Cambodian Street Kids in Open Space

Singapore-based Nigel Seys-Phillips, reported on the OSLIST on his contribution to a World Bank Asian initiative to connect with marginalized people:

…an amazing meeting in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, with some 150 street children from the horrendous circumstances of working for a living on the Phnom Penh city garbage dump – a literal mountain of fetid rubbish where garbage trucks arrive every few minutes to dump their waste directly onto this pile. The children made a living scrabbling for anything sellable the moment the back was opened, running in front of the bulldozer set to plough it down. Plastic, material, glass, food – anything sellable that might make them up to US$1 per day if they were truly lucky.

…Taken in by an astounding NGO “Pour Un Sourire D’Enfant” they now work at school six days a week. They are fed three simple nutritious meals a day, given uniforms and books, and educated towards a career and a productive life.

…We tackled the theme: “A better future for us – the Issues and Opportunities” And within the two days allowed we posted 110 topics. We reviewed, discussed and documented 92 of them and prioritized to 10, for which we created action points.

…these are street children from approximately 12-18 years old, but major topics prioritized included:

  • Corruption and how to reduce it in Cambodia
  • How to develop the economy in Cambodia to give us greater work opportunities
  • How to export more products made in Cambodia
  • How to limit illegal immigration so Cambodians aren’t disadvantaged
  • How to use the results of the Khmer Rouge trials to benefit the people of Cambodia

These, and the way the children came at them, are a great tribute to the power of Open Space and its ability to genuinely achieve openness and safety for those who would otherwise not have a voice.

The World Bank OST “road show” continues to Mongolia, Laos, Timor, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand, and we hope to be able to train others to take the programme deeper into these countries.

A hearty thanks to Nigel for this work, and to Brian Bainbridge and Viv McWaters for their initiating work.

Time-Lapse Open Space!

This is just about the coolest bit of OS documentation I have ever seen. There are words about this event at Johnnie Moore’s Weblog, but this is the cool part, posted at YouTube… Open Space in 30 seconds, time-lapse video of his one-day event at the BBC.

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.

Open Space in Brazil

Theresa Williamson writes:

Yesterday we undertook a new experiment at Catalytic Communities, inspired by a friend and collaborator, Michael Herman.

and then goes on to say:

As the director of CatComm I was refreshed to see staff taking control of the meeting… I was fascinated by the topics that came up naturally, as they are different to those I would have posed, but are perhaps closer to the pulse of what is really important…

Anne Stadler on Spirited Work

Spirited Work is an experiment in ongoing Open Space that’s been running in the Seattle area since 1999. Anne Stadler, one of the founders and leaders of this multi-year journey, has posted an excellent short history of Spirited Work, complete with pictures.

Open Space with third graders

From Ashley Cooper to the OSList about doing Open Space with 42 third graders in 1 hour and 10 minutes (I would’ve given you an excerpt, but couldn’t bear to cut any of this):

The theme was What can we do to make our school a better place? What can we do to make our world a better place?

Of course, the children took to it so easily. We had 2, 20 minute sessions in which they generated 18 topics such as New Rules for the Playground, How we should be nice and kind to each other, Learning from history’s mistakes, Children’s Voting Rights, Try to help the environment! Not polluting any more!, and Not excluding people from anything.

We ended with a once around reflection circle in which everyone had a chance to share. Here are some of their comments.

  • What I liked in my group was that there were no debates. We were all united. There were differences about how it is, but we were all united.
  • We decided to start a fund to save the rainforest.
  • Our group went well. Kids voting rights. It was a good opportunity for discussion.
  • In history’s biggest mistakes, it started as being silly with just girls there. Then the boys came in and made it better. In the second session I bonded with someone I didn’t know that well.
  • Everyone agreed with saving the rainforest. It wasn’t silly. We were serious.
  • I think we talked about an important issue: not excluding.

One little touch that I think helped a lot with this age group was to provide a basket of objects that hosts could choose to use for a talking stick. I saw a few kids struggling with everyone talking at once and then one of them running to grab a talking stick. I also provided a generic form for them to use for note taking.

Aside from the opportunity for their voices to be heard, to connect with one another around things that matter to them, and to experience themselves self-organizing, I greatly appreciated that students who have a tendency to wander and not participate in assigned topics (students that can often be labeled as challenges) that at the OS they actually had names and roles for their ways of being, butterflies and bumble bees. I loved that they were doing what they were ‘supposed to be doing’ by wandering around and trying to figure out where they belong and where they want to participate.

The Future of Public Radio

Rob Paterson writes about The New Realities Forum, a meeting of over 300 delegates from all across the Public Radio system in the US, which occurred in Open Space over the weekend in Washington, DC. UK consultant Johnnie Moore opened the space.

