Report from Aspen

First, the hiking was fabulous.

Second, in The Conversation, the Open Space conference that was my reason for being there, we did two innovative things that bear reporting here, for future practice.

One of them happened very spontaneously. We convened for the opening at 3pm, built the agenda, and then started the first working sessions in Open Space at 4:30pm. Meanwhile, 15 or so of our 100 participants were battling weather conditions, airport delays and mountain traffic in hired vans, still trying to reach us in Aspen. So we called them on cellphones and gave them the first session discussion topics. They had their sessions in the vans!

The other innovation was part of the program design, in response to the sponsors’ request for “some structure” and “panel discussion.” How did we build a structured panel discussion in the middle of Open Space? We picked the five panelists from participants, but not until just a few hours before the “discussion.” We asked them to talk about their experience at the conference, everything that was being accomplished, and also to look forward at what was yet to be done or discussed. We put them in the center of the room, rather than at the front. And we did it at the end of 1.5 days of Open conversation, the evening before what would be the closing half-day for action planning.

It worked perfectly, in that we allowed for panelists to tag or be tagged by others, so that those center seats could rotate. After a couple of rounds, the panel broke down, into one big circle with a talking stick. The structure gave way to community. We heard ideas, insights and appreciations from many people, which did an excellent job of setting up the next conversations, convened on the last morning. Next time, I’d put 6 chairs in the middle and use that empty chair as invitation to come join, and the signal that somebody should leave the panel.

The Conversation event was a great success, by all accounts. Two accounts of The Conversation, one from the event and one from the vans, were published in newspapers and are posted in my wiki notebook.

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