What We Have Learned



The Invitation



From: "Harrison Owen" <hhowen@comcast.net>


Sent: Friday, March 18, 2005 3:39 PM

Subject: [OSLIST] What have we learned?



In 1985 the first Open Space happened in Monterey California. This

year (in case you haven't noticed) is 2005. In short OS has been

around for 20 years(not counting the 14,000,000,000 years previously).

So what have welearned?



This is not an idle question. A recent publication of the American

journal, JABS - otherwise known as the "Journal of Applied Behavioral

Science" offered a "special issue" dealing with Large Group

Interventions. All the usual suspects appeared, but somehow Open Space

was among the missing. One of the editors, Barbara Bunker, who is

definitely an acquaintance, and I would consider a friend - told me

that they had advertised for "papers" - including the "OS Network" -

and nothing showed up. Frankly, I don't recall seeing anything, but my eyesight is getting pretty cloudy. Anyhow, I feel inspired to ask a question - What have we learned?


This is not about making a special edition of JABS. And for sure it is

not about "sour grapes" because we were not really present in JABS. It

is all about a genuine question - What have we learned????


My hope would be to inspire/goad/embarrass/encourage each one of you

to reflect of the past 20 years (or at least that part of the 20 years

in which you participated in the OS community) - and offer up your

understanding of what you, personally, have learned - about Open

Space, yourself in Open Space, about organizations in Open Space. And

of course anything else you choose to share.


I would hope that we would hear from more than the usual suspects.

This is a call to all you Lurkers! Last time I checked there were some

440 folks on OSLIST. Not everybody has been heard from! Now would be a

good time to break the silence!!!


And although it is doubtless Politically Incorrect - I suggest a rule

for our discussion. Pretend this is a closing circle, and we are

passing the Talking Stick. Take a moment, maybe even a LONG moment

(days/weeks) to reflect on what you have learned, and then talk as

long as you want. And not just the "good stuff" - the pain and

disillusionment as well, if that is your story. You have the stick!

And please NO COMENTARY! I suggest that we just let this roll without

response - just like a Closing Circle.


In August we will gather for OSONOS in Halifax. That gathering will be

a lot of things - but one of the things it WILL be is a celebration of

20 years in Open Space. I can think of no greater birthday present from everybody to everybody than a reasoned, articulate description of what we have learned in the 20 years on the journey.





The Responses



From: OSLIST [OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] on behalf of David Swedlow


Sent: Sunday, March 20, 2005 9:51 AM


Subject: What I've learned.


Dear Harrison,


Thank you for the invitation to share what we've learned.


I can start very simply. In the past 20 years, I have learned that Open Space Technology existed.


Actually, it's only been about 8 months since I first heard the term (later, when trying to look it up, I kept remembering it as Open System Technology, so it was hard to google). I have never participated in Open Space Technology, but I felt in my bones, as soon as I heard the first paragraph description of it, that it was important, that I would eventually participate, and that it would play a major role in shaping the future. I didn't know how I knew this, but like much of the stuff that comes to me in a flash, I swallowed that pill and let it start doing it's work. Since that time, I've read The Wisdom of Crowds, but Surowiecki, and I've also learned about The World Cafe. I guided a World Cafe session with the question, "What is the gift of discord." The session lasted for about two hours, and I was satisfied that people had scratched the surface by the time they left. The biggest realization is that 2 hours isn't nearly enough time to get in to the depth that I was looking for, and which I think is required to get to truly transformational work (at least for first timers off of the street).


I have learned that the 20 year anniversary is in Halifax in August, and that I am going to attend that (we are now moving into the territory of "what I have learned by looking inward - and so is often metaphorical - much of this may or may not have correlation in the world outside my head, and that's just fine by me). I have learned that what works about Open Space Technology is letting it happen. This can be initially hard for people. The prevailing paradigm is that the universe is like a machine, and so you have to really work hard and engineering a solution. You can't just put a bunch of metal, rubber, and plastic in a box, shake it up 'poof' there's a bicycle, right? Ah, but that is true only when the parts in the box aren't alive, each doing their own thing. When you put all of those living parts into a box and shake them up, 'poof', you do get a bicycle. And not just any bicycle, but the best bicycle that you never could have ever dreamed that you ever wanted in your whole life. The one that was a twinkle in your eye before you learned the word "impossible." Sometimes, it is hard for people to trust that this will happen, especially when they are very concerned about their job security or their status or position in the community. With all that pent up stuff inside, it seems very difficult to "let it happen," because it feels like it almost certainly will go horribly wrong. But, it is precisely because all of these living parts are so highly charged (the more charge the better) that they form into a new beautiful thing on their own.


Let it happen. It's working for me even now, and I've not even participated in Open Space yet. There are still many shiny gems to pop of the box that I'm putting myself into, but right now, even though the shaking hasn't started for me, I can start to see the sparkle in all the people around me. The saying, every problem is an opportunity used to sound like a cliche to me, like some sort of mind trick. I think it still does for so many people. But finally, and usually, I now see that every problem is more than an opportunity, it is the precious piece of the puzzle, the shining spark to bring the whole thing to life in a whole new way. And looking around the world these days, the treasure is rich indeed. The charge is oh so blissfully high that I can feel critical mass approaching. Is the hair starting to stand up on the back of your neck? Can you feel the electricity in the air? I can, and it is glorious. Thank you for sharing with us all that there is.


