Michael Herman
Inviting Agility

 
 
 

the following are nothing more than notes on how to finish an open space event in a way that supports ongoing conversation and action. they will be more meaningful if you are already familiar with the prioritization and closing formats suggested by harrison owen in OST: A User's Guide.


beyond convergence: in support of open space as ongoing practice

evolution is now and open space: this is about convergence as control, non-convergence as built-in training, the do-it-yourself open space training workshop, and 24-hour online support.... an exercise in connecting the dots.

when i met harrison at ralph copleman's open space conference (thanks to sheila isakson) six (wow!) years ago, he said something like, "...open space should disappear in, pick a number, say 5 years... that is, talk about it should disappear... as it becomes 'just the way we do business.'" this isn't the average guru sort of statement and it struck me... caught me? ...knocked me down and dragged me away and pressed me (nay, "invited" me) into service of this notion that we might actually be able to run business as usual ...as open space. actually, i'd come into that place suspecting and hoping that this was the case, so i was glad for a concurring opinion from somebody with so much more experience than i.

so this is the direction that i've been working on for some years now, as have many of you, i know. in recent months, i've been connecting a number of dots for myself and seeing some new possibilities for a more integrated and seamless practice to help us work closer to business as open space. i want to connect those dots for you (and me) here and see what any of you might add.

in short, i want to suggest that we might now be able to peek beyond control (and convergence!) enough to see how a mini ost planning could now be embedded into every open space event, long or short, and that the technology we've learned to rely on can let lots more learing and doing go on at once as we move from business as usual to business as open space. i'm thinking that we might now initiate, accelerate or accentuate a shift from convergence to extension, from training to practice, and from broadcast to conversation.

and to be clear before i really start here... NOTHING i say here means to (1) be critical in any way of what anyone is doing with various shapes of convergence, training or anything else.... OR (2) be saying that there is any one right way to do converging, non-converging, training, learning, conversing or any of it... just to be clear.

what i want to do is offer a whole mess of observations, assumptions, and ideas.... dots if you will... and share something of the forms that i see when i start connecting them. to be sure, i suspect that john engle, brian bainbridge, chris corrigan, michael pannwitz, and others are already doing much of what i'm saying here. hoping to root out the truth(s) of this, perhaps fill in a few gaps, and make the whole lot of it available to all.

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some observations about opening space, especially day 3 convergence:

-- in november, 2001, i had my first good opportunity to be part of many (maybe 15-20) followup meetings and conversations after a large (200 person) open space event. in the case of that event, we did the whole sheebang, 2.5 days, computers, listserve and website afterward <http://www.michaelherman.com/foodsecurity>; and even founded at least one ongoing organization. i got my first good view of the struggles possible when returning from open space to business as usual.

-- at osonos 5 in toronto some years ago, peggy holman initiated a conversation about day 3 convergence and we came up with some options, one of them being open the space again, "for action", in lieu of computer or other kinds of voting for convergence

-- i've watched groups/events of various sizes and temperments cluster and vote and otherwise converge their work in open space into some 'manageable number of what i've been calling 'strategic themes'. we've used words like crunch, converge, crush, collapse... all rather harsh, to describe the essential action.... and i've often felt a subtle rub or resistance to this

-- i know that larry peterson and others have commented on their transposing the 'closing circle' and the voting and converging sessions, so that the crunching work comes clearly after/outside of the 'open space' piece of the gathering... an attempt to use the closing as a time for 'coming back' to the business 'realities' before finishing with voting, priorities, etc.

-- i have used the voting process a number of times and really like it, but i notice that others think it's pretty sexy, too... which is great for me to be a little magical about the whole thing, but not very good for them to feel like they can replicate the process without me and the software.

-- for some time now i have ended meetings and events with an invitation to notice that the meeting was made possible by the 'invitation' of the conveners that was then replicated, in fractal form, by the participants in the opening, then again when they produced proceedings to invite others into the work, and any of the issues in the book could become the invitation to the next open space meeting or event... but we haven't

-- i have been observing the changes in my spine and the muscles of my back since stepping off a small ledge four years ago... most recently i've been exploring a yoga practice, where they use words like 'stretch', 'expand', 'lengthen,' and 'extend'. these words feel more like what i want to do with what shows up in open sapce

-- when chris corrigan and i were working on the non-guide (ost: a user's non-guide, downloadable at OpenSpaceTechnology/UsersNonGuide we had a long conversation about convergence, and he helped me understand some of the discomfort i and others seem to feel with convergence... namely that we're working to make business as usual into business as open space, but the convergence (by clusters, dots, computers or whatever) seems to bow to the gods of management control who have decreed that there must be priorities, choices and a small number of issues identified for where to start... which is how control will be maintained. so we invite them to keep opening, inviting, and letting go of control, even as we finish with a process that seems/seeks to pull everything back toward if not into control.

