Essential Elements of Open Space Technology
OpenSpaceTechnology can take many forms, shapes, sizes, etc. but there are a number of essential elements or characteristics that either support or manifest in really open space. Here are some of them...
- the energy of a good coffee break - most people know that the best part of traditional conferences is the coffee breaks. OpenSpaceTechnology began as an experiment with running an entire 4-day conference as nothing more (and nothing less) than one large, perfectly and appropriately organized coffee break. the experiment has been largely successful!
- growing more of what works - how do we design and implement (impose) self-organization? how do we teach responsibility? in the end, we can't and we don't. so much better, faster and easier to look for what's working and invite people to grow more of it. as we give our attention to what's working, we get more of it, and problems take care of themselves.
- one more thing to NOT do - ...as in, one more thing to not do FOR people that they can do better, faster and more appropriately for themselves. as such, opening space becomes a practice in finding one more thing to NOT do. every decision we make FOR people, often in the name of efficiency, narrows the space, limits the options, and erodes responsibility and ownership... all deadly for long-term effectiveness.
- passion bounded by responsibility - in the end, OpenSpaceTechnology runs on exactly two things: passion and responsibility. brainstorming and suggestion boxes are passion without responsibility, lots of "could do's" and "should do's" but not many "will do's." mandates and assignments are responsibility without passion, a recipe for crummy work, crummy health, or both.
- appropriate structure and control - Some people like to say that Open Space is too unstructured. It is not. It is perfectly, elegantly, intricately organized structure, created from "nothing" but initial conditions and sustained by the passion and responsibility of those in the space, who will always move, especially unconsciously, towards structure that is perfect for the moment, in every moment. In other words, order (and organization) need not be painful to be real and effective.
- a practice in invitation, an inviting practice - The essence of OST is invitation. Invitation gathers people into the event, where they are further invited to post more invitations. The results of the groups that accrete around those smaller invitations are invitations to carry the work into the larger world. Practicing invitation...
- fully present and totally invisible - An OST facilitator holds space open like trusses keep a roof perched on top of the walls. Without the trusses the room collapses. Without the conscious act of holding it open, space closes.
- letting goÖ into movement - Open Space Technology (OST) is a simple, powerful way to get people, information and whole organizations moving. It's not so much about feeling good or talking tough, but that can happen. What it's really about is getting the most important things done in organization - done now and done well.
- conflict, complexity, urgency, diversity - Harrison always says, OST works best where conflict is present, things are complex, there is real diversity of players and the answer was needed yesterday. And the more of all of that you have, the better OST works. Go figure.
- what do you really want to do + why donít you take care of it - The highest form of OST facilitation practice is to turn back everything to the people. When confronted with a question, respond with two: what do you really want to do? and why don't you take of it? Every thing the facilitator does for a group is one less thing the group knows it can do for itself.
- circle, bboard, marketplace, breathing - the four basic mechanisms at work in open space, all of which are deeply familiar to most, if not all, humans. these are the structures that support purpose, vision, learning and action in any organization.
- invitation, invite list, spacetime, footprints - the four required inputs for meeting in open space... an important reason to gather (invitation), all those needed to address the issues (list), a place and a time to meet (spacetime logistics) and some support for real and/or ongoing impact (footprints) to show up.
- action, buy-in and other illusions - so very much work in organization is done to get 'buy-in' and 'action.' in open space, buy-in happens before the meeting even starts, when people read the invite and decide to attend. action happens in the first hour when they take direct responsibility for their issues and passions. everything else is gravy... a powerful flow that most organizations only talk about. open space makes that flow real, and even normal.
- the law of two feet - You (and only you) know if you are learning and/or contributing. This is a law like the Law of Gravity. You can choose to notice it or not, but it's safer just to noitice it. And when you notice that you are neither learning or contributing, move somewhere where you can.
- the four principles - Whoever comes is the right people, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, when it starts is the right time, when it;s over it's over. These aren't prescriptive, they are the results of thousands of little experiments. They describe the spirit in which almost anything works... when it REALLY works.