Adventures in Open Space

Open Space Technology Learning Module Report

1998 John Perkins

Since the processes and procedures of Open Space are well described by others (Owen, 1992 and Daniel, 1994) and in my Learning Agreement, I will not reproduce them here. This paper will present my personal experiences with Open Space in two sections. The first will consider some of the understandings I have made about Open Space and myself. The second section will be an annotated list of my experiences in specific Open Space events. In this paper I will refer to an Open Space event as just that, or as simply Open Space and sometimes as Open Space Technology or OST.

SECTION 1

The fun of Participating. I first learned of Open Space Technology from a flyer Harrison Owen sent me announcing the first facilitator training to be held in the Seattle area in 1994. I enjoyed the idea of being in the first training. In 1979 I was in one of the first classes in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I like the experience of being a pioneer-helping to take a new process to fresh social and interpersonal arenas. Since it is new for everyone it must be new for me, and I know I am embarking on explorations of new worlds of learning. I understood that my training would only be the launching pad for my learning about Open Space.

The excitement of discovery is built into the fabric of Open Space. I love the sheer elasticity of the form, something within me is set free to fully attend and be present for myself and others in a heightened way. How is this possible on such a consistent basis? I will look at this phenomena from the point of view of therapeutic double binds, infinite games, and creative engagement.

Double Binds. Part of the fun and magic of Open Space falls within techniques developed in psychotherapy called "therapeutic double binds" and "prescribing the symptom." Underneath both of these approaches is an attempt to disrupt the usual pattern of behavior in a client or client system. In a therapeutic double bind, the patient is told not to change in a context where he or she has come expecting to be told to change. Resisting the injunction means a change, while not changing now becomes a choice. "Since a symptom is something, which, by definition, one "can't help," [the client] is then no longer behaving symptomatically. Thus he is 'changed if he does and changed if he doesn't'" (Hoffman, 1981: 238).

The elegance of Open Space is that in the opening presentation, where the facilitator explains how it works and what to expect, he or she directly places each individual member in a therapeutic double bind, which has benefits for the group. The bind is in the law of two feet. Here, members are told that this is the only "law" in Open Space, and it states that "If, during the course of the gathering any person finds him or herself in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they can use their two feet and go to some more productive place" (Owen, 1992: 72).

People who follow this law become metaphoric butterflies and bumblebees, which is, they attract interesting conversations to themselves outside the posted ones, or they flit from group to group, cross pollinating ideas.

The therapeutic double bind is that this is what some people actually do, and many others wish they had the "guts" to do, at meetings and conferences. Therefore, by telling people that what they do is exactly what is wanted, it frees them to openly do what they wanted to do all along, or in failing to do what they want to do their lack of action is shown to be their free choice.

I have also experienced the direct therapeutic benefits possible during an Open Space. In other words, I have had experiences which have changed my life. For example, at the five-day Open Space on "Growing our Now" in Yachats, Oregon, I called a discussion on the topic, "Too Much To Do-too Little Me-Rescues and Remedies," which drew nine people, including Harrison. At that time, I felt frayed and overburdened due to some challenging difficulties with work, school, and home life. I secretly enjoyed the idea of getting some time to be center stage if only to whine a little bit. At one point Harrison said something so important for me and where I felt myself to be that I put it in bold text in my notes from this session, and I will put it in bold text here: Pay close note to what's your story and keep it clearly in mind/view. Negotiate with others to clarify stories, who plays what roles, etc. (Growing Our Now, 1995). Harrison's statement put me in a double bind: my misery, and my release, was my own making.

A few weeks later I had a corroborating experience. Around that time I seemed to be chronically losing things-papers, bills, and the like. When I called a close friend, and superb therapist, in New York to seek her advice about what to do she advised, "Do you know how light is thought of as being made of both particles and waves? You have become overly fixated on the particles. Refocus, and place your attention and alignment with the wave forms of your life." Which, using a different metaphor, was very close to what Harrison had suggested. These two messages falling so close to one another, and from people I trust and respect, made an impression on me.

To accomplish this resetting, I decided to give myself a two day retreat at a convent one mile from my apartment. I decided to use a tool I had learned at the Yachats Open Space as a means for enhancing my self reflection. I used Prasad Kaipa's Pyramid Building approach which he employs with groups seeking to clarify their strategic intent. While learning this method in Yachats, I found the idea of labeling the corners, edges and faces of a three dimensional tetrahedron intriguing.
While working out my pyramid (in appendix, pp. 4-6) I spent the day in silence. This settled and grounded me. I felt back in the driver's seat of being the narrator of my story. Or, if I was reporting to my friend in New York, I felt more in synch with my wave form. So much so, that when the chance arose to leave a job which I did not feel was part of my story any longer, I accepted it. My story needed to move on...