- David


PS: I'm in Austin Texas and looking to connect with others in the area. I am also looking to put together a venture that uses OST regularly (without employees, but rather with free agents). The product/service that I foresee is exactly compatible with OST and similar technologies (the idea is to create a service, and eventually an internet product to act as a catalyst to bring people together around topics of concern. The result is intentional resonance. This obviously is what OST already does. I'm just trying to make it so easy to get involved that I would have done it 10 years ago if I had known about it). I am completely aware that I am only a catalyst, if even that much, and all there is for me to do is Let It Happen, and to continually get out of the way. I can feel the slightest hesitation, like an attachment to a result because I feel that it is so important, and I immediately recognize that my poor ego is trying to hold on. Let It Happen, I tell my ego. It is yours as soon as you let it go. There isn't anyone to take this from you. Give completely and you shall receive abundantly.


Thanks again!


David Swedlow







Sent: Sunday, March 20, 2005 2:34 PM


Subject: Re: What have we learned?




Thanks for the question asked in such a loving, powerful way.


Where to begin?  Open Space changed my life.  So many, many lessons.  And after 11 years of working with it, I still feel I am just at the beginning of my learning.


Here is a bit of a retrospective of learnings.


The miracle of my first Open Space was to see that it somehow enabled the needs of the individual and the collective to be met.  That's when I fell in love with it.


I think my very first practical realization was that as a facilitator, I wasn't responsible for other people's experiences.  What a revelation!  I could do my best to create the conditions for the work to be done.  Beyond that, it was up to the people in the room.


Over the next several years, I found myself talking about my lessons from Open Space.  Some of them come through your words, Harrison, others through the experience itself:


Focus on essence -- the form of OS is so elegantly simple that it is a clear message that what is most important is the core content of whatever the subject is.  I remember very clearly a conversation with Chris Kloth at OSonOS IV in Washington, D.C.  He told me that where other change communities he was a part of spent most of their time focused on questions and arguments about process, the OS community was always asking about essence, purpose, the core meaning of whatever it was we were discussing. Kerry shared recently a comment from a participant: "one day in open space was the equivalent of two years of hearings." I think this is because when all you've got to pay attention to is the essence of what's important, well, it sure makes it easier to let all the nonsense fall by the wayside and focus on getting something done!


Simplicity of design -- you gifted me/us with a very profound design question: what is one less thing to do? (and I would add implicit in the question: and have this be whole and complete?)  While I sometimes joke that you came to this by being a master of laziness, I think continually doing less ensures the focus remains on what is most important.  Whether OS or just life, I find this insight of remarkable power.  Anytime a group is struggling, with how to do something, this question cuts through the mess. During my Total Quality days, there was a saying: "remedy first, then deal with the root cause."  My definition of remedies were they always added more steps -- made things more complicated.  When the root cause was handled, 100% of the time, it resulted in less steps -- a simpler process.  And it always required looking at the essence, the purpose as the starting point.


Invitation/Inclusion -- you talk about invite whoever cares about the subject and welcome the stranger -- whoever comes.  It is such a huge gift to accept the rightness of whomever and whatever shows up.  It is also at times a deeply courageous act of of faith.  Through the years I have seen people healed by the experience of being welcomed, with all of their quirks, of feeling heard.  I have also seen it as a challenging test of people uncomfortable with those who are different.  The rewards for those who usually exclude others and for those who are often excluded are powerful. People discover compassion in themselves.  Outcasts experience something often unfamiliar: support.  I remember years ago at OSonOS in Monterey (1998?), an intense day 2 opening circle where there was this conflicted discussion of "in group" and "outsiders".  Finally, this woman, I don't know her name and I never saw her again, got up and walked, or perhaps she flew, around the circle, inside and out.  Her words were something about belonging coming from within ourselves.  It shifted everything.


Generosity of Spirit -- you gave OS away, no trademark, copyright, certification or other hurdles.  You said there is one responsibility -- to give back what you've learned.  I look at the extraordinary community that we've created -- one that shares its stories, its fears, triumphs, insecurities, and questions.  I follow several learning communities.  This one is my home.  It is in part because of the incredible ethic of sharing we gift to each other.


Abundance -- there is always enough for what is important.  When I've underestimated the number of break out sessions for an event, I often joke that time and space are infinitely expandable and people figure out where and when to meet.  This is a reminder to me of just how incredibly creative we are as a species when something is important to us.  People find remarkable solutions.


These were my first deep lessons from living with Open Space.  I think somewhere about this time, I began to realize that self-organization and spirit -- the two ways I talked about OS -- described the same phenomenon in different language.


And then Spirited Work began.  While I already understood Open Space was way more than a good meeting method, this quarterly foray into living in Open Space opened a new and deeper journey of understanding.   It was Anne

Stadler who helped me understand that the Law of Two Feet is about taking responsibility for what you love.  I now believe this is the essence of Open Space.  It is the power of this one idea -- to take responsibility for what you love -- that creates the remarkable invitation to listen to our internal voice and act on its message.  Now I understand the dynamics behind what I originally loved about OS: when people take responsibility for what they love, they discover that others love the same things.  Thus, the needs of the individual and the collective are met.


