OD Facilitation Tools – Open Space Technology
Author Dr. Nancy Zentis, IOD
As OD professionals, we use a variety of tools to help effectively facilitate group meetings. Our goal as OD professionals is to encourage members of the organization to engage in collaboration and participation.
One tool that has gained popularity over the past 30 years is “Open Space Technology,” a process used to formalize an informal meeting to share something in common. Open Space is a technique for holding a meeting that generates communication and collaboration, while helping participants to develop new solutions to various challenges and business problems. When the community finds it has a complex problem and is struggling with possible solutions and there is a diverse group of people that can be brought together to help work on it then Open Space Technology (OST) is a great option to try.
There is no limit to the number of participants in the group. It begins when someone offers a question and others join the owner of the question to have a discussion. There are only a few rules to the process. The owner of the question must represent the question at the end of the discussion and summarize key points to share with the entire group at the end. However, other group members may leave the discussion if they decide to do so.
The history of Open Space Technology is detailed in the Introduction to “Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide”, by Harrison Owen, the originator of the concept Open Space. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of open space meetings have been conducted. It is recommended that several conditions be present for an effective outcome:
- Complexity – outcomes identified
- Diversity of people involved
- Conflict – meaning people care
- Urgency – meaning a priority
In order for an Open Space Event to be effective, these conditions must be present:
- Create a safe, neutral environment
- The group must be self-organized
- Allow chaos to emerge
- Participants must care about the issue – Law of Two Feet
- There is limited structure
The “Law of Two Feet” means you take responsibility for what you care about — standing up for that and using your own two feet to move to whatever place you can to best contribute and/or learn.
The “Open Space” Principles include:
- Whoever comes is the right person
There is no need to wait for an ‘expert’ on an issue. Whoever is involved in a discussion group is there because that issue is important to them, Departmental or hierarchical lines are irrelevant in this context, it is your passion for the subject that matters.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
This means taking your “hands off the steering wheel”. There is no need to control the discussion. A new tangent may be precisely the direction needed for a new idea to break through. Let the group direct the flow of the discussion. An individual trying to control the outcome will not work.
- Whenever it starts is the right time
It’s not about getting specific people to be there. Begin with those who are there. And…
- When it’s over, it’s over
Your group might reach a conclusion or solution in ten minutes or alternatively continue on when the available time runs out. You cannot schedule creativity or innovative thinking – let it go where it wants or needs to go. Early finishers can move to another group or the group can move their discussion to make way for another group.
How to Facilitate an Open Space:
- Select a focus statement or questions that participants want to discuss. It should frame the higher purpose and the widest context for your discussion in a positive way.
- Invite those interested in the topic to form a circle around a flip chart: all stakeholders or all the people you’d like to have in the room. Include the theme, date, place and time of gathering in the invitation. More than one topic can be discussed in one room. People may move from circle to circle. Only the facilitator is required to remain.
- Create the circle: Set up chairs in a circle or in concentric circles, leaving space in the center. Choose a blank wall for the Agenda Wall and label it AGENDA: Near the Agenda Wall and the News Wall put masking tape for people to post papers on the walls.
- To begin the gathering, the facilitator will explain the theme, the simple process the group will follow to organize and create a record, where to put things up and find out what is happening, the Law of Two Feet, and the Principles of Open Space. Then, the facilitator will invite people to silently meditate on what has heart and meaning for each of them.
- Opening the open space: the Facilitator invites anyone who cares about any of the issues to step into the middle of the circle and write the topic, their name, a time and place for meeting, announce it and post the offering on the Agenda Wall — one sheet per topic—as many topics as he/she wants. They will be conveners who have responsibility for facilitating their session(s) and seeing to it that a report is made and shared on the News Wall.
- When ALL offerings are concluded, the Facilitator invites people to sign up for what they are interested in and take responsibility for their schedules, using the Law of Two Feet.
- People participate in discussions. The Facilitator takes care of the space. Reporters enter discussion reports in the computers and printouts are posted on the News Wall.
- Closing Circle: All participants will reconvene at a designated time to share highlights and key learnings in a Dialogue. Listen to whatever people have to offer without discussion.
- Mail out whatever record is created to all participants.
For more information on conducting an Open Space, check out: Open Space Technology: A user’s guide, by Harrison Owen or check out http://openspaceworld.org.
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Dr. Nancy Zentis is the CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and OD Advanced Skills courses for ongoing learning. She can be reached at email@example.com. For more information about our certification programs and short courses, please visit our website www.instituteod.com.