Infinite Games. Open Space builds the context for an entirely different type of game: an infinite game. As James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility (1986), "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play" (p. 3). Open Space has many of the attributes of infinite games. Plus, the experiences Carse attributes to infinite game players could as easily be described by participants in Open Space events.

Just compare...

Open Space
(references from Owen)
Infinite Games and Players (references from Carse, 1986)
Open Space will not work when people are forced to join it (1991: 178). It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play. (: 4, emphasis in original)
Whenever it starts is the right time (1992: 70). Infinite players cannot say when their play began, nor do they care. (: 7-8)
The Law of Two Feet saysif, during the course of the gathering any person finds him or herself in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they can use their two feet and go to some more productive place (1992: 72). While finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined (: 8).
The ultimate facilitator will do nothing and remain totally invisible (1992: 51). Infinite players play best when they become least necessary to the continuation of play...The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish
(: 32).
If there is any single quality of an Open Space event that strikes a first-time participant as delightfully strange it is playfulness. Even in undertakings of profound seriousness, there is fun (1991: 172). To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise( :19).
Butterflies (people who do not attend discussions) create centers of non-action where silence may be enjoyed or some new, unexplored topic of conversation engaged. [These conversations] almost inevitably end up being significant (1992: 74). everything that happens is of consequence (: 19).
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises...(Huntington in Owen: 1995: 89). In infinite play one always plays dramatically, that is, towards the open, towards the horizon, towards surprise, where nothing can be scripted (: 31).


Clearly, Open Space is facilitated and enjoyed best as an infinite game. If we think of the expression of group effort as a fraction

Group Effort = Member Participation divided by Leadership

it becomes obvious where the paradox lies. Group effort simultaneously approaches infinity or unity depending on what value we ascribe to leadership! As the facilitator's leadership role approaches zero, members are free to follow their own sense of passion and responsibility with exponential and unpredictable results (in other words, the potential unleashed is infinite). Simultaneously though, during any Open Space event any member can lead, that is, make decisions and implement them alone or with the help of others. Therefore leadership and group membership, being roles expressed by the same person or group of people, brings the right side of the equation closer and closer to being one, or a unity of group composition and group effort.
Six hundred years before Christ, Lao Tzu expressed the Taoist philosophy of leadership in terms remarkably similar to Owen's dicta "The ultimate facilitator will do nothing and remain totally invisible":

The most intelligent leader brings about results without making those controlled realize they are being influenced

The intelligent leader will be careful not to speak as if he [or she] doubted or distrusted his followers ability to do the job suitably.

When the work is done, and as he [or she] wanted it done, [the leader] will be happy if the followers say: "This is how we wanted it" (1958: 24).

Creative Engagement. A lot can happen when a group of people gather. Open Space makes all participants co-creators of their personal and each other's experiences. We can experience our social roles as self and socially constructed and choose which roles to play during the Open Space. For example, within an hour I might play, and play with, the roles of discussion facilitator, note-taker, and absentee member (while away resting).

To facilitate an Open Space event is to generate and hold a context-that is, a loosely bounded mutual understanding of purpose, time, and space-for the group. Each participant quickly grasps the basic existential paradox: with so many people actively engaged, my personal participation becomes just a small fraction of what can occur, yet even that small contribution generates great meaning for myself, and materially changes the quality of the Open Space.

An Open Space event lets us express our "compound self" (Grudin, 1996: 66). As just noted, one can express several roles (or voices) at an Open Space event:
Ideally, these several voices, which together make up the fullness of our compound identity, should be available to us at all times. But individual voices can be liberated and renewed by special activities. The secret is full engagement. (Grudin :66)
Open Space encourages full engagement and people voluntarily provide it. We can make a gift to ourselves, and of ourselves, to the other participants in pursuit of the stated purpose of the event. In great workplaces which have high trust among employees and management, they build that trust by understanding the gift of creativity and humanness the employee offers to the work of the organization (Levering, 1988: 195). The co-creation of the experience and the support and expression of various roles is what makes Open Space so exhaustingly satisfying. People, by freely committing to the unpredictable encounters with others during an Open Space, awaken personal and social creativity (May, 1975: 46).

In summary, Open Space, however one views it, clearly provides a contextual field which is overly rich in opportunities for play and growth. Something interesting must happen, or as Owen likes to emphasize, you can expect to be surprised.

Section 2

In my learning agreement I said I would document my learning by maintaining a list of my experiences with notes. I will present the whole list of my experiences to date, and then look at each event in particular. This list does not include my original training in January of 1994 and my first Open Space I co-facilitated with Dell Drake and June Eggler in May 1994. I did not include them because they happened before my formal entry into Union Institute.

