Very shortly, let me begin a reflexion, where I expect to be joined by many others, on two questions:

Only to begin the dialogue I will state three points that are well acepted and (I hope) not controversial:


While I agree with much of what you are saying, there are some ways in which my practice of OST differs from what you are describing.

1. I never attempt to become invisible. From my point of view, we ALL count, and that all includes me. That doesn't mean I intervene where I'm not needed or wanted, but it DOES mean I will respond with all the intelligence and compassion I can muster if I feel called to do so. That might mean turning a problem back to the person who presents it to me, and it also might mean providing something more substantial. It just depends.

2. While I often ascribe to the idea that less is more, I don't consider that idea to be a rule for my behavior. Sometimes, more is more. It just depends. I see OST as a tool, and a wonderful one, but not a tool that overrides my human heart and mind. I still choose. The process doesn't override my sense of what is needed. I love OST because it helps us learn to trust in the wisdom and goodness of others. At the same time, we need to fully trust in our own wisdom and goodness. Both/and, not either-or.

3. I have no difficulty with merging the role of facilitator and participant. I think doing both is completely consistent with the underlying values of OST as I understand them.

I don't mean to cause difficulty. I simply say these things to let you know my understanding of OST differs from yours. I think some of these things are ideas Harrison has shared to help us let understand how he gets at the good work he does, but I don't think that necessarily means they need to be codified into foundational rules. I think there's room to play with things once you deeply understand the rules of the game.


I agree that good practitioners of any mehodology always play with it and change things on the spot. Anyhow we can still understand what is a skilled, inspired variation, from what is a wrong or even malicious variation. If we are able to understand what is it that makes a variation to be compatible with the "spirit" of it and another one to violate that spirit, I think we would make some progress in understanding what is and what is not OST. Concerning another point I accept that some people may simultaneously act as facilitators and participants. But I would say that for the people that do that well, its because they are playing two roles, using two different hats. For me that would be difficult and I would prefer to accept a facilitator (as well as a mediator) role only when I am not involved in the outcame. --ArturSilva (Aug 3)

Yes, Artur, I think we are very close in our thinking. I also think OST has largely been practiced in a certain context which I hope does not remain a barrier to other uses. For example, it appears that most OST practitioners are outside consultants who are hired to facilitate meetings with organizations, which means most of our OST stories are told within the context of the OST facilitator being an outsider to the community of participants. I played a similar role for many years as a mediator, and in that context I agree with the spirit and sensibility of your ideas.

I now play a very different role in the world. I am now an "insider" to a very large and complex organization, our local school district. I see OST as a way of helping our schools out of some very serious problems, so I use it whenever and wherever I can. Since I don't have a budget to hire outside facilitators, I usually facilitate myself, with no apparent discomfort to me or the participants. And often the context is very different, and it turns out that what is needed from me is not always the version of OST you have described above.

I want to give you one example of how this might play differently in a different context. Last year I facilitated a 2-hour Open Space for a class of 5th graders. The room was too small and crowded with desks and chairs and energy, but it was what we had. Topics were posted. A group of 6 - 7 very energetic boys were soon bored, and decided to post a new topic titled "whatever we want to talk about." They chose to meet in a tiny corner of the room (perhaps 4' x 6') that also contained a sink and some cupboards. The space was made more crowded by the boy lying on his stomach reading a book in the center of the space and by another boy who chose to stand on the counter, hovering over the rest of us. I didn't intervene or comment upon these choices. I did choose to sit with them, and I listened. When the boy standing on the counter looked at me and said he thought the most important thing was freedom, I nodded. When the boy on the floor stopped reading for a moment and interjected his opinion on something, I paid attention. Along the way I made a few comments that let the boys know I heard and understood what they were saying.

My presence in the group was very, very visible. Not because I was the facilitator, but because I was an adult. And I was an adult who didn't tell anyone what to do or not do. It was important, I felt, to be largely, visibly, quietly present AND not controlling. On that day, it felt like they were letting me into their inner circle, sharing with an adult what they probably share with each other all the time. I think in some ways, what happened was important BECAUSE I was there. They got to tell their truth in the presence of an adult. In many ways, it was the fact that I was present that made the experience empowering for them. I didn't plan for or expect any of that to happen, but it did.

I think we need to be very careful about the words we use to describe this process because words can limit as much as they can liberate. We need to leave lots and lots of space for our spirit to respond to the moment we're in.

Julie Smith (8/3/03)

I keep coming back to this story in my mind, and realize I haven't yet articulated what was most important. That moment when the boy standing on the counter looked at me and said freedom is the most important thing, he was teaching. He was teaching through both his words and his actions. When I nodded, I indicated I was learning. And I was teaching him I was willing to learn from him. Our dance of teaching and learning was over almost as fast as the blink of an eye, but it was a moment I'll never forget. Somehow, that moment held more weight than other moments. When our eyes met, it was like meeting an old and wise friend. And in many ways, I felt like I was meeting my true self. When I looked at him, I saw myself. When I nodded to him, I was also nodding to myself. It was one of those unforgettable moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I think life is always giving us gifts. Those gifts come to us in unexpected times and places. Even when we think we're playing some special role like facilitator or teacher or whatever, the most important thing of all is to remain open to the gifts that are being presented, and to simply accept them with all the grace and appreciation we can. We should never, never let a preconceived notion of a role we are playing get in the way of responding with our full heart and soul to the person in front of us.

Julie Smith (8/3/03)

What a marvelous story, Julie. And you are right, I was mainly thinking about OST as a method for use by external consultants/facilitators. Thanks for reminding me that "Open Space" is greater than OST and needs a great sensibility. I have used an approach similar to yours in an University context with students, but I will speak about that when I came back. Now, what I most need is to have 15 days of Open Space just for myself - and let my mind take a nap - or many - to be prepared for the next round... Maybe by then I will have also a story on how I open the space for my dog. Not joking. But before I am prepared for "dog-ing", let me add a small note on the SpiritofOSInParenting - ArturSilva

Now you may go the last point (for the time being) on MetaFoundationsofOST or back to the SpiritofOST...