STORIES, Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US), Summer, 2009


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

In This Issue:

Notes from the Editor:

Spring has turned to summer in the northern hemisphere, and Peggy Holman and I are celebrating by bringing back STORIES, after a long hiatus. We invite you to share your stories, adventures and misadventures in Open Space.

Here in the northwest corner of the United States, we had a long, cold and stormy winter, followed by a long, cold and stormy spring. One of the local passes, closed for winter, was unable to open on the appointed date because they had six inches of fresh snow the night before—in mid-May.

Since then, the weather has warmed, and we are taking our sun-starved bodies outside to walk, garden, sit in the park—anything to soak up sunshine.

Thanks to the couple who built our house and planted gardens, back in the early 60s, our yard is filled with azaleas and rhododendrons, masses of coral, yellow, pink, red and white flowers. I love the intense colors and blossom-scented air, and bless them for their vision and hard work. What seeds are you planting today, to grow and bloom in the future?

With appreciation,

Joelle Everett, consultant, coach, poet, and editor of this newsletter.



Mobilizing Community Action for a

More Sustainable Future in Just Three Hours

By Jay W. Vogt

The Green Technology Committee is a group of community volunteers chartered in 2006 by the Selectmen of the rural town of Lincoln, Massachusetts, USA, to reduce energy consumption in town facilities. As the committee reflected on its charge, members realized that their success depended on gaining the support of the entire town.

A couple members approached me about facilitating a Green Forum for Lincoln. The committee wanted folks to come, learn things, get inspired, and take action. They had no idea how to make that happen, and asked me what I thought.

Now Lincoln is the quintessential Yankee New England town, complete with a central town green and a white-steepled church, surrounded by grassy meadows and forested hills. New Englanders generally don’t like it when others tell them what to do. Yet they are the first to help others if it serves their self-interest. We New Englanders jokingly call this “Yankee communism.” I sensed that the residents of this town would love Open Space, where no one sets the agenda for others, and nothing happens unless people choose to make it happen. So I proposed a forum in Open Space, and after some initial shock and worry, the committee accepted.

We had three hours to gather on a Sunday afternoon. The whole town (population 5000) would be invited. An old town building with a great open hall on the second floor and some meeting rooms on the first was available. The theme would be: “What are the issues and opportunities in creating a greener Lincoln?” There would be no presentations, only a large resource display on tables around the hall. Participants would be invited to step forward, state their issue, claim a space, and convene a discussion. There would be a gathering time to welcome participants and create the agenda (thirty minutes), a single discussion round (ninety minutes), and a final closing circle (thirty minutes).

In talking about the theme with the committee, many members shared stories of things they or their neighbors were doing to make their lives greener. One person had organized some neighbors to buy and plant cherry trees together. Another was experimenting with drought-resistant grasses. Another was researching the most effective energy audits. Another had just bought a share in the produce of a local, organic farm. Yet another had recently renovated their home to be heated and cooled with geothermal energy. I loved hearing about these private, passionate acts.

Although Open Space is perfect as it is, I was moved to find some way to consciously collect and share these stories with the community, so that innovative residents could be publicly affirmed for their creativity, while inspiring others, and reminding everyone of their power to make a difference.

I proposed that, after the welcome, we start with thirty minutes of what I called “Green Ads.” Committee members would invite participants as they arrived to sign up and share a sixty second “Green Ad” - about some action they were taking, or some resource that they valued, related to sustainability - with the rest of the community. Once again the committee welcomed this approach, and with growing excitement about the upcoming Forum, set about marketing it with enthusiasm.

Finally the Green Forum Sunday came, on a lovely spring afternoon, and about 130 people – from preteens to seniors - arrived at the hall. They munched on healthy snacks and drank unbottled local water as they gathered. Thirty people signed up to share a sixty second “Green Ad,” which started the Forum with homespun wisdom and humor. About ten residents stepped forward to convene discussions, on topics as diverse as improving community transportation, increasing use of school buses and electric cars, expanding community supported agriculture, helping residents understand the value and importance of native vegetation, financing solar technology, and making buildings more energy efficient.

The Green Technology Committee reported, in the March-April 2009 issue of The Lincoln Review, that: “In just three hours, Jay helped us all to gather our energies and interests, connect personal values and visions with collective needs, and make some concrete forward plans. With more than 2% of Lincoln residents present, this establishes a firm footing for a town-wide commitment. Our hope was that attendees would ‘Leave the event energized with valuable, practical information, an action plan, new resources and support of like-minded people.’ And it looks like they did!”

