What is Open Space Technology?
Open Space Technology is one way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization...
What's next?
This website is full of success stories, practice resources, and other good and helpful bits of
information, ...
♦ For the first time in 15 years, instructors and teachers (top specialists in several
fields) participated in planning me...
Rockport Shoes held a 3-day, 300-person company-wide strategy conference in one of their
warehouses and stumbled onto a co...
In 1993, my colleague and I launched an organizational experiment. Our intention was to create two
organizations--one in H...
BC and Heritage Canada attended a two-day Open Space session on "Delivering Standards of
Excellence: Issues and Opportunit...
their ways of life, their stories and traditions. --from an Open Space event in Estonia and Russia
facilitated by
Open Spa...
Open Space Technology Story Points
These are a few points commonly used to explain what Open Space Technology is:
the ener...
face of it, the prospects for a peaceful, let alone productive, meeting seemed less than bright. The
participants were all...
and it is clear who will talk and who must listen. In squares and rectangles, there is separation which
may be useful to k...
which they self-managed for the duration of the conference. There was no simultaneous translation,
one facilitator, and pr...
The Practice of Peace (2nd Edition)
by Harrison Owen
Notes by the Author
And Details of Purchase
It was never my intention...
Obviously the word, and what it connotes, has great importance in our lives, but its meaning, at least
in common usage, is...
typhoon swamps a Pacific isle – or our business goes bump, something inside us demands that the
Ruler of the Universe take...
paradigm the process is characterized by discomfort at the beginning (things just don’t seem to fit
anymore, and confusion...
the process of living. Equally, Peace without ending and death is productive of an idealized, static life,
stuck in its wa...
preconditions, order just happens. We will be taking a look at some of these new learnings in Chapter
From where I sit...
such places as Washington State, Oregon, and the American Southwest – all of which constituted the
service area of USWEST....
µMichael Herman§
Welcome to Open Space...look around, please, and see who's here. Imagine that you're sitting in a
circle ...
determined outcome(s). And, the commitment to openness, passion and responsible self-organization
begins with the invitati...
What is open space technology
What is open space technology
What is open space technology
What is open space technology
What is open space technology
What is open space technology
What is open space technology
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What is open space technology


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Open Space Technology is one way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to create inspired meetings and events. Over the last 15 years, it has also become clear that opening space, as an intentional leadership practice, can create inspired organizations, where ordinary people work together to create extraordinary results with regularity.

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What is open space technology

  1. 1. What is Open Space Technology? Open Space Technology is one way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to create inspired meetings and events. Over the last 15 years, it has also become clear that opening space, as an intentional leadership practice, can create inspired organizations, where ordinary people work together to create extraordinary results with regularity. In Open Space meetings, events and organizations, participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance, such as: What is the strategy, group, organization or community that all stakeholders can support and work together to create? With groups of 5 to 1000 -- working in one-day workshops, three-day conferences, or the regular weekly staff meeting -- the common result is a powerful, effective connecting and strengthening of what's already happening in the organization: planning and action, learning and doing, passion and responsibility, participation and performance. See also http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?WorkingInOpenSpace µWorkingInOpenSpace§ (Guided Tour). When and Why? Open Space works best when the work to be done is complex, the people and ideas involved are diverse, the passion for resolution (and potential for conflict) are high, and the time to get it done was yesterday. It's been called passion bounded by responsibility, the energy of a good coffee break, intentional self-organization, spirit at work, chaos and creativity, evolution in organization, and a simple, powerful way to get people and organizations moving -- when and where it's needed most. And, while Open Space is known for its apparent lack of structure and welcoming of surprises, it turns out that the Open Space meeting or organization is actually very structured -- but that structure is so perfectly fit to the people and the work at hand, that it goes unnoticed in its proper role of supporting (not blocking) best work. In fact, the stories and workplans woven in Open Space are generally more complex, more robust, more durable -- and can move a great deal faster than expert- or management-driven designs. What will happen? We never know exactly what will happen when we open the space for people to do their most important work, but we can guarantee these results when any group gets into Open Space: 1. All of the issues that are MOST important to the participants will be raised. 2. All of the issues raised will be addressed by those participants most qualified and capable of getting something done on each of them. 3. In a time as short as one or two days, all of the most important ideas, discussion, data, recommendations, conclusions, questions for further study, and plans for immediate action will be documented in one comprehensive report -- finished, printed and in the hands of participants when they leave. 4. When appropriate and time is allowed for it, the total contents of this report document can be focused and prioritized in a matter of a few hours, even with very large groups (100's). 5. After an event, all of these results can be made available to an entire organization or community within days of the event, so the conversation can invite every stakeholder into implementation -- right now. 6. AND... results like these can be planned and implemented faster than any other kind of so-called "large-group intervention." It is literally possible to accomplish in days and weeks what some other approaches take months and years to do. The good news, and the bad news, is that it works. Good news because it gets people and work moving, bad news because that may mean lots of things are going to be different than before. Wanted things can appear, unwanted things disappear, and sometime vice versa -- but that's how life is. In short, then, Open Space brings life back to organization and organizations back to life.