Date Event
11/94 Two-Day Open Space on Open Space, Washington, DC, facilitated by Harrison Owen.
11/94 One-Day Open Space with 93 teenagers and 30 adults, Partners in Prevention (PIP) Leadership Camp, Vashon Island, WA. Facilitated by Jan Gray. I sponsored it.
1/95 Five-Day Second Annual Training With Harrison Owen, Dell Drake, and Anne Stadler, Seabeck, WA.
1/95 One-Day Open Space. Antioch Graduate Management Program, Seattle, WA.
2/95 Two-Hour Introduction to Open Space, for Upper Left Corner Chapter of the Association for Quality and Participation (AQP), Seattle, WA. I facilitated.
2/95 One-Day Open Space (first of three days) for the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition, Facilitated by Anne Stadler, Tukwila, WA. I sponsored.
3/95 One-Day LIOS Networking Open Space. Facilitated by Dell Drake, Kay Christy, and Brian Mason, LIOS offices, Bellevue, WA.
4/95 One-Day Open Space. Arc-King County, Seattle, WA. Facilitated by Neidra North.
4/95 Two-Day Open Space (last two of three days) for the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition. Facilitated by Anne Stadler, Tukwila, WA. I sponsored.
4/95 Two-Hour Open Space for Northwest Intentional Communities Association Annual Meeting in Bothell, WA. I facilitated.
10/95 Five-Day Open Space on the Theme of "Growing Our Now" in Yachats, OR. Facilitated by Harrison Owen and Anne Stadler.
11/95 One-Day Open Space with 80 teenagers and 30 adults, Partners in Prevention (PIP) Leadership Camp, Vashon Island, WA. I facilitated.
1/96 One-Day Open Space during Five-Day Third Annual Training With Harrison Owen, Dell Drake, and Anne Stadler, Seabeck, WA.
2/96 Half-Day Open Space during Tobacco Free Washington Coalition's Annual Planning Meeting. Seatac, WA. I facilitated.
4/96 Half-Day Open Space at Interlake High School, Bellevue, WA. I facilitated.
5/96 Half-Day Open Space at Bouncing Back Conference, Seattle, WA. I facilitated.
6/96 One-Day Open Space for Central Co-op Grocery Store, Seattle, WA. I facilitated.
7/96 Five-Day Open Space at the 14th Annual Organization Transformation Conference, Olympia, WA. Harrison Owen facilitating.


1. 11/94 Two-Day Open Space on Open Space (OS on OS), Washington, DC, facilitated by Harrison Owen.

Want a two-word summary of my impressions? High-density. Since this is a gathering of the faithful, Harrison dispenses with the half hour warm up, puts the paper and markers in the middle of the room and simply states: "You all know what Open Space is, and how it works. The floor is open."

I proposed a group on choice. I sat, alone in the first cycle since most people had flocked to the stories session. Linda Pope accidentally stumbled across me and we talked for 90 minutes, just she and I, and explored all the nuances about choice I had wanted to discuss.

A great benefit for my program was meeting Marlene Daniel who had just finished her dissertation using the Rockport experience with Open Space as her the location for her study. She had copies of it there, and let us have copies at cost. Chris Carter called a group on research and I learned of other spirited people around the country who are interested in Open Space.

Most of the research that I heard about missed the point. Open Space is first and foremost a group phenomena, yet we insist on believing more in private pretests and posttests. I began to see two continuums-one is the group experience potential with increasing or decreasing facilitation symbolized by the highly facilitated Future Search Conference approach and the minimally facilitated Open Space Technology approach. The other is Open Space and group on one end with a personal mind map or creative expression on the other.

I added a late-breaking group near the end of the second day. I felt uninterested in the posted topics, and put one up for "Quaker Silence." Two people joined me in simply sitting together with the Spirit. The time together felt soft and velvety.

Harrison kept looking for my white socks and I hadn't brought any! This refers to a private joke between us. At the conclusion of my original training, during my turn in the closing circle I said that I really liked Open Space and wondered if I got really good at it if I could wear white socks like Harrison (who had only worn white socks during the training). I told him I had not won my socks, but would buy a pack after my OS with 130 youth scheduled for the Saturday following this OS on OS.

2. 11/94 One-Day Open Space with 93 teenagers and 30 adults, Partners in Prevention (PIP) Leadership Camp, Vashon Island, WA. Facilitated by Jan Gray. I sponsored it.
I will review this Open Space fully in my report on my PIP Camp internship experiences.

3. 1/95 Five-Day Second Annual Training With Harrison Owen, Dell Drake and Anne Stadler, Seabeck, WA.

