At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low
Length of process: 
1 - 5 days
Number of participants: 
Unlimited
Participant selection: 
Self selected participants. Representatives of wider interest groups

Open Space Technology, or simply ‘Open Space’, is a meeting framework that allows an unlimited number of participants to form their own discussions around a central theme.

Description

Open Space Technology DiagramOpen Space events have a central theme around which participants identify issues for which they are willing to take responsibility for running a session. At the same time, these topics are distributed among available rooms and timeslots. When no more discussion topics are suggested, the participants sign up for the ones they wish to take part in.

 

Open Space creates very fluid and dynamic conversations that are bound through a mutual enthusiasm for the topic. It is good for harnessing the creativity that is stifled by more structured forms of meetings, but in cases where participants are used to the latter, a trained moderator can be useful. Open Space can create new forms of working relationships, for example, cross-functional collaboration, self-managing teams, community building, conflict resolution, strategy development and implementation.

The fundamental principles of Open Space are:

  • Whenever it starts is the right time: Open Space encourages creativity both during and between formal sessions.
  • When it's over it's over: Getting the work done is more important than adhering to rigid schedules.
  • Whatever happens, happens: Let go of your expectations and pay full attention to what is happening in the moment.
  • There is one "Law", the "Law of two feet": If participants find themselves in a situation where they are not learning or contributing they have a responsibility to go to another session, or take a break for personal reflection.

It is vital that there are good written reports from all discussions, complete with action points, available at the end of each day. Feedback and implementation structures are important to carry the suggestions forward after the event itself.

Participants

  • Open Space is highly flexible in the number and nature of participants. It can be run with a handful of people, up to 2000 participants or more.
  • The best participants are those who feel passionately about the issue and have freely chosen to get involved.

Costs

Low:

  • The approach can be very cheap, but it requires a venue with space to accommodate all participants in one or several concentric circles.

Approximate time expense

Low:

  • An event usually lasts between one and five days and can be run as a one off.

Strengths

  • Accommodates for large and diverse groups
  • Unleashes creativity
  • Participant driven approach
  • Extremely flexible process
  • Builds better working relationships and a sense of community

Weaknesses

  • Cannot be used to direct people to a specific outcome

Origin

Organisational Development:

Open Space Technology was created in the mid-1980s by organisational consultant Harrison Owen when he discovered that people attending his conferences showed more energy and creativity during the coffee breaks than the formal sessions. Open Space is structured in a way that recreates this informal and open atmosphere combined with a clear sense of purpose.

 

In text image by deanmeyersnet

Header image CC0 License Pexels