  2. 2. What's next? This website is full of success stories, practice resources, and other good and helpful bits of information, all of which hold some part of the answer to the question: "What is Open Space?" Here are some articles that are good next steps... ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceQuotes" µOpenSpaceQuotes ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceExamples" ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceElevatorSpeeches" ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceExplanations" ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceNewsletters" ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceArticles" µOpenSpaceArticles§ ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?OpenSpacePhotos" µOpenSpacePhotos§ ♦ "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?MichaelHerman" µMichaelHerman§, in support of worldwide open space. Quotes from Open Space Participants, Clients and Facilitators See bottom of page for more of what people say... "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?JohnEngle" JohnEngle recently posted to the OSLIST some comments from Open Space facilitators in Haiti about the process: ♦ Open Space, eliminates the spirit of inferiority. The playing field is leveled. We're all equal. I have begun using it with my groups. Open Space has removed tradition bound notions within my attitudes. I am living the spirit of a popular educator. Each of us are learning, one from another. There is not a better method. I've been facilitating groups all of my adult life. Meeting facilitation is my life. I've been writing a book on the subject. Experiencing Open Space is causing me problems. I have had to rewrite every single chapter in my book. Open Space is forcing me to rethink my assumptions and practices. With Open Space, there are not ideas that remain hidden or unspoken. Everything emerges. I can't imagine that there could be a better method for enabling a group to discover its potential. ♦ The 2 days open space that followed were a success, a miracle in the words of the CEO and he added that 3 years ago they received a thick report from ___ (a famous international strategic company meeting in Israel) that cost $1.5milion, and they could implement a little. Now we produced something much better in the cost of 1 page of their report, and it seems that we can implement it all. --Avner Haramati and Tova Averbuch, Oganim consulting network, "mailto:avnerh@inter.net.il"and HYPERLINK "mailto:averbuch@post.tau.ac.il" µmailto:averbuch@post.tau.ac.il ♦ After an event in an aboriginal community in northwestern Canada, an elder told me, "This is the first many of our people have met like their ancestors did." -- HYPERLINK "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?ChrisCorrigan" µChrisCorrigan ♦ It was a great meeting. We were told that the professors who were sitting with us for all three days, the topic was Business / Education in 2010, never stay more then an hour on any conference. --Dr. Elena Marchuk, Regional Development Center Ceres, Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia HYPERLINK "mailto:marco@mail.nsk.ru" µmailto:marco@mail.nsk.ru ♦ If you ever want to know if OS works in Japan, based on my experience, IT DOES. I have trained a Japanese colleague to be able to run Open Space meetings, and he already has two requests from our sales managers to run OS meetings with their teams on how to improve their sales volume. --Jimbo Clark HYPERLINK "mailto:jimbo@ltl-j.com" µmailto:jimbo@ltl-j.com§" ♦ While I was into my introduction one of the older bishops exclaimed, "Hey, I know this! It's baraza!" An immediate discussion ensued in which several remembered that it had been a key element in their village culture. All noted that it is no longer used except perhaps in some very remote places. So open space is deeply imbedded in African Culture, at least in Kenya. --Michael M Pannwitz HYPERLINK "mailto:mmpanne@snafu.de" µmailto:mmpanne@snafu.de§ and www.michaelmpannwitz.de