This was my second full training. I decided to attend again so that it would appear on my official Union records as a new learning, to get a second chance to hear Harrison's presentation, and to meet with old friends and enjoy Open Space with them. But really, I wanted to come as a test of my agency's acceptance of Open Space.

When I decided after my first training (a short year before) to bring OS into my work I faced two arenas where this innovation would have to be accepted. The first, PIP Camp, gradually warmed to the idea and ultimately had a successful OS event. The other was my agency which actually paid my salary. The executive director had originally denied my request from a year before. But a lot had happened in that year.

I doubt if the OS at PIP Camp made much of an impression on her. What got her notice was winning one of the first Safeco Insurance Company's "Rudy" Awards for "cutting through the fog and getting the job done." This award came with a no-strings contribution to the agency of $30,000.
Financially, the executive director was very generous with sharing part of this award with me. I also felt I might seek a symbolic recognition of this innovation I had learned and brought to my job. That's why I asked, for a second time, that I receive official agency sponsorship to attend the training, which I got, with this comment, "John, I guess I'm from the old school, where we adults have something to teach and the kids just sat and listened."

4. 1/95 One-Day Open Space. Antioch Graduate Management Program, Seattle, WA.

This was an exciting opportunity to see how a system completely comfortable with Open Space would handle itself. One of the faculty members seemed surprised that I wanted to come, but later reversed himself. I think I added diversity to the event by representing the community and "friends" of Antioch.
Antioch was not the only academic setting thinking about Open Space. About that time I had a call from my core faculty professor, Barry Heermann. He wanted to discuss whether Open Space might work at Union. Also, the president of the Learner's Council (official representatives of students' interests to the administration) asked me via our electronic bulletin board system (BBS) about Open Space. I was able to refer him to a long message I had previously sent to another learner.
As part of the residency requirements for Union, we must attend five-day long seminars. Could OS be used to conduct a seminar devoted to the future of Union? Invitees would be everyone on the payroll, including adjuncts, plus learners, spouses, potential learners, accreditation officials, etc. I have been toying with a possible format:
Day One: Theme: Self-Regulated Participation: Personal Examples and Reflection

Days Two-to-Four: Issues and Opportunities Facing Union as It Extends its Lead in Learner Directed Post-Graduate Education

Day Five: Common Ground, Significant Differences, Remaining Unexplored Terrain (if any)

As this is a seminar, active learners would need to be there for five days to earn their seminar credits. I envision the first and fifth days as a "shell" for the learners. Graduates, administrative staff, faculty, dropouts, and friends of the school (lending institutions, foundations, family members, potential new learners, people from similar institutions, folks interested in Open Space, etc.) could conceivable be present for any or all of days two through four.

5. 2/95 Two-Hour Introduction to Open Space, for Upper Left Corner Chapter of the Association for Quality and Participation (AQP), Seattle, WA, I facilitated.

Within the limited time of the usual AQP members' meeting of two hours I conducted an Open Space! We only had time for one 45 minute break out session. From this introduction, AQP used Open Space at its free members' meeting in May, 1995, and is thinking of using it for at least one day of its big annual fall conference in the fall of 1996.

6. 2/95 One-Day Open Space (first of three days) for the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition, Facilitated by Anne Stadler, Tukwila, WA. I sponsored.

This was the first of three day spent in Open Space. I will discuss it a little later when I get to the two concluding days held in April.

7. 3/95 One-Day LIOS Networking Open Space. Facilitated by Dell Drake, Kay Christy and Brian Mason, LIOS offices, Bellevue, WA.

One group in particular at this Open Space produced insight after insight for me into the rapidity with which small groups create and perpetuate a culture for themselves. Here is what I wrote soon after that Open Space.

What Happens Inside a Discussion Group: Notes and Reflections from Topic Group Stu Jennings called at the LIOS Networking Open Space 3/25/95

Note: These comments include thoughts which occurred to me at the time plus later reflections. Initials are made up.

Stu's topic on how can we interact more from a learning posture than a debating one, attracted my interests since I often feel more in a debating mode in some types of meetings without really intending to, and without knowing always how to stay engaged while presenting my point of view.

Stu made a statement which catalyzed the discussion. He said that when in the debating mode he feels as though he is trying to win "brownie points."

Someone asked how many brownie points would be enough?

Someone else wanted to know WHO gave out the brownie points?

I then handed him a strip of masking tape, and said, "Here are all of the brownie points you might want."

We became participant-creators as a culture developed in front of us. As the talk went on, we played a lot with the awarding of the
"brownie points." Brownie points soon began to symbolize an offering from the listener to the speaker when the speaker said something the listener acknowledged as valid or truth-full.

As an experiment we began to practice acknowledging something the previous speaker had said, paraphrasing what had been said, and building on the idea of the previous speaker. We wished to avoid getting into "yes, but' cycles.

