A week ago I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Medinge Group, the world’s leading think tank on branding. The meeting took place in Amsterdam and was organized in an Open Space format. John Moore, Denzil Meyers and Malcolm Allan were the facilitators. I’ve heard of, and read about OS methods before, but this was my first hands-on experience with it.
I liked the method very much. It works very good for a group of people with diverse backgrounds and interests and passions. Also the fact that in the end a list of concrete actions was formulated including who would take those actions was a pleasant surprise at the end of a very pleasant day. I think that is what summarizes it best: a pleasant day where a lot of work was done. I was impressed with the relaxed and stress-free climate of it all, even if the people were engaged and passionate, and even while a lot of work was done.
Don’t be fooled when someone says Open Space builds on the absence of structure. It is in fact very much structured.
The structures just don’t become barriers at any time. (And if they were perceived to be barriers it would be easy to change them on the spot)
And the structures never interfere with the content/topics of discussion, they really are just structures of format.
Open Space, devised by Harrison Owen, works by 5 rules of thumb:

  • whoever comes is the right people
  • whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • it starts when it starts
  • whenever it’s over it’s over
  • two-feet principle: if you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, move somewhere where you can.
    The basic out-line of the day was:
    In stead of traditional agenda-setting:

  • short conversations in groups of 2 or 3 about what you wanted to do that day, and how to achieve it.
  • short summarizing of those conversations in the whole group
  • people picking a conversational topic and inviting others interested to join them in one of the corners of the venue
    In stead of traditional workshop sessions and minute-taking:

  • different conversations taking place, conversations spinning off into others, people cross-fertilizing conversations by walking around
  • ideas, questions, issues from all conversations posted on post-its on a door/clear surface
  • people starting conversations based on post-its
  • people trying to rearrange post-its looking for emergent patterns
    In stead of traditional plenary sessions where workshops results are presented:

  • a few people explaining the patterns they see in the post-its
  • new conversations around these patterns with new post-its resulting with suggestions for concrete actions
  • one or two people arranging the proposed actions in groups
    In stead of deciding on the next steps and agenda by group consensus:

  • people picking actions and committing to its execution
  • people pledging support to actions
    In stead of ending the meeting and evaluate during drinks:

  • a plenary conversation, acknowledging things learned, expressing appreciation for others, describing whether or not prior expectations have been met, reflecting on the process
  • drinks and dinner, where there is no need to reflect on the day, but new conversations can start.
    I’ve suggested using Open Space for an upcoming brainstorming meeting between our company and a close partner for future joint initiatives, and I think it might be useful for the first Blogwalk meeting as well. If we could devise a way to do an Open Space meeting on-line (with multiple chatrooms perhaps, and a combination of other media?) it might be something for Actionable Sense as well.
    For more information on Open Space see the Open Space wiki (via Chris Corrigan) and OpenSpaceTech-Wiki.

  • 5 reactions on “Open Space

    1. Nice observations on the myth of the “structureless” Open Sapce meeting. I like to say that OST is infact intricately structured, with structures arising and dissolving exactly as we need them. They fulfill their purposes and then dissolve into something else.
      This is the essence of self-organization.

    2. Glad you’ve learned about OS, Ton. It is elegantly powerful in its simplicity – and yes, there is very much a structure – provided by the central question, and passion bounded by responsibility.
      There is a facility for OS online – were you aware of that ? And I guess in a lot of ways wikis operate like OS, actually.

    3. OS methodology is very attractive. I agree with Jon, it has many common points with wikis. In particular the Law of Two Feet is very obvious in both.
      (BTW I think the founder’s name is Harrison, not Howard Owen.)

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