  3. 3. ♦ For the first time in 15 years, instructors and teachers (top specialists in several fields) participated in planning meetings. --Jaime Pedreros Fitzgerald, Bolivia, HYPERLINK "mailto:jpedrerosf@yahoo.com" ♦ One of the -hoorays- from a recent Open Space is that a manager heard a lot of feedback about how the negative and repressive behavior of one of his supervisors (who had chosen not to participate) was affecting his employees. The manager has now found the courage to confront the supervisor with some new requirements about his job performance. We will see what behavior actually changes--but the issue is now out in the open, instead of driving everybody crazy behind the scenes. "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi? action=edit&id=JoelleLyonsEverett" ♦ "The take-up rate for implementing the priorities was 95%! At last count, the priorities are being realized in five cities and through one steering group on national policy." --client comment to facilitator KerryNapuk ♦ "I found the Open Space experience to be extremely valuable as I get to sit with other practitioners to discuss the problems of the community rather than just hear preaching. There’s only one problem with Open Space … it has spoiled me. I’m going to be bored with any conference that doesn’t have an Open Space track now." --participant comment to facilitator µMichaelHerman§ at professional conference track run in Open Space ♦ "I really found the Open Space experience very helpful since it brings people, including the experts on the issues, together to share their experiences and address the issues. The next conference can be Open Space all by itself. I felt that I got much more out of the Open Sessions than the tutorials for which I paid so much!" --participant comment µMichaelHerman§ at a professional conference track facilitated in Open Space. ♦ "The entire conference was a wonderful experience. I had real reservations when you started talking about Open Space, wondered how it would work, would the groups be intellectually challenging. Some were, some were not, but the liberating factor of being able to get up and move on more than made up for this. Some, where I thought I would bumblebee were interesting enough that I stayed put. Others finished early and I wondered around until something caught my eye. In others I, with the approval of the group, went over to check with another group to see if we were duplicating each other, we weren't, and then came back and reported to the group. It is truly remarkable…This was my first experience with this. I liked the diversity of the people there. I found most of the people who convened groups were not experts on an issue, but were ones who wanted to know more about the issue. And somehow those with expertise and information found their way there. µLisaHeft§ after Open Space conference. ♦ "This was the best meeting I've participated in during my 30 years in this parish." -- An elder at St. Augustine Church in Pleasanton, California, during the closing circle What can happen in Open Space? In 1991, US West used OST for a 3-day, 175-person labor-management summit meeting to resolve escalating contract conflicts, avert a major strike, recover from a damaging flood, and prepare themselves for telecom mergers and the buildout of the internet. Labor pushed for the meeting, but both sides were well-served by the results. AT&T fast-tracked 10-months of design and planning work into ONE 2-day contractor summit when they were offered the opportunity to build their pavillion in the center of the 1996 Olympic Village in Atlanta. Twenty-five contractors came into the meeting with lots of difficult history and a blank page to design from. They produced a superb design, a full set of working drawings, and managed to have quite a bit of fun in the process. Some years ago, the national transportation company of South Africa used OST to help build community connections and lay the groundwork for cooperative business activities in the midst of post-apartheid confusion. One meeting brought 300 senior transportation executives together. Another gathered 80 community choir leaders. At a time of similarly-intense confusion and conflict, peace activists and organizers in Jerusalem and Palestine are working together to bring people together in Open Space.