For those in the room when this was accepted we had two active elements of our impromptu culture: the passing of tape strips to symbolize hearing a truth and "acknowledging, paraphrase, building."

Dynamically, when new people bumblebeed into the room, we did not "train" or "educate" them to our new culture. When they spoke for the first time, if they demonstrated they had learned appreciation, paraphrase, building someone would pass them a brownie point. However, they might not understand what to do with the brownie points, which to them looked like pieces of masking tape. We had ours stuck haphazardly on our shirts, wearing them proudly. They might just as well put this brownie point on the edge of the table or stick it to their chair.

This is not a trivial problem. Think of the flag. To some it is just a piece of colorful cloth, and if a need for cloth is stronger than the need to display "the flag" the cloth function will override. So that under battle a flag might be torn up to make slings, or bandage wounds. This might horrify those who see more symbolism in it. Especially if a compassionate medic used "our flag" to bandage the wounds of "the enemy."

But, back to this group. We discussed Stu's point that in the debating mode he can get really worked up defending bullshit, even when he knows it's bullshit. In his learning/listening mode he tracks internally what he feels positive or negative about as a way of uncovering his core beliefs.

A suggestion was offered to exaggerate the bullshit, play it big and burlesque, as a way of lightening our grip on it, or its grip on us.

The challenge in our appreciation, paraphrase, building exercise is how to respond with an acknowledge while our true selves may have major disagreements. Example: M. mentioned that we might think of truth with a small 't' since we all have our separate 't' truths; there is no capital 'T' truth.

Q. disagreed, but didn't know how to say it given our appreciation, paraphrase, building rules. She said that we have truths, and some have a capital 'T' and is true for all people. She knows these Truth because her body shivers and vibrates when she hears them.

W. raised the point, after acknowledging Q. that those shaking truths still may be small 't', simply major truths for Q.

Q. did not appreciate our culture and felt that since it was an exercise she would leave. Which she did. But she had raised good topics which the group continued to grapple with. She also left so quickly that it surprised some of us "old-timers" when she did not get into the spirit of the culture we had created.

Being in a group has a tension: on one hand being too forceful risks distancing people, while being too passive might lead us to accept something we know is wrong in order to feel like we belong to the group. X. mentioned the understanding in some communities that everyone would commit to keeping a long term view of their relationship, and work through any disagreements. In other words, conflict would not be the wedge to ruin the relationship and each accepts a good faith effort to resolve any difficulties.

This basic philosophy of acknowledging first and commitment through conflict could help families, managers, etc.

Is there a need to take a stance? Is this need apparent only in certain cultures where people maybe fear getting lost in the group? Could it be that we learn to sense our personhood by testing the boundaries between us and the group?

R. asked, before we left, for some suggestions to use in his daily living.

C. quoted Ken Webers: I think I could do with letting others be right.

I forget if I thought of this story during the group, or later. I didn't share it at the time. A family with a teenage daughter and new born baby came to find a Buddhist monk. The family said the daughter has confessed that the baby was sired by him and the family insisted that he accept his responsibility and raise the child.
The monk said, "Is that so." And accepted the baby.
Six weeks later the girl had a second confession, and told her parents who the true father was, a local baker, and that they wanted to get married. And get their baby back.
The family made a second trip to the monk. They apologized and told him that they had made a grave mistake. They asked them for the baby back. The monk said, "Is that so." And returned the baby.

Be curious.

Build on and respect differences.

In large groups, ask for a sign, "Is anyone else having this experience?"


8. 4/95 One-Day Open Space. Arc-King County, Seattle, WA. Facilitated by Neidra North.

This proved to be an interested day centered around issues parents of children with mental disabilities face when their children leave high school. About 50 parents participated. I saw a great deal of mutual support and caring. I also had my first personal experience of the power of permitting people to "bumblebee" from group to group. I had just left one group where a parent had described how to hold her school's counselors and teachers to the spirit of the law pertaining to individualized instruction for her child. I left, and the next group I entered seemed stuck on this point. I quickly told them who to talk to as a resource about that issue.

9. 4/95 Two-Day Open Space (last two of three days) for the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition. Facilitated by Anne Stadler, Tukwila, WA. I sponsored.

At the OS on OS, Sam Magill call a group on the rhythms of Open Space. I think not only does a particular OS develop a signature rhythm within the structural rhythms of OS (starting circle, the bulletin board, market place and Evening News portions) it definitely has a place in the larger movements of the organization which uses it.

I would rate this particular Open Space series an "ambiguous" success. On one hand we did a lot of good work and developed some terrific suggestions for the steering committee. On the other hand, just myself and the president of the organization attended all three days of the event. This meant that when the proposals reached the steering it would have to find the time to devote to reproducing the same conversations the Open Space time had been set aside to accomplish.

