PIP Internship: Open Space With Teens

1999 John Perkins

Bringing Open Space to the
Partners In Prevention Camp:
A Report on My Internship

A Brief History of PIP Camp

Partners in Prevention (PIP) Camp is a 2 -1/2 day youth substance abuse prevention retreat which began in 1984. The first camp was organized for youth in the North King County area by the Center for Human Services and has since expanded to include youth from all of King County. The original goals of the camp have served well and remain the goals of the camp today:


to develop healthy relationships

to develop teamwork and cooperation skills

to develop alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse prevention programs in schools and communities, and

to experience the richly diverse society in which we live.1

My personal involvement began in 1992 when I held one of the two prevention specialist positions at Central Youth and Family Services (CYFS). In 1994, 22 people planned and implemented the camp led by Kristen Farr and Jonnae Tillman, the camp's co-directors. The great majority of these planners worked for one of the youth and family service agencies on contract with King County Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.

A typical PIP Camp would include educational workshops, fun activities such as outdoor games, weather permitting, a popular Saturday Night dance and invited presenters.

Signing Up

Few people relish feeling required to do anything. Prevention specialists are required by contract to help produce the annual PIP Camp. Yet, we openly acknowledged that our passion, or ennui, would have a direct effect on the behavior of the youth and the quality of the camp experience for them.

Each year, beginning around the middle of the summer, we would start our planning meetings. Before 1994, this signaled the start of a long and open-ended signing up process. Each prevention specialist could decide his or her degree of involvement which meant some did more than others. This had great potential for disrupting our group process, though in 1994 we found a way to balance the workloads which I will describe later in the next section on the Klein Method.

Within the compulsory confines of working on this because of their contract obligations, people needed to voluntarily rise to the task. Tracy Kidder In The Soul of a New Machine calls this rite of initiation "signing up:"

By signing up for the project you agreed to do whatever was necessary for successFrom a manager's point of view the practical virtues of the ritual were manifold. Labor was no longer coerced. Labor volunteeredThe rite was not accomplished with formal declarations, as a rulea statement such as "Yeah, I'll do that" could constitute the act of signing up.2

I not only signed up, but I think I got a bit of the holy fire while thinking about the camp the first year I had a chance to be involved. While I sat looking over a draft of the agenda for the three days, I saw a glaring hole. I realized that we were trying to get teams of young people to share my job, which was to prevent and reverse the spread of drug misuse. Nowhere in the agenda would they get time to really think about how they might do that. I suggested that we carve ninety minutes in the agenda for teams to work on their mission statements for the coming year and make time during the closing ceremonies for teams to share these mission statements. This made a lot of sense to the other planners and they agreed to give me that time. I had signed up.

The Klein Method

I also made a contribution to the internal group dynamics. In the previous years of this camp, one or two very enthusiastic people seemed to carry the energy of the camp, and when something needing doing, or a problem cropped up, they would be right there to get it done.

By 1994, they had left their positions, and the remainder of us viewed working on PIP Camp as a requirement of our jobs. No one seemed to want to get going on pulling together all of the details needed to make the camp run smoothly. This included details like getting walkie-talkies donated, designing the brochure, etc. Both before and during the camp, I personally resented that I worked hard (to produce a great camp) while some others did little and skipped coming to the camp. That ended my own involvement, while some continued to work with school-based teams for the whole year. The amount of time, creativity, and effort people put into to helping the camp succeed was out of balance and people began to complain out loud about it at meetings. What made this unfair is that all of our contracts contained identical wording describing each agency's commitment to the camp. This implied roughly equivalent efforts from everyone.

I suggested that we use an approach I learned from Kim Klein, editor of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, at a workshop in San Francisco in 1989. She described it in rich detail in an article, "Assigning Fundraising Tasks: When Compulsiveness is a Virtue" (1989).
I shared the article and proposed we simplify it to these steps:
(1) Make a list of all activities needed for successful camp-from planning to clean-up.

(2) For each activity listed estimate how many people would be needed to do it.

(3) For each activity, estimate of the average number of hours required per person doing the task.

(4) Estimate the degree of difficulty involved on a scale of one to ten, with one being very easy and ten being among the most difficult tasks to accomplish.

