Open space technology

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Open Space Technology (OST) offers a method to run meetings of groups of any size. ("Technology" in this case means tool — a process; a method.) OST represents a self-organising process; participants construct the agenda and schedule during the meeting itself. Proponents claim that OST allows somewhat diverse people to address complex and possibly controversial topics.

Open Space Technology enables groups of any size to address complex, important issues and achieve meaningful results quickly.It functions best where more traditional meeting formats fail: in situations involving conflict, complexity, diversity of thought or people, and short decision-times. People have used it in widely diverse situations, from designing aircraft doors at a large aircraft-manufacturing company to engaging street kids in defining a sustainable jobs-program.

OST meetings have a single facilitator who initiates and concludes the meeting and explains the general method. The facilitator has no other role in the meeting and does not control the actual gathering in any way.

Contents

History

Harrison Owen developed OST in 1985. People first credited him with use of the term "OST" in 1986. Practitioners have subsequently used it over 100,000 times in 132 countries for purposes as various as peacemaking in the Middle East, corporate strategic planning, community-project design, and many others. Anyone may use Open Space methods for free, without infringing trademarks or copyrights.

Application

Proponents claim that OST suits groups of any size; groups ranging from five to several thousand participants have used it. According to its proponents, it works best under the following conditions:

  1. the topic of the meeting involves a real business issue (however one defines "business")
  2. the participants really care about that issue
  3. the issue has so much complexity that no single person or small group can fully understand it
  4. the issue requires highly diverse skills and people for a successful resolution
  5. the participants have genuine passion about the issue; which can often include conflict (compare criterion 2)
  6. the issue requires immediate action (a "decision time of yesterday")

Proponents do not consider OST appropriate when a controlling entity requires specific predetermined outcomes or when one party needs to have control over the process and/or the outcome.

Proponents of OST claim that, for example, OST would operate very effectively in the design of a complex system (financial, inventory, computer). However it would typically fail miserably in the implementation of a previously-designed system.

The OST approach

At the beginning of an Open Space the participants sit in a circle, or in concentric circles for large groups (300 to 2000 people).

The facilitator will greet the people and briefly re-state the theme of their gathering, without giving a lengthy speech. Then someone will invite all participants to identify any issue or opportunity related to the theme. Participants willing to raise a topic will come to the centre of the circle and announce it to the group.

Someone writes the topics on sheets of papers which get posted on a wall, creating an agenda. No participant must suggest issues, but anyone may do so. However, if someone posts a topic, the system expects that the person has a real passion for the issue and can lead the discussion on it. No limit exists on the number of issues that the meeting can post.

When someone determines that the posting of all issues has finished, the meeting sets times and places for the individual sessions; and participants sign up for those individual sessions. Sessions typically last for 1.5 hours; the whole gathering usually lasts from a half day up to about two days. The opening session lasts about an hour, even with a very large group.

After the opening session, the individual groups go to work. The attendees organize each session; people may freely decide which session they want to attend, and may switch to another one at any time. Online networking can occur both before and following the actual face-to-face meetings so discussions can continue seamlessly.

Very large groups have generated as many as 230 sessions running concurrently over the course of a day. If desired, each session can generate and distribute reports (online or hard copy); and longer meetings may establish priorities and set up working-groups for follow-up.

The Open Space Technology operates in a very simple fashion, and OST meetings require very little planning up-front. The organizers set no agenda and prepare only a very rough schedule; the meeting largely self-organizes. The facilitator remains largely invisible and has no control over the meeting itself. This means that one need organize only basic logistics (like space and food, for example) in advance.

Philosophy

OST proponents take the view that Open Space meetings offer highly successful examples of self-organizing systems. Through self-organization, meetings allegedly have more success in addressing complex topics than do more traditional meeting methodologies.

Some proponents have suggested that the reasons for the perceived success lie in what they call the Four Principles and The One Law. Participants hear these "rules" announced and described during the opening session. These describe rather than prescribe; they do not operate as rules which one must obey but simply describe what the system expects will happen in any case:

  1. Whoever comes is the right people: this alerts the participants that attendees of a session class as "right" simply because they care to attend
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: this tells the attendees to pay attention to events of the moment, instead of worrying about what could possibly happen
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time: clarifies the lack of any given schedule or structure and emphasises creativity and innovation
  4. When it's over, it's over: encourages the participants not to waste time, but to move on to something else when the fruitful discussion ends

There also exists another tentative "law", usually referred to as the "Law of Two Feet" (or "The Law of Mobility"), which reads as follows: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet. Go to some other place where you may learn and contribute.

This last "law" emphasizes that no one should sit in sessions that they find boring; instead only people genuinely interested in the topic at hand should attend the discussions.

Beyond offering a meeting-methodology, OST can also express a philosophy and a life practice. People have frequently copied and adapted OST to private open space meetings and for public open-space conference purposes, including many practices not originally part of the initial scope.

Links

projects, programs and organizations

more links? please mailto:michael@openspaceworld.org AND ask the other site to link tohttp://www.openspaceworld.org. thanks!