Finding a Good Theme

I often describe Open Space as a “practice in invitation.” At the center of every invitation is a theme, in the same way that at the center of every meeting/circle is a purpose. The theme is the clearest possible statement of the purpose. Here’s a bit of what OST originator Harrison Owen had to say recently, when asked about “good themes for Opening Space…”

…I doubt that there is any such thing as a “generic good theme.” But I have found that there are some general criteria:

  • Short — anything more than a half dozen words is usually too long.
  • Always stated as a question — questions open space. Statements close it.
  • In the language of the people — every organization or group of people has its own special language and code words. The theme should be stated in that language/words. This is
    one reason why a great theme for one group will automatically be a dud for
  • Cuts to the heart of the matter — there is a place for diplomatic statement, but not here. Verbal obfuscation rarely arouses passion — and you want a lot of passion.

A really good theme will be so specific to that group that others will simply not notice it, or if noticed, then not inspired [by it]. Read the full OSLIST posting…

Once you have a theme that fits like this, the rest of the invitation is usually a slam dunk. Just tell them where and when to show up!


Harrison’s point about passion is dead on. When you have a ton of passion around the real conversation, Open Space is the thing that shows up, and no one even stops to think about the process.