Cities and towns around the world are looking to mobilize the talent, knowledge, and motivation of their residents to make their communities greener and more sustainable. Lincoln’s example shows that, with Open Space, and as little as three hours, a community can come together and discover its strengths and passions for more sustainable living.

Jay W. Vogt is a consultant, facilitator, and author of Recharge Your Team: The Grounded Visioning Approach



by Tom Atlee

The facilitator has no agenda

except the emergent agenda seeking to be born

in, among and through the people gathered before her.

Her emptiness is not nothing, though.

It is an invitation and a reflection.

Wherever she moves, radiating welcome,

things take shape, evolve, transform, move on.

She is delighted, fascinated, and as impartial as the sun.

She offers comradeship on a journey into an open space

where co-creativity finds its home and voice.

The greater her skill, the less she does,

but the more profound the life she meets

because life loves, above all things, to find itself

and it always comes to where it can meet,

embrace, and discover Greater Life,

which it finds in the universal center where she stands.

"Under the best of circumstances," writes Harrison Owen,

"the facilitator will be totally present

and absolutely invisible."

Like God. Like the Tao. Like the Center of the Universe.

Everywhere -- especially Here.

© Tom Atlee

Tom Atlee is founder, co-director, and research director of the non-profit Co-Intelligence Institute.



It’s not just possible, it’s happening

by Lucy Garrick

An opportunity to contribute to positive social change gave me a new appreciation for Open Space Technology. Our access to technology and is making possible ways of connecting that were never before possible -crossing community, geographic and organizational boundaries.

On Saturday, May 9th, Approximately 54 people from around the world logged into Skype Chat to hold the opening session of a global collaboration for positive change using Open Space principles.

The Conference, Real-time Virtual Collaboration (RTVC) convened participants around the question:

'''“What Tools and Principles Do We Need To Help Change Unfold?

Social and Technological Developments Mean

Better Organizations and a Better World”'''

The conference was the brainchild of Holger Nauheimer, creator of the [Change Management Toolbook]. It was the simplest of acts, Holger put out the invitation and RTVC was born.

The concept of the world’s first Real-time Virtual Collaboration Conference was to learn what is possible when integrating simple facilitative change tools such as Open Space Technology with online synchronous communication tools, such as voice over internet protocol (VOIP), wikis, chats, collaborative work tools and social media. Participants organized before, during and after the conference through a Mind Map portal created especially for the event. Links in the mind map led people to conference registration, pre-session preparations, areas to post sessions, and help.

The four-hour conference was the collaborative design of a self-organizing group of consultants, facilitators and technologists who met online and reside in six countries: Germany, S.Africa, Brazil, United Kingdom, USA, and Canada – most have not yet met face-to-face. In addition to Holger, the RTVC steering team consists of [Stephan Dohrn], (Belo Horizonte, Brazil), [Lucy Garrick] (Seattle, USA), [Hans Gaertner] (Bremen, Germany), [Suresh Fernando] (Vancouver, Canada), [Sofia Bustamante], (London, UK).

We chose Open Space because of its simplicity and flexibility which empowered conference participants to define their own session topics. Participants attended from around the globe, representing 30 different countries. Online postings of topics for break-out sessions was supported by a discussion board and the RTVC steering team. Break-out sessions were held on a variety of social media chosen by session conveners. Imagine a sort of virtual, conference hotel. 
Over 50 participants from around the globe signed on to the opening session using Skype Chat. 
Opening and closing sessions were facilitated by members of the RTVC steering team.

During the Closing session, held on a Skype Chat, I asked participants for one word reactions to the conference and here’s what they had to say:

thrilling technically challenging just starting

excitement engaging difficult connections

multilevel falling off the cliff interesting

smooth bacterial complex

encouraging crossing boundaries What's next?

engaging calls for more exhilarating

conversations surfing germinal

learning disruptive possibility

like riding a roller coaster

What did we learn?

