Lesson Plan -- Open Space Learning Workshop

by Lisa Heft

Originally this was built as a ¨Part 1¨ workshop under the original design (in 2000) for Harrison Owen and Colleagues workshops. In the Harrison Owen and Colleagues (http://www.openspaceworld.COM) version, Part 1 is an introduction and preparation to lead one's own Open Space event for people who are new to the method. Prior to attendance participants were to read Expanding Our Now (for history, applications and possibilities), and Open Space Technology: A User's Guide (for the specifics). Parts 2 and 3 are taught together in one workshop - Part 2 on Organization and Part 3 on Leadership. Prior to attendance participants were to read Power of Spirit and Spirit of Leadership.

[As of this writing, Parts 2 and 3 are being taught under the title ¨The Practice of Peace -- A Learning Expedition in Open Space¨ and participants are to read Harrison's book of the same title as well as the other books]

I am still a member of Harrison Owen and Colleagues, but I do the workshops a little differently.

Learning Workshops

I found that potential participants have some confusion after reading the language of the Parts 1-3 information on Harrison's website -- they feel that if they don't get all 3 parts they will not be fully trained or ready to give their own Open Space. Which we all know is not true, as you do not need anyone's particular training or certification to do Open Space -- and we do not really list levels of mastery in Open Space -- it all is a life practice and ongoing learning as we learn from each other. Interestingly, the topics participants post in my similar-yet-different version of an Open Space methodology workshop happen to always include Organization and Leadership (topics for the Part 2 / Part 3 plan), so those discussions and learnings and an introduction to Open Space come up naturally and are encompassed in this one workshop.

I do not call them trainings because we always say this is something you can learn for yourself (so why would you need to be ¨trained¨?). I call them Learning Workshops, because people of all experience levels can come to these (and come back again) and they are sharing learning (from the book but also from their own life experience) with each other and with me. And as we don¡¦t measure OST practitioners as ¨Master Level¨ or any level, sharing learning between participants and workshop facilitator indicates to me a more two-way learning, rather than expert telling students. If someone needs a different official language for their hosting institution (so they can get funds to come) I will send them a custom made bit of information that says whatever they want (workshop, seminar, training, whatever). I also offer Continuing Education credits for those individuals who may need them to keep their teaching or counseling credentials current.


I ask all workshop participants to read Harrison's Open Space Technology: A User's Guide before coming to the workshop - if they cannot access or afford the book I point them towards ¨Brief User's Guide¨ on the Harrison Owen and Colleagues site [Found at the Harrison Owen and Colleagues website under ¨Papers¨] and I have an even briefer 5-page electronic document which I created ¨a brief brief guide¨ (!) that I can send them if someone joins the workshop at the last moment.

And if they have trouble reading or that is not the way they learn information, they are welcome to reserve an appointment of about an hour with me either in-person or on the telephone and we cover the information verbally so they can come to class on the same preparation level as the other participants.

[Lately I have been looking at my workshop design to include something like this verbal version of the book *in* the body of the workshop, so people will not have to buy or access anything pre-workshop. Obviously, this might extend the timing of the workshop - currently it is Wednesday evening, all day Thursday and all day Friday. However, this might also be helpful, I think, in The Practice of Peace workshop, as I also offer that workshop for people of all experience levels]

How Many Participants?

I do not have a maximum number of participants for the learning workshop - it usually ends up as 15 or 20 participants. I find that smaller numbers of participants in a class are a bit low for giving folks the idea of a larger group process, so I always open up the workshop to invite all graduates of my former workshops to participate in the entire time or just the day in Open Space (the Thursday) -- at a price that just covers the cost of catering and materials for that day (and whatever additional they wish to contribute).

I also welcome folks new to Open Space to -- if they cannot attend the whole workshop -- come for just the Thursday in Open Space. It is a great way to introduce them to the method and on the rare occasion this happens it seems to invigorate them to come to an entire future workshop.

Food, Site

I offer fruit, vegetables, cheese, crackers and cookies for the first evening, pastries and fruit in the morning, box lunches midday, and hot and cold beverages throughout. At the time of this writing I use a catering company and the price for food and materials for each participant is $25/US per workshop day. I also provide special food for those individuals with particular dietary needs so that they may feel cared for and included in that way.