10. 10/95 Five-Day Open Space on the Theme of "Growing Our Now" in Yachats, OR. Facilitated by Harrison Owen and Anne Stadler.

Part of what I experienced in this group I discussed in Section 1. Now reviewing my notes and the proceedings report, I am reminded of the richness of the experience. One five day Open Space could easily become the basis for a series of educational videotapes.

I consciously played with arriving "late" for groups. Almost always I needed some minutes to sit observing and trying to get my bearings. Instantly upon entering I could feel the energy of the group and whether I arrived at a "good" time or not. I always knew I had missed something, but what? Was it important? Even getting a quick verbal update left me feeling like I had missed the subtleties of how people learned about each other, their communication styles, what would energize them. Would I have a place here? Could I make a contribution? Did they care if I felt interested in their work, or did the group feel indifferent to my presence?

One of the participants placed these "Shadow Principles" on the wall, then folded the page to cover them. He wrote:
1. I am afraid no one will show up for me and my thing.

I am also afraid I will get stuck with the wrong people.

2. I am afraid I won't be in control of what happens.

3. I am afraid of not being on time.
I am afraid that "it" might be spirit.
I am more comfortable with dogma.

4. If it is bad I am afraid I will be bored.
If it is good I am afraid that the feeling will end.

Where does the shadow fall when we promote a social innovation and offer people the chance to experience being together in a new way? I experience people, especially groups, struggling with its shadow before the event during the planning stages, and again during the Evening News segment at the end of the discussions. Since I conduct and participate in Open Space events in community settings I am curious about people who leave early. Could they really not find or create discussions of interest? Or did something awaken their shadow and their discomfort-or disagreement-with the format?

11. 11/95 One-Day Open Space with 80 teenagers and 30 adults, Partners in Prevention (PIP) Leadership Camp, Vashon Island, WA. I facilitated.

[Note: a fuller discussion will be in my report on this internship.] This reprise of our Open Space for teens had a completely different feeling among the planners. Because we had a successful camp in 1994, everyone fully supported repeating Open Space for this camp. This year I would facilitate. I would have preferred to repeat in my role as sponsor, but the sponsoring organization did not want to pay someone to conduct the Open Space. I did insist that my "fee" in that case would be that I only conducted the OS on Saturday. That meant that I would not arrive with everyone to set up the camp, etc. on Friday.

Although I knew the camp well, I still insisted on going to see it again before this OS. This turned out to be a good idea since the long walls we used in 1994 were covered with shields made by groups of Camp Fire Girls.

The camp's management did not want the shields disturbed and we had to improvise alternative arrangements with room dividers. All worked out well.

12. 1/96 One-Day Open Space during Five-Day Third Annual Training With Harrison Owen, Dell Drake and Anne Stadler, Seabeck, WA.

Spent just one full day at the training this year, the middle day devoted to actual participation in Open Space. I was wrestling with finishing final touches on my learning agreement and piloting my final research project. I did take a moment to write two pages in my diary:
Why are OST experiences so different than other ones? Deeper perhaps-more vital and open to depth or potentialities?

Feeling a satisfied tired. First group took three hours to explore inclusiveness and diversity-How do we do that?

After lunch I went to Jack's talk/discussion about natural time in a world of clocks. He began with his story of spending two and a half weeks floating down the Grand Canyon without a watch. He really got a chance to attend to the natural rhythms of the day; rhythms of human activity and rhythms of the river.

Next, June led a group on how to heal old wounds in organizations. This topic attracted Marianne and Kathy from Yachats, OR. They were dealing with community planning and priorities around the closing of a local school because of low enrollment. Many hurt feelings...I pointed out that a symbol of listening would help people see that listening was taking place.

Harrison asked at some point when my thesis will be done, and I said, "When it's over, it's over!" A great guy. Actually almost forgot the white sock routine, just by luck June had a pair.

Rich had his juggling supplies and a tape of Michael Moschen. It had a lot of the material I had just been reading about in the Smithsonian Magazine article (Kemper, 1995): the ring and stick dance for the Cirque du Soleil, juggling five balls inside a wooden pyramid, and his famous glass balls routine. By the end of the evening it seemed that everyone in the whole place was trying to keep something in the air.

I picked up some pointers for a better life:

The dance is there in the drumming. Joelle.

Feeling comfortable with discomfort.

Taking all you know and dangling it over a cliff.

Maybe it's not the time but the schedules. Anonymous.

13. 2/96 Half-Day Open Space during Tobacco Free Washington Coalition's Annual Planning Meeting. Seatac, WA. I facilitated.

