Michael Herman
Opening Space for Business Agility


See also: Notes from OST Conference Track Design -- AgileXpUniverseFacilitatorNotes

Annual Conference in 1.5 days -- One-Day Open Space, Traditional lunchtime Association Business Meeting, and Pre-planned workshops

Led an all-day series of meetings for association members, exhibitors and others to address most important issues facing the association, its member organizations and professional individuals as the tremendous transformations in the healthcare industry continue. One hunderd participants designed a 20-session conference agenda, self-organized to address the issues raised, and produced 30 pages of written proceedings.

Got off to a bit of a slow start, as the invitation was very broad and participants were not well prepared for the openness of the process. Even so, twenty topics were posted at the opening. Then,the lunchtime program - almost 2 hours worth - was devoted to Roberts Rules of Order sort of business meeting, keynote speech and awards. A far cry from OpenSpaceTechnology! But what might have been experienced as an annoying speedbump served instead as a little launching ramp.

Participants emerged from their lunchtime captivity with a real appreciation for the opportunity to work in wide open space. New topics went up and the tempo picked up as well. One clinic administrator met with three different consultants in one session, to work on a new building plan. They accomplished together in two hours what they all agreed was the equivalent of $30,000 and several months of consulting work.

Short dialogue sessions held on the following day, as part of the pre-planned workshop schedule, helped participants better understand their experiences with the process of self-organization and offered ideas for integrating their learning into their everyday management work.

OpenSpaceTechnology as Conference Track

from OpenSpaceTechnology/OSLIST posted by Fr Brian S Bainbridge <mailto:briansb@mira.net>;

Dear Peggy, Have read all the inputs since your note. And I can perhaps add a bit. Did an Open Space parallel track within a 3-day Conference on the environment in Adelaide, preparing the Australian input for the Johannesburg Environment Conference later this year. All of the no-no comments made in other people's comments probably applied.


we set up the Open Space in a separate area to which "whoever came were the right people". And they came and set up sessions and stayed for the sessions they wanted to be at and they went off to other traditional conference sessions when it suited them and added new topics as seemed appropriate - shades of the Law of Two Feet, obviously. And all sessions were reported on and included in the final document from the Open Space.

The announced theme was "GEARING UP DOWN UNDER FOR LA21 - THE ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES", and there were 14 sessions, some of which were very well attended and very electric.

The conference sponsors were delighted with the input that was generated for the "Final Declaration" of the conference, though they would love more people to have been involved.

The Open Space sort of concluded before the final session of the total conference - which they asked me to make happen. And since I really only know and use Open Space, that's what happened.

Some 300 people, in a theatre setting with a small stage area raised above the floor by about 18 inches. And a local rule that nothing can be pinned or taped to walls (under pain of death!), and the need to get "The Declaration" signed by the appropriate heavies. Very boring and meaningless. Certainly not any sign of spirit or energy or anything useful.

BUT, as it happened, a miracle escaped and they accepted my suggestion that the declaration should be signed and gotten out of the way and then.....

There was a "Counter-declaration" emerge, and the organizers were terrified that this might be suggested as the substitute for their prepared and pre-written declaration. They were right, of course. And I said "Whatever happens...."

So I arranged for the dais to be cleared of everything. There was a youth rap-group to do a rap on "do-do-do, not talk-talk-talk" which was wonderful. Funnily enough, all the people who left (bored) during the formal signing found their way back into the space by this time.

I though it might be good to draw a big globe/circle on the black floor of the dais and asked for volunteers to do this. I had some wide orange tape marked with the word "FRAGILE" (packing tape) and thought that would be good for such an event. The globe/circle was drawn. Lights dimmed throughout the room except on the globe/circle area. Asked the rap-people to hand out to everyone a felt pen and a half-sheet of paper about 12 x 4 inches.

Invited anyone who cared enough to write on the paper "After the conference, I am going to.............." and sign it. And then come to the two mikes at the front of the dais, make their personal declaration, and then use some ordinary masking tape to stick it to the floor inside the globe/circle (sticking so that air conditioning would not blow them away).

There was no way that was not going to work - and it worked wonderfully. Even the "counter-declaration" leaders were encouraged (and did it) to put their paper on the globe/circle, right in the middle. About five people in the whole crowd didn't put a paper up. And the lady in the wheelchair at the front did.

And I asked those who had done so to form a bank of people at the back of the globe, and they thought their job was to clap each of the inputs, which they did endlessly and with increasing volume (obviously) and enthusiasm.

Asked for quiet, told them the Charles Handy story about the traveller who waited for the mountain to move and suggested they might be people to actually move mountains by doing what they had promised. A huge "YES>>>>" to that.

Invited them in silence to catch the eyes of each other person in the group and say with their eyes what they would like to share. Fabulous. Then announced that the last rule of Open Space is "WHEN IT'S OVER, IT'S OVER" and that it was my honour and privilege to announce that this conference was now over. Huge cheers and huggings and emotion and spirit release.

It was marvellous.

One seasoned organizer, two weeks later - said he had been at hundreds of environment conferences and never had they ever ended on a high - it's all so serious. Thought this was wonderful.

The chief financier/organizer of the conference - a public servant - sat next to me later that evening at recovery/drinks/nibbles and said that she wanted to seriously congratulate me for the way I had done the closing, that she never believed it could happen, that she had no alternative and so allowed it to happen, and was stunned and hugely excited at the way it had all come together so marvellously.

I figure that if we hold to our 4 Principles and One Law, as I did again on this occasion, miracles can emerge. And they did this time, too. Peggy, I'll send this direct to you. I don't know if others might be interested in it, and would be happy for you to add it to the LIST if you think so. It was a great occasion and a very deep expression of spirit for those people. That's special.

Cheers and blessings, BRIAN.