-- by contrast, we would never limit the number of issues that could be posted in an event and we do have the technology to manage and connect the news of many working groups... so there seems less of a need to reduce 52 issues in an open space event down to a 'manageable,' number like 7.

-- this kind of converging might be appropriate in some cases, like large public meetings that will finish with the elected decision-makers still ultimately responsible for immediate next steps and policy responses.... and the computer voting bit is still magical, but it doesn't seem as likely to result in business as open space... and doesn't seem necessary or feel desirable in most of the places i've been. the most important thing in all cases is still to determine what comes next... so that work can continue to progress.

-- in those situations where i have led convergences, i've learned some elegant little sayings that have been effective in rationalizing the process and diffusing protests: "these are starting points," "you can work on other issues as well," "we will be associating other issues into these categories." still, there seems a need to get past this need to organize the products of self-organization. it seems that we could be gentler than we have with the spirit of self-organization that manifests in our meetings and events.

-- convergence remains one of the thornier issues for open space facilitators and many of us haven't done nearly as much formal converging as we have opening. not only does it 'feel' different as noted earlier, there are so many variations, designs and non-designs. we don't usually 'converge' after very short events. we don't 'converge' with smaller groups, but may choose to 'cluster' or 'crunch.' i think we tend not to design in a 'convergence' unless the 'divergence' we're planning to invite seems likely to get really divergent.

-- and still, every meeting or event, regardless of size and/or duration needs some conscious closing, next steps, or otherwise. we do well in our 'closings' to tend to our 'being,' but i think many of us still scramble a bit with wrapping up the 'doings' in ways that are consistent with the rest of how we practice. my hunch is that in business as open space, our approach to next steps will be simpler in that it will be easily scaled to fit meetings and events of any size or duration (like so many other components of ost practice).

getting beyond convergence:

-- what i'm proposing now as beyond convergence, non-convergence, a totally scalable, participant-replicable, transparent sort of day3 practice that fits well within the spirit and practice of open space, without the friction or pressure of convergence, and the clear intention of inviting participants to continue to stretch the bounds of organization, extend the work of the event, and expand the circle of invitees.

-- non-convergence, beyond convergence, stretching, extending, expanding is about the establishment of a new organizational yoga, if you will, which can support what has been called ongoing open space, what i have described to clients, participants and the oslist as 'the cycle of invitation,' and what i've begun to think about as the morphing of business as usual into business as open space.

-- this new model for day3 and beyond is not really new. i've already described the seeds of it above, from larry, peggy, osonos v, and elsewhere. here's how it's all finally fitting together in my mind now, though:

-- day three process in four steps: news, now, next and nuts (pretty catchy, eh? i am simultaneously yearning for and being haunted by such little symmetries and alliterations... yuk and yum in the same bite! ....sorry.)

-- 1. NEWS: this is what we already do. we tell the story of what's just happened. we make posters and stroll through the gallery. we pass out copies of 'the book.' our participants mill around, asking clarifying questions, saying good morning, and beginning to sift out what's most important for themselves and the colleagues (old and new) who they expect to work with on issues raised.

-- 2. NOW: this too, is familiar enough... it's the closing circle. and, yes, i know i didn't say anything about voting yet. this little plan is beyond voting, though you might still toss it in. the idea here, though, is that after the NEWS is out, we invite participants back to the now... as everyone is wondering if any good will *really* come of this event. and so, it's the closing circle... it's 'how do you feel now?' it's 'what has this time meant to you?' 'what is new and different.' ...pretty much just as it's told in the OST User's Guide.

-- 3. NEXT: this is what we talked about so long ago in toronto (osonos5)... it's the re-opening of the space... issues and opportunities for action. it's the posting of sessions that can meet sometime in the next X-Y weeks or months, or perhaps will be convened online in addition or instead. this is where you might choose to vote anyway, but where my preference in future events will be to let the computing of importance be done inside the hearts of those in the circle, having heard the news, noticed the now, and finally looking ahead to next incarnations of these sessions. in this re-opening, the original 52 or 76 or whatever issues can be re-languaged based on learning since the morning of day one, they can be combined as those most passionate and responsible see fit, and they can be as numerous as the passion of the people will support. there are no losing issues. things that were finished can slide off the table gracefully. things that are not finished can be restarted in true open space style. where several sessions overlap, they can be combined into one focused project. where learning has occured, new language can be used to reframe the issue(s) for action. depending on the setting, this re-opening may require some extra work on clarifying 'givens'.