I use a site that is very low cost where the site staff is incredibly responsive. Security is good for overnight safety of laptops and items in the room, response to little concerns about heating, trash etc. is immediate, my workshop gets posted in the site¡¦s events calendar and signage is placed in the building (though I add my own directional signage). The workshop is located right on the San Francisco Bay (Fort Mason) and just up a grassy hill is a youth hostel where people can stay for under $25 US a night. In my announcement / registration materials, I offer website links to the San Francisco Bed and Breakfast Association, Convention and Visitors Bureau, a traveler's guide to San Francisco and other information sources of interest. [Please let me know if you would like me to send you the information I send out to folks who wish to register -- the information mentioned here plus workshop description, Open Space description, and registration form].

I have learned to place pillows, special pillows for the back, and some large balls around the room, as well as a few blankets. This helps kinetic learners touch, hold and play with something while they are focusing on the learning, and people with all different physical needs take care of themselves by getting comfortable all around the room. The really interesting thing is that after participants have had experience and opportunity Thursday to bumblebee around and after they have made the room their own, during Friday discussions, reading and writing exercises and partner work the entire group spreads out a-l-l over the room during the whole day - doing stretches, back exercises and setting up comfortable seating arrangements on the floor while they remain incredibly focused on the learning at hand. I think they would get more tired sooner if I had them, for example, all sitting in chairs in a circle for the day. You will also note that on Friday I have us as an entire group moving from one discussion area to the next as we go through the topics posted there. This is also to refresh the body, give the brain new signals, restimulate and give folks - literally and figuratively - a new point of view every hour or two.

By the way, on the registration form there is a line for informing me of any special physical or mobility issues participants may have. This has been very helpful to me and has resulted in me bringing, to any given workshop, a few ¨wider-body¨ chairs for the occasional very large participant (more than just one for them so they don't feel singled out), special foods for those with unique allergies, and matching someone with a partner who can help rideshare to the workshop.

The Friday discussion topics you will see in the lesson plan below are posted on the wall in clusters - participants guide the discussion to whatever these signs stimulate. In those discussion areas I place any materials I have which may support or illustrate the information and learning we are touching upon. In this way the group gets its own needs met, rather than me assuming and directing the information to them in a more conventional manner.


At one time I rented computers for Thursday's Newsroom, but the cost for that is incredible. So as participants sign up for the workshop I ask them to let me know if they can bring a laptop for viewing cds and other electronic items on Friday, and it always works out. During the Open Space day we post original handwritten session notes on the Breaking News wall (which is what I turn the Agenda Wall into). Nothing is entered or printed out on-site -- I simply have examples of books of proceedings to show them what happens with the notes post-Open Space and I use one of them at this point to show its weight and nature. When I am able to I transcribe the session notes for participants post-event and send them out electronically as a Book of Proceedings within two weeks following the event --I let them know this will happen as part of my announcements before Closing Circle.

A note here: everything I do in the workshop is a model for how it would really be done with a client-sponsor. So in this announcement I let them know I only ¨do participants' job for them¡¨ / support the client / sponsor doing so in very very rare situations -- as it is sometimes done in a real client situation when it is not possible or not in the design to print a Book of Proceedings during the event itself¨. I mention that taking ownership and responsibility for the creation of the Proceedings is not only important for the participants' engagement and commitment but also to ensure accuracy of transcribing peoples' precious words and thoughts. I also note that when a Book of Proceedings is not given out during the event but *after* it, this is a marvelous way to restimulate participants' energy post-event as it reminds them psychologically and physically of the experience they had together.

Selling Harrison's Books at the Workshop

In the beginning I sold Harrison's books (a selection of whatever was currently in print) on the final day of my workshop. I would sell 4 or 5 books each workshop this way. For this I got a ¨Sellers Permit¨ for US tax purposes and I keep it on file. I bought a ¨minimum order for a distributor/reseller¨ from the publisher of most of Harrison's books, Berrett-Koehler of San Francisco and had them shipped directly to my home. This was about a $500 US investment, which is expensive for me. Well, I sold those books at every workshop (about twice a year) and it took me several years to sell them all. During the meantime I had a real challenge keeping them safe in dry storage (I don't have a lot of storage possible inside my home). So it was a slight burden all the time. Then Open Space Institute of the US managed a deal with the publisher and can now sell and ship books directly to requestors, at a slight discount off the US price. This I felt put the responsibility back into the learners' hands plus eliminated my need to buy $500 worth of books at a time for delicate storage again. So now I do not sell Harrison¡¦s books in the workshop -- I refer all participants to their local or online bookseller and let them know that OSI(US) offers them at a cheaper rate. Perhaps if you are a team of trainers you can afford this (financially and storage-wise) and can more easily provide books to buy at your workshops -- indeed I think it is ideal, but I am also happy to do ¨one less thing¨

