Open Space is a fun way to make sure the event will matter to you.
The Open Space format has been used more than 60,000 times in at least 124 countries, involving millions of attendees over the past 20 years, so it obviously “just works”.
- An unconference is a participant-driven meeting. In other words: you decide what topics you want to talk about, and work on, with whom – instead of hoping a “speaker” will address that topic at least briefly.
- Open Space (“Open Space Technology”, OST) is a specific form of an unconference that starts with an empty schedule. No times are set, no rooms are allocated, no topics are mandated, no separations made between “speakers” and “audience”. All participants work out a schedule by suggesting, planning, holding and evaluating sessions, collaboratively.
How does it look like?
- Typically, small groups of participants have their sessions in breakout areas (or wherever they want to).
- Periodically, everybody gathers again in the large, central space to share the “harvest” of their sessions with others, and to pick their next session.
- Imagine that flow of people like an inhale-exhale rhythm, with the central space being the “lungs”.
Yes, it only works in practice. In theory, it’s a total disaster!
So, aren’t there any rules at all for our sessions …?
To maximize what you can get out of the unconference, simple rules apply. Wikipedia summarizes them nicely:
Whoever comes is the right people …reminds participants that they don’t need the CEO and 100 people to get something done, you need people who care. And, absent the direction or control exerted in a traditional meeting, that’s who shows up in the various breakout sessions of an Open Space meeting.
Whenever it starts is the right time …reminds participants that spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have …reminds participants that once something has happened, it’s done—and no amount of fretting, complaining or otherwise rehashing can change that. Move on.
When it’s over, it’s over …reminds participants that we never know how long it will take to resolve an issue, once raised, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on to the next thing. Don’t keep rehashing just because there’s 30 minutes left in the session. Do the work, not the time.
Wherever it happens is the right place …reminds participants that space is opening everywhere all the time. Please be conscious and aware.
Plus, the Law of Two Feet:
If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.
If you'd like to research Open Space more we recommend the following to get started:
- Open Space World
- Open Space Technology: A User's Guide Third Edition by Harrison Owen