Open Space

Open Space can involve all stakeholders in a 'whole system' approach. The central theme is set in advance but the agenda is flexible enough to respond to participants' needs and the 'flow' of the discussion. Events usually involve large numbers - from twenty up to around five hundred - in identifying important issues, discussing and prioritising them and deciding on action. Events can take one day or longer.

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How to do it

  • The theme is set in advance.
  • On the day the participants create their own agenda within the theme by writing down the topic they wish to discuss and use 1-2 hour workshop sessions to explore key issues.
  • Participants self-organise by signing up to those topics important to them.
  • Groups move on to prioritising and identifying action.
  • Participants 'vote' to prioritise areas of work.

Preparation

  • Set the theme, which must be of concern to all stakeholders.
  • Invite all stakeholders. Inform them in advance about the Open Space format and that it allows them to set the agenda.

Planning the Session

  • Think about how you can ensure a good turnout on the day and about how to support people who may find it difficult to get to the event, or who find participation in this sort of activity more difficult.

Facilitating the Session

  • At least one independent facilitator is needed to co-ordinate the event and to be on hand to support workshops if the participants so require.

Immediately after the Session

  • People who are responsible for the services or issues being discussed have the option to respond on the day.
  • The official version of Open Space says that all participants should receive written summaries on the day, which may mean organising note takers/typists and a large capacity printer or photocopier.
  • Participants should be informed of when the report on the event will be available and any actions taken as a result of the event.

Pros

  • This tool allows very large and often diverse groups of people to make contact with each other.
  • It can give a rapid response from a large number of people.
  • Some people find this sort of event exciting and a good way to participate.

Cons

  • Some people find this sort of event unsettling, for example if they were expecting a more traditional and structured event.
  • The official version of Open Space says that all participants should get written summaries on the day, which may present logistical problems.
  • This can be an expensive option because of venue size, hospitality and facilitation.

Resources

  • Venue and catering
  • Invitations and/or publicity
  • Cost of the facilitator(s)
  • Reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses of lay participants
  • Staff time for planning, attending as appropriate, note taking and preparing/distributing summaries.

Top Tips

  • Provide good information with the invitations so that participants know what kind of event they are coming to and can prepare themselves accordingly.
  • Similarly, the facilitator(s) should be well briefed in advance about what you want to achieve and about local circumstances.

Sources and Further Information

Some of this information was first published in:

  • Harrison, O. (1997) Open Space Technology: a user's guide. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Link opens in a new windowOpen Futures have lists of the events they have facilitated, demonstrating wide use of the method by a variety of different organisations.