Registration Fees

Most of my participants are *not* from the corporate world, though I welcome you to direct corporate participants my way (and eventually the word will spread to potential participants in that demographic). I offer registration fees at three levels (Corporate: $1000 US, large NGO: $750 US, Small NGO/Student?/Independent?/Unaffiliated? $350 US) and if a potential participant can afford none of those they simply name the price they *can* afford and attend for that custom amount. I accept no bartering or volunteering in exchange, as I want them to be able to come to the workshop without working for it -- just as someone with more money is able to do. In this ¨four fees¨ manner I get the most incredibly diverse group -- I ask that those who can pay the higher sums do so to help cover the costs of those of lesser income, and it always works out. These workshops are not moneymakers, but they never lose money -- sometimes they make just a little.

Workshop Design

Here are the learning (outcome) objectives from Harrison Owen and Colleagues original design:

By the Conclusion of this program you should be able to:

Here is how I came to the topics that should be included in this learning workshop:

As I wanted the workshop to be as experiential/interactive (non-lecture) as possible,

I wrote down all of the topics that I felt I needed to know / people say they need to know / we know might help to know about Open Space in order to do their own Open Space event.

Then I removed every topic that you could learn from reading -- for those items I found or built handouts, most of which are in a booklet I give to workshop participants. This is so as not to overwhelm participants with paper (and everybody does not learn by reading). I also have some additional loose handouts available around the room during Friday.

Then from the remaining topics I removed every topic that you can get a sense of from the book (theory and the basic method).

What remained was everything that you can *only* learn by doing - that is what I designed into the workshop itself.

[In my own particular instance when first learning the Open Space method, I did not, for example, have to practice how to open a circle with the group - this is something I did on my own before my first Open Space. You may have a different sense for what you feel is essential to learn experientially during your particular workshop.]

The idea is that learning does not start or end with this workshop. And that I am not the repository of all Open Space knowledge - we all learn from one another. Therefore I try to model and encourage ongoing learning by encouraging folks to participate in the OSLIST global electronic learning community and I offer ¨full lifetime guarantee of sharing mutual learning and support¨ in any way I can as they plan and develop their own Open Spaces. Graduates of my workshops often practice their Openings and Closings in my home, talk through design, preparation and upcoming client meetings, and so on.

A Final Note on Design

One thing I played with for some time was the theme for the actual Open Space that is held within this workshop. In earlier versions of this design, I included the activity of assisting participants in formulating their own theme during the first evening for the following day's Open Space -- in doing this to simulate how one would work with a client in developing a theme. However I have found that the conversations during the next day's Open Space are less passionate than the discussion was the night before -- probably because everyone agrees on the issues (that's why they chose that theme together). So now I use the pre-selected theme in the following lesson plan, and it seems to work well, evoking a greater diversity of topics and interests than the participant-constructed themes.

Still, it is a ¨fake¨ theme. The discussions are rich and stimulating - the topics interesting - but of course this is a situation where there is not urgency such as in a real-life Open Space event, and the participants came together because they wanted to learn something but not because of an issue -- so sometimes it can be a bit milder of an experience. However I think that even the dynamics created by this situation can contribute to the learning. I think it¡¦s essential to give participants a several-session Open Space in the middle of the workshop, and even if the theme doesn¡¦t exactly simulate a real situation (if people stay in their cognitive/analytical brains and do not jump into intuitive thinking because of this ¨fake¨ theme), still there is substance to it and afterwards participants will discuss and gain the experiential knowledge on Friday of 1) why urgency and/or conflict and/or a real business/community application are helpful and necessary to fuel the process and how that did or did not happen on Thursday and 2) how it is hard to ¨fit back into shape¨ after doing an Open Space process - going into another (less active and physical) modality after that. Even though the Friday section of the workshop is interactive, participants get a real physical and intuitive sense for why you want the Open Space event to be the last part of a ¨regular¨ conference or meeting if not the entire event.