-- 4. NUTS: two kinds of nuts. first, nuts and bolts. immediate next steps. the stuff that must be done between now and the next meeting(s) just scheduled in the re-opening. second, when appropriate, is which other nuts need to be invited into the craziness of this meeting we've been running in open space for the last two days. this is where we turn everybody loose for another 1-1.5 or whatever hours, normally after voting or clustering or otherwise crunching our news document(s) into next nutty steps. the focus of this NUTS session is still immediate next steps, what needs to happen before the next meeting, with a couple of key differences. the meeting was convened in open space, the day3 morning agenda can be proposed as the agenda for those next meetings (see below), and then the working sessions we have can focus more clearly on the work of preparation, invitation, invitation list, logistics, research and documentation for those next meetings.

in other words, these NUTS sessions can be explicit planning meetings for the next round of OS meetings. hence my notion of 'participants' guides... which is a smaller book, for sure. again, this isn't *really * different from what might already be happening in many of our events, but perhaps a bit clearer... and more portable.

-- this news-now-next-nuts thumbnail can be scaled to fit the last hour of a one-day event or the whole last morning of a 2.5-day event. it can also be applied to the followup meetings themselves, assuming they'll likely be more 'usual' meetings of 1-2 hours, rather than full-blown os events. in this case, the NEWS is the reports of progess (which might also have come before the meeting, as a string of email updates/queries on a listserve), the NOW is an open identification of what's 'up' and needs addressing at this meeting, the NEXT is setting up the next meeting(s), and the NUTS are, again, the immediate next steps and who else gets invited. as i say, not really new, and this seems it's primary advantage: that it is not radically new and yet it can still be connected back to what we did in the larger, longer event. business as usual becoming business as open space.

-- in those situations where a full-blown 1- or 2-day ost event is not going to happen, this might be a model that can work as a prelude without ruffling feathers and still feel to us like we're fully within the bounds of our opening practice.

-- for those familiar with ICA's (institute of cultural affairs) technology of participation (ToP?), i noticed after penciling this out that it loosely mirrors that process: observe, reflect, interpret, decision... observe what's past, reflect on current feelings, interpret and analyze for the future, then choose or otherwise go do.

-- for those familiar with the lingo of tibetan buddhism, this also seems to fit the 'four time realms' they mention in teachings: past, present and future... and the timeless realm. not at all studied in what these mean, but the first three seem simple enough and the last one i take to mean that a whole bunch of stuff gets done between meetings, supported with email or phone calls or lunches or whatever: while the bigger body of the larger group is between incarnations... so that when it is reconvened, reconstituted, apparently reincarnated, what once was nuts is now news, history. this seems like good progress.

-- and finally, for those with a preference for a certain pattern-integrity or pattern-symmetry, it's reassuring that this news-now-next-nuts template fits what we did in the first 2 days of the OS meeting... asked the sponsors to open with the story of 'how we got here' (news) ...then the facilitator walked around the circle and asked everyone to notice the people, the issues and opportunities... (now) ...invited (next) issues to be posted ...then got out of the way as participants got down to business on the nuts and bolts of those issues. so to finish/followup in this news-now-next-nuts way is really to repeat the cycle we used at the opening. to repeat it often is to establish it as practice.


non-convergence into funding priorities

pat bombard here in chicago asked today about priorities-setting and financial backing for issues/ideas raised in an open space... when there is not money for everything.

seems that the financial opening constitutes a third wave... first the event (allocation of attention), then the re-opening for action (allocation of energy), then another sort of opening for financing (allocation of dollars).

in line with this, some events have offered mini-grant applications at the end of the event, so that the action-planning sessions on third morning could prepare to request funding or so that followup meetings could address the issue of funds request.

in cases where open space meeting groups turned into action groups during non-convergence, then those groups could make their requests for funding and suggest the criteria that their request seem to meet. then financing authority could use the suggested criteria to begin to develop a living, global set of funding criteria.

...and then, of course, there is chris corrigan's story of an open space where a junior staffer posted an action group for "cappucino machine for the staff lounge" and the CFO immediately said "you shop for it, i'll pay for it!"