Open Space Technology (OST), a simple yet profound method for facilitating
community meetings and conferences, has been gaining recognition and favorable
reviews in The New York Times, Washington Post and Training Magazine, among
others. In essence, an Open Space Event runs entirely on the passions and
interests of the people who attend.
Since its development thirteen years ago by Harrison Owen, OST has been used around the world by communities, large church denominations, corporations and schools to facilitate creativity, problem-solving and enthusiasm. When the citizens of Pueblo, Colorado held an Open Space Event about the future of their school system, 800 people showed up and totally re-wrote the book on how education is done in that city. Cities and townships all over South Africa are using Open Space to deal with the complexities they are facing. Last November on Vashon Island, over 90 young people used Open Space to organize themselves for a full day of deep conversations on sexuality, racism, violence, conservation, and drug abuse prevention.
With Open Space nothing is planned in advance, yet the people who come have a full one, two or three day agenda within the first hour of the event. How does it do that? By providing any group (from 6 to 600) with simple but universally understood means of organizing itself.
Using less than one hour, no matter how large the group, the facilitator outlines the procedure for creating topics to discuss, the 4 principles of Open Space, and the One Law, or what I call the Sole Law.
Anyone with an interest in a topic writes it on a rectangle of newsprint with their name, announces it to the group and tapes it up on the designated part of the wall with a room/time assignment Post-It. Before the Open Space the facilitator has decided on topic discussion lengths, usually 60 - 90 minutes. After all who want to have made proposals for discussions, people individually show their interest in a topic by signing the same sheet with the topic statement. Topic conveners and potential attendees negotiate changes such as combining groups or changing times or room assignments.
The Four Principles are: