When does the Space Open?

Often the space opens when the Marketplace opens, and people get up to offer sessions and when people sign up to attend them. That is often the case because a lot of facilitators mistakenly think that is what the Open Space is about. They “open the space” with an introduction, a build up to that moment, when the first person gets out of their chair and heads to the pens and paper to offer the first session of the Open Space Event. That is what a lot of facilitators think “opening the space” means.

A lot of space does open there. But space can, and should, open at other times too. Invariable space opens when it does anyway, whether the facilitator plans it or not.

In some Open Space events, the space has opened before the first conversation with a sponsor. The community or organisation may already be exploring the issues and questions around what will turn into the invite theme to the Open Space event. Space has a habit of opening when it is needed. (Though not always). In this case, a facilitator will be opening “more space” through the Open Space event. The flow has already started and the Open Space conference will channel that flow, possibly more widely, more deeply, and more emergently and divergently. Often the flow up until that point has been chaotic and ‘unself-organised’. The Open Space event creates a circle for self-organisation. As a facilitator, being open to, and humble in the presence of already existing emergence, flow and opened space, allows the Open Space Event to become a brilliant part of that flow.

The Space can also Open during the conversations with the Sponsor, especially if that conversation is already in the form of a community circle, a kind of representative coalition of the wider circle that may decide to come to the Open Space event. This conversation can also open the space that prefigures the larger Open Space. The invitation then is both an opening out and a gathering in gesture. It becomes a call to community, a wise invite to join the circle. Space calls space to itself and expands. Here again, the facilitator should respect the flow and allow as much self-organisation as possible, holding to the clearest and simplest use of the Open Space Technology which can help the space open more widely and skilfully.

The Space can also open as people travel to the event, step through the doors to the Open Space venue. If things are too well organised, no matter how good the intentions, the opportunity for space to open before the circle is formed, are lost. Self-organisation is energising and possibility-creating, so why not give as much space for self-organisation as possible, even before we gather into the circle? A lot of facilitators justify a lot of pre-event set up as “creating a safe space for the participants”, but it can be so energising when the community gathers its own chairs, creates its own empty timetable and decides where it goes. Let your set up be a minimal intervention and allow as much space to open as possible. Here the ego of the facilitator can interfere, as the facilitator loses faith in the notion that, the less they do-for, the more they are actually doing to help the space open.

Space can further open during the breaks, and long after the Open Space closing circle has ended. Space opens where, when and how it opens, not just at the point where we create sessions. It’s part of the perfection of potential that space opens where it can. Don’t get in the way of that happening.


Visit the Open Space Realm.

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