This is my personal favorite principle of open space technology. Why should a session run to the end of its allotted time on a timetable if the conversation has reached a natural end? Why should a vital conversation be brought to a premature end if it needs to flow on?
When we self-organise a conversation, we self-organise the flow, and that includes self-organising the start and end points. There may, indeed, be consequences for any timetabled following sessions, but in open space it usually tends to work out, especially if we are in a zone of “whatever happens , happens.”
This isn’t about being irresponsible, or disrespectful. This is about processes starting and ending as needed in the present situation. Timetables then become drafts, the reality of the emerging now is then given more weight.
When it’s over, it’s over can be relevant for a group and/or for an individual. The conversation may be over for me and I may use to two feet to go elsewhere, even as others in the circle continue the conversation. It may be over for the group or even for the one who called the session.
We cannot predict when things will be ready end, even if we set the start and end times down in writing. This principles offers up an invitation to let the ending happen when it happens, and to be at ease with that being earlier, on time, or later.
Now, that also sets up some wonderful nuances. Sometimes when we walk away from something, it gives as the new perspective of that thing being behind us. If, on reflection, we turn back and look at it, new insights might emerge, and even a re-evaluation. Deciding something is over, may paradoxically, offer up the insight that it is far from over. If we allow ourselves the flexibility, we may decide it isn’t over at all and either head back into the flow, or offer up a session of continuity later.
Another possibility can emerge where what is actually over is a particular avenue of conversation. If we find a little shared silence, a new avenue may open up. I’ve heard of several session leaders inviting a pause at the potential end of a session – some quiet reflection time for anyone who wants to. Out of that silence, Quaker-like, comes a new impulse and something new begins, or something creates continuity.
So, when it’s over, it’s over, doesn’t only refer to sessions, but also to lines of flow, to themes and specific questions. The end of something can be the end of an out-breath and a little silence can be the in-breadth of something further, something possible.
So, when it’s over, it is over. But is can also mean: When it’s over, it’s over for now.
I love this principle when it is experiences playfully, as part of a rhythm of flow, rather than as some kind of absolute commandment from a facilitator. Some open space facilitators present this as “When it’s over, get the hell out of there, without looking back”.
I think that is a shame. Because endings are always the doors new new beginnings and, more often than not, simply pauses in the flow.