Issue:How to avoid oppression in open space

Convenor: Ulrika

Participants:Maya, Adriana, Bodil, Britt, Marianne, Anna, Agneta, Alexander

Summary of the meeting:

We talked as a group about all sorts of dillemma's considering oppression in open space sessions

Dilemma's talked about

- what is true open space philosophy when you feel that the process in a group is (becoming)) oppressive and some people are abusing their power and not giving or taking the space needed to create an environment where everyone can contribute effectiviely

- should you stimulate participants actively or let them be to take their own responibility even though you feel an imbalance in the group?

- does the person who brings in the subject have a special role or responsibility considering the issue of oppression or does the group as a whole have a responsibility in decreasing oppression?

- how do you deal with powerstructures that exist in society, in the organisation or between groups that also show up in open space ?

- should we get talkers to listen or listeners to talk and how should we value these activities?

- is the law of the two feet a substitute for avoiding conflict; walking away instead of speaking your mind when the group feels oppressive or someone in the group acts in an oppressive manner ?

- which methods will stimulate breaking down powerstructures and building in more space for participation ?

- will participants who are part of an oppressive powerstructure dare to use the law of the two feet and feel really free to do and say what they want ?

Conclusions reached

- the way you function or contribute in an open space session depend on your personality but also on the existing power structures in society (perhaps you belong to an oppressed group for example because of your colour, sex, age, sexuality, etc) or your cultural background, or if it is your native language that is used in open space; - even though in open space it is your own responsibility to contribute or not, we should be sensitive to these greater influences which are not always only personal

- the focus is very often on talking and getting people to contribute by talking more whereas listening as a valuable means of participating is sometimes undervalued and not stimulated at all - a tip could be to challenge people how to listen so people talk - a tip could also be to work with talking sticks and listening balls to assure that everyone gets space to listen and to talk

- some people need a second chance or more time and practice to speak out because they are not used to it (when you keep passing the ball or stick around, people become more comfortable with speaking their opinion.) - you can also place a symbol in the middle of the group to remind people symbolically that it is important to give everyone talking and listening space

- it can break down negative powerstructures when you show your other participants that you really value and hear their contributions by not saying yes but...... but by saying yes and....... everytime someone has spoken out - but we should be aware of the fact that some people/groups, especially women, are often socialized to say yes when they feel or mean no. Saying yes and..... does not mean you agree with everything the other says. This should be made very clear at the beginning

- we feel you should not interfere to much in the group process and individual proces of contributing but that the facilitator and the person who brings in the subject for a particular session should make a real effort and has a ( not the whole) responsibility to make it visible that oppression exists; - facilitators should explicitely invite others to contribute and introduce the subject of choice, the courage it takes to use the law of the two feet and respect and value and perhaps propose or invite the others to use other methods that help everybody to contribute and decrease oppression

- using the law of the two feet sometimes can be an act of courage and sometimes an act of cowardice - you can use the law of the two feet in a positive way because you just want to be somewhere else because the subject hasn't got your passion any more or you can use it because you are dissatisfied with a negative oppressive group process that takes away your energy and passion - the question is if the latter is the right thing to do

- a very good prefase (the preparation of the open space event with the sponsor and participants) can perhaps take away the problem of oppressive behaviour in open space because everybody understands and values the non-oppressive prinicples and law of open space

Methods that can help people to feel invited and feel free to contribute in a way they would like during a session - let everyone write what they want to say before they speak - give everyone reflection time for themselves on a certain question before they share their views - let people buzz in small groups and summerize what the others said - let people light matches and speak for as long as the match is lighted - challenge people who prefer talking to listen and people who prefer listening to talk - use symbols like balls, walking sticks etc to pass around or throw to everyone who wants to speak - use thread to demonstrate a speakingpattern (everytime someone speaks the thread goes to them) - use drawing and sketching as visual methods for people who find speaking difficult - let everyone speak about what the issue means for them, why they are participating in the session before you start a collective discussion - write down on a piece of paper what blocks you and makes talking or listening difficult for you and put it in your pocket as a reminder - weave into your introductionary story that it takes courage to listen and to talk and to use the law of the two feet and how important bumblebees and butterflies are to increase freedom and openess and decrease oppression in the sessions

be careful with methods; never enforce them and ask people if it will help the group process or the individual and don't let methods become laws that become static and decrease the energy and passion and spirit in the group

try to accept people as they are, don't judge or try to change. The only person you could change is your self. And try to work against oppression your self

there is always a dilemma of encouraging spontaniety and free debate and respecting and valueing everybody and stimulating them to contribute specifically

open space is already a learning process; people pick up things themselves and sometimes this takes times; don't overdo it as a facilitator and enforce things

from experience we know that even in an oppressive organizational culture it is possible for groups to speak out and use the law of the two feet in an open space activity; sometimes the critical mass, the number of people can help break powerstructures in organizations that make people feel oppressed

Follow up:

Online Comments:

In reading over the sessions from today I saw a reference to listening balls (in /HowToAvoid oppression). Would someone expand for me on how listening balls are used? Is there just one, multiples? Thank you --AshleyCooper (reproduced here a comment made at the Café)

It was an idea. You have instead of a talking stick some items, that you call listening balls, a lot of them. Maybe one for each participant. The persons that want to listen take a listening ball, instead of a talking stick. In that way, it is known what that person prefers to do for the moment. We have not tried it yet.... Maybe all will have listening balls... and the silence will talk!

I like that idea as it also brings awareness to individuals and the group of the importance of/ and active procedure occuring when someone is listening. Ahhh... and allowing the silence to talk...what a beautiful voice it has :)

I feel a great sympathy and respect for your topic and intentions, but I do not agree with some of your conclusions. You propose to replace "yes, but" by "yes, and". For me this is even worse than "yes, but". Why don't you propose a straight NO? In what concerns oppression is there any real substitute for NO? And if, on the contrary, I respect you, is there a more respectful way to say that I disagree then being clear about my disagreement? You say that you value listening, but then you provided a lot of ("paternalistic") "methods" to engage people in talking, isn't it? The idea of asking a group to talk in turns may be very well intentioned, but it is often a violence (an opression) that the facilitator is puting upon the people that just want to listen - in some situations that can close the space more than anything else. And it is not Open Space, as far as I see OST. It belongs to more traditional "facilitation" methods - in OST the OST "foundations" are there and the facilitator must be "fully present, but almost invisible". Preciselly in OST there is no need to "force people to talk", as there is the law of two feet (that can be enforced frequently if there is a need to). The law is not a form of cowardry: it is frequently the best way for opressed people to cope with a certain situation - at least without being killed before (all opression is a violence - that can become a GREAT VIOLENCE when confronted - one must know when to confronte violence and when to come out). Please believe I have the utmost respect for a group that had the courage to confront with violence and have no other way to express my respect then by saying what I disagree with. Think about it. Listen, I mean -- ArturSilva