At Spirited Work, watching Anne Stadler showing up wherever there was disonance or conflict, I learned to welcome disturbances.  I came to understand that they are indicators that something new wants to emerge.  And it was watching the patterns of behavior at Spirited Work, the complex, unpredictable human behavior as people experimented with living with spirit in the material world that I have come to understand what Open Space governance looks like, what it means to make difficult decisions in Open Space (way beyond consensus), the role of silence in individual and collective learning.


I now understand the dynamics of  emergence when consciously embraced. Emergence is spirit in action -- where people discover that what is most personal is also universal.  When this happens, what we in the OS community call Convergence naturally occurs.  People move into coherent individual and collective action.  This has shaped how I see my work today -- to grow the capacity for emergence through caring for ourselves, others and the whole in service to meaningful purpose.  What I see today is that Open Space provides the essential conditions for emergence without the destructive force that comes when the disturbances that signal something wanting to emerge are resisted.  It happens by asking an attractive question that matters (the theme), inviting all who care to take responsibility for what they love, and by putting them in a circle to begin and end each day to reflect together. This pattern enables people to step into what they fear with some glimmer of hope that something useful will happen.  And, miraculously, time and again, it does.



Doing the international Practice of Peace conference -- an experience planned in OS mostly by people from the Spirited Work community -- brought new lessons. We took the leap that we would have sufficient participation to fund inviting 10 OS practitioners from conflict areas from around the world. We not only accomplished that but created an experience that many, many participants described as life changing.  They describe some variant of feeling their own capacity to make a difference.  I got a deeply embodied experience of what Anne Stadler named the Radiant Network -- that innate knowing that we are all connected, that we are held in some mystical way. When my heart is open, I feel the connection.  When not, the connection is still there, it is just hard to believe it exists.  My lesson from PoP is that what is on the other side of emergence is the coherence of the Radiant Network.  The most powerful OS events bring people to where they feel a sense of collective consciousness.  They touch that place of deep, personal meaning that connects them to others and they have at least a glimmer of their connection to the whole.



Today, I wonder about how the people I have worked with have been touched by their time in Open Space.  How have they been changed by the experience? What has been the effect when OS is used over and over in a community or organization?  How have people and collectives been changed by the experience?  That's what I hope we learn through the research questions that Larry, Chris and I put out. http://www.openspaceworld.org/network/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceResearch


I believe that we are growing people's capacity to deal with what they fear, what they resist by offering them a path to emergence that runs through powerful, attractive questions.  What are their stories?



Harrison, for all that you are and all that you have done, I thank you. Finding you and your work was a turning point in my life.







From: OSLIST [OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] on behalf of Jack Ricchiuto [jack@designinglife.com]
Wednesday, March 23, 2005 10:45 PM
Subject: Re: What have we learned?

It's interesting. I starting "doing" Open Space about the same time I started researching for my second book, "Accidental Conversations." I was learning about the presence and power of dynamic, organic, emergent systems in the natural sciences that so well paralleled the physics and ordinary magic of Open Space. My interest in self-organizing systems started in my work with organizations in the 1970's and Open Space seemed very logical and natural to that learning.


Now after countless Open Space events, mostly very humble in size and scope, I open space with the confidence and grace that comes with the experience of doing so. And why not. It's not about who we are individually.


In Buddhism - my personal frame of reference - caring follows knowing. In Open Space, my caring follows my knowing that we will engage each other in new ways whenever given the chance. And we will dare to dream larger dreams if given the chance to dream together.


This is both the passion we inhale and responsibility we exhale in the circle of being from which emerges our doing and having.


My story is that I was born into a world that calls me to freedom in my connectivity and that I am so deeply grateful for the privilege of being in this community.




Jack Ricchiuto



Christy Lee-Engel




Dear Harrison and all,


Thank you for your irresistible invitation, which has goaded/enticed this Appreciative Lurker to peek out for a moment. I like how this thread has become a deep slow stream braiding through all the rest.


One of my current working definitions for "learning" is: "finding, and making, new and cumulative knowledge, skills and meaning". In considering what I've learned from/in Open Space, I find that it doesn't have so much to do with businesses or formal organizations. The way I have experienced and seen Open Space so far has been more in the wide sense of ordinary life.


In the past 4 or 5 years since I was first invited into a consciously Open space, I've gotten to participate in half a dozen or so (including the Practice of Peace), and have ventured into opening space at the school where I teach part-time, four or five times. So, from a still very "beginner's mind" perspective, the areas where I am learning a lot include these:


1)  Noticing the principles & law of OS in everyday life is liberating, and such a relief. Those descriptions of reality have been useful frames to offer to everyone I work with (patients, students, colleagues) and live with, even without being in a specific Open Space gathering. The more I practice loosening my grip on wanting things to go or be a certain way, the more relaxed and energetic I feel, the more aware and responsive I seem to be--and in my line of work (natural medicine practice & education) those qualities are good indicators of increased health. Encouraging myself and others to trust in the goodness of the law of two feet is like the "opening of the channels" of acupuncture practice, allowing enthusiasm, willingness, inspiration, and the energy for focused action, to pour and circulate without obstacle into and through our lives.


