June 2002 -- Peoria, IL USA
During the Spring of 2002, Peoria Public School District 150 was anticipating making some big changes regarding school facilities. Some were very controversial, such as closing a high school. What complicated matters was the fact that a new superintendent had been hired, but was not yet in place to give her thoughts on the issue.
To skip ahead in the story... I was invited to the facilities committee meeting to talk to them about doing an Open Space event. This came about because the president of the school board had been involved in prior OS events in Peoria. I told the committee that doing a OS event would be a great way to invite the public into an important discussion (something that had not been done before), but that there was no way that anyone could control the discussion to only the issue of facilities. (Since there was a lot of pent up anger and frustration regarding educational issues in our community), I told the committee that the participants at an OS event would talk about whatever they wanted to talk about and that no one could (or should) stop them.
Another skip... finally I was able to convince enough people that a broad based educational summit type Open Space event ought to take place and that if facilities were on people's minds, then it would come up as a topic of discussion. I also convinced folks to bring in Michael Herman of Chicago to facilitate the Open Space event, since he was one of the most experienced OS facilitators around. They did, and we did, and in three consecutive nights in early June, two to three hundred people talked and talked and talked.
When the closing circle took place on the last evening, it became a real passing of the guard and a transition point for the school district. The outgoing superintendent was reflective and appreciative of the passion and the energy that happened. The new incoming superintendent was almost overwhelmed by that passion and willingness to make education the priority it has never been in our community.
Later in the fall of the year, the new superintendent called community leaders together to announce a new direction for the school district. She wanted to lay out for everyone to see just what she intended on doing in getting things straightened out. On the tables in front of each seat in the room, was a report from the Open Space event, and the 9 top voted priorities that had been voted upon. This was the foundation of what the people wanted and as a community, what we were to achieve.
The power of Open Space can be understood in Victor Hugo's quote, that "nothing can withstand the force of an idea whose time has come."