What is Open Space Technology (OST)?
Since Harrison Owen described it, more than 20 years ago, Open Space Technology has enabled all kinds of people, in every kind of organization and community, to create inspired meetings and events – and to post phenomenal business results.
According to Harrison, “Open Space Technology is effective in situations where a diverse group of people must deal with complex, and potentially conflicting material, in innovative and productive ways. It is particularly powerful when nobody knows the answer, and the ongoing participation of a number of people is required to deal with the questions.” From A User’s Guide to Open Space Technology
In this very powerful Ted talk the founder of #OpenSpace Technology convincingly debunks management theory and practice.
In his User’s Guide, Harrison Owen has articulated “the principles” and “one law” that are typically quoted and briefly explained during the opening briefing of an Open Space meeting. These explanations describe rather than control the process of the meeting. The principles and Owen’s explanations are:
- Whoever comes is [sic] the right people …reminds participants that they don’t need the CEO and 100 people to get something done, you need people who care. And, absent the direction or control exerted in a traditional meeting, that’s who shows up in the various breakout sessions of an Open Space meeting.
- Whenever it starts is the right time …reminds participants that “spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.”
- Wherever it happens is the right place …reminds participants that space is opening everywhere all the time. Please be conscious and aware. – Tahrir Square is one famous example. (Wherever is the new one, just added)
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have …reminds participants that once something has happened, it’s done—and no amount of fretting, complaining or otherwise rehashing can change that. Move on.
- When it’s over, it’s over …reminds participants that we never know how long it will take to resolve an issue, once raised, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on to the next thing. Don’t keep rehashing just because there’s 30 minutes left in the session. Do the work, not the time.
Law of two feet
Owen explains his one “Law,” called the “Law of two feet” or “the law of mobility”, as follows:
If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.
In this way, all participants are given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution, which the Law assumes only they, themselves, can ultimately judge and control. When participants lose interest and get bored in a breakout session, or accomplish and share all that they can, the charge is to move on, the “polite” thing to do is going off to do something else. In practical terms, Owen explains, the Law of Two Feet says: “Don’t waste time!”
What Will Happen
- 1. All of the issues that are MOST important to the participants will be raised.
- 2. All of the issues raised will be addressed by those participants most qualified and capable of getting something done on each of them.
- 3. In a time as short as one day, all of the most important ideas, discussion, data, recommendations, conclusions, questions for further study, and plans for immediate action will be captured.
- 4. After the event, all of these results can be made available to the community within days of the event, so the conversation can invite every stakeholder into implementation — right now.
The good news, and the bad news, is that it works. Good news because it gets people and work moving, bad news because that may mean lots of things are going to be different than before. Wanted things can appear, unwanted things disappear, and sometime vice versa — but that’s how life is.
The day begins with an orientation about Open Space Technology. Everyone is in the same room sitting in a circle and introduces themselves with their names and by completing the sentence “I’m passionate about products because….” Everyone’s answers are posted to a wall for everyone to view through-out the day.
The agenda is created by everyone posting the topics they would like to present, see or discuss. We start with a blank wall and, in less than an hour, through a highly participative process, create a full day, multi-track conference agenda that is relevant and inspiring to everyone there. This creates a rich assortment of agenda items and makes for an exciting day of learning.
From there, we go to separate areas or rooms assigned to each topic. The session formats can be a presentation, inquiry about a question or discussion about an issue or technical field. We ask for one participant at each session to record the proceedings to share.
The sessions are put forward by the people who attend the event – and are diverse. They include expert topics about their particular expertise, hosting conversations about issues of interest both technical and personal (like how to startup without leaving a full time position, recover from failure, break into product management, get funding, get interviews, break into a new industry, deal with internal politics, etc.), exploring start-up ideas, introductions or deep dives to both technical and soft skills, methodologies, innovation strategies, or frameworks, sharing stories about what it was like to work in the early days of the industry, introduction to public speakingand many others.
Access to Content
We capture the notes, tweets, pictures, presentations from each session and encourage blogging following the event to share further and continue community.
At the end of each day we review briefly highlights from all the sessions hosted during the day and then usually invite attendees to complete the following sentence “As a result of today…”
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