(5) For each activity multiply the numbers to get a total set of "points" for that activity.

(6) Total the points for all activities.

(7) Divide the total points by the number of people involved to arrive at how many "point" represented an equal share of the anticipated work.

Here is a short, made-up table showing what we did:

synergy by design

Everyone had to make sure they contributed at least 280 points worth of effort. As Klein suggested, all of the elements of this table were subject to open discussion and negotiations. By the end we shared an agreement that the estimates for numbers of people, hours, and degrees of difficulty were fair. People could mix and match their points until they reached their total of their share. This meant that each of us could focus on parts of the project which attracted our interests. In addition, this allowed everyone to see how the work was fairly distributed, so that someone who had plans for the weekend of the camp could work more on projects which preceded and followed camp; while someone with a lot of responsibilities during the camp could be less involved in pre-camp activities without feeling guilty or being accused of slacking off.

The signing up for points took place in public as a group activity. Masterful leadership from Kristen kept us on track. We created a large sheet of paper listing all of the activities along the left side. Each week as we reported in, we filled out 3x5 cards and taped or glued them to the chart to show what progress we had made on that activity since the previous meeting. This worked well to help us "see" that the camp was indeed coming together.

Bringing Open Space Technology to PIP

I received my training in Open Space Technology (OST or OS) in January 1994. Though I customarily received $200 a year for training, my agency refused to release any funds for this particular opportunity. So I paid out of my pocket (over $600) and wondered how I would make room in my life to apply what I had learned. Would I bring it to my work setting though my agency refused to support it?

I remember sitting with my feelings after the training. Ten months separated the dates of my original training in Open Space Technology in January 1994 and the tenth annual PIP Camp being held in November. Because of the high participation sparked during an OS event, I knew that it would work well with teenagers. It would also relieve the staff from having to deal with designing and planning the four workshops the camp traditionally presented for the campers. The effort to herd 100 youth, in teams of 25 each, from place to place rarely fully captured the interests of the campers while exhausting the staff. Usually by midnight Saturday, after the camp dance, the youth had energy enough to stay up all night while the staff felt exhausted. This was not a good set up.

With OS I saw that all of this would change. The staff would be off the hook for designing workshops, or even keeping them interesting, because the youth themselves would facilitate their own sessions. And, letting youth propose the topics would neatly solved the problem of how to keep the topics current.

I faced two choices, one internal and the other external. My internal choice revolved around whether to even bother since this would be for work and my employer had refused to support my learning about it. I decided to attempt to bring it to the camp.

The external choice rested with my peers staffed the camp. As the only one of the group with an experience of OS, I would need to be patient and persuasive if I wanted them to take the risk of turning over a major portion of the camp to an idea they had never seen in action.

The External Choice

As an intellectual idea, I think this group quickly saw the beauty and wisdom of transforming our time from workshops times to Open Space time. Mathematically, the time worked out equally, four 90 minute workshops translated into one Open Space from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Actually, the time in OS was even less after you subtracted an hour for lunch. Emotionally, the acceptance seemed slow to build, which I can understand. Whereas before we could clearly imagine how virtually every moment of camp would "look and feel", with the change to OS there now was a big gaping hole in the middle of camp.

We decided to go with OS around July or August, but the camp wasn't until November. That is a long time for people to contemplate doing something risky. The biggest anxieties about OS naturally increased as the time of the camp got closer. As a sponsor for the idea I felt my task was to keep that time truly Open, which I succeeded in doing. Since I had persuaded the directors to hire Jan Gray to facilitate the OS, I was not in a position to alter the facilitation without consulting with her. This proved to be wise for two reasons. First, the emotional stress of not knowing what would happen triggered many suggestions from the other planners to change the OS or to nibble away at the time. I remember at one meeting beginning to insist that people tell me what their emotional anxieties were behind their questions. That helped me to answer both the factual part of their questions and address their doubts or uncertainties.

For many planners, getting an idea of the fluidity and elasticity of Open Space took some time. I remember practically every meeting one or two people looking at "all that time" and suggesting we include a nature walk in the agenda. My lone voice soon began to be joined by others with the obvious answer, "Make it an Open Space topic and see who is interested."

