Open Space Key Concepts Explained

These are a few points commonly used to explain what Open Space Technology is:

  • the energy of a good coffee break: OST began in part to the oft-quoted observation that in traditional conferences, the coffee breaks are the best part.
  • growing more of what works: focussing attention on things makes them grow, in importance, detail and depth. So why not grow more of what works rather than stuff that doesn’t?
  • one more thing to not do: the essence of developing an OST facilitation practice is to continually practice letting go. Finding one more thing not to do helps develop this practice over time.
  • passion bounded by responsibility: Passion gets you out of your chair, responsibility moves you to action. Things only get done by individuals, and nothing gets done unless people want to do. Passion is great, but goes nowhere until the feet take it somewhere.
  • a practice in invitation, an inviting practice: The essence of OST is invitation. Invitation gathers people into the event, where they are further invited to post more invitations. The results of the groups that accrete around those smaller invitations are invitations to carry the work into the larger world. Practicing invitation…
  • fully present and totally invisible: An OST facilitator holds space open like trusses keep a roof perched on top of the walls. Without the trusses the room collapses. Without the conscious act of holding it open, space closes.
  • letting go… into movement: Open Space Technology (OST) is a simple, powerful way to get people, information and whole organizations moving. It’s not so much about feeling good or talking tough, but that can happen. What it’s really about is getting the most important things done in organization – done now and done well.
  • conflict, complexity, urgency, diversity: Harrison always says, OST works best where conflict is present, things are complex, there is huge diversity of players and the answer was needed yesterday. And the more of all of that you have, the better OST works. Go figure.
  • what do you really want to do + why don’t you take care of it: The highest form of OST facilitation practice is to turn back everything to the people. When confronted with a question, respond with two: what do you really want to do? and why don’t you take of it? Every thing the facilitator does for a group is one less thing the group knows it can do for itself.
  • marketplace, circle, bboard, breathing: the four basic mechanisms at work in an open space meeting or event. of course, these exist everywhere in the world, in all kinds of forms, but they tend to exist more cleanly and clearly in open space. the effect is generally faster, easier movement.
  • invitation, invite list, spacetime, footprints: The four seasons of Open Space Technology. Everything begins with the invitation (purpose), is transmitted to the invitation list (story), is organized in the event (structure) and follows through with footprints (action). Spring, summer, fall, winter. The room used for OST begins cold, fills with warmth and growth, witnesses the dispersal of people and effort and ends cold again.
  • the law of two feet: If you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning or contributing, move somewhere where you can. This is a law like the Law of Gravity. You can choose to notice it or not, but it’s safer just to notice it.
  • the four principles: Whoever comes is the right people, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, when it starts is the right time, when it’s over it’s over. These aren’t prescriptions or directives. They’re descriptions, emerging from thousands of little experiments.

Open Space Glossary

There is a multi-language Glossary of Open Space terms and phrases at Lisa Heft’s website. This is growing and you are welcome to contact her at if you would like to help by adding a language. This may also be helpful to those of you who are making signs of principles and law for events in different languages.