2) Open Space encourages accelerated learning.

It has been breathtaking to watch what our students have come up with in Open Space in terms of projects, and deep exploration of topics they love, and organizing, and networking--nothing out of the ordinary for what usually occurs in Open Space, I am sure, but aren't you re-amazed every time you see it happen?


3) The importance of intentional preparation and conscious invitation. That in order for an invitation to be alluring, it has to be about something that really matters to people; invitation-crafting can be a soul practice. Getting to hear/read about the ways that many of the OSList members prepare before an event-- the impeccable preparation for the task of "being totally invisible and entirely present" -- has been imagination-provoking, and has led me to think a lot about what it means, or could mean, to prepare and hold space for a class (both before the term begins and before each class session begins) and for my work with patients.


4) How important it is that griefwork accompany truthful process. As we learn to loosen our grip on what we think should happen, and pay more attention to reality, we may have to let go of something we were attached to, and then we need to acknowledge the loss that goes along with that change. This was one of my main "take-home" messages from Harrison's Practice of Peace morning talks, and it goes along with my next learning:


5) The possibility (and importance) of "developing the capacity for instant connection" This one is a pith, or core, teaching I saw in a PoP post from Anne Stadler. My experience has been that being in Open Space reminds us (because often we've forgotten, but we used to know) how to connect with other beings quickly and truly. And then the corollary of that will be grief and loss (including the milder forms of grief such as nostalgia and wistfulness and homesickness), because that particular created community won't ever come together in the same way again, and because the individuals that I got to connect with in that immediate way are people I may never see or talk with again. So: Open Space develops in us the capacity for instant connection, and the capacity to let go with love and blessing.


6) And at the same time, there is a resilient sureness to the "Radiant Network" that Peggy Holman and Anne Stadler describe. Another way I understand learning is that lessons are gifts, blessings, opportunities to wake up and see things I didn't see before (even though they might have been there all along). Without question, the most potent and precious gifts I've been given in every Open Space I've gotten to participate in have been the deep-and-brief connections, the collegial relationships, and the dear friendships, each of which is opening up whole new worlds to me. It has been fascinating and stunning to see how the connections then have begun to overlap and mesh in terms of synchronistic interactions and the unveiling of connections between people I didn't know were connected. There is something about the withdrawal of control and imposition that characterizes Open Space which allows the glowing tracks of interconnectedness to become obvious.


Last summer, when I moved out of an office I had been in for a couple of years, I found a little typed note taped to the side of one of the book cases. It was titled "Rules for Spiritual Living" and listed, the principles and law of Open Space (without mentioning OST by name). It had been there all along, and I had never noticed it. I was glad to know that it had been there, though, and I left it for my successor to find for himself.


with great appreciation,

and hoping to make it to Halifax,


Christy Lee-Engel



Chris Corrigan







In September 1995 I sat in a circle of something like 400 people at a conference centre in Whistler and watched as Ann Stadler, Angeles Arrien, Chris Carter and others opened space.  I convened a session on storytelling.  Since then my life has not been the same.


When I first saw OST in action I knew that I had come home.  Something resonated deeply in me about the process, something spoke to me of a very old way of doing business that has been smothered in a flood of newness.


It's impossible to put into a few words what I have learned as a result of practising open space for coming on ten years now.  It's fair to say that my entire life stands as a learning journey propelled by passion and responsibility, being guided by the four principles and the law and I've also noticed a few things about facilitating groups!


So here's something of what I have learned:


* it's possible to live a life around principles that some guy assembled in a bar.

* the hardest thing in the world to do as a facilitator is to do nothing at all

* OST has re-connected me with my indigenous roots.  Elders know their culture when they see it and the wide eyed astonishment I get from Elders in open space tells me we're on to something...that our deep traditions and wisdom about leadership and process ARE alive after all, and have survived the cultural and historical slaughter like grass seeds in a prairie fire and now it's popping up all over the place.

* that there is no stopping people who discover that passion and responsibility are the only two things you need to begin asking questions that change everything.

* that anything you come up with should be freely given away in the hopes that it will be used and abused by the world.  In this respect, Harrison has set a standard of sharing that we are obliged not to fall short of.  You cannot put this genie back in the bottle. ^ that whoever comes are the right people means that we can look at one another in in the most remarkable ways, as teachers, leaders and co-learners and that we are able to take our inspiration from anywhere.

* That robustness and sustainability live in the connections in a self-organized network and not in the nodes that acquire the power and authority at the expense of everyone else.

* That the only questions we really need to as are how open am I?  How inviting am I? How much more can I hold?  How grounded can we be?

* tricksters and fools lie in the most interesting places and in some of the dead and dull places too and that regardless we ignore them at our peril.

* that life lived as a practise of invitation has the power to transform anything.

* that it is possible to raise children and facilitate their learning in open space, and that should be a lesson to us all about where we expect our living to come from.