  4. 4. Rockport Shoes held a 3-day, 300-person company-wide strategy conference in one of their warehouses and stumbled onto a couple of brand new product lines that netted $18 million in their first year of sales. The idea came from the security guard and made the previously quite skeptical CFO very happy. The Agile Software and Extreme Programming movement is encouraging a whole new way of software development that looks very much like OST. The marketplace wall becomes a table top with 3x5 cards, breakout groups become pairs of programmers, and morning and evening news sessions become 'stand-up' meetings between programming iterations. This new approach delivers working software every two weeks instead of every two years! – Wesley Urban Ministries in Hamilton, Ontario, adopted OST as the basis for organizing and managing their whole, 100-person staff. Over the next 3 years, they increased services delivered by 50%, with no added resources. On top of that, they had turnover of exactly 0%, in an environment known for high stress and burnout. In one of many OST events at Boeing, engineers used OST to streamline operations and simplify communications across the myriad groups responsible for designing and building pressurized airplane doors. The conference was run simultaneously in Seattle and Wichita, it's two major door-assembly sites. Another conference brought the full array of human resources functions together to synergize efforts on "people issues." In Racine, Wisconsin, 35 young people (ages 12-20) gathered for one 4-hour, afterschool conference in Open Space. As a result of that meeting they initiated a youth art newsletter, a downtown, lakefront skateboarding park, and the largest YMCA Earth Service Corps chapter in the country. They called themselves 'Youth Action,' used OST at all their meetings, and eventually ended up introducing OST to young leaders from all over the USA. In the midst of post-911 budget cuts and other major change issues, Peoria School District 150 held a 3-evening, 200-person summit meeting to create a community-wide vision and set new priorities for revitalizing their inner-city schools. The meeting was well-covered by local broadcast and print media, the 100-page proceedings was publicly available via the District's website, and the top priorities identified on the third evening became the working agenda for their new superintendent and school board. The school district in Fairbanks, Alaska (covering an area the size of the entire state of Connecticut) held a 2-day, 250-person conference on 'Becoming a Peacemaker.' Half the participants were students in the middle and high schools (ages 13-18) and all participants had some experience with mediation and conflict resolution. The kids did exceptionally well in Open Space and one high school student led a series of four breakout sessions to create an entire suicide prevention program for the middle school students. The statewide suicide prevention hotline was up and running within weeks of the conference. The 'Peacemakers' conference in Fairbanks was followed by a 2-day OST training and practice workshop, attended by about 60 youth and adults. Six months later, they reported that they were holding 1-3 OST meetings per week, in and around Fairbanks. At Ridgeview Medical Center in Minnesota, a physician administrator has been leading a series of OST meetings, attracting 30-50 people to each session, in order to catalyze and support a hospital- wide, cultural and operational shift to 'patient-centered care.' The series started with one meeting organized to find 50 days of working cash. Dr. Robert Welch is opening these spaces with coaching by One year after it's founding, The Crossroads Church, in Kansas City, Missouri, invited their entire congregation into Open Space in order to establish strategic direction and set operational priorities for the coming year. They now run an annual 'direction-setting' retreat which is attended by almost all parishoners and in which they dissolve, review, re-establish and re-populate their entire operating committee structure.
