made on flip charts and  hung on the walls of  the big hall, shot by digital camera and were supposed to be available on the website. For some reason it didn't work out properly. The report from the conference reached me by post nine months later, in August 2002.


But being part of the whole process got me interested to peek more deeply into it. So I went to my brother’s internet bookshop, typed in Harrison Owen, and found more fascinating books. I ordered several books, including the Power of the Spirit.


There I found Harrison's five stages of organisation development, which resembled for me five stages of personal development from our Estonian tradition.   For us whatever development starts from verbalising its topic

with one's own tongue, so the Tongue equals with Harrison's Body level. Also in Open Space it's essential, that everyone says aloud with own tongue the topic he/she is burning for.


The second level has in our tradition the same name as in Harrison's gradation - the Mind. Whatever has been settled by tongue has to be kept in mind in order to carry it through towards realisation. The breakout discussion happens only when one keeps in mind to be in right time in the break-out space indicated and to convene the discussion.


The third level is called by Harrison Intellect, in our tradition it is called Heart. Both the Intellect and the Heart are needed for completion.

The discussion in a breakout group concludes with a report. Writing a report is an intellectual effort, which has to be made through heart, with full responsibility.


The fourth level is again the same in our tradition and in Harrison's concept - the Soul. In OS context one can say, that the Soul gives endurance, sustainability, to the things brought out in reports. It could be compared with convergence, which makes a way out for what was discussed.


The last one is Spirit for Harrison, in our tradition it is the lodging for Soul. In OST process it might be connected with the follow-up meeting six weeks later. The power of the Spirit becomes reality, when it has lodging in our reality even after six weeks.


This got me to work more with OST, as I have been working with our tradition for about thirty years and OS was for me the most fascinating branching way to walk along, with curiosity and admiration.


 The Trees Talking Through Me


Two months after my first OS in Scotland I attended an intensive course of Process Oriented Psychology in Portland, Oregon (US). I found accommodation in the lovely family of Leslie and Morna Wierson.  After the first overnight stay in their house I realised next day during our course exercises, that one tree in their garden is intensively calling for me. At the night of that day, having a family dinner in a Sushi restaurant together with Les, Myrna and their daughter Marchi, I told them about my experience of the call of tree.


At that time I didn't know what tree it might be, but Les smiled and said he knows, what tree it is. Next morning I woke up early and got out to garden to look for the tree. First I assumed that it might be some pine or spruce, as I had earlier experienced them to be beneficial and close to me. But walking near to a thirty years old Western Red Cedar I felt such a strong pull, like yelling: “It's me, it's me!”


I was a bit surprised, but sat down to the tree. I took my flute and tried out, what melodies are flowing around and through us. They were beautiful and fascinating. I went to the tree every morning and we learned together many wonderful tunes.


After our first meeting with the cedar I went to have breakfast with Leslie. He confirmed, that that was just the tree he mentioned last night and told me the story of it. When they were building their house, the cedar was a small sapling, supposed to take off. It was saved by their daughter Marchi.


One night Marchi gave me a small hand-made book of her poems. For me most fascinating was the poem on loose list, not bound into the book. Next morning I got from the Cedar a melody to sing it. Since then I use this specific song for preparing myself to open or close space. For me it postulates the right attitude towards people, participating in Open Space:


I Think

--By Marchi Wierson


I think by telling you I love you,

I can protect some part of us.

I think by being grateful,

I can keep us safe from harm.

I want to draw a circle,

Around us,

To shield us.

I want to keep you safe from hurt.

Every day,

I want to tell you I love you,

And I want you to believe.


The experience with the cedar opened me up to listen to the melodies and stories, what the trees are singing and telling to me. I have introduced many people to trees and vice versa, trees to people. We are all connected together, we are all part of the same life flowing through us.




My brother Tonn Sarv, reading some Harrison's books I bought through his bookshop, asked me to facilitate open space about more reasonable ordering of foreign books for Estonian libraries. The conference was sponsored by his bookshop Krisostomus and Viljandi Cultural Academy. About 70 participants came from our National Library, University Libraries and small rural libraries. The presentations were prepared by participants from big libraries. Their topics were published on the conference website two weeks beforehand.


