Evolution and Open Space

A question was raised recently in an OSLIST conversation about the “next generation” of Open Space. Gabriela Ender, founder of the OpenSpace-Online virtual conferencing facility, offered a beautiful response:

Next generation of OST? Why? The gift and the power of OST its exactly this beautiful easiness. When we want to enable and support selforganization – we have to be role models for “less is more”. I think, we facilitators facilitating OST not for us. We do it for the people.

My question would not be “next generation OST”, but rather next generation of consciousness. Consciousness in terms of how to include the elegance of OST into ongoing or planned communication or transformation processes, the consciousness of how to combine complementary methods and resources within in a longer term process (also offline and online), and also consciousness in terms of what is our role as consultants/facilitators, if we work with OST.

If we step into the shoes of the people, we do not need a next generation OST, we need humility for the miracles of OST and a personal dinner demand for quality regarding well designed participatory architectures.

For me, OST has nothing to do with trends. It simply touches the heart of people and because it gives official permission for selforganization. For me its all about “back to the roots and forward to higher consciousness”. I deeply believe and feel, its all just the beginning – based on millions of evolutionary open space years.

Harrison Owen had a nice response to this, as well.

Chris Corrigan and I have been using the words “Inviting Leadership” to describe this evolution, but we’ll save that story and link for another day.

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!

The simplest way to learn to converse

Great stuff from Chris Corrigan about learning to converse

1. Be present.
2. Have a good question.
3. Use a listening piece.
4. Work with mates.
5. Harvest.
6. Be wise.

Value of Silence in Group Work

John Engle shares with the OSlist how at the opening of group work, he often invites groups to rest at ease if silence happens, waiting for what the silence might bring:

“I ask that we see silence as a friend during our time together whether we’re in small groups or in this large group. If silence comes, let’s not feel like we need to chase it away, remembering that frequently, it’s the nudgings of silence that bring into being ideas and voices which would’ve otherwise remained unspoken.”

Open Wide, Even if Briefly

Ralph Copleman, an OS veteran who’s been around since OS started, posted this bit of brilliance to the OSLIST today:

Here’s what I think about trying to do it all in one day…

I don’t bother trying to get proceedings printed, let alone distributed and reviewed. That’s for later. I operate out of the belief that one day is not enough to truly explore the territory (the “issues and opportunities”) plus come to conclusion about priorities plus formulate action plans. You can do it, but it will not, in my experience, have much sticking power. And the larger the group, the more challenging it is to make the energy last.

So I open space, hold the space, close the space.

The latter, for me, requires about 20 minutes (not counting a closing circle, which I always do in one form or another, sometimes abbreviated to one word or phrase per person).

  1. Ask people what themes came up repeatedly regardless of topic or session. Ask someone to note these on flip charts.
  2. Keep going until everyone who wishes has a chance to mention the theme they noticed.
  3. Take the resultant flip charts, spread them on the floor, ask people to mark their favorites. Might be three, five, seven, etc. Depends on the size of the group and the number of items on the chart. Count them up if there’s time. Certainly count them up if you’ll be moving on to action planning the next day. Otherwise, simply promise the info will be available shortly in written form (after the coordinators pull it together and send it out).

(Where did I learn to do it this way? I do not remember, but I think from Harrison. Is it in the book?)

Simple, fast, everyone’s involved, no fancy footwork on my part. I can think of a thousand group dynamics issues and eventualities that I have not covered by doing things this way. My conviction is few if any of them really matter. Dealing with them, I have learned from finally acknowledging feedback I could not hear for years, was more about my needs than the client’s.

Organizations of all types may be better served if we open the space W I D E and let lots of air and light in than if we merely crack a window for a brief time in the name of completing the entire exercise in a short period.

New Collection of OST Stories Available

Chris Corrigan has posted 21 newly revised stories of Open Space in action at his website. These stories form an important learning resource, especially for those working with marginalized groups.

Michael Herman has updated his ongoing contemplation of the “practices of Open Space“, in preparation for the Open Space Leadership Practice Retreat that he and Chris Corrigan will be hosting next week, April 18-20, on Bowen Island, in British Columbia.