  5. 5. In 1993, my colleague and I launched an organizational experiment. Our intention was to create two organizations--one in Haiti and one in the US--which would work together to promote justice and peace by fostering transformative learning among Haitians and N.Americans. We chose a non- hierarchical structure at a staff level with hopes of avoiding paternalistic tendencies which frequently characterize international development efforts, and lead to disempowerment and ineffectiveness. After nine years in Open Space, Beyond Borders and Limye Lavi Fondation continue to function without a hierarchy and have become models to other organizations working in Haiti. In January 2000, 175 people gathered in Open Space from the poorest urban neighborhood in Canada to Discuss "Improving the Lives of Aboriginal people in Vancouver: Let's stop talking about it and let's start doing it!" In one day the group convened 47 discussion groups that led to an agenda for action that was still in place 3 years later. Homelessness, addictions treatement, improved child welfare practices, increased community governance over services and fighting child prostitution have all been issues that have been at the centre of the activity that has taken place since then. In northern British Columbia in March 2002, two career fairs were held in Open Space with nearly 100 First Nations youth. The youth posted topics about issues that impact their future, and invited mentors from a wide variety of fields posted offerings introducing youth to careers in the military, social services, law, resource industries, information technology and post secondary education among others. In Octobver 2001, 250 Aboriginal youth gathered in Open Space together with federal and provincial senior officials from every province in Canada to update the National Aboriginal Youth Strategy. They proposed 45 discussion groups and prioritized six areas for action. The recommendations were presented by the youth the the federal and provincial ministers responsible for youth and were accepted as the basis for a renewed strategy. A Health Services office at a major Canadian university used Open Space Technology to bring together faculty members and leaders from a variety of disciplines including medicine, dentistry, social work, nursing and physiotherapy to discuss the future of health services education focussing on patient needs rather than disciplinary distinctions. The gathering helped to clarify a number of issues and led to a great cooperation between faculties as they pursued a scenario of creating a joint faculty of health services. On Bowen Island, a small island near Vancouver, Canada, an Open Space event looking at the future of Bowen in the year 2042 attracted 30 community members who discussed what they valuied so much about their island and what it would take to live sustainably well into the future. Within a month of the meeting a Trust had been set up to lobby and raise money for the protection of the last parcel of undeveloped and privately held wilderness on the Island, a piece of land teeming with unique ecosystems and valued by islanders for it's role as a place to renew the spirit. In 1998 Parks Canada used Open Space to bring together its entire administrative staff in a retreat to discuss issues and opportunities related to transition from being a government department to becoming a government agency. 120 people gathered in a park centre in central Manitoba and hashed out dozens of issues related to the transition, preparing them for the upheaval that was to envelop the department March 1999 when the transition took place. The retreat dealt with immediate issues but also took the long view, and several years later issues that were dealt with in the retreat were only beginning to arise, and yet none of these were surprises to those who had anticipated them in Open Space. "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?ChrisCorrigan" µChrisCorrigan§ In January 2002, the traditional governing body of the Wet'suwet'en Nation gathered in Open Space for two days in Prince George. About 50 staff, Hereditary Chiefs, and community members identified and discussed 43 issues and opportunities around the future of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en. Unsettled matters related to the relationship of the Office to Band Councils, Clarifying cultural practices related to the feast system, creating a healthy nation and finances were actively worked on. Considerable goodwill, mutual respect for differing opinions and collective decision making among all the participants characterized the sessions. There was high participation in all the working groups and solid attendance for the two days. As one hereditary chief observed, "The way we did this was like our way. The respect and the positive treatment that we showed and gave each other. We demonstrated that we could work and pull together, despite our differences. Just like the way the elders work together." In Tsartlip BC, participants representing the Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Association of B.C., Aboriginal Sports Development Centre, BC Sports and Community Capital Branch of the Province of