I asked Michael Hermann for permission to use for the conference the wiki web space. He agreed, even though the language of the proceedings is Estonian, and not understood by other users of


The format of OsonOS Swenmark wiki web was excellent and fascinating for me. I translated it to Estonian and asked sponsors to invite participants to sign in there. It made sense for them to have such a flexible and interactive web space prepared for conference. Still the use of the space wasn't very active -- possibly people are not much used to the format. Writing down the reports to the web deprived the writers from opportunity to attend other break-out sessions. Next time it might be good to try to write the reports simultaneously, with wi-fi internet connected laptop computers during the break-out sessions.


We got 12 break-out sessions, some with four attendants, others with thirty to forty. The convergence was for a while a problem for me, as the time was limited, and the web-site reports were more short summaries than numbered proposals easy to vote. Then I proposed the voting by raising hands, to prioritise the 12 break-out topics. Everyone got five votes; if they wanted to give more than one vote to one topic, they announced it. The voting selected rapidly out three topics, which were recommended for further consideration.


Mikk Sarv   

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





David S. Morgan

The Trinity Group, Organization & Leadership Consulting, LLC, USA


Annotation:  For nearly six months the product development efforts of two product development teams; one located in the United States and the other in Holland, struggled to develop a common purpose and identity, to develop and communicate, and to create a common language from which they could collaborate on technical discussions and resolve technical issues.


Background: This firm is part of the semiconductor equipment industry. The industry is well into a 24-month recession. Generally known for its product and process innovations, the semiconductor industry is highly competitive and depends a great deal on its ability to innovate and develop leading edge products in short development cycles. A successful semiconductor company is arguably one that is a technology and innovation leader in its respective market segment.


Challenge: A combination of events; including the industry downturn, recent merger activities, significant leadership changes, and the multi-culture nature of the management posed significant challenges to this division in its effort to bring new innovative products to market. Traditional approaches to product development had yielded traditional results.  The cross-cultural, cross-functional development teams struggled with issues of power & control, communication, trust, and the creation of a common purpose. Formal meetings were mildly successful and informative, but broke no new ground in building innovative approaches or in helping the group’s performance. Neither team sought understanding, but instead assessed blame for delay in the schedule and the absence of true product innovation.


Though the U.S. based team owned the product and project responsibility, it was but a small division of a much larger European owned firm. Two previous, formal meetings had taken place over six months. And, though these meetings served the formality of project management, they lacked the passion and energy that comes with a real team working toward a common purpose.


The Response: The pressure to achieve technical breakthroughs within modest means and tight schedules further undermined early team effectiveness. In order to reenergize the team and re-create a sense of purpose and begin to build trust and camaraderie, the President of the Division decided to apply a new approach he had uncovered in his doctoral work in organizational leadership; Open-Space Technology (OST).


The Event: A two day Open-Space event took place in late spring and brought together 13-members of two teams from Europe and the United States. Among the participants were software engineering managers, motion-control engineers, systems developers, mechanical designers, an electrical engineer, experts in vision and inspection, and program managers.


As one might expect, the participants were at a loss with how to deal with a room full of circles of chairs, and no table. The American contingent was apprehensive, but nonetheless excited about any process that would build consensus and energy around their project. The European contingent was at a complete loss to understand what was going on. When confronted with a meeting without an agenda, the senior manager commented, “Perhaps we can review my agenda and bring the table back into the room.”


After a brief introduction of Open-Space Technology and the process, a number of engineers offered their issues to the group. After some gentle cajoling, they got up, picked up a marker from the middle of the room, and began building an agenda for the two day event. Ten key topic areas emerged that led to 2-break out rooms and 5-time slots. The air became electric.


Within 2-hours of our start, each participant was energized, actively participating, and without exception, getting their particular issues addressed. Rather than advocating their particular functions and positions as individuals contributors, a systems approached emerged that elevated the process and the whole product above its constituent parts.