Michael describes these as the four practices of Open Space:

* Opening Heart:

…The key questions are about core issues, the heart of the matter, the center of the problem or situation, which is always me. What do I care about? What do I love?

* Inviting Connection

…As heart opens, I can invite connection with others. I dare to attract attention. And I have attention of my own to give…What might we be together?

* Supporting Collaboration

…How do we learn, move, live, and work together?

* Making a Difference

…Then, what is my responsibility here?…How will I ground this energy I have? How will I use it to make a difference for myself and others?

In our retreat next week, we’ll consider how we apply these practices as facilitators, participants and leaders, in meetings, conferences, organizations and communities.

Supportive Online Communities

A conversation from the Open Space listserv illustrates the power of online communities like the OSlist.

Allison Hewlitt writes:

I just wanted to send a quick note of thanks for the responses that I received from my earlier email requesting advice on whether or not to introduce OS as part of a larger conference. Deep down, I realise that I knew the answer but simply needed to hear it from someone else. So, a big thank you for providing the reassurance and support that was needed.

I also believe, but can’t prove, that the responses increased my colleagues confidence in using OS for half of the conference. Having told my colleague’s about the request that I made to this community and the supportive responses that were received, a couple of colleagues asked to read them. I am quite certain that by hearing other perspectives, they are also getting some of the reassurance that they need to trust me and trust OS.

Chris Corrigan responds:

Alison, you have pointed to a major benefit of this community and other online communities that are supportive of each other. Last year, as I was planning an appreciative summit on Aboriginal youth suicide, I put out a call on my weblog for folks who might be interested in bouncing ideas around. The responses I got, which included ideas from India, Ireland, the UK, the States and elsewhere were a huge boost for my client who suddenly felt connected and cared for in a way they had not experienced before.

“You mean people in India are helping us do this???”

There is so much to be gained by sharing and asking for help…pay it forward!

Is there a project that you are working on or a question that keeps resurfacing in your awareness? The power of opening up, sharing, and asking for help is unlimited… go ahead, try it!

Open Space and complex problems

At How to Save the World, Dave Pollard is looking at using leading edge thinking on social networks wisdom of crowds and Open Space Technology to find ways to address complex problems. He paints a picture of how a summit leveraging theory produced by George Lakoff, James Surowicki and Dave Snowdon can address issues like global warming:

Conceptually, this seems to me to be an ideal melding of the best of social Complexity Theory, Open Space Technology and the Wisdom of Crowds principles, and bringing in learnings from Lakoff’s Frames theories and Freakonomics methodology, to provide a means by which intractable problems could be addressed in a flexible, constructive, and yet highly disciplined way, so that a broad and deep understanding of the issue could emerge, and where resolutions that might never be revealed in more traditional ‘problem-solving’ venues might be identified and pursued by those ‘responsible’, in a self-organizing and very fluid and dynamic setting.

Visit Dave’s site and join in the conversation.

The Four Practices of Open Space- reframed

Many practitioners of OST underline that the daily practice of open space in life is more important than the tool called “Open Space Technology.”

Michael Herman together with Chris Corrigan have outlined a brief description of the four practices of Open Space. Michael offered a refined version of these practices recently.

Paul Everett shared his understanding of these practices on the OS list as inspired by the South African teacher, Oz Swallow.

As Paul remembers them:


Fun creates Enjoyment.
Enjoyment invites Participation.
Participation focuses Attention.
Attention expands Awareness.
Awareness promotes Insight.
Insight generates Knowledge.
Knowledge facilitates Action.
Action yields Results.

(Therefore, Fun is results-producing)

To Be Clear

This to the OSLIST recently from Birgitt Williams

The client opens the space in the organization for the facilitator to then do his/her thing with facilitating an OST meeting. Sometimes the space that the client chooses to open is quite big, sometimes it is very small. The key in the prep work and working with the “givens” is whether the space is stated truly, is authentic.

I have never found an organization that couldn’t open a little space for some conversation. For example, in the military, it was not about the whole military, it was only about a master plan for the landscape of the military college, however it was truly open space for the OST meeting to take place. One of the givens, stated by the Brigadier General who was also the commandant was ‘democracy ends on Thursday at 5pm’.