  6. 6. BC and Heritage Canada attended a two-day Open Space session on "Delivering Standards of Excellence: Issues and Opportunities for Aboriginal Sports in BC”. The Open Space was organized in response to changing Federal and Provincial government priorities related to funding and accountability. The Open Space process helped, in the words of one participant, "put aside assumptions and learn from others about what people are really doing" For others, it helped catalyze a number of complicated issues that needed to be worked through and acted on. "Having these discussions encouraged me knowing that we are all beginning to understand each others circumstances. In October 2001, the Interior Indian Friendship Centre board of directors met in Open Space in Kamloops BC for a strategic planning session. Key issues relating to Financial Management, Program evaluation, Economic Activities and the IIFC Organizational Structure were identified and priorized. The Board's convergence of the priorities served as the basis for their action plan for the remainder of the fiscal year. Approximately forty-five (45) participants representing Native American and Canadian Aboriginal Sports Organizations from across North America attended an Open Space session in Ottawa in January 2001. The purpose of the Open Space was to chart the future of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) Movement and to come together to address issues that were important to the success of the Games. Although the diversity of representatives at NAIG contributed to its strength, the organization was often tasked with the challenge of accommodating differences between First Nations and between Countries. The OS dialogue process helped participants overcome those challenges. In the words of one participant. "There has been a ‘healthy airing of different perspectives here. This is the beginning of something very major for us. For the first time in a long time we are all thinking together. It’s healthy to recognize differences, and its good to see us addressing common issues and concerns." Palestinians meeting in Ramallah used the real deep meaning of Peace all over the training, they brought it up in nearly every small discussion group they created, peace within themselves, peace at work, peace with their children and later on passed to the causes of non inner peace: sexual frustration, challenges of education today, ways to raise their children to become more open and keen and so on. I personally never witnessed such openness within my fellow Palestinians and more amazingly between men and women. Until that minute I wasn't sure about the power of the Open Space spirit and its immediate influence on people. Today … they email each other on a regular basis -- they also have set up an "OST Palestine" Yahoo group. --Carol Daniel kasbari It might interest you to know that Pragati Foundation, an India based NGO, and the Foundation for Human and Economic Development of the USA successfully used Open Space Technology for an Indo Pakistan People to People Dialogue for Peace and Prosperity…This was the first time in the history of the Indian subcontinent that people from Pakistan(including former adversary generals), Kashmir (Hindus and Moslems), other parts of India and USA sat down together and came to a shared understanding…Encouraged by the miraculous success of the first conference…[we are]… now organizing another conference only for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Again we are using Open Space Technology. I am convinced that OST can go a long way in restoring peace and prosperity to Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian subcontinent and the rest of the world. --Arun Wakhlu and The Pragati Foundation "mailto:pragatifoundation@vsnl.net" Our participants in the Estonian workshop from Russia are spreading the message of POP [Practice of Peace] now, two weeks later here in the Kola Peninsula of Russia. I arrived with my friends from the Estonian Fund for Nature to Murmansk and held one day OS for Saami economical communities network. About forty representatives from different communities gathered from all peninsula, some of them arrived by boat hundreds of kilometres away. They have been conflicting between each other more than ten years and were much suspicious for the seminar we were to hold. The space was opened, working groups got started, -bees- and -butterflies- made their duties and after three sessions the peace was re-established! Conflicting counterparts made several proposals for co- operation and for building up some common body for further co-operation. The international Open Space event "Earth and People" was agreed to be called together on the 27-29 of June this year, to be held out in nature in the middle of Kola Peninsula under topic: -How to live in Peace with Earth?- All participants are invited to take with some delicatessen foods from their home place to offer for the common consuming. After the event, the communities are inviting participants in small groups of 5-10 persons to follow for a week to the persons to follow for a week to their places to learn more about
  7. 7. their ways of life, their stories and traditions. --from an Open Space event in Estonia and Russia facilitated by Open Space Technology Elevator Speeches Here is a collection of short explanations of Open Space Technology, compiled from practitioners around the world. See also links to More Descriptions at the bottom of this page. "At the very least, Open Space is a fast, cheap, and simple way to better, more productive meetings. At a deeper level, it enables people to experience a very different quality of organization in which self- managed work groups are the norm, leadership a constantly shared phenomenon, diversity becomes a resource to be used instead of a problem to be overcome, and personal empowerment a shared experience. It is also fun. In a word, the conditions are set for fundamental organizational change, indeed that change may already have occurred. By the end, groups face an interesting choice. They can do it again, they can do it better, or they can go back to their prior mode of behavior. Open Space is appropriate in situations where a major issue must be resolved, characterized by