Outcomes: Though the long-term results are uncertain, the open-space event initiated a transformation of both attitudes and the product development process. The president relinquished control and   responsibility for the project to the team and the process. Key issues were raised in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. The participants identified the issues, co-created an agenda, and successfully completed two days spirited debate and purposeful, follow-up action.


This small product development team was recognized company-wide as spirited, dynamic and innovative: a model of future development efforts. Perhaps the most promising development, long term, was the informal creation of communities of practice. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 4). These CoPs emerged as an unintended consequence of like minded people combining common purpose, a passion, a need and the means to share with and learn from one another. Feedback from both Europe and the United States was quite positive. Open Space provides an incubator in which a common purpose, a new common language, and diverse ideas and technical talents initiate a process that could transform new product development. In an atmosphere of trust, members feel freer to challenge, question, and inquire.


Wenger, E. McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.


David Morgan

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




                     FOOTPRINTS IN THE WIND/sm # 418



  o                                                                                    o

      The only people in the world who can make change here

      are these people.

  o                                                                                    o



   Please pass it on--especially to someone you know who wants

   change in their organization  or life.     -Doug.


   By Douglas D. Germann, Sr. Ó Copyright 2003, Learning Works, Inc.

  All rights reserved. Reprint permissions:     


  Please publish in your print or electronic periodical,with the above info.





Patricia Henderson, Facilitator, Yoga Teacher

The Inner Path, An Organizational & Training Development Company, USA



Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. This is the second of the Four Principles of Open Space, and certainly an essential element for a successful session.  But for a facilitator, letting go, surrendering the outcome of a workshop while still meeting the client’s expectations is not always easy.


I facilitated a workshop for a university client to explore a vision of how education will be conducted in the future.  A group of fifty professors, curriculum developers, administrators, and students were brought together for the one-and-a-half day event.


The dean opened the workshop with a short presentation to provide a context.  Participants then engaged in small-group discussions to remember the best of the past.  A panel of experts presented a variety of new technologies, which was followed by more small-group discussion to share ideas about the application of these technologies to education.  By lunchtime, energy among the participants was high.


Following lunch, we all filed into a large room I had prepared in advanced.  The dean reiterated the value of everyone’s participation.  I explained the Four Principles and One Law of Open Space and then reviewed our theme, How Shall We Create Our Future: University Education 2020 and Beyond.


There were a few moments of silence, followed by some nervous chatter, after all this was a novel experience for almost everyone in the room.  Finally, one intrepid professor stepped forward, grabbed a piece of paper and wrote: “My issue is Keeping (and valuing) the Status Quo.”


Okay, this was not what I was expecting.  We were supposed to be engaged in a discussion about how to design the educational experience of the future, which implies changing the status quo.  I thanked the professor and waited.


A student stepped forward: “My issue is Campus Life & Environments2020.”  Then another professor: “My issue is The Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Job Market.”   Hmmm. . .these topics seemed tangential to our theme.  As a former drill instructor, I was tempted to call everyone to attention, recite our theme in unison, and threaten 20 push-ups for everyone if one person veers off course again.  But, I refrained and "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have" became my mantra.


More topics were generated, and suddenly the room emptied as participants dashed out to the breakout rooms to find the session of their choice.  I took a few deep breaths and went to prowl the halls, lurking at doorways, eavesdropping on the sessions.  What I heard surprised me.  The conversations were animated and passionate and on track, at least peripherally, with our theme.


The workshop turned out to be a success.  We had hoped to get tangible ideas on how education will be conducted in the future, and, in fact, we did touch on that.  But, just as importantly, we uncovered concerns that must be addressed so that the university can be successful as it moves forward toward its strategy for the future.  Had we not used Open Space and instead generated the discussion topics ourselves, those concerns might not have surfaced.  And me?  I got another lesson in letting go. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.


Patricia Henderson

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





Fr.Brian S. Bainbridge, Australia


Opened space for some 35 Diocesan Religious Education Coordinators from all over OZ:


One guy said, in the talking stick time, that he was extremely  disappointed  with the whole event.  He had come, after having experienced  OST a couple of times, with an utter cynicism about Open Space as pointless and fruitless and really not worth the time and energy.  His utter disappointment was that he could not now go home with increased cynicism at all (as he had expected), that he was taking home an absolutely revised view of OST - which was his "disappointment". Australians have a funny way of being "disappointed" sometimes, it seems.