The Details

Day 1 (Wednesday 6:30p-9:30p)

Preparation: Behavior Change Continuum signs, Grief & Transformation Cycle signs dvds and discs (optional, if you have the technology during this workshop: USWest, Circles of Change/Haiti?)

6:30p-7:00p - Registration and welcome snacks

7:00p-7:15p - Lisa welcomes

7:15p-7:45p - Circle introduction

7:45p-8:45p - Systems Theory, Chaos Theory, Behavior Change Continuum, Grief and Loss Cycles

(¨Who can explain to us systems theory?¨) - Facilitator elicits examples in life, nature, etc. and otherwise prompts or fills in when necessary

(See signs at end of this lesson plan, which can be brought out / used if the conversation goes there. Behavior Change signs are in order -- this is the continuum of how people change behavior. Have volunteers stand in a line, each with a sign, and have one more volunteer be the person for the example. Use an example of someone wanting to stop smoking or dieting and discuss what would prompt them to move from one stage to the next (as the ¨person¨ moves to stand under the appropriate sign) -- this is a continuum so people move back and forward, not just forward, due to things happening in their lives or environments -- participants share what might move this person in one direction or the other. If you need more information on this exercise contact me and I can explain further). Grief and Loss Transformation Cycles are the next two signs -- one which is the Kubler-Ross model and one which takes things a bit further -- the Sustainable Sonoma model. Using the Sustainable Sonoma model, participants can take the cut-apart little words (see further in this lesson plan) and arrange them on the floor or wall as they appear in the model and use this as a visual guide for further discussion covering what happens in one's life and how the cycle is parallel in organizational change. Again, this discussion is elicited from participants rather than lectured by the facilitator).

8:30p-9:00p - discussion continued

(optional -- unless group energy is low due to having class after a full work day -- if so, end early -- all the times above are rough as each group has its own energy and can take longer for discussion and so on-) Together, create the materials and set up the room for tomorrow

9:30p or before - End

Day 2 (Thursday 8:30a-5:00p)

9:00a-9:05a Housekeeping 9:05a-10:00a Lisa opens space... (the theme is:)






How am I
perpetuating / creating / enabling / embodying / ignoring / nourishing these

in the world?

in my life?

for others?

10:00a-11:00a Session 1

11:00a-12:00n Session 2

12:00n-1:00p Lunch is available

1:00p-2:00p Session 3

2:00p-2:45p Closing Circle

2:45p-3:00p Take a break (music or something that really marks a change is good here)

3:00p-3:30p Trio activity - discuss and draw what you learned regarding the different sections ¡V open-walking-agenda-holding space-participating-closing-reflecting (See activity slips later in this lesson plan)

3:30p-3:45p Prepare for teachback

3:45p-4:15p Teachback 3:45-3:50, 3:50-3:55, 3:55-4:00, 4:00-4:05, 4:05-4:10, 4:10-4:15

4:15p-4:30p (optional -- if time -- but best to leave early after energy of teachbacks) Show some discs, photos (OSonOSinOZ? proceedings, Haiti OST/talking circles video)

Day 3 (Friday 8:30a-5:00p)


Keep the Agenda/News? wall of topics up (but prepare for the convergence example later today by before class placing a blank sheet of paper by each topic for the sticky-dots)

The room still has the signage up indicating discussion areas A through E used in Thursday's Open Space and now on the walls in those areas post the topics signs for those areas. Chairs are in a circle in area A.

Today in place of registration materials on a side table are Harrison's books for sale, lined paper pads and pens, handouts announcing upcoming Harrison Owen & Associates workshops around the world, including Lisa's next workshops.

A = Place booklets (the Open Space Idea Book - the booklet I have created for the workshop) on chairs (let me know if you would like an electronic copy of this booklet -- a Word document of about 105 pages)

B = Place folder with sample invitations

C = Place Books of Proceedings from Lisa's various Open Spaces, Client interaction Binders, sticky-dots

Note: this is the day to use a participant's laptop for viewing videos, if that is available - USWest, Circles of Change/Haiti?, OSonOSinOZ?