Thank you Harrison for prompting the question and getting us into this pickle in the first place...I'm not done answering, not by a long shot.  I continue to live my life and learning about Open Space openly on my weblog and on this list and elsewhere...it's just an evolving state.








Julie Denny [JuliaDenny@aol.com]

Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 6:19 PM


Subject: Re: What Have We Learned?


 What have I learned from Open Space facilitations? (You asked for the downside, as well!)

1. People live up or down to your expectations.

2. Left alone, people will self-organize.

3. Senior executives frequently have a hard time believing that their employees are competent, able to innovate on their own and worth listening to. It's very threatening. Just like lawyers are often hard pressed to believe that disputing parties can negotiate their own agreements in mediation, independent of their attorney's protective, paternal arms.

4. The wisdom of a group is indisputable.

5. In the face of adversity (see #3, see our US political scene today, see prevelance of violence in our world as the answer to too many problems), it is hard to sustain a belief in the promise of OST. After all, if you can't sell it, how can it happen?!

6. I'm not quitting.


Julie Denny




daniel lebel


harrison, et al

thanks for the opportunity and context to add something to -what we have

learnt- and this passed between helen and i yesterday and i don't think it needs any modification for this worthy thread( other than the bracketed additions) daniel lebel westport NZ and interspace

----- Original Message -----

From: Helen Patterson

To: lebelland

Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 12:25 AM

Subject: Re: today



Hi Daniel


Cool to hear of part one of your interplay with deconstruction, creation, and open space.... perhaps the manifestation of the power, the dream, the love. Looking forward to more......


I am very well.

Presently sending out letters for the upcoming COSO workshop in Wellington in May, proof reading the updated manuals for the GC program, contributing to the developing GC website.


Mushrooms growing, raining, dentist tomorrow, tree chopper tomorrow and more proof reading tonight.


E-see you soon

Warm regards




  ----- Original Message -----

  From: lebelland

  To: hp@paradise.net.nz

  Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2005 5:45 PM

  Subject: today



  i shaved and cut my hair and opened space for a group in westport and it was good


  it has been a very physical recent period which has seen myself buying an old house in town and with Niko, (my son) dismantling it piece by piece to bring it home with a view to using this resource to further the development and growth of lebelland( our life) on the westcoast


  it's being fantastic and the deconstruction part of it is not quite finished but soon it will be

  Not the least of what makes it fantastic is working with Niko which is a continuous pleasure.


  interspace( coso) grows, it  keeps opening space with new people naturally and playfully.  Time passes and we become more and more at ease with this 'work', dragging in  increasingly disparate and obtuse justifications for being there at all................and  just keep breaking down those barriers to peoples not believing they are the power, the dream and the love inside themselves


  more to come






Berkessel [robyn@litglobal.com]

Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2005 11:36 AM


Subject: Re: What I have learned


The question for me is in the present continuous - what am I learning? Participatory planning meetings have been part of my modus operandi since the mid 80s when I was trained in  Search Conferencing a la Fred and Merrelyn Emery (Australia).  Approx 10 years later I was told about Open Space Technology.  I read some and loved it; and, finally after too many years, I had the great fortune of attending Harrison's opening space on the Practice of Peace at the invitation of Michael Herman in Chicago only last

year.   Having experienced the Practice of Peace,  living in open space  is

now a continuous learning process of discovering I can open space daily /

hourly when I need it for me, and for and with others.   It helps me in

times of urgency, frustrated with desire to make a difference.   In such

times Harrison's words "we muddle through" come up for me.   They are so

leveling and humbling.  They allow me to catch my breath and settle....the

principles of self-organizing simply are.   My husband, Juergen, also

attended in Chicago, so we have that wonderful experience in common.   We

feel blessed.    Professionally, I am far more patience and gracious;  when

I can open space with clients I love it because I know they will benefit.  I would like it to happen more, but when it happens, it happens and it's powerful.  I feel empowered as the participants take back their own power and it's powerful in every sense - we connect to something deeper and more powerful than we ever could as individuals and it moves us all.


Thank you, HO, and all you wonderful people: your stories mostly send tingles up my spine.  I read the OSList.serv and so often find myself bowing my head in gratitude.  I am learning.





Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

LIT Global ...connecting the dots

+1 732 291 0462





Brian Bainbridge






I want to answer this in terms of "I" rather than "We".


I think I knew a whole lot about Open Space before I came to encounter it when I first met Harrison Owen in a pub near his home in Maryland.


The "givens", for me and from my experience, were along the lines that change had to come from within a person or group, not imposed as much of my studies in management and change management had proposed. And that unless people were committed to (passionate about) the issue and/or the outcome, no improvement could occur. And, from the longer-term contracts I had worked on, things would happen when the right time came around, provided no one in management or union tried to force the development. And that those who wanted to improve things would be those who then took up the task and would find ways of helping that change to be born/implemented.


My discovery that these insights were consistent with a new (to me) activity/ program called "Open Space", was hugely encouraging and satisfying, especially coming from someone who was so widely experienced in organizations and change programming.


Since then, I have learnt that :


.       Open Space, to be really impactful, has to be lived - at least by

the Space opener.

.       It is a process utterly consistent with the religious principles and

teachings by which I have always tried to live.

