What is Open Space?

Open Space has been available for nearly 20 years. It is a technology which enables diverse groups to manage complex issues in a minimum amount of time with no advance agenda and little facilitation.

Its origins lie in the realisation that many people report that they get the most value at large gatherings from the conversations in coffee breaks, at meal times, at the bar.

Open Space requires very little advance preparation. There must be a clear and compelling theme, an interested and committed group, time and a place, and a leader. Detailed agendas, plans and materials are not only un-needed, they are usually counterproductive.

Whilst it is true that an Open Space has no predetermined agenda, it must have an overall structure or framework. This framework is not intended to tell people what to do and when. Rather, it creates a supportive environment in which the participants can solve issues for themselves. Minimal elements of this framework include: opening, agenda setting, open space and conclusion. These elements will suffice for events lasting up to a day. Longer events will require the addition of morning announcements, evening news and probably a celebration.

The Promises of Open Space:

  • Every issue of concern to anybody is surfaced
  • All issues are discussed to the extent that anybody cares to do so
  • A full written record of all discussions is made and is available to all
  • All issues are ranked in priority order
  • Critical focal issues are isolated (and Next Steps identified if appropriate)

The Behaviours of Open Space:

  • Self managed work groups
  • Distributed leadership
  • Diversity is valued (- it is not a problem to be managed)
  • Participants treat each other with respect – conflict yields deeper outcomes and high energy

The Principles of Open Space

  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over

The One Law of Open Space: The Law of Two Feet

This law states that every individual has two feet, and must be prepared to use them. Responsibility for a successful outcome in any Open Space event resides with exactly one person – each participant. If, at any point, they feel that they are no longer able to make a contribution in a particular place, they must take responsibility for using their two feet and moving to a new place where they can make a difference.

When not to use Open Space

Open Space technology is effective when real learning, innovation and a departure from the norm are required. When you are not sure where you are and less clear about where you are heading, and require the best thinking and support from all those who wish to be involved, Open Space will provide the means. On the other hand, if the present and future position are clear, along with all the intervening steps, Open Space technology is not only a waste of time, it will be very frustrating.

Who developed Open Space?

Harrison Owen

How can I learn more?

Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide by Harrison Owen