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Open Space Technology

Open Space, as it is popularly known, is a process for hosting meetings, conferences, and community events focused on a specific purpose or task. Open Space Technology has been used in meetings of up to 2,000 people.

One of the most distinctive features of Open Space is that it starts with no specific agenda. The agenda is crated during the first 30-90 minutes by the participants. For this reason the process operates at its optimum when representatives from the “whole system” are in the room.

Typically, an Open Space meeting will begin with short introductions by the sponsor (the official or acknowledged leader of the group) and usually an Open Space facilitator. The sponsor introduces the purpose; the facilitator explains the "self-organizing" process of Open Space.

The group as a whole creates the agenda by inviting people to sponsor particular issues or topics that are relevant to the purpose of the meeting on a bulletin board. When all the topics have been identified, each person who felt moved to post an idea on the bulletin board is invited to say a few words about why they believe their topic is important. This person becomes the convenor of a group to discuss that topic and assigns a place and time to meet.

The convenor kicks off the conversation and takes notes. Participants can choose which groups to join, and can, if they choose, flit between groups to cross pollinate conversations. The proceedings from each group are collected and “instantly” electronically published for the whole group to see. The group assigns priorities and actions based on the findings of each of the groups. The facilitator holds the space for the participants to self-organise rather than manage or direct the conversations.

Harrison Owen, the originator of this process, states that the approach works best when four conditions are present:

  • High levels of complexity, in terms of the task or outcomes to be achieved.
  • High levels of diversity, in terms of people who would be involved in making any solution work.
  • High levels of real or potential conflict around the core purpose of the meeting.
  • High levels of urgency.

For a more comprehensive treatment of the subject of dialogue and the processes that are available for co-creating through collective intelligence, I would encourage you to read The Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee.


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