Short OS for 400?

“We have a group of 400 people. We want to use Open Space. We have 90 mins or maybe up to 2 hours. How would that work?”

My short answer? “Not very well!” With many groups, especially that large, we’d normally take the first 90 minutes of 2 or 3 days to create the agenda for the whole program.

My better answer? A Lean/OS/Cafe.

The first alternative to OS that came to mind in this situation was a World Cafe sort of program, small groups meeting and mixing, through several rounds of pre-determined questions. The next iteration was something I’ve done before, where the first Cafe question is something like, “What are the most important questions for us to be thinking and talking about?” This effectively makes all the table tops into the equivalent of the marketplace wall where topics are posted in Open Space.

The most interesting and promising design springs from this modified OS/Cafe approach, with inspiration and a little logistics borrowed from something called Lean Coffee. The Lean technique is most commonly used with small groups, almost like a one-table Open Space where issues are identified and then the top one or few are addressed in order of importance, as determined by voting.

The Lean/OS/Cafe design envisions 40 tables of 10, perhaps with an extra chair at each table to facilitate some moving about. It starts with each table identifying a set of issues that’s most important for our participants, based on their context and purpose for gathering. At each table, the top issues are identified, posted up on a little table tent, and discussion begins.

In the opening briefing, participants are given the right and responsibility to participate at their table, or move about and find new table(s) where they can maximize their own learning and contribution to the overall purpose and question. Harvest all the issues raised, those chosen for discussion, any notes that might be taken for sharing, and as many closing comments as their might be time for.

And so, Lean/OS/Cafe was born, to tap the expansive spirit, personal freedom and sense of ownership that are characteristic of Open Space, with a dash of the quickness of Lean Coffee and intimacy of World Cafe.

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