I answered procedural questions but I lacked the power to change how the OS would be conducted. That I left as a discussion the group would have to hold with the facilitator. I wanted to avoid becoming a message carrier between the planners and the facilitator.

Second, this long delay opened an interesting discussion about the value and purpose of the camp for the youth who attended. People expressed concerns that, if really left to decide for themselves, the youth would fritter away the six hours and not accomplish anything serious. The nagging question was, "What if they played volleyball the whole time?" From my understanding of OS, everything would work out, it would just start at the volleyball net. Truthfully, I had no way of really knowing how 100 youth I had never met would behave. I did know that I thought that youth were being recruited by us and their advisors with the purposes of the camp in mind. In other words, they were being told the purposes of the camp and volunteered to come because the purposes of the camp appealed to them.

I pointed out that for ten years we had been recruiting youth to attend this camp with the idea that they had an interest in prevention and alternatives to drug use. If the youth attending in 1994 did not share that intention, then perhaps all of the youth attending for the last ten years hadn't either, which made the camp a fraud and something we would have to rethink. But on the other hand, if we truly had the faith in youth which we usually professed to have, then they would readily take to using the Open Space to get moving on what to do about prevention.

The resolution to this issue, at least as it related to our discussions, came when we invited the facilitator to attend a meeting to answer questions. Jan arrived and walked us through her plans for the OS. I had told her that there were a lot of questions, but when she had finished and looked around the circle for questions, none were asked! I said, "Oh, no, you're not doing this to me," and then asked her about the possibility that kids would just spend all of their time playing volleyball. Jan echoed my comments about having faith that good ideas and conversations and connections would happen, even if all 100 of them played volleyball. Then one of the contract supervisors from King County mentioned that in her youth, her volleyball league played a significant role in her socialization and helping her meet people, not to mention keeping her occupied and out of trouble.

Perhaps by biggest frustration came from not getting a chance to have the planners experience OS before the camp.

Finally, the day arrived for the start of camp and it seemed my peers had been converted overnight. Virtually everyone seemed relaxed and confident that Open Space would be great. And it was. I wrote a report immediately after camp for inclusion in the second OS on OS proceedings.

The Second Year

This will be quick. The success of the first year guaranteed Open Space a place in the schedule for the 1995 Camp. Kristen and Jonnae returned to direct the camp (a two person, two year tenure rare in the history of the camp). The rest of the planning was a repeat of the year before, too. Except for one change. The lead agency wanted to save money by not hiring a facilitator so I agreed to facilitate the Open Space.

Tobacco

I cannot leave this report on PIP Camp without discussing tobacco. One of the on-going questions for our camp has been: should we allow smoking. Current policy allows youth to smoke in designated areas, but does not allow adults to provide cigarettes. As an ex-officer of the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition, and someone who has watched as friends and family members kill themselves by smoking, I advocated for changing the camp's policy about smoking. The legal age for the purchase of cigarettes in this state is 18.

As planners, we faced a challenge of appealing to, and then dealing with, the behaviors of a wide range of youth. The camp successfully recruited a wildly divergent collection of youth: some of them had over-experimented with drugs and were in recovery while some others never had any interest in drug experimentation and wanted to help their peers find alternatives to their use. Since some youth in recovery from other drug abuse still smoked, some planners were concerned that a traditional role of the camp as a motivational event to help launch youth into a stronger recovery would be lost if youth stayed away because of a change in the smoking policy. (Apparently, using the same logic, the Washington State legislature exempted alternative schools from a statewide ban on smoking on school property. I wonder if exceptions in policy like these might be part of the reason smoking rates are higher among less educated, poorer adult citizens.)

In 1993, I saw no hope of changing the policy since the director of that year's camp smoked. He didn't hide it, in fact, he didn't mind staying up late smoking with the interns and campers who smoked. At the camp itself, however, several campers pointed out the contradiction of having a drug prevention camp while allowing people to use tobacco, which is a drug. I put a large sheet of paper on the wall and invited people to express their opinions about whether the camp should go smoke free in writing.

