Stories of Open Space 2 – Open Space Boats

This was one of the first Open Space events I facilitated. We had a grant of  a decent size from NATO to bring together academics and industrial practitioners from all over the world to explore the present and future of technological collaboration. People from fifteen different countries and five continents responded to the invitation to this three day conference at Lake Bled in Slovenia.

I’d managed to persuade the organising committee to devote one of those three days to Open Space.

A beautiful venue – A hotel beside a fairytale lake in the Julian Alps. A published set of conference proceedings was part of the deal and is published under the title “Technosophy”.

This was a unique, multi-disciplinary convergence of a lot of very different people who usually wouldn’t meet in the same life, let alone the same place! Day One ended – the welcoming speeches of ministers and professors, the keynotes and the formal papers. Then we came to day 2 and the Open Space. Chairs were rearranged and a big circle was formed.

I remember several academics standing up, waving their slides or printed papers and simply offering to present their formal papers as part of the open space! Many had brought extra papers with and were determined to lecture further. A rather large academic stood up and waved his new book about the collapse of the iron curtain and the new opportunities for his country and offered to read extracts of it out.

And there were also some much more emergent sessions as people stood up, enjoying the permission open space gives and offered “conversations”, “question generation sessions”, “dialogues” and “discussions”. Within a few minutes of the market place opening, the programme was full and off we went.

Now, here’s a sweet and neat thing. Half of our breakout groups were on boats! Yes, gondola type boats big enough for a dozen, with their own chap with a long pole to take them wherever they wanted on the lake. Each boat had its own flip chart as well.

bled2 A breakout boat

The Open Space was a big success. I remember one profssor who had waved his sheet of vital statisitcal papers at the opening circle finding that no one had come to his session. He sulked a bit, recovered, and then became an active participant at another session, proving himself to be one of the “right people”!

I remember the very large academic, followed by an entourage of smaller research assistants, wandering into the bar to sit with his colleagues, proudly announcing to me that “I em budderfly”.

Oh, and I remember that one of the academics who had threatened (offered?) to read his engineering paper word for word with no time for questions getting a full house and a round of applause.

And, best of all, I remember the boats that didn’t return for hours and hours, having paid off their navigator to keep on rowing! Self-organisation took place mostly on the water.

Day 2, of course, produced the best bits of the book.

Day 2, of course, was the most vibrant and popular.

Reflection 1: An open space event can happily be part of a longer event that isn’t all open space. It might be best as the one day filling in a three day sandwich!

Reflection 2: Water seems to encourage self-organisation and flow

Reflection 3: Sometimes the pre-organised offerings are perfectly fine in a self-organising event

More stories of open space

Visit the Open Space Realm.

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