.       Unlike so many other "change processes/packages", it allows people

to use their own free will as they see fit to contribute (or not) - and when they see they are not coerced, they often find it possible to go with the opportunity and make meaningful contribution; which simply cannot happen in "forced" or "imposed" programs.

.       The virtue of patience - with myself and with others, despite the

efforts and commitment of some people to get things done before they can be done.

.       There has emerged a wonderful connection with a small number of

people around the world whose insighting and experience and advice I have come to value enormously - so much so that I have often gone half way round the world just to spend a couple of days in their aura. Some of these people have become lifelong friends.

.       The sharing at OSonOS has been extraordinary in terms of ideas,

opportunities, new initiatives and insights and spirit, and just plain yarning and connecting. It's a circle of friends that is always there, always open, always happy to help with whatever can be shared.

.       Patience even when a prospective client decides not to use Open

Space, and to allow that it may not be the right time, that they see it as too risky, that they would rather use a process with known outcomes, etc. My patience is always tinged with some sadness - not at not having the chance to open space, but at their flopping back into less useful (as I see it) processes, but knowing that they will possibly make the step into this field of open Space when it is the right time for them.

.       Patience, too, with those who set out to "be trained" in Open Space,

knowing that they will gain some insight into the process and its applicability, and that the first time they choose to open space is very daunting - though some never do that.

.       Not to try to "sell" Open Space to any client, rather to expose the

opportunities so that they can decide for themselves - which they always do, anyway.

.       As the years have moved along, I find it easier and easier to open

space, though I always am nervous (much to the surprise of many who watch what I do and don't believe such a statement). In fact, almost everything I do with people is now done in an open space fashion, either formally or informally.

.       To love the chaos that emerges as people "go to the wall"  when the

market place is opened - I often suggest "this will be a bit chaotic, and welcome to the real world".

.       I just love using the "talking stick" exercise at the end of a

program, especially if enough time is available for everyone to put in their bit.  I could "write a book" (so to speak) about the amazing things that have emerged at that time.  Seems to me we are accessing something of the spirit of the group when we do this.  I will usually invite people to share how they FEEL rather than how they THINK about the program time we have spent together.

.       Re-reading the Facilitator's Guide immediately before I open space

has always been a special mode of preparation for me - at least the chapter about  opening the space and what to say.  It keeps me grounded in the process, I believe, and helps me to keep what I say to a minimum.

.       And, finally, Open Space has opened for me connections and

activities in many parts of the world which - arguably - could never have happened. Which have always been enormously challenging ad enjoyable and, I believe, contributory to growth and peace and happiness in our world - with a long way to go yet.


Reverting now to the "WE" side of learning.


.       Some real insighting into the meaning and application and

universality of chaos theory as we understand it, whether we talk in academic terms of "Complex Adaptive Systems Theory" or whether we label it as "self-organizing-systems", and considerable improvement in explaining the way this actually happens in the natural life of humans.

.       Coupled with that, a serious hesitance about the pre-occupation of

20th century management teaching and consultation with outcomes and certainty, both of which may have worked for a while in that century, but are also the cause of a vast amount of sadness and inhumanity and damage and mis-managing in the world of business we have been  bequeathed from that century.

.       I remain quite unsure about the need for extensive academic or

applied research about the applicability and effectiveness of Open Space Technology, though I would not discourage the efforts being expended in these directions.  I sense, perhaps stupidly, that the academic world and its bestowing of credibility has now not much to really offer our world.  It seems, rather, to be increasingly out of touch with the reality we see and recognize in our work and living with Open Space. Better - for the world - that we get on with applying and helping people to apply (and thus

recognize) the reality and worth of Open Space, using our energy better that way.

.       It has been - so far - extremely gratifying to now have the

opportunity of using Open Space Technology to enable spirit and energy and initiative and innovation emerge in the Parish I have been given to care for. Even if the jury is still out (and things have really just begun), the achievements so far seem outstanding - and the future looks entrancing and,

no doubt, will be full of even more surprises







Setterwall [agneta.setterwall@telia.com]

Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2005 4:18 AM


Subject: Re: What have i learned?


Hello dear listpeople.

I have worked a lot lately, facilitated about five different processes  in a week. That is a bit too much, and still it worked fine. Back here again I am reminded of what made it possible. Using Kerrys, Steve Cochrans and HOs words, this is what I have learned from OS:


If I choose to /trust the people/ I have to /let go of control/. The smoothest way to do that is to think of /one more thing not to do/, and to /never work harder than I have to/. And that is the best way I can /serve the Community/.


I have a question: how do you inspire more and more people to trust the people? It is not easy to start that good spiral in this world. To many people it is an insane idea.


Agneta Setterwall, Uppsala, Sweden






Sent: Monday, April 04, 2005 2:49 PM


Subject: Re: What I have Learned


i have learned that i have 2 feet which are very useful::))







From: OSLIST [OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] on behalf of Cheryl Honey [wecare@familynetwork.org]

Sent: Monday, April 04, 2005 12:23 PM


Subject: Re: What I have Learned


Greetings to all:

What's been revealed to me about OS is when a space is opened enabling people to take responsibility for what they love...it shifts consciousness and manifests the "common good" of society. This is the premise from which my transformative community building blossoms.

