Open Space as Therapy?

Harrison Owen shared this old story recently…

…but what really delights me are the comments from the Psychology Professor, “who gave high praise to the ‘therapeutic properties of this process’ evidenced by, in his words, ‘the positively healthy dynamics so unexpected in such a meeting of highly disparate interests’….”

I am reminded of a situation in Canada when the senior staff of a large sheltered workshop program for the “developmentally disabled” came to a training. After the training, the staff returned to their facilities and resolved to put OS to work in a much larger staff conference on the future of the program. To save some money they held the gathering in one of their facilities. Accordingly they set out the chairs in a circle and were surprised to find that their clients joined the party. To the staff’s credit they just added more chairs and proceeded with the business.

I am not sure what they thought would happen, but as it turned the clients took a very active role in the OS, offering a number of sessions and attending sessions offered by others (surprise!).

Some months after the gathering, I got a letter from the director, who had attended the training program much against her better judgment :-). She told me of what happened, and then we on to say that a major impact of the OS had been a doubling of services for no increase in budget. It seemed that just about half of the previously offered services were neither wanted not needed by the clients — but nobody had ever talk to them before. And of course in the open space, everybody talked.

More than a year after the original training I got another letter from the director who said that a totally remarkable thing had occurred. Every year the program tested its clients in terms of their capacity to cope in the world. I am not sure how these tests worked, but I guess there are some sort of standardized versions. Anyhow, when they administered the test they discovered that for all the clients who had participated in open space there was the largest increase in test scores anybody had ever seen. The director’s conclusion was that OS was the most effective therapeutic modality they had ever employed.

With that story in mind, combined with the remarks of your Psychology professor — it strikes me that the good professor might find open space a fruitful field for research. I can just imagine what the results are likely to be, and then we would really be in trouble!