Edited excerpts from my journal
2/27/96 Today, Tuesday, I did a half-day OST for TFWC. Trish Seghers, the president, had her doubts, but she let it go anyway. We did great, about 15 topics, about what people really wanted to talk about, convened by the people really ready to do the work. Feeling very tired, but a good tired right now.

For the first time with adults I tried the handwritten note pages (copies in the appendix). It went very well, and got back full reports from most of the groups. Face an interesting issue: how to copy and distribute the notes from the OST so that they cannot be turned over in a Freedom Of Information Act request to the Tobacco Industry?

I had to rush to set up and forgot some things, nothing too major, but a note to myself to use notes when I am rushed, just to make sure I tick off the right stuff.

Lost of minor difficulties, like pens the wrong color (blue ink) and markers not water soluble (Department of Health staff just brought what was in the office). I think for the future I will be a bit more careful about what is really going to be brought. Or maybe spring for my own set of supplies.

I physically walked through all of the steps of posting a topic from writing it on paper to getting the room/time Post-It and putting it up on the agenda wall. I think it helped to ground people.

Used an actual mirror, cutout bumblebee and butterfly today to make my points about responsibility. At one point, while commenting on getting lunch before 1:15 I said, "If you come asking for lunch at 1:45 just (held up mirror)." I liked the props. It gave a new concrete expression to the metaphors.

In the closing circle, Trish, to her credit, said that she was surprised at how well it had gone, and publicly admitted her previous misgivings. Lots of compliments on the facilitation of the opening from many people. That felt good.

14. 4/96 Half-Day Open Space at Interlake High School, Bellevue, WA. I facilitated.

This Open Space marked a milestone in my career: my first as a consultant which meant my first check, $300, for leading an Open Space. Yes!

The sponsoring group of students really did their work. After experiencing Open Space at PIP Camp they decided to do one at their school. To prepare their fellow students, they surveyed their opinion about inter-racial and inter-ethnic relationships at Interlake. Interlake, for a variety of reasons, has one of the most diversified student populations of any high school on the Eastside of Lake Washington, usually known for its mostly European-American suburbs. Part of the survey asked students why they would want to participate in a day of workshops and discussions around these topics. Out of the responses, the sponsoring group selected 50 to participate in the Open Space. Even though this event continued past the customary end of the school day, about eighty percent stayed through the closing circle.

Because students really have fewer experiences with high quality peer discussions, I composed a set of guidelines for discussion hosts to use (see appendix). The students posted fewer topics than I had predicted, only about a dozen, but the discussions were spirited and honest. They quickly understood the difference between Open Space and their usual experience at school. For example, one boy asked me if I would be by to remind them to end their first groups and start their second one. "No," I said. "Personal responsibility, right?" he said, smiling. "Right."

Late in the day, while I sat chatting with the school nurse, the advisor to the sponsoring group, the discussion in the room behind us grew louder and louder. We paused, looked at each other, shrugged, and continued our conversation. At the closing circle, a participant in this group said that talk was great, even though some people feel very strongly about their point of view, they were able to talk it out.

As an example of their creativity, a group decided to have a peer support group to continue discussions about sexual preferences and growing up.

15. 5/96 Half-Day Open Space at Bouncing Back Conference, Seattle, WA. I facilitated.

Notes written June 1:
Yesterday, I facilitated an OS event for King County Community Organizing. Had a smaller turnout than I expected. But whoever comes...among those were Carolyn Hartness, a bunch of friends from my old job, and Penny, my second core faculty member. I think Penny is genuinely interested in finding ways of bringing this into her practice for conducting seminars at Union. We discussed at length the challenges for doing Open Space type self-structuring at a colloquium.

I suffered some minor forgetfulness-forgot to mention if the first group needed more time the incoming group could adjust to that. Remembered to use the mirror and other props. Good results again. One woman said she liked them because she teaches elementary school and appreciates the power to tangible symbols.

We did the notes on hand written pages again. And got a decent number of reports.
On the rigidities of Open Space: I insisted on coming down the day before, though the organizer of the day wanted me to stay away. I came 'late' in the day instead. The chairs (the first 95) were in a fan shape on the stage. Oh no. The organizer, who has not seen an Open Space event before, seemed surprised that I wanted to change them. She asked if it was personal or "Open Space" which wasn't being "flexible." I said I know Open Space, and I have been hired to do a high quality Open Space. If we change the fundamentals we have to call it something else since I didn't want people leaving thinking they had seen OS when they hadn't." Then I went to move chairs.

16. 6/96 One-Day Open Space for Central Co-op Grocery Store, Seattle, WA. I facilitated.