high levels of complexity, high levels of diversity (in terms of the people involved), the presence of potential or actual conflict, and with a decision time of yesterday. * Open Space runs on two fundamentals: passion and responsibility. Passion engages the people in the room. Responsibility ensures things get done. A focusing theme or question provides the framework for the event. The art of the question lies in saying just enough to evoke attention, while leaving sufficient open space for the imagination to run wild." * Not long ago I did Open Space for an evening with 75 people, talking about the future of their county. They created fifteen substantial conversations about the issues they really care about and came back together to say it was one of the best meetings they ever had. The whole thing took three hours and all the notes are online for people to follow up. That's an example of what can happen in Open Space. * Open Space puts any number of people together to share their passions and create something new. If you are open and willing to risk a little, you will gain much. -- MurliNagasundaram It is a way to get all people in a group, no matter how big, have their say on equal terms. They make their own agenda with what they have passion for and they organize the discussions themselves. – * Open Space is based in the belief that organizations and communities run on passion and responsibility. It allows groups of any size to self-organize around what they really care about to get things done. * Open Space Technology is a natural communication process that recognizes that people take responsibility to pursue what they are passionate about, and it ensures that what is important to each participant will be discussed. -- developed by a small group during. Open Space training workshop in Halifax, Canada I conduct conferences when the following conditions are present, and only then: 1. It's already too late to meet the need. 2. There are many stakeholders that want to be involved. 3. The issue is complex and conflicted, and 4. "You" demand an outcome! ...if you ever are in this situation call me and we'll get it right. Oh! By the way, this can be arranged in a weeks time and there is no cheaper way to get it done! Thanks! -- ElwinGuild HYPERLINK "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?action=edit&id=ElwinGuild" µ?§ "Through an intentional combination of order and chaos, OST resembles the creative act of a mind moving from confusion and frustration to assimilation and discovery, but OST achieves this transition not in one mind, but simultaneously in several. Intense, focused discussion leads to mutual recognition of areas of agreement and disagreement, and thus lays the ground for knowledgeable participation in the action program that concludes with the publication of a full report on the group’s findings." -- Marino Piombini, a sponsor of an OST event facilitated by HYPERLINK "http://www.openspaceworld.org/wiki/wiki/wiki.cgi?ChrisCorrigan" µChrisCorrigan§
  8. 8. Open Space Technology Story Points These are a few points commonly used to explain what Open Space Technology is: the energy of a good coffee break: OST began in part to the oft-quoted observation that in traditional conferences, the coffee breaks are the best part. growing more of what works: focussing attention on things makes them grow, in importance, detail and depth. So why not grow more of what works rather than stuff that doesn't? one more thing to not do: the essence of developing an OST facilitation practice is to continually practice letting go. Finding one more thing not to do helps develop this practice over time. passion bounded by responsibility: Passion gets you out of your chair, responsibility moves you to action. Things only get done by individuals, and nothing gets done unless people want to do. Passion is great, but goes nowhere until the feet take it somewhere. a practice in invitation, an inviting practice: The essence of OST is invitation. Invitation gathers people into the event, where they are further invited to post more invitations. The results of the groups that accrete around those smaller invitations are invitations to carry the work into the larger world. Practicing invitation... fully present and totally invisible: An OST facilitator holds space open like trusses keep a roof perched on top of the walls. Without the trusses the room collapses. Without the conscious act of holding it open, space closes. letting go… into movement: Open Space Technology (OST) is a simple, powerful way to get people, information and whole organizations moving. It's not so much about feeling good or talking tough, but that can happen. What it's really about is getting the most important things done in organization - done now and done well. conflict, complexity, urgency, diversity: Harrison always says, OST works best where conflict is present, things are complex, there is huge diversity of players and the answer was needed yesterday. And the more of all of that you have, the better OST works. Go figure. what do you really want to do + why don’t you take care of it: The highest form of OST facilitation practice is to turn back everything to the people. When confronted with a question, respond with two: what do you really want to do? and why don't you take of it? Every thing the facilitator does for a group is one less thing the group knows it can do for itself. marketplace, circle, bboard, breathing: the four basic mechanisms at work in an open space meeting or event. of course, these exist everywhere in the world, in all kinds of forms, but they tend to exist more cleanly and clearly in open space. the effect is generally faster, easier movement. invitation, invite