This short story of open space takes place on a senior management development programme based at Brighton Business School in the UK.
The programme was based around a MA in Change Management. Residential workshops took place at various venues in the UK and overseas (often somewhere hotter than our home drizzle, and usually cheaper as well, despite flight costs).
Managers and Leaders participated in 4 days of experiential learning, action learning and a range of facilitated training and teaching inputs deepening their knowledge of change management and organisational/business research.
So, here the invitation was to themed workshops as part of an applied and very hands-on academic qualification. All participants has a dissertation to write up as well, based on a live change project in their business or public organisation.
Each day was programmed, and the style of facilitation was fairly informal, relaxed and interactive. On some of the workshops there was also a couple of hours set aside for open space. Here the participants could offer sessions to each other, head off to the bar, to break out rooms, or even the beach. It became their time to self-organise. The theme for the open space was usually the same as the overall workshop theme and participants were more than willing to be part of it (though some did choose to use that time for “me” time.)
Open Space took on its usual simple form; in this case, a quick intro, a market place then into the sessions.
The facilitators did not spend too much time explaining it. It formed part of the day and was facilitated in a very easy, relaxed manner. It just tended to happen and the sessions were often a highlight of the day, more than some of the programmed material (though not always). Self-organisation tended to happen around the content of sessions, but also their location, often (though not always) tending towards the more informal meeting spaces in and around the hotel.
Open Space was appreciated as a gesture of collaboration and co-creation, breaking down the more traditional, established barrier of teacher and pupil. There was a sense that, during open space, we are all the right people, a peer group with different skills and knowledge, exploring this material, this theme. Then sessions could self-organise around questions that could come from anywhere.
I remember the law of two feet not being used that much. I also remember some sessions drifting a bit. But overall, open space was a valuable part of the day, a different feel, a different quality of space. It sat quite happily alongside the more programmed element, sometimes contrasting well with it, offering an example of how self-organisation is also a valid approach to personal and organisational change.
Some participants didn’t see it as “proper” learning and didn’t engage as much, though, over time, as people got used to it as an occasional approach, they realised they could influence the content, and soon joined it.
Reflection 1: Open Space can sit easily with other relaxed forms of learning and interaction
Reflection 2: It’s good to have other meeting spaces available other than formal meeting rooms
Reflection 3: Often Open Space doesn’t need to be over-explained or elaborated. Keep it simple.
Reflection 4: Open Space is an approach to change management
Visit the Open Space Realm.