Open Space harnesses the energy of a discussion in a coffee break. It’s very simple, but powerful, using self-organization to bring out ideas and work through issues or share learning.

In brief, it works like this:

  • Everyone gathers in an Opening Circle for an introduction to the theme for discussions, and explanation of how Open Space works.
  • Whoever wants to submits topics for discussions, announcing them to the whole group, and those are added to a Marketplace.
  • The Marketplace is often a grid, with the columns being for the groups which will meet, and the rows being the timeslots.
  • Notes about what is discussed are often put on big sheets of paper, and those shared later with everyone else at the meeting.
  • The discussions work with these 4 rules:
    1. Whoever comes is the right people
    2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
    3. When it starts is the right time
    4. When it’s over it’s over
  • And there is just one law, 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 meeting is ended with a Closing Circle, reviewing the discussions, and what was discovered.

With the Two Feet Law, we often see Bumblebees, who fly from group to group, cross-pollenating discussions, or Butterflies, who sit around looking relaxed, with interesting discussions emerging around them as people find them and pause to chat, or just flit around without really landing anywhere. What we don’t want is Giraffes, people who look across at what other groups are doing, and are afraid to use their Two Feet, for fear of appearing rude.

Open Space accommodates groups from 5 to 1500 people. It can be run for a couple of hours to 3 or more days; consecutively or over time; at one site or at multiple sites connected by computer and/or phone and video.

“Open Space runs on two fundamentals: passion and responsibility. Passion engages the people in the room. Responsibility ensures things get done. A focusing theme or question provides the framework for the event. The art of the question lies in saying just enough to evoke attention, while leaving sufficient open space for the imagination to run wild.” Harrison Owen

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