Open Space Technology

In the mid 1980s Harrison Owen developed Open Space Technology as an innovative technique for conferences and meetings. The appeal of Open Space Technology lies in its combination of efficiency and creativity.

In colloquial language the term "Open Space Technology Meeting" is often shortened to "Open Space". In its conventional form the term refers to a process of two and a half days which help to structure conferences and to accelerate clarification and change. Open Space works for groups of 10 up to 2,000 participants there are manifold ways of application. 


In an interview Harrison Owen once explained the concept of Open Space Technology from his point of view. Read Harrison Owens interview. 



How an Open Space Meeting works:

Open Space as a working technique is very appealing. On the one hand this is due to the extraordinary efficiency in achieving results and on the other hand due to its creativity, inspiration and fun in working together.

Like many powerful methods Open Space is both, a philosophy and a working technique. This makes it slightly difficult to describe an Open Space Meeting in an abstract way, for one thing always assumes that the other thing is already known.


Open Space Philosophy

In the Open Space format there is hardly anything to stick to. Because of this, the originally four, now five basic principles, sometimes become overemphasized, or even exalted as rules. (Read about Harrison Owens motivation to introduce the fifth principle in 2011)

1. "Whoever comes are the right people "

2. Whenever it starts is the right time

3. "Wherever it happens is the right place - "

4. "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

5. "When it's over, it's over, when it's not over it's not over

Basically those five principles are "permissions". People should simply be permitted to do whatever they please and not be judged for it not more, not less.

It is completely different with the so-called Law of two feet. This law introduces and supports the basis of the Open-Space, i.e. self-organisation. Its values run on lived passion and responsibility: Responsibility resides with everyone to check for her/himself whether s/he is learning from, or contributing to the situation s/he is are in. If this is not the case, he or she will honour the group by leaving it. It is a simple rule that enormously contributes to the participants invigoration and sense of freedom.

 


Behind the basic principles and the "law" there is a minimal structure:

  • the topic
  • the clients specifications (givens) 
  • the circle 
  • the opening of space 
  • the bulletin board and the market place 
  • time structure and space (break-out rooms) 
  • infrastructure for recording and documenting results in the proceedings book
  • closing the Open Space event


Open Space lives from and with the self-organisation of the participants. In the beginning this is quite an irritating prospect for the clients: so many people and no-one and nothing to guide them apart from passion and responsibility. However, any attempt by the host, the facilitator or single participants to manage the event or take over control closes the space and a premature ending sets in.


When does Open Space work best?

The basic idea of Open Space can also be applied in parts, be it in workshops, trainings or congresses. Open Space, however, proves especially effective when we need to put concrete plans into reality, manage complex questions or find innovative solutions.


The full power of Open Space is unfolded under certain conditions:

  • an exciting and challenging topic that really touches the participants
  • clear, transparent specifications and framework
  • varied participants (-perspectives) 
  • voluntary participation  
  • a topic of great complexity 
  • high potential of conflict 
  • deadline pressure to solve problems

It needs sufficient time to get satisfying results with Open Space: two to four hours for a "quickie" in order to get in touch with a topic; one day for profound discussion; one and a half to two and a half days for discussion and developing measures for further work.

Would you like to talk to me about your Open Space event? Please click here for my contact information. 


In an e-mail posting Harrison Owen summarized the following topics: When does Open Space fit and when not, and How Open Space facilitators should deal with sceptical clients. Harrison Owen about handling clients.

You are looking for an example of an Open Space event? Read here a very special story: The world`s biggest Open Space event ever, W├╝rzburg (Germany) 2003.