Convenor:Fr Brian S Bainbridge

Participants:Annette Hartvig Larsen, J. Paul Everett, Miljenka Vuinac, Inge Struck Jorgensen, Jessie Hsiao, Shu-Fang, Alexander Kjerulf, Rob Chappell, Thomas Berger, Gerhard Bizer, Erich Kolenaty.

Summary of the meeting:

The need for the topic to be future oriented, engage the participants, have a meaningful time frame/forecast, be evocative of passioned response, and (Brian) use "The Issues and Opportunities" added to the topic.

Sometimes (Shu-Feng) the word "Challenges" is relevant instead of "Issues".

Theme can be inner-directed or outer-directed (Alexander), but perhaps it makes not much difference in the outcome.

Danger with inner-directed theme is that it may result only in "navel-gazing".

Important for the Open Space Gathering to be looking BEYOND this activity in terms of action outcomes.

Use a gathering of the sponsor(s)group in setting the theme. May take as much as half a day to do this. If gathering is not feasible (Miljenka), use of teleconference is a second-best substitute - and it works.

Can the facilitator intervene in the planning session in a provocative manner (Thomas)? Important to use the session as an Open Space mode, and probably important to be questioning but less-than-provocative. Facilitator is part of the theme-setting group and has to be happy with the set theme - but the principle of "letting-go" would still be a dominant factor. The ownership of the theme must primarily be with the sponsor group.

The use of interviews with prosepctive participants to check whether the theme is correct can help (Shu-Fang), but perhaps that should be done by the sponsor group rather than the Facilitator. It is their theme, after all. Such interviews can help the sponsor group to be sure of the theme, even so.

A "Tea-Bag" exercise may help here (Inge), and has been found valuable. It helps the sponsor group mirror the impact of the theme.

As a manager (Annette), the need to take responsibility for the theme and own it. And need to check this with a range of participants I'd like to be present. This is not a task for the Facilitator, really. AND, even if the theme isn't quite right, the right outcome will emerge as the Open Space progresses.

Helpful for the Facilitator to understand that the theme is the property of the group, not of the Facilitator, such that it can be changed on the day to make things go better still.

Some sharing of experiences of theme setting helped reinforce the learnings.

Follow up:

Online Comments:

It's tricky to get the question right on a teleconference but I did it once by asking people where they felt the impact of the theme in their bodies. As we went around the people on the call, we got a variety of responses, leading to revisions in the question until eventually we rested on something that was felt by all in their "gut." That was the theme we went with.

In real life, when I get a chance to work with groups face to face I often use the four quadrants outlined by MichaelHerman in "The Inviting Organization" to suss out where the organization or group is in terms of their evolution. We talk a little about where we are and where we want to go and look to the quadrants to help us find our feet and then brainstorm language. I find the use of these kinds of maps to be in valuable. -- ChrisCorrigan

I have had real success with telephone based planning (I prefer to do it in addtion to face to face but that is sometimes not possible.) Recently with the Dean's of Education of Ontario we found a theme by telphone that was dynamic. (Reclaiming Professionalism) For telephone planning, I use Power Point Slides to help guide the process. The visuals of where we are at in the conversation really help. (eConfernce software is even better but most folks don't have it.) I agree that a dynamic, positive theme is a huge contribution to a powerful event. I like Brian's criteria. LarryPeterson

I think that to have the invitation right is very important but, apart from the correct theme and wording of the invitation, I would also include the need for the invitation being adressed to the right people (with enough diversity of stakeholders). This subject is, by the way, related with many others that have been discussed yesterday and today - which is probably easier to see "at a distance" than "in place". Of course, I would prefer to be there - even if that would prevent me to understand this :-(( ArturSilva

Can you lay out a bit of that process you have alluded to Larry? --MichaelHerman

What is a Tea Bag Exercise, Inge? -- DouglasGermann