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An Open Space Reading List

Openspace Lately Open Space Technology (OST) has been cropping up everywhere, most notably as Unconferences  and Mashup Camps. I think that part of the appeal comes from how well OST processes dovetail with the ethos of Web 2.0, as well as how the tools of Web 2.0 lend themselves perfectly to supporting Open Space.

What is Open Space?

Open Space is a process for running meetings and conferences that is based on the concept that participants should take responsibility for their passions. From Wikipedia (which explains it better than I can right now):

Open Space Technology enables groups of any size to address complex, important issues and achieve meaningful results quickly. It is at its best where more traditional meeting formats fail: when there is conflict, complexity, diversity of thought or people, and short decision times. It has been used in widely diverse settings, from designing aircraft doors at a large aircraft manufacturing company to engaging street kids in defining a sustainable jobs program.

Originated by Harrison Owen in 1986, Open Space has been used in over 100 countries and in diverse settings, industries, cultures and situations - for program and product design, knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary thinking, conflict resolution and conferences.

In Open Space, a facilitator explains the process and then participants are invited to co-create the agenda and host their own discussion groups. Discussions are held in designated areas or separate rooms known as 'breakout spaces' and participants are free to move amongst the discussion groups. Each group records the conversations in a form which can be used to distribute or broadcast the proceedings of the meeting (in hard copy, blog, podcast, video, etc). Online networking can occur both before and following the actual face-to-face meetings so discussions can continue seamlessly. In a multi-day Open Space, participants have the opportunity to announce new discussion topics / late-breaking sessions each new morning. At the end of the day (or 2 days or 2.5 days) the full group reconvenes for comments and reflection. This helps participants to re-engage in the full group over the duration of the meeting.

While the mechanics of Open Space provide a simple means to self-organize, it is the underlying principles that make it effective both for meetings and as a guidepost for individual and collective effectiveness. The Law of Two Feet -- a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility -- expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you're neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can. It is also a reminder to stand up for your passion. From the law, flow four principles:

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it's over, it's over

I've used Open Space very successfully before so initially I thought about doing a write-up on using Open Space with nonprofits. Maybe some day when I have the time I'll do that. But frankly, there are a lot of really great resources out there already, so I'm not sure it's really necessary. Instead, I wanted to share some of my favorite OST resources for anyone who's interested in trying Open Space.


Open Space Reading List

Open Space Technology: A User's Guide by Harrison Owen is the bible of the Open Space movement. Although you could probably figure out how it all works using some of the free resources below, I always think it's a good idea to start with the original work as the most comprehensive basis for starting to work with Open Space. You can also find a brief (free) version of the User's Guide here.

Open Space World is the online home of the Open Space movement. Here you can learn about the development of Open Space, read their blog and check out their resources, including finding an Open Space facilitator. Be sure to check out the Facilitator Resources. This section includes great articles and checklists to use in explaining and facilitating open space events.

Chris Corrigan has a great site on Open Space, including some excellent resources for deeper learning and doing. (The photo above is from one of Chris's events) You can also check out Chris's blog here. (Thanks to Dave Pollard for this tip.)

For a great visual review of Open Space Technology, check out Lisa Heft's Anatomy of an Open Space Event, which uses pictures to explain Open Space.

While not technically Open Space, The Unconference Blog  uses Open Space concepts and techniques, but with a techie twist. She also has lots of examples of unconference events that are going on, as well as some good practical hints and even some games.

Let me know if you have any other good resources--I'll add them to my list.



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I've been to open space conferences over the past ten years and I really them. I'm happy to see more of them popping up. Thanks so much for putting this together!

Thanks Michele for the reading list and references for Open Space.

OST is something I love to run - no two are ever the same. I am always happy to hear from other practioners in the UK. I wonder whether it would be time for us to run an Open Space for Open Space in the UK and get people together. Please email me
if interested.

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