He didn’t pretend that the space was more open than it was. It was very specific to get a specific job done. And it got done well. Follow up even years later is that the whole plan was financed and has been implemented.

The client matters. Openness matters. Clarity matters. Truth matters. And each one is reinforced by the next.

Ever Evolving the Four Practices of Open Space

Michael Herman recently posted the latest iteration of his thinking on the Four Practices of Open Space: opening, inviting, holding, and grounding. Here’s an excerpt:

opening heart – in open space, it is the themes and purposes that arise in the hearts of leaders that we turn into invitations. by opening heart, we discover or rediscover the thing(s) we love.
inviting attention – in open space, the invitation comes from listening and then goes out to invite more conversation. to invite attention we almost always need to ask questions and tell stories, about what was, what is now, and what is next.
supporting connection – by supporting connection we make conversation, decision-making, and commitment possible. to support connection, we almost always need to open and hold spaces for people, work, and information to move.
grounding the energy – to ground the energy we almost always have to take responsibility, for recognizing, creating and/or securing value.

For the full text click here.

A Collection of Papers about OS

Lisa Heft is a valuable member of the Open Space learning community. In addition to working with business leaders, faith communities, peacemakers, young people, violence survivors, educators, scientists, prisoners, union and management representatives, conference organizers, researchers, activists and government representatives, she also maintains a website which provides a plethora of resources about Open Space and other related topics. Below are some papers that she has compiled from conversations in the OSLIST archive.

Devoted and Disgruntled

Phelim McDermott, co-artistic director of Improbable in London, offered this recently on the OSLIST

In preparation for next weekend when I also facilitate my first open space event(!) I put together an invitation which was about how to make things better in our theatre community. It was because I felt passionately that things weren’t as good as they could be in theatreland and I was fed up of hearing myself moan and not doing something about it. The invite was called “devoted and disgruntled.” It’s had an extraordinary response and we have gone beyond the capacity of our space, with 200 people signed up and fifty on a waiting list.

This is a great example of what I always coach clients to do in their invitations: tell the truth. I am devoted to this thing AND I’m disgruntled. That last part is the tough one, and I’m guessing it’s the part of Phelim’s invitation that really makes it sing to others who want something more. I’ve no doubt that they’ll create that “more” when he opens the space for that next weekend.

UPDATE: Phelim published in The Guardian in London… On the surface, British theatre is in its healthiest state in years. But is this buzz of activity hiding a creative slump, in which celebrity and ‘ticking boxes’ are prized over innovation? Here, four writer-directors argue that the theatre is in trouble – and offer their visions for the future. —The Guardian (click and scroll down for Phelim’s section of the story.

WHAT HAPPENED: In short, lots of good things. Reported here and here and here.

Practices for Opening Space

The first one of these reminds me of Mickki Langston. From Peggy Holman via Michael Herman:

…[some] aspects I think are making a difference for me:

1. Defining the Law of Two Feet as “taking responsibility for what you love”. I no longer talk about the Law of Two Feet as passion and responsibility. While basically equivalent, there’s something very powerful about this framing — it is highly actionable for both individuals and groups.

2. Using silence in the plenary. Morning announcements, evening news, I always begin with silence. This is really subtle and yet I know it matters. It seems to connect people with themselves, each other, and the whole.

3. Time and diversity. These old friends really matter. Two and a half days or more. Time to cook is so vital when dealing with complexity. PLUS bringing together unlikely mixes of people — the whole system — prepares the soil for the unexpected. The more creative the definition of the system the better!

4. Setting bold intention. The more ambitious the purpose, the more the potential energy to transform it contains. It may seem obvious, but I often find myself coaching sponsors to be daring.

I think these aspects bring qualities to the work of creating a fertile field that up the likelihood for good things to happen.

How are these working for you?

Download the User’s NON-Guide

Chris Corrigan reminds us of a resource that grew when

…in 2001, 37 practitioners unwittingly contributed to an astounding conversation on the OSLIST that begged to be made into a book. And so, in January of 2002, Michael Herman and I edited the conversation into Open Space Technology: A User’s NON-Guide, which is a collection of voices all musing on the Spirit of OST. It won’t tell you how to do one, but it talks alot about why it works.

For your copy as a .pdf, download it here