And there was a West Australian nun who came knowing from previous OSTexperience that she was quite likely in the first afternoon to use her two feet and go and do something useful with her time in Melbourne. And, she said, she was just delighted with the way this Open Space grew and engaged and explored and......, and her whole appearance just blossomed compared with how she looked when she arrived.


Cheers and blessings,   BRIAN


Fr Brian S. Bainbridge 

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





Maureen K. McCarthy, Consultant to Organizations

Engaging the Soul at Work


My husband, Zelle, and I live in a pre-Civil War, 150-year-old, stone house in Flat Rock, N.C. (outside Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains) originally built as the parsonage to historic St. John in the Wilderness Church. There’s a long, winding driveway through the forest, fireplace in every room, original hardwood floors and a spiral staircase. Obviously, it’s a place to be shared.


We have people stay with us from all over the world and are always open to people stopping by. Now it might seem that we’re into entertaining, but the truth is, most of the time we’re not. What1s important to us is to have a place where everyone is welcome, where each person can determine their own experience while they’re here. We tell people we live in Open Space.


Several years ago we were introduced to a process of large group conversation called Open Space Technology. It begins with a written invitation drawing people together around a particular topic or idea, triggering each person’s individual passions and interests. Within thirty minutes of gathering, a group of five to five thousand creates the agenda for their time together, whether it’s three hours or three days. There are four principles of Open Space:

   1. Whoever comes are the right people.

   2. Whenever it starts is the right time.

   3. Whenever it’s over, it’s over.

   4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could.


The overarching principle that really makes Open Space work is called The Law of Two Feet. It says that if you’re not learning or contributing in any conversation, use your two feet and go someplace else.


Each person is responsible for their own experience, as only you know where you need to be and what you need to talk about. In fact, if you’re bored and want to leave but think it’s rude, it’s not. It’s rude to stay.  Uninterested people bring down the energy of everyone who cares.


After using Open Space in our consulting work to support organizations in creating a more inviting style of leadership, we realized the principles operated at a truly foundational level. They would work everywhere in our lives. So in an effort to live a more inviting life, we truly brought it home. And it fit perfectly.


When people arrive at our house we give them our "Welcome Home" page. It says:


       Just a few thoughts while you’re hanging out here...


*Ask for everything you want. Always. Sometimes it may not be possible, but always ask.


*This house is as much yours as ours. Be comfortable everywhere.  Do what you want. Go where you want. Stay as long as you want. If you see something that needs doing, go for it. If there’s something that bugs you, feel free to take care of it.


*We don’t live on one particular schedule. We eat when we’re hungry. We sleep when we’re tired. If you’re hungry and want to eat, forage... or chat with us about what time we all want to eat together.


*Because our office is at home, sometimes we need to get work done, even though we might rather be lounging with you. If there’s something you want to do, we’ve got maps, guidebooks, etc. to help you know where you want to go. Even if we don’t see you, we love it that you’re here!


*There’s a journal where we’d love to have you write about the places you’ve seen and things you’ve done while you were here. It will help us get to know the area, as well as our future homecomers.


*Lastly, but most importantly...Our ultimate goal is to be in a state of grace with each other, with you, with everything, always. That means that if at any time you’re frustrated or something’s not feeling right, you absolutely must share your thoughts.




Zelle and I grew up in homes that, for very different reasons, were places that discouraged us from inviting people over. So we agreed it was integral to our relationship to create a foundation of invitation as we built our lives together. We couldn’t possibly sustain our desire for invitation if we felt obligated to entertain everyone every moment, but our Welcome Home page helps us set expectations, alleviate misunderstandings and make everyone more comfortable.


Being inviting is always rewarding, but not always easy. The very notion of being inclusive says you don’t exclude, which means you invite the bad in with the good. We found that if we put parameters around who we invite, whether it’s because they think like us or are easier to get along with, we could no longer call ourselves inviting. We’ve had people stay who really triggered us, but in the end we welcome them back anytime, because it’s important to us that our minds be stretched and our hearts opened. And who’s to say we weren’t the ones creating the circumstances.