Well for one thing, it works! Humans really are self-organizing systems even in cyber space. And our team was synergistic. Someone always had the skill and commitment that was called for. We believe that this is the wave of the future and that nothing could be a more open space than this. We’re planning to do more. You’ll find a full report of all facts, stats, break-out topics, and key learnings posted in a new [RTVC Mind Map]. At this writing it has been viewed 811 times. Note files of country representation charts and other transcripts are attached to the mind map.

To learn more and follow RTVC developments: Visit the RTVC Forum currently housed on the Change Management Toolbook website at

Lucy Garrick is an organization and leadership consultant and coach.


inviting leadership

by MichaelHerman

relax. right now.
(rest into heart)
pause long enough. to. sink. in.
passion and purpose open space.
take the time to notice. and breathe.
settle. straighten. sort and sigh.
yawn. laugh. love. rest.
re...awaken wonder.

invite others into that.
(welcome everyone)
ring the bells, bring the question.
host the meeting, pour the tea.
open the conversation.
imagine, invoke and invite
the common good.
wish it out loud.

let everything move.
(support relationship)
through knowing and not, forests and trees,
learning and contribution, mine and yours – to us.
inviting is action, and support without effort.
leadership yields without loss, or collapse.
doing nothing touches everything, gently
ease into flow.

make inviting ordinary.
(refine into practice)
execute the obvious; embrace all the rest.
ground visions. craft agreements. take next steps.
grow more of what works. harvest gratitude and joy.
as the fruits of practice ripen, share the juice.
today's news seeds tomorrow's invitations,
inviting more leaders (to open heart...)

MichaelHerman ( practices, teaches and writes about inviting leadership.




By Tenneson Woolf

Last month I was in Leavenworth, WA for a learning conference, Leadership in a Self-Organizing World. [Berkana] was co-sponsor -- another event to support the needed exploring and forms for these times. The place was beautiful. Gigantic pines. Icicle River running alongside the conference space and at the feet of Sleeping Lady, the mountain after which the conference center is named. A [harvest video] by Thomas Arthur and Ashley Cooper is here, including some beautiful shots of the land. Amazing people there. I particularly found it helpful to be with some old friends and feel the sense of meeting each other even more deeply -- the times are calling us to be in our deepest relations and creations together.

“What do we know now about leadership in a self-organizing world?” was a question that Berkana colleague, Teresa Posakony and I carried deliberately at the learning conference (see also [previous blog post] on this event).

Below are three levels of harvest from this question:

1. Teresa hosted a circle in open space on the third day. (See [photos]) The notes below are in response to a check-out circle on "How do we talk about this?"

Saturday, 3:00 (Teresa, Tenneson, Gabriel, Diana, Henri, Jim, Shiloh, Ashley, Roosey, Tom, Diana, Christy and more………. - Tell real stories of amazing stuff that we wouldn’t have expected - Be in the practice of listening, hearing, and symbolizing - Assume that everything we need to know is right here - Name it as participant organized – they own the responsibility and can point to “somebody did it” - Relationship between hearing the story and self-organizing change - Clear intention, purpose context…people can self-organize to create - Experience it - Ask powerful questions - How would you like to access the true potential of your organization - Focus on the work we have to do, the real need and purpose. Then be thoughtful and choiceful about how to get about it. - Reflection of nature & Body…words and images - Follow the energy of yes! - Use vocabulary to understand and engage - Be in the life energy – how to serve the larger whole. - Cultivate genuine curiosity and authentic response - Welcome people home…to the best of what we know and in connection with what is alive already.

2. The last convergence exercise we did on the fourth and last day was with the full group. The intention was to see another glimpse of what was important in the group. Innovative process hosted by Peggy Holman. Each of us wrote the one principle we thought was most important for leaders in a self-organizing world. The cards included everything from simple principles to larger sets of ideas. We exchanged cards randomly with other participants and then stopped to rank points between two cards. Then random exchange. Then ranking. We did this through five cycles and totalled the points. The top responses are here:

1. One never knows the power of an idea/vision until shared with others who have similar passions. (27)

2T. We are the ones we've been waiting for. "Leaders" are not self ordained. They are recognized by their contributions and response to a calling from deep within to commit their life to contributing to the greater good. (26)

2T. Clarity I now have: *So many labels! * To participate in a Self Organizing World means truly owning up to allowing each person (including myself) freedom to express their passions about the subject * to be fully present and mindful within myself and within the group. (26)

4. Be yourself. (25)

5. In a Self Organizing World: I bring my whole self my dream passion each moment presence, and allow others the same grace. (24)