In love and service,



Cheryl Honey

Ambassador for Peace

Good Neighbors Net




From: OSLIST [OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] on behalf of Shay Ben Yosef [shayby@communitynet.co.il]

Sent: Monday, April 04, 2005 3:34 AM


Subject: Re: What I have Learned


Dear OS community,


What I have learned in OS is:


1) That spirit is everywhere, we just enabling it to emerge.


2) That the best way to cop complex world, is by using simple method.


3) That in order to do the first two paragraphs, I have to start with myself.




The 20 anniversary


Shay Ben yosef





From: OSLIST [OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] on behalf of Jim Metcalf [jim9654@altelco.net]

Sent: Sunday, April 03, 2005 9:20 PM


Subject: What I have Learned


Dear Friends in OS,


What I have learned in OS is that 1) it works; 2) the people of this list are collectively the most intellectually interesting, generous-hearted, peaceful people I have ever met; 3) and this gives me hope. Thanks to all of you who participate on this list. You enrich my life.




Best Wishes Always,





Lisa Heft





Sent: Friday, April 01, 2005 7:16 AM


Subject: Re: What Have we Learned


Thank you, Harrison, for inviting the question of what we each have learned - about Open Space about ourselves, and about organizations in / about / via Open Space.


One day in 2000 I decided I really needed to go to a certain workshop - even though I had no idea what it was about.  It turns out it was a week-long workshop on and in Open Space, led by this bloke named Harrison.  It also turns out that over half of the participants attending also had no idea why they needed to be there but needed to be there.  (In fact, one guy posted a topic 'why am I here?' and that was one of the richest discussions we had!)


As Harrison spoke each morning I felt I heard the words in my very cells

- for that is what truth is like when someone else speaks it - you know it, as well, right when they are saying it.  With other amazed, delighted and thoughtful people I jumped into Open Space and twirled and floated and soared and swooped and glided and tumbled and fluttered and zoomed in Open Space.


I'd felt like I had found my tribe, and I hadn't known I'd been lost before that - only that (as brother Chris mentioned) I had found home.


Since then I've opened space for one person, for 1500 people all speaking different languages meeting in a huge airplane hangar, for great big teamster guys banging their chests and roaring at each other, for 850 young people holding concurrent sessions on everything from racism to chess to child slavery to teaching the Chicago Hustle (a dance), for doctors and nurses fighting the AIDS epidemic, for Catholic parishioners co-creating the Diocese's strategic plan, for top management and housekeepers of a luxury golf resort property...and I've posted sessions on and in silence and in movement and in spoken word.


...oh the places you go in Open Space.


I've learned...


...that when you work in Open Space you get to be hired by visionaries creating breathing and sparks and nutritious environments in their organizations and communities...


...that if you mess with it by thinking you need to help and solve and soothe you can squish it like a soufflé...


...that even an animated personality such as me becomes completely invisible as soon as space opens...


...that people who bring in Open Space to their organizations, communities and conferences are brave and have faith and believe in the wisdom of the collective...


...that I'm addicted to being able to witness people re-discovering that they are amazing and they can do anything they set their minds and creativity to...


...that listening, truly listening, is often more powerful than solving...


...that like bodywork and other holistic health approaches, Open Space is helpful on an ongoing basis to keep things healthy and flexible, not just when something hurts...


...that this global community of facilitators, learners and enthusiasts of Open Space are a special tribe and that our work and our connection makes me feel that we help to weave the world together...


...that the best way to further one's work and one's learning is by being generous...


...that whatever happens and whenever and whomever and be prepared because the best thing always happens in the best way possible if you just let go and open your arms wide enough...it's just that it doesn't always happen as or when or how you expected it...


...that it's very easy to live in Open Space - for some people it just takes a little practice but it gets easier all the time...


- - -


...and so I pass the talking stick, or listening stone, or computer mouse...to the next one of my fellow OSniks.  I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and reflections...


Take care, fellow navigators of Open Space,





L i s a   H e f t

Consultant, Facilitator, Educator

O p e n i n g  S p a c e

2325 Oregon

Berkeley, California

94705-1106   USA

+01 510 548-8449





Kerry Napuk


From: OSLIST [OSLIST@LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] on behalf of kerry napuk


Sent: Friday, April 01, 2005 12:30 AM


Subject: What have i learned?


Dear Harrison et al


Since 1997, I have learned two invaluable lessons from open space:


1. Let go of control.


2. Serve the Community.


Kind regards



Open Futures






Elwin Guild



Joan [elwinandjoan@yahoo.com]

Sent: Thursday, April 14, 2005 1:32 PM


Subject: Re: What I have learned


Opening Space - What Have I Learned?


Keep It Simple.

No buzz words please. Just tell a story that connects with the hearts and minds that face you as you move about the circle. Bring their eyes to connect with all the other eyes and you have connected their hearts as well!


Trust In Humanity.

As we know, it always works. Each time I Open Space, I am adding to my true sense of trust in people, the core of it all!  So here is the one aspect of Open Space where more is better. Do it! And do it some more. It only gets better.


Practice Makes Perfect.