Rob described the gathering’s purpose before it started:

Our intention – to find agreement on how we will go into the future together…

…The stakes are high. For many who will attend, the issue is much more than the survival and health of public radio but the survival of the last large media space in America that can be trusted. Some see the stakes as higher yet. They see the opportunity that public radio can expand its role from trusted news source to a space where the citizens of the nation can come together safely and solve the pressing problems that confront their communities….

And afterwards reported:

We have just completed 2 days of Open Space meetings with leaders of Public Radio in the US. I have been blown away, as have the delegates, with the power of this process to enable a rich and deep conversation.

What really made it for me though was how the conference concluded. Here I heard the public radio system declare as a body that it would start the hard work of setting aside petty differences and find a way to come together as a true system with a structure that would heal and help.

Imagine the real power of a real network of hundreds of stations and great producers such as NPR, MPR, APM and PRI all dedicated to help each other inform their communities, the nation and ultimately the world. Imagine this power dedicated to not only keeping the truth alive but also in creating the space where people can come together and find the trust, influence and safety to solve the intractable problems of our time such as why don’t our schools work, why are we not more healthy, why is there such a divide between cultures and communities…

Johnnie and Rob posted an excellent description of the Open Space process on the retreat forum site, where you can also find photos and session reports.

Open Space with Youth

This in today from Lise Damkjær in Copenhagen:

One of my best OS-experiences was this summer doing an 2-day Open space with thirty 15-17-year-old youngsters from Denmark and Letvia (so they had to do it in english to understand each other).

Their teachers had decided that the theme should be “Democracy and the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen” (He was danish…)

The first morning we told the youngsters, that we expected them to host an open space with their parents as participantsin the next evening – and that we expected them to work out 4 small plays about democracy and the 4 chosen fairytales to inspire the open space.

And then we introduced open space – and they got to work! Lots of work!

In the evening the day after when the parents arrived the 4 plays were showed and 4 of the youngsters introduced open space and the space were open!

In a chat with one of the young OS-hosts I mentioned that the adults were a bit slow in getting started. This 15-year-old boy reflected: “I think they are having a hard time – being in the same learning as we were yesterday…”

WOW – with these youngsters we don’t need to wory about the future!

More stories about Opening Space for youth and education in the OpenSpaceWorld.NET Workspace.

Circles of Change: Haiti Innovation

John Engle and colleagues have created a program, called Circles of Change, in Haiti which incorporates Open Space and another method they refer to as Reflection Circles. Nice to see their success featured recently at Haiti Innovation, a new Washington DC-based nonprofit which was started by former Haiti Peace Corps volunteers:

In the midst of a national situation that is violent and chaotic, it is indeed refreshing and stimulating to see how Beyond Borders’ small but vibrant alternative to the authoritarian schooling and leadership is taking shape in Haiti.

—Claudette Werleigh, former Prime Minister of Haiti and Director of the Life & Peace Institute

Circles of Change is one of several Open Space Initiatives that invite and encourage your inquiry and support.

Open Space in the high tech sector

A recent gathering of programmers who blend various applications in California used Open Space Technology for their MashUp Camp. The resulting story, published on, is a great overview of how Open Space Technology works in the high tech and social software sectors, and shows how spontaneous Open Space sessions can be blended with pre-existing presentations.

Following on the recent story of Open Space at the RecentChangesCamp for wiki users, it is clear that OST is filling the need for social networking conference organizers who are looking for “unconferencing” formats whioch mimic the way social networks work online.

Being happy with Not-Knowing

This just in from Andrew from : OSonOSinOZ
Being able to stand the complexity, the intensity, the discomfort and generally being happy with not-knowing takes some real effort.

We “don’t really like the format”…then don’t use it

Identity Woman says:

He says flat out…”you know I really don’t like this format where we are at the front of the room and you are out there but we all have ideas to contribute.” It is very frustrating for me to hear this because I advocated that the organizers of this conference including Boris use Open Space as the format.

Girl Scouts USA – Opening Strategic Conversations

Christine Whitney Sanchez writes:

Claudia Haack and I are excited to share our report to the Girl Scouts of the USA on the “Open Strategic Conversations” capacity building project which culminated in large events at the Girl Scout National Convention. Naturally, the Girl Scouts have given us their permission to share this with you.

On October 7, 2005, an Open Space on Governance was held for more than 1600 delegates and over the following 3 days Strategy Caf̩s attracted over 3000 participants. These events were eagerly awaited by 100 volunteers Рthe core of the capacity building effort who we had trained in Open Space and World Cafe. They had self-organized for planning and implementation before, during and after the convention to become the logistics backbone for these events.

The “Smooth Operators,” as they called themselves, captured the spirit and imagination of what lies in the future for Girl Scouting and have gone on to facilitate many Open Space events and World Cafe conversations in their local Girl Scout councils and their communities at large.

Unconferencing in Open Space

More and more, traditional conferences are being called to answer for the big wastes of time that many (most?) of them really are. The best parts are always the coffee breaks!