I waited until 1994 and 1995 to present the case to the planners for a change. In 1995 we came within a single vote of changing the policy.

I know traditions can be difficult to leave but the move to Open Space has strengthened the camp and I am sure the change to a consistent policy banning the use of tobacco (joining marijuana and alcohol as banned drugs) will benefit the camp, too.

Footnotes

1 From the advisor's manual for the 1994 PIP Camp.

2 Kidder, Tracy (1981). The Soul of a New Machine. New York: Avon Books, p. 63.

Bibliography


Advisor's Manual. (1994). Seattle, WA: Center for Human Services.

Campbell, Andrew and Nash, Laura L. (1992). A Sense of Mission: Defining Direction for the Large Corporation. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Coupee, Gail. (1994). Open Space: An Alternative to Training for Changing Organizations. Pacific Northwest Organization Development Network Newsletter, Summer 1994:3-5.

Daniel, Marlene. (1994). An Ethnographic Study of An Open Space Technology Meeting: Self-Organization at Work. Baltimore: University of Maryland. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation.

Deutsch, Claudia H. (1994). Round-table Meetings With No Agendas, No Tables. New York Times 6/5/94:(Reprint).

Kidder, Tracy (1981). The Soul of a New Machine. New York: Avon Books.

Kinlaw, Dennis C. (1991). Developing Superior Work Teams. San Diego, CA: Lexington Books.

Klein, Kim. (1989). Assigning Fundraising Tasks: When Compulsiveness is a Virtue. Grassroots Fundraising Journal August 1989:8-11.

Perkins, John. (1994). The Principles, the Law and the Wild Card in Open Space. Pacific Northwest Organization Development Network Newsletter, Summer 1994:7-11.

Perkins, John. (1994). Notes from the PIP Open Space with Teens. In Owen, Harrison H., editor. Reports from the Second Open Space on Open Space. Published by the editor.

Reeler, Doug. (1994). Exploring the Elements and Essences of Participative Processes in Organisations Opening Personal and Collective Spaces and the Mysteries of Facilitation. Internet email: dreeler@iaccess.za. Address: 146 St. Kilda R. Landsdowne, Cape Town, South Africa 7780. 18 pages.

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

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

Rao, Srikuman S. (1994). Welcome to Open Space. Training (April/94):52-56.

Videos

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

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

Appendix

Notes from the PIP Open Space with Teens

by John Perkins


The context: For the last ten years, King County's drug prevention outreach workers have held a camp for teenagers throughout the county. It starts on Friday and concludes on Sunday afternoon. The Saturday night dance has become a tradition, as well as some of the expected camp games like the Singing Lost and Found-you lose something you have to sing during dinner to get it back.

This camp gets a wide range of teens recruited from high schools and community groups. Particularly important has been our successful recruitment of gay/lesbian/bi-sexual youth over the last two camps. Returning campers help us run the camp.

In January, after I completed the 5 day training Harrison did for Antioch in Seattle, I knew that OST would be ideal for this camp. But it wasn't fully up to me, so I showed the Presbyterian video (Chicago OST with 500+ people) to my prevention peers. We decided that we would encourage each group to hand write notes which we would copy.
Way back in April or May they thought it would be a great idea.

The Fun Begins: I understood that I personally could not run the Open Space part of the camp, which we'd carved out for Saturday from about 9:30 to 3:30. I got the group to agree to hire Jan Gray, an Antioch Management School graduate who had attended the training session with me. Several times the question of "shouldn't we do this with our own talent, like you John?" came up. I stressed two points: (a) as a member of the group I wanted to be free to play-convene sessions or attend them-which I couldn't do as the OST facilitator; (b) if I ran the OST that's the only thing I could do. I would arrive on Saturday, do the Open Space, and go back home. I would not be available for van transport, patrolling the grounds, crisis meetings during camp, etc. That seemed to be the more decisive argument and as a consequence the admissions coordinator gave me a private room. This allowed me to hold the space with Jan during the three days of camp.

I must note the irony of this conversation while the DJ's fee gets paid without question each year.