6. Provides a space where each person can speak her/his truth and offer his/her gifts. (23.5)

7T. Leadership in a self-organizing world - means…We all lead and we know when it is our time to lead by listening to our body and spirit - when it calls out our gift. (22)

7T. Creating contexts that help life-energy find itself, manifest, serve itself, and evolve - at all levels including self, group, community, social system, and planet - with decreasing violence, toxicity, and waste. (22)

9T. You must be a vital self-organizing system in order to lead, serve, and host the ever unfurling nature of a self-organizing world. In this breathing, beating, crumbling, and constellating living world - we love and lead into dynamic tension of living and dying - sending and receiving - leading from in front or behind. True leadership is authentically living expressing just that. (21)

9T. The power of connection to nature remaining in its stillness so that all that needs to show up shows up, with flow of a river. (21)

9T. Open Space is a way that nature organizes itself. I also see that the container is the "how" of the system. It would take longer time periods to deal with certain grievances at a more root level than others. Truly what is needed for humanity currently is "root" responses to personal and collective trauma. (21)

9T. My insight: Hierarchies arise, serve, disolve, reorganize. Leaders can relax and allow their role to present itself - be free of the burden of the acknowledged leader role. It takes an integrated "anima" to be a effective leader in a self-organizing world. (21)

9T. LSOW is allowing and nurturing passion. (21)

9T. Convene in curiosity to remember and create together choices. Trust first next steps. (21)

3. I asked about a dozen people (thanks to each of them) the same questions on the 3rd and 4th days with this context. Assume the world is self-organizing. Assume there is such a thing as leadership. Knowing that these are both meaningful conversations that invite more attention, what you would you name as the most important principle for a leader to be effective in a self-organizing world? Those responses are below.

- stay open -- don't get stuck in a time suck

- keep dropping seeds -- don't get freaked out about what you can't do

- remember you already are leading in a self-organizing world

- be bold, listen, and do

- fully manifest and make room for others to fully manifest too

- give people a place to tell their story (until the sun comes up and it is a new day)

- practice letting go and welcoming a discerning stance

- be deliberate in witnessing what is happening, sometimes not through voice

- create a safe place in the transition (grief work is birth work)

- put a ball into play and then be a participant

- pay attention to the field

- speak a best guess of what is arising

- be bold, and then surrender

- be grounded

- work with the spirit of invitation

- name the question clearly

- be a steward of shared intention

- tend to the social fabric of community

- tune in / center

- welcome and invite diverse voice

- welcome disruption as gifts

- give shared attention to task, process, and relationships

- reenlist in the love affair with tension

What do we know now about leadership in a self-organizing world? One thing for me is that the question is a rich inquiry and on-going practice. Self-organization is the pattern that, as Harrison Owen names, has been going on for 14 billion years. Our work from this reality, our learning together, and our strengthened relationships are critical and called for in these times. And are beautiful and inspiring, much like those gigantic pines growing round the Icicle River in Washington.

Tenneson Woolf consults, coaches, builds community and writes about the Art of Hosting;


Coming Events:

The 17th Annual World OSonOS

This [Open Space on Open Space] is for practitioners, organizations, and colleagues who use Open Space Technology - is in Taipei, Taiwan, 15-17 Oct 2009. For details, visit:

Leadership in a Self-organizing World

November 11-14 in Toronto, this conversation is inspired by Harrison Owen’s recent book: Waverider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-organizing World. For more information, contact Larry Peterson,

Open Space Technology Training

For a list of training workshops around the world, visit



By Doug Germann

  I have no call to be reasonable. My call is to the spirit, to the experience of life that precedes cognition and separation from life and others. My call is to engage people in the life of divinity which exists fully between and among people.

My call is “urgently out beyond the ordinary and the reasonable,” to use Brueggemann's phrase. These have gotten us where we are, which is ordinary and reasonable, but we need to go to a new place. The place we are is full of pain.

What pain? The pain of being unemployed or underemployed. The pain of being not heard. The pain of being invisible.

What new place? You have the power to make the world better, to turn the world just a bit toward kindness and connecting and moving.

   Please pass it on.          


   By Douglas D. Germann, Sr. © 2009, Learning Works, Inc.

Doug Germann leads conversations that make a difference, and writes Footprints in the Wind,