What is Open Space Technology?
“Open Space (Technology) is a simple way to run productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people, and a powerful approach to leadership in any kind of organization, in everyday practice and turbulent change. ” – extract from OpenSpaceWorld.ORG
We have used Open Space Technology (OST) often within our organisation and for clients as a way of collaborating, solving problems and highlighting opportunities within companies.
Although it encourages self-organisation by allowing participants to facilitate their own discussions, there is a lot of preparation work and positioning of the Principles and concepts to ensure that the session is set up correctly and the participants understand the approach.
How to Run an OST session
My colleague, Angie Doyle, who is a fantastic facilitator and has run many of these sessions, coached me through the first one that I ran. I jotted down some notes which I found extremely useful, and have now finally put them into a one-pager sketchnote.
OST begins without a pre-set agenda. It is advised to set a Theme so that it focuses the topics around a pressing issue. The philosophy behind OST is to encourage people to discuss what is important to them at the time and allow the conversations to unfold around topics that people are passionate about.
From a practical perspective, this means creating a visual, visible framework (“empty agenda”) in which people can propose topics to talk about. Depending on the number of attendees, which can range from a handful to thousands, you would work out the time allocations and number of stations where the conversations can happen.
I’ve sketched a rough example of a setup below. We have used tape on the walls in past sessions to create the framework. The time slots were large enough to fit an A4 page to encourage large, visible writing. We then worked out the timing for the sessions according to the duration that we had. Ideally, you would want 45 min – 1 hour per time slot.
Participants would then write down topics, and their name, and place it in one of the time slots.
There are tons of resources available online to read up on OST. The best way to learn about them and to see what works is to run one.