An additional benefit for the OST which is not readily apparent: by having an outsider lead it the event itself is protected from being watered down. The "structuralists" kept seeking to relieve their anxiety about all of that unscheduled time by scheduling other "little" activities for the whole group. As the sponsor but not the facilitator, I could offer my best advice, and if that didn't sway them suggest we take it to Jan. Much can be gained in keeping the time between the decision to do an OST and the event itself short. In a short time the work of creating the event leaves less time for those lurking anxious feelings to surface. The worst case possibility, that a group of kids would want to play volleyball all day, seemed a safe enough risk to take to me. None of my peers, who had hounded me with this ticklish theoretical question for weeks voiced it to Jan when she visited our last planning meeting. I had to repeat it for them to avoid having to cope with the "She didn't talk about volleyball" problem after her visit.

We modified one OST role to discourage youth from leaving the group and getting into trouble (potentially causing us legal headaches). Specifically, we only mentioned the Bumblebee role and for those uninterested we had an "Apathy Room" set aside with music and art supplies for them to hang out in.

The Day Arrives: Compared to the 2 previous camps I have attended, this year's camp felt more relaxed and easy flowing. Campers were told about Open Space from the first moments of camp. Camp counselors offered four informational and preparatory workshops on Friday. In previous years we prepared four workshops in advance and, after being divided into four groups, we ushered each camper through each workshop. Exhausting for the adults, but the campers were so little engaged that they could stay up all night playing and talking if we let them.

On Saturday, Jan arrived with her partner Dorothy as scheduled (I let go a sigh of relief). We had a brief last minute huddle and then supervised the arranging of benches into an oval. Across one of the walls I had taped the names of each room we would use, and under each room I had put three Post-It stickies with the times.

Jan walked slowly around the circle 4 or 5 times as people finished getting seats and the last few standees were brought into the fold. She said her knees buckled with the excitement-anxiety-energy.
And then she started speaking (roughly paraphrased-as Jan carried my recorder the whole time, but forgot to turn it on)-"You are here as young people with a purpose--to return to your schools and help your peers and the whole school make wise, healthy choices. What will that take? What will you need to talk about, think about, to bring that into a reality. Whatever that is there is no one better qualified to see that it is discussed except you...This is not to be seen as a popularity contest...I am holding the cover of the book you're going to write by taking notes of your sessions and turning them in to us...let me acquaint you with the principles, the law and how this works..."

Then she paused for questions, only heightening my suspense, and perhaps that for the teens as well for when she said, "Okay, the floor is open..." several dove for paper and markers and we were launched!

Jan did two things which I see helped a lot. She paused for questions and she let everyone rush to write their topics and tape them up. After the first crush she asked them to come to the microphone and announce their topic to the group. This worked very well and kept the different activities discreet.

A list of the 16 topics:
Respect and Racism--Gang Violence

Teen Violence and Racist Violence

Tobacco Counter-Ad Art Contest - 1st Prize $1000

Abortion/Teen Pregnancy

Interactive Games, Bonding

Feminism

Gangs, Wannabees and Stereotypes

Role Playing to Communicate Probable Situations in Youth Society Let's Role Play

Racism in Schools

Greed

We need ideas on how to teach *our* students what we've learned (diversity wise)

Teen Violence in our community (canceled)

Understanding why there is an increase in violence and how to prevent it

Non-violence

Listening and motivation

The effect drug abuse & use has on us individually, as a society & as a whole: sex, decisions, judgment, relationships, school, etc. What 'R' we going to do?

The groups were handled beautifully, so well that as we adults "bumblebeed" around we joked about having so little to do! In the 5 o'clock news student after student spoke of the power of being involved with this Open Space and truly being trusted with the power to call the sessions and pick the ones most personally meaningful. During the closing talking circle on Sunday people spoke of feeling like they had met each person, though that was physically impossible in three days.

They expressed appreciation of having a powerful direct experience of the power of diversity.

Finally, I had faith in our teens and they delivered as I trusted they would. I am grateful to my peers in the prevention work who bet the whole camp of a technique untested with teens.

In the final moments of the talking circle I said I always wanted to create history and this open space camp did that. It's a great feeling!


BACK TO ARCHIVE