In 2010 I was invited to facilitated an Open Space for an internationally respected research group. The group wanted to focus on,its future, clarify and develop its strategy and also look at certain short term issues connected to funding cuts and a wish to “regenerate” itself as a player in its field. There was a sense of urgency about the event and the group came to open space through wanted to seeking an alternative to its traditional meeting formats that tended to be based on fixed in advance agendas that often lead to “a lot of talk and little action”. In some ways they turned into 5-strong seminars!
The invitation was an invitation to co-create the future for the group and to ensure that real actions arose from the day. It was going to be a day long open space on home territory in one of their large meeting rooms.
I knew the group fairly well, having been a part time research fellow in a different, smaller research group in the same building. I was aware that there was a lot of cynicism about open space among some of the more “mature” members of the group as well as a lack of belief in anything tangible arising from the event.
Yet signup was fairly quick and comprehensive, and also entirely voluntary. No one, to my knowledge, was cajoled into coming.
Now this is a group who like to read up on things, who like agenda, and who enjoy structured conversation.
When I arrived at the start, I’d already taken a tiny but significant step that proved to be a good one. I’d provided an online link to some resources about open space and that clearly had satisfied many who wanted to know what they were letting themselves in for. Most had done their research into open space and seemed fairly satisfied that this “weird” event at least might have something going for it!
Now this group would love to have had a long introduction during the opening circle. The’d have loved a long explanation and to get their teeth into the story and process of open space. I could have had their wrapt attention for most of the morning AND got praised for it.
Intead, having ticked their box by giving them something they might want to read about open space in advance, my opening circle lasted about five minutes and then off we went into the market place that soon (of course) resulted in a packed programme for the day.
Then I sat in the corner and watched the event run itself for the entire day.
That was until we got to the closing circle, which we’d allowed an hour for. And that’s when this day of rich and important conversation ended with some very positive comments about the day. And then came the comment from one of the ‘elders’: “But what are we going to do with all this stuff? What about action?
I think improvise-facilitated a quick action planning session with post-it notes and sticky dots…
We held a breaking news session and each group reported back and clearly and solemnly bore in mind the comment from the elder in the group. picking out from their write ups, key actions and even organising them in terms of urgency and importance. This was all done very messily and needed only the occasionally input of help from me.
Within a few days of the event, a report went round that was both a write up of sessions and a statement of actions by session.
Did any real action result? Some.
Reflection 1: Keep the introduction to open space as short as it needs to be
Reflection 2: Actions and Results lie in the hands of the self organising group, not the facilitator
Visit the Open Space Realm.