Another successful OS event, this time for the board and some staff of the Central Co-op natural foods grocery store. The store is facing a critical moment in its life as it plans to expand to a new store in a different part of town with different demographics. I felt honored to be asked to be a part. Just before this particular Sunday, I had been reading messages on the Union BBS about the
use of "art as inquiry." I thought I would experiment with it. I think it worked. I posted this on the BBS:

Artwork and Open Space

In line with the discussion about "art as inquiry" I experimented with including artwork in a full day retreat I just facilitated for a local natural food co-op.

Am I an artist or art therapist? No, but I have tremendous experience facilitating groups of all types. While living in New York I would attend the annual Art Therapy Expo at Pratt Institute. To facilitate this exercise I had to help people feel at ease with the task and provide enough variety of materials (cray-pas, colored pencils, markers, etc.).

After spending from about 9 in the morning to 2 PM in Open Space Technology generated small group conversations, I asked people to take ten minutes to draw their images, or maps, of three questions facing the co-op as it expands to a second store:

What is the map of the new store?

What is the map of the current situation?

What is the map which will get us from here to there?

You may notice these as classic concerns of any field which uses "interventions": present state, desired state, and a method to get from the present state to the desired state.

Results? I think we got useful insights. Many drew some variant of a spiral or curvy-linear line as the path from here to there. But one person drew two x's and a bold direct line connecting them. That's useful to know, but just why, just now, I can't say.

In addition, the pictures gave people a quick short hand language, especially when referring to their own drawings. One woman referred to the "bridge" that was needed, and she had drawn a bridge.

Two people had not drawn something. One, during the sharing go-round, suddenly remembered that she had drawings of city maps of the area for a new store, and the store's floor plan. She put these up. For the other person, we put up a blank sheet, which became a useful referent for what they really faced-unpredictable events and surprising turns.

I feel this excursion into art deepened and broadened the conversation, and provided some ways to present new information and notice informal reactions. I recommend it.


( ) 7/96 Five-Day Open Space at the 14th Annual Organization Transformation Conference, Olympia, WA. Harrison Owen facilitating.

I put empty parenthesis as the number for this Open Space to represent the fact that it will open new avenues, new relationships, and new ways of thinking which no one, least of all myself, can predict. Plus, I just agreed to lead an OS event for 200 incoming high school students in August, if they secure funding. This will make it simultaneously the youngest and largest group I would have facilitated.     

If we can enjoy infinite games, there must also be infinite stories

Bibliography


Carse, James. (1986). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: Ballantine Books.
Daniel, Marlene. (1994). An Ethnographic Study of An Open Space Technology Meeting: Self-Organization at Work. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Baltimore: University of Maryland.

Dunsmore, Katie. (1996). Hard Thinking at this Year's Planning Retreat. Central Co-op News, July/August 1996:no page.

Growing Our Now: Or the Spirit of the Great Pumpkin LIVES! (1995). Mimeograph. No pagination.

Gruden, Robert. (1966). The School of Change. Family Therapy Networker, 20:3(May/June 1966):62-66.

Hoffman, Lynn. (1981). Foundations of Family Therapy: A Conceptual Framework for Systems Change. New York: Basic Books.

Huntington, Hugh. (1995). Open Space: An Organizational Transition Methodology. In Owen, Harrison H., editor. (1995). Tales from Open Space. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing, pp. 83-95.

Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. (1992). Large Group Interventions Issue. 28(4).

Kemper, Steve, (1995). If It's 'Impossible,' Michael Moschen Will do it Anyway. Smithsonian, August 1995:38-47.

Levering, Robert. (1988). A Great Place Work: What Makes Some Employers so Good (And Most so Bad). New York: Random House.

May, Rollo. (1975). The Courage to Create. New York: Bantam.

Owen, Harrison H.(1987). Spirit: Transformation and Development in Organizations. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Owen, Harrison H. (1990). Leadership Is. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Owen, Harrison H. (1991). Riding the Tiger: Doing Business in A Transforming World. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Owen, Harrison H. (1992). Open Space Technology: A User's Guide. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Owen, Harrison H., ed. (1993). Reports from the First Open Space on Open Space. Published by the editor.

Owen, Harrison H. (1994). The Millennium Organization. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Owen, Harrison H., ed. (1994). Reports from the Second Open Space on Open Space. Published by the editor.

Owen, Harrison H., ed. (1995). Tales from Open Space. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Tzu, Lao. (1958). Tao Teh King. Translated by Archie J. Bahm. New York: Frederick Ungar.

Videotapes

Discerning the Spirit: Envisioning the Future. (1992). Lexington, KY: Presbyterian Church (USA). Harrison Owen conducting an Open Space for 500 people in Chicago.

Learning in Open Space. (1990). Seattle: Vision Communications, Ltd.

US WEST Open Space. (1995). Seattle, WA: US West Corporate Television.

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