The term that keeps popping up is Unconferencing. Johnnie Moore offers this podcast of a Skype conversation with Chris Corrigan and Rob Paterson, talking about Unconferencing and Open Space Technology.

How can we get away from unsatisfying conferences where the audience is often bored, towards much more engaging learning events? Listen here…

OST in Fortune 500 Company–Kenny Moore writes about his first time

Kenny Moore, co-author of “The CEO and the Monk: One Company’s Journey to Profit and Purpose” (John Wiley and Sons, 2004), writes a witty and candid account of his first Open Space event facilitation. Here’s an excerpt:

“I now invite anyone who has passion about the business to come forward to the microphone… Who would like to go first?”

My invitation was greeted with silence. 400 employees looked around for senior management to take the lead. But they didn’t. Thirty seconds slowly ticked by. The alpha-males in the audience were starting to twitch. With no relief in sight, one brave soul stood up and walked to the microphone. “My name’s Bill Kearns and I’d like to host a session discussing the relocation of the company’s call center.” Right on his heels was another employee who took her place at the mic and spoke her passion. Two minutes later, we had exceeded the 5 employees the CIO feared would never materialize. By the end of 20 minutes we had 53 sessions posted.

Something powerful was underway. Something that could never have been managerially orchestrated. It all seemed to get energy from the freedom inherent in a business “invitation.” Employees sensed that they were in charge. And indeed, they truly were.

The whole story is recounted here in glorious detail.

Whither British Drama? OST leads the way

Writer-director of the established British theater, Improbable, Phelim McDermott, is one of the latest people to join the OS discussion list.

Improbable organized a 200 person OST event in London on the topic of the current situation in British drama.

Of course, as many others who stumble upon OST, Phelim notes that he worked in open space long before he worked with the method.

Two articles in London’s Guardian and Observer describe this recent application of OST.

Reading about Improbable’s principles is also intriguing.

The original invitation for the two day OST event, DEVOTED AND DISGRUNTLED: What are we going to do about theatre?, was also posted to the OS list.

Improbable has graciously posted the proceedings from the two day event on their website.

Thank you for the story, Phelim!

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.

Opening Space for the Arts

Harrison Owen shared a story from Bill Cleveland, of the Center for the Study of Art and Community, who facilitates numerous OST events addressing the question:

How can those involved in the arts and community development work together to create caring and capable communities?

Bill says that:

One interesting aspect has been the increasing space that has emerged within the OST process for the use of the arts themselves as tools for communication and making meaning.

One event that I have facilitated for the past eight years is a gathering of 150-200 artists and educators called the Minnesota Artist/Educator Institute. This gathering has a rotating cast of returnees and newcomers who come prepared not only to discuss and debate the best practices in arts education, but also to MAKE ART using OST… We take over all the arts facilities on campus. Theaters, dance studios, print making studios, welding studios, clay studios, computer graphics suites …. for FIVE DAYS of 24 hour, OST driven creative insanity…

…I am thinking that these arts-infused OST practices might be an interesting addition to your evolving peace program…

Read the rest here.

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

Download Harrison Owen’s Books

Harrison Owen, originator and author-in-chief of the Open Space approach, recently announced…

Every now and again, I receive requests for my earlier books, all of which are now out of print. I suppose there are collectors of antiques of all sorts, and those books probably qualify. However, if you are interested in the journey of Open Space, or at least my part in that journey, I suppose these books could be helpful and for those of you interested in a little ancient history (some of which might be quite contemporary).

…and made available for download the PDF copies of the original versions of many of his books.

Peace: Palestinians in Ramallah

Palestinians meeting in Ramallah used the real deep meaning of Peace all over the training, they brought it up in nearly every small discussion group they created, peace within themselves, peace at work, peace with their children and later on passed to the causes of non inner peace: sexual frustration, challenges of education today, ways to raise their children to become more open and keen and so on. I personally never witnessed such openness within my fellow Palestinians and more amazingly between men and women. Until that minute I wasn’t sure about the power of the Open Space spirit and its immediate influence on people. Today … they email each other on a regular basis — they also have set up an “OST Palestine” Yahoo group. –Carol Daniel kasbari

Russian Student Worker Brigades: Issues and Opportunities

Galina Tsarkova and Mikhail Pronin shared this story of a short 5 hours OST meeting that took place in oil-rich Kazan, Tatarstan, about 12 hours by train from Moscow.

There were 385 participants from 69 regions (!) of Russia (Russia has some 88 or 89 provinces). The participants included regional directors of Student Work Brigade organizations, university level directors, and students themselves, and others.

The OST meeting was sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Education and the Tatarstan Ministry for Youth Affairs. For us it is significant that a federal-level ministry sponsored an OST meeting.

So, the more we can refer to a (positive) body of experience in working with government in using OST, the better.

The OST meeting was on the topic of: The Development of Student Work Brigades: Issues and Opportunities. Read more about what happened here.