Recently we met a couple on the streets of Asheville who were considering moving here. They were staying at a hotel while exploring the area, but we told them it was crazy when they could stay more comfortably at our house. Mark and Susan stayed for a week and it was like having two of our best friends around to make dinner, laugh, and stay up all night chatting with. If we1d been apprehensive, because we knew so little about them, we would have missed out on an exceptional encounter. So far it’s been worth the rough spots to live what we believe.


For us, invitation seems to be at the heart of our diversity issues. As soon as we create "the other," we forget we’re actually one. Beginning with our home is usually a breeze and sometimes a bit of work, but it’s helped us branch out and be more inviting in everything we do.


Want to come over?


Maureen K. McCarthy

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






Practice of Peace, November 9-12

Whidbey Institute, one hour north of Seattle,Washington, USA


There's still time to register...and do it soon because accommodations are going fast….


The Practice of Peace is an international gathering bringing people from six continents, including many working in conflict areas, such as Israel and the Palestinian territories, Haiti, Kashmir, Northern Ireland, U.S. urban communities, and Colombia together to discover new insights, create new relationships and develop projects for peace building around the world. We expect people from many disciplines: activitists, military, business, community, government, youth, media, mediation and facilitation since issues of chaos, conflict and confusion are as relevant to them all.  Details are at


Inspired by Harrison Owen, founder of Open Space Technology (OST), and his recently published book, The Practice of Peace, this conference is both timely and unique.  As people facing different conflicts act as mirrors for each other, perhaps the complexity of each situation will resolve to a higher order of clarity for all involved, illuminating essentials that participants can apply in their work, their communities, and their lives.


FEES:  Tuition, meals and conference materials included.  Accommodations not included.

*  Individuals with for-profit support: $750

*  Individuals with non-profits or without organizational affiliation:  $450

*  Students: $350.




Practice of Peace workshops with Harrison Owen, details and registration information at


January 12 – 14, New York, Karen Davis,


March 21 – 24, Israel, Tova Averbuch,


June 6 – 9, Chicago, Michael Herman,


For stories of opening space for peace, follow these links:


Notes by Harrison Owen


Israelis, Palestinians hope retreat helps awaken peace from its Slumber  


People to People Dialogue for Peace and Prosperity

Panchgani, Maharashtra, India


Open Space in Oral Cultures





Open Space and Emergence in Human Systems:  The Challenges and Opportunities for Collaborative Research,    November 28 – 30.

Oakham House, Ryerson University, Toronto.

Details and registration,


The Ryerson Faculty of Business and the Open Space Institute of Canada are co-sponsoring this first-ever conference to focus on opportunities for research about Open Space and emergence in human systems. 

Fee:  $150. 




Open Space Training Events

For the most current information on Open Space training resources, visit






North America

December 10 – 12, San Francisco, Introduction to Open Space, Lisa Heft, 


January 15 – 16, 2004, Chicago area, Training and Practice workshop, Michael Herman,


September 6-8, 2004, Raleigh, North Carolina, Working with Open Space Technology, Birgitt Willams, 


Sept 10-13, 2004, Raleigh, North Carolina, Advanced Program in OST focusing on the OS Organization, Birgitt Willams, 




January 13-16, 2004, Sweden, Working With Open Space Technology, Thomas Herrmann,  and  Eiwor Backelund,


May 11-13, 2004, Advanced program in Open Space Technology featuring the Open Space Organization, Thomas Herrmann,  and Eiwor Backelund,



Other Parts of the World

March 1-4, 2004, Working with Open Space Technology, Christchurch, New Zealand, Helen Patterson,


March 29 - April 2, 2004, Cape Town, South Africa, Open Space Technology –
Winning Stakeholders' Hearts and Minds,
Holger Nauheimer and JoToepfer,




STORIES is published occasionally, online, by the Open Space Institute (US).   To subscribe, contact Peggy Holman, 

To submit your story, contact Joelle Everett,