D = Place Role-Play nametags, signage with information about OSLIST, next IAF (International Association of Facilitators) conference, next OSonOS, OSI(US)/OSworld? site -- participants are encouraged to post their own announcement information there, too

E = Place Reflections sheets (these are workshop evaluation sheets -- contact me if you would like to see a copy)

[Note: The words listed in CAPITALS are the words on the signage on the nearby walls; timing is rough as participants indicate what they want to learn before moving on to the next discussion area]


Area A



LETTING GO OF OUTCOME MENTALITY Discussion from workshop participants' perspective



What can go wrong?

Opening - why ritual

10:30a-11:45a - Area B

INVITATIONS (group reads aloud from sample invitations in file -- a new participant for each new ¨voice¨/reading; analyze what they like / would do differently. Afterwards, in pairs, write some key lines for actual invitations for Open Spaces they have in mind. Afterwards, discuss what they discovered in the process)


THEMES (note themes in Lisa's Idea Book; discuss; if time, pair off, write some themes)

12:00n-12:45p - Lunch

12:45n-1:15p - Area C


(workshop slide show / photos show an Open Space in order but with variations from diverse Open Spaces to both give participants a picture of other settings and other design decisions, such as Agenda Wall in grid versus with Post-Its, preparation for very large events, what convergence looks like)

DESIGN (some of the following may have been covered by discussion during the showing of your photos of various real Open Space events, above)

(as example, now ask everyone to walk over to the wall which still has yesterday¡¦s topics and proceedings posted on it -- take the role of a facilitator working with a ¨real¨ group and give workshop participants a framing for voting, such as asking them to mark with their 5 sticky-dots the things that can be done immediately after the event using no additional resources, or the things they want the ¨United Nations Committee¨ to work on around the world, or so on¡KHave the participants place their sticky-dots for ¨voting¨. As you all stand here after the ¨vote¨ you can discuss variations, why convergence may not be necessary for most Open Space events -- can also include in this section discussion of or showing of action planning and action planning forms)

1:15p-1:45p - Area C / around room

Participants read various client interaction binders and Books of Proceedings, books they¡¦ve bought; or write silently in their notes or journals

1:45p-2:30p - Area D [at this point, do a time and energy check -- it is possible the following subjects may have been covered in the morning's discussion -- if so, simply jump to ¨How can we support each other¨, then do Reflections/Evaluations? and then do Closing Circle, to end early]

ROLEPLAY: Talking to Client / Sponsor / Host (see roleplay nametags later in this lesson plan)

Ask participants to select one slip of paper from the wall under TASK and another one from under ROLE; wear them both as nametags as they ¨become¨ the clients you as the facilitator will be talking to in this roleplay.

First introduce selves around circle and say why are interested in hearing more about open space -- point out (before you go into your ¨role¨) that these are all valid clients and situations to explore if and when Open Space would be appropriate. Then begin with any one ¨client¨ talking to you as the consultant (anyone else can step in and become ¨consultant¨ at any time to try on this role for themselves). Switch to different clients, extend stories/situations, fold in other Q&A in this manner. If you want to make a comment by stepping out of your role, let participants know when you are doing this (¨Now I'm talking to you as workshop participants -- when you talk to a client like this¨)¡V it helps some people follow who you are.

Roleplay covers Talking to client regarding


Indicate wall signs (next International Association of Facilitators conference, next OSonOS, next local Fabulous Facilitators breakfast, how to join OSLIST, Haitian and Iberian Wikis, openspaceworld ¨posters¨) then:


REFLECTIONS (evaluations)

3:00p-4:00p - Area E


Role Play *name tags* (The following are small slips of paper people pull from the wall, any one from each column, which they place on themselves as nametags)

ROLE ____

TASK _____

Activity Slips for Teachbacks

In your small groups, discuss and draw what you have learned today.

Think of the different parts of the Open Space:

Work together to discuss and share, draw the images you decide upon on your paper, and decide how to tell it back to us (in whatever way you would like - through story, through song, through movement, through speaking, through acting out) - using all members of your group in a 5 minute presentation.

We will then reconvene to have each group present their reflections to the full group


(Diagrams of Grief and Loss Cycle (Kubler-Ross) and Grief and Loss Transformation Cycle (Sustainable Sonoma) - please contact me and I can email a Word document to you with these diagrams.