I ALWAYS read the User’s Guide before Opening Space. It’s a mantra, a Zen that gives me the breath and focus to honor the humanity I have committed to assist. And yes, every time one thing less…. that’s more!



“Be” The Principles

How simple and how difficult. They conflict with our environmental conditioning and it takes intuitive faith to live them, not just perform them. Although a long road lies ahead for me in this case, at least I’m on the right road, and it takes me to wondrous people and places on this planet.


Obey The “Law”

Whenever I have nothing to give or get, I get up and use my two feet. As we all have heard, it is the one aspect of Open Space that all participants recount and celebrate.


Every Day Do Something That Scares You!

That a quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt. It seems to speak to the notion of people self-organizing. Talk about scary! As a manager, I made a practice of “pushing the envelope” thereby testing my belief that self organization works outside of the formal Open Space setting; it does!


They Won’t Do It If The “Conditions” Aren’t There!

We all lament the difficulty in getting managers to accept our method- OST. Fact is, they always accept it when the required conditions are

there: 1) A Real problem, 2) Something Complex and potentially Contentious and 3) Decision time of yesterday.  Call that condition chaos or desperation or ?  It is the “only” time we can do what we do – Open Space!


Celebrate And Give Thanks.

Cry when the closing circle asks it of you! Sing when the voices come together! Hug each other to pass the love around. And finally say, “Thank you for the gift Harrison. I love you so much!”



Thomas Herrmann



Herrmann [thomas@openspaceconsulting.com]

Sent: Wednesday, December 14, 2005 4:40 PM


Subject: SV: What Have we Learned (update)


Dear Harrison, dear friends in Open Space, dear birthday-technology I had the stick for a while now, I hope you didn’t fall to sleep... So, the question for the closing circle (hmmf.. new beginnings...) was: “reflect on the past 20 years (or at least that part of the 20 years in which you participated in the OS community) – and offer up your understanding of what you, personally, have learned - about

Open Space, yourself in Open Space, about organizations in Open Space.


Hmmmm, actually never thought about that before, in 1985 I was in Open Space the whole year - what a start! I was traveling around the globe(Asia, Australia), just following the principles and the law (without ever having heard about them), WOW never thought about that in quite that way before. Then a quick jump to 1998 when I first heard about a meeting methodology called Open Space Technology or Oppet Forum as my first teacher Ingrid Olausson would say. I got hooked immediately! And now Open Space and ways of working which are in line with the values of OST are my livelihood and a big part of my life and me. I am a trainer of the Genuine Contact program, and I think I have most of the tools I need in order to do the work I love, although there are many many lifetime homeworks to do!


So, what did I learn about Open Space? Well I learnt that I am always in Open Space - that’s life! There are so many layers to Open Space... Regarding the methodology I learnt all the details it takes to facilitate a good meeting(hmm not all maybe but many). I learnt that, for me, the pre-work and follow up are essential parts to make a difference. I have recently started to also include an evaluation(4-6 months after the meeting) in my proposals - and all sponsors have so far cheered and said yes, yes I want that. I have learnt that many many times great things happen as a result of an OS-meeting and nobody remembers where it came from - Open Space was fun but nothing really happened - until they take a closer look! I also learnt to take the stage when opening up the space - the ritual. I?ve also learnt that there are as many ways to work with Open Space as there are facilitators - it is very personal.


So, getting into the personal aspect, what did I learn about myself in Open Space? Actually I think that I was attracted to OS partly because I had a lot of OS in me already. Thinking about the journey I mentioned above, two friends, my brother and myself bought each a one way ticket to Beijing, China by train. We had agreed on that this was an individual project for each of us so no one was tied to anyone else (the law). So whatever happened was OK. I spent 1 year in Asia and 6 months in Australia on that journey. Stayed wherever I wanted to stay as long as I chose. Met a beautiful girl in Sydney(my wife Mia, Swede too!)- whatever happens - again! And when it was over it was over. I learnt a lot about OS on that journey!!!


Having the privilege to work a lot with OS has of course deepened my understanding about myself and my role in life. The four fold way has journeyed with me for long too and I learnt a lot about these aspects through working with OS. I have come to understand that what I offer people is something very special. People in our "developed" part of the world have (or rather take!) so rarely the opportunity to act from what they really want to do. To meet other people and talk/take action on things that really matter, on equal terms is so rare. Especially in organizations.


Invitation, openness, equality, diversity, humbleness, fun, inspiration, love, play, efficiency, focus - are just words that come to me right now (sitting on the train from Norway).


So, Open Space in organizations... Although I know that many organizations I have worked with have learnt a lot and changed some of their behaviors, this is really something that I wish and intend! to work more with in the near future. Anyway, it?s funny how the law and the butterflies and bumblebees seem to stick around. I think these metaphores are so brilliant! Actually I am involved in one organization where we have chosen OS as the operating system. This is not paid work (NGO) but I am trying to work as much as I can with it to gain experience - and for a good cause. I have also come to base all of my own collaboration and my own projects on these values using the tools that I use with my clients - that?s a good start too!


Well, that’s it for my little contribution in this closing - new beginnings circle. Cheers & thanks everyone for being an important part of my life.


Thomas Herrmann