Open Space is a way to format a group meeting, retreat or conference that generates communication, collaboration, innovation, and other solutions to issues, challenges, transitions and opportunities. Participants emerge from the process invigorated, refreshed, proud of their individual and collective accomplishments – and most importantly in action toward measurable results. It is a process in which every voice is heard and every issue is addressed and acted upon. It always works. Committees, task forces and design teams can take weeks, months and even years to accomplish their goal - or in some cases simply to define their goal. Much of this same work can be accomplished by holding an Open Space – even in as little as a one-hour time frame. A half- or one-day Open Space can help people to quickly bring forth emerging issues and opportunities and to build mutual understandings and networking; a 2.5 day Open Space includes issues, opportunities and action planning, resulting in a complete written report of the proceedings for all participants plus identification and prioritization of next steps. Open Space is an interactive process -- participants meet in concurrent and overlapping mini-discussions around a theme or an issue, across departmental, hierarchal or historically opposite lines. The cross-pollination of moving from group to group and topic to topic in a non-linear way allows participants to jump quickly from familiar ways of thinking into innovation and action.
The use of Open Space has been effective since the mid-1980's in a diversity of settings, cultures and countries. The method has been used by communities working towards peace, tribal and governmental leaders planning land use, community advocates and local government designing literacy programs, conference organizers holding conferences in this format, board members charting the future, architects designing pavilions for the Olympics, an entire town having a simultaneous discussion town meeting, and community workers helping communities rebuild and heal after times of war. This tool can be utilized by groups of 5 to over 2000 and the dynamics and the results are always the same: input from stakeholders at all levels, new ways of thinking and working, large amounts of work done rapidly, bringing perceived competitors together on issues and projects, organizational flexibility, interdepartmental or intercommunity teamwork, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of passion and energy for the challenges ahead.
Guidelines for Open Space - The rules are simple, although setting up the parameters for a meeting or conference in Open Space is based on the theories of complexity, self-organization and open systems. Open Space is designed to simulate that natural way people find each other and share ideas in all different cultures and countries. It is also based on the understanding that there is a great amount of wisdom and experience in any gathered group of people - that we are all 'experts' and can all contribute - a truly democratic process.