Issue: OS always works. But how do we know, it works?

Convenor: Erich Kolenaty

Participants: Peggy, Maja, Lisa, Monika, Hannah, Ilse, Michael Jr. Christa, Jessie, John, Francis, Kerry, Inge, Shu-Fang

Summary of the meeting: Starting point: 'It always works' has been mentioned in the list many times in the last months. 'Always' means, it works everywhere, at every time, under all conditions. Is it a dogma or shared experience? And what do we need to perceive to call it 'working' as sponsor, as facilitator as a participant?

Collection of spontanious thoughts to the issue:

It is a self fulfilling prophecy; interesting question: what are the elements of success?; there is no need to measure, I am happy in the unknowing; an interesting dilemma: efforts proceed grace + spirit; Meetings always work, but sometimes the space is closed immediately behind; to challenge the mantra 'it always works', experience as participant: sometimes it didn't work; how is success defined from different prospections?; what is a quality open space? Challenge of the question: maybe at least something is changed; It is a faith, I was sometimes in OS were people think it doesn’t work;

Thread of discussion:

As a facilitator I get in without expectations, except ‘I do the best I can’ and ‘the right people will come’; having expectations makes you attached.

OS works means, it makes any kind of difference. OS did not work means, you missed expectations. (an interesting contradiction to the sentence above - Erich, by typing this). The changes may appear in the longtime run (many examples). On the other hand: 'if your needs are not met in the conference, your are the only one to change it’ And: ‘I am changed, because I’m opened’; changing creates little bubbles.

Success can include a bad feeling, it is not always comfortable. Anyway, you have to do your job right. It is helpful to have more options to offer your sponsor, than only open space.

Can Evaluation help to find out if it worked? A little, but not too much. It gives people the chance to let things they did not like at the conference (e.g. food etc.).

There is a difference between ‘successful’ and ‘working’. 'Working' means, it makes any difference either at the process, the individual learnings, the group results or by fulfilling the purposes. 'Working' also means making spirit showing up.

But: Would a sponsor be satisfied with a selling promise of 'working' like that? No, you talk in a different way to your sponsor than to colleages. You speak in the language of "delieveries". You work on "What do you accomplish" and "what is the purpose".

And we know that it needs certain conditions to succeed (burning question, free choose for participants, etc.). ++++++++ finish here.

My closing comment(Erich): We are a little deeper in the stuff, but not through. Maybe it would be helpful to make a difference between the consultant who consults the decision and the framework of the open space and the facilitator at the conference. There might be different responsibilities and therefore different criteria for 'working' and 'success' in this two roles.

Follow up:

Online Comments:

I agree with the different perspectives on "works". The client's perspective is a critical one for an external consultant. That is why the upfront planning to ensure the client is clear on their intentions and outcomes sought. I also prepare the sponsor to be surprised. If it is a "dead moose" or "possum" (Recently worked in Atlanta) then "working" can be learning and getting it on the table. Even with that, I have had a few clients who were not happy with what they learned. Most have their wants and expectations superseeded -- at a recent event, the culture shift was much more than expected and the specfic actions were good but not as far beyond expectations. It really worked however from the perspective of that CEO and his team. (They are doing it again as part of another strategy.)

From a "facilitator's" perspective, "worked" for me means did I do "enough" to open a space for the self-organization and spirited dialogue to take place at the event. Even when I have not been at my best, forgot things or made errors -- it has usually been "enough" if the pre-work was ok. When I connect to the spirit -- in me, in the people, in the room it goes beyond working to magic.


I think there is a real need to question what does it means "it always works", as it has began to de done in this session. That's an interesting subject for a more continuos conversation. For now only a small point - I don't even think that we always can assume that "the right people will came", as this depends on the diversity of the public the sponsor decided to invite, on the "writing" of the invitation and on many other factors. - ArturSilva

Maybe we need to revise the statement: Open Space always works and always works differently. It is not true that OST participants "always work and always work differently!"

When I have to talk about how well OST works, I usually tell a few stories and then promise that if we get the invitation right it'll "grow more of what works" and focus attention on that which needs to be attended to. So if there is deep conflict in the organization, and we skirt around the theme and invite people to talk about a strategic plan instead, I usully promise my client that what WILL happen is that the conflict will arise. We might get some planning done, but it won't "work" in that respect. It will surface the stuff that is getting in the way of a good plan getting done however.

So there is no point pretending that OST will deliver exactly what the sponsor wants. It will tend to deliver exactly what is really there. When the two align, OST really works. And always. -- ChrisCorrigan

I never think of "always works" in terms of getting certain outcomes. I think of it in terms of operations, that all issues of import will be identified, discussed, recorded, sorted, prioritized, next-stepped. Those basic promises. It's my response to questions like "what if nobody posts anything?" and "What if nobody comes?" When the question comes "How do we make sure things get done afterward?" I don't say 'always works.' Then I say, "this is what we need to do to support that... distribute proceedigns, convene and allow others to convene followup meetings, post the notes from those meetings... how can we do these things? --MichaelHerman