list, spacetime, footprints: The four seasons of Open Space Technology. Everything begins with the invitation (purpose), is transmitted to the invitation list (story), is organized in the event (structure) and follows through with footprints (action). Spring, summer, fall, winter. The room used for OST begins cold, fills with warmth and growth, witnesses the dispersal of people and effort and ends cold again. the law of two feet (two footprints graphic): If you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning or contributing, move somewhere where you can. This is a law like the Law of Gravity. You can choose to notice it or not, but it's safer just to notice it. the four principles (question mark graphic): Whoever comes is the right people, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, when it starts is the right time, when it;s over it's over. These aren't prescriptive, they are the results of thousands of little experiements. ARTICLES In The Beginning by Harrison Owen, in the Introduction to the first Open Space Technology: A User's Guide, Copyright © 1992 by Harrison Owen. On the 21st of April 1992, 225 people (or thereabouts) gathered for a two-day meeting to develop cooperative arrangements for the effective expenditure of one and one-half billion dollars designated for highway construction on tribal and public lands. Roughly one-third of these people were Native Americans, one-third federal bureaucrats, and one-third from state and local governments. On the
  9. 9. face of it, the prospects for a peaceful, let alone productive, meeting seemed less than bright. The participants were all natural, if not historical, enemies. As a matter of fact, the results were rather surprising. In the course of the two-day meeting, that diverse group created, and totally self-managed, an agenda built around some 52 different task groups. The agenda was created in less than one hour, and the various task groups produced about 150 pages of proceedings in 36 hours. Thanks to the wonders of modern computers coupled with overnight printing, copies of the final proceedings rolled hot off the press in time for the departure of all participants on the morning of the third day. During the concluding session, one of the Native Americans said that never before had he felt so listened to and so much a part of the discussions. The feeling was shared by all parties. It is also noteworthy that the decision to hold the meeting was made in March in the same year. Thus, the whole idea went from conception to delivery in about six weeks. There was one facilitator for the total event. Stated in bald terms, these claims for the April meeting may sound extreme, if not outrageous. For the conventional wisdom says, and everybody knows, that creating a meeting of such size, complexity, and potential for conflict takes months of preparation and an army of planners and facilitators. Furthermore, the notion that the proceedings not only could be completed but delivered to the participants prior to departure is going a little too far. Unfortunately for the conventional wisdom, the event took place exactly as described, and more than that, this was not the first such event. Over the past eight years dozens of gatherings have taken place with similar results. While the experience may not yet be commonplace, it is definitely not a fluke. It is repeatable. It is called Open Space Technology. How Open Space Technology came to be was not a matter of careful planning and thoughtful design. It began out of frustration, almost as a joke. The Genesis of Open Space Technology In 1983, I had occasion to organize an international conference for 250 participants. It took me a full year of labor. By the time I had finished with all the details, frustrations and egos (mine and others'), that go with such an event, I resolved never to do such a thing again. This resolution was confirmed at the conclusion of the conference, when it was agreed by one and all (including myself) that although the total event had been outstanding, the truly useful part had been the coffee breaks. So much for one year's effort arranging papers, participants, and presenters. The only thing that everybody liked was the one thing I had nothing to do with: the coffee breaks. There had to be a message here. My question was a simple one. Was it possible to combine the level of synergy and excitement present in a good coffee break, with the substantive activity and results characteristic of a good meeting? And most of all, could the whole thing be done in less than a year? The line of inquiry I choose to follow took some interesting turns, but essentially it started with the notion that if I could identify certain basic mechanisms of meeting, or human gathering, it might be possible to build them into an approach that would be so simple that it could not fail and so elemental that it might possess the natural power of a good coffee break. With these thoughts in mind, I recalled an occasion in the late '60s when I was working as a photojournalist in a small West African village by the name of Balamah located in the interior of Liberia. One of the high points of my visit was participation in the rites of passage for the boys. As you might imagine, this was a major celebration. It occurred every seven years, and was the moment when the village inducted its male youth as full fledged citizens. No longer children, they were expected to assume adult roles and responsibilities. The actual celebration continued for four days with all sorts of rituals and other activities. Through it all there was amazingly nothing, so far as I could tell, that looked or acted like a planning committee, not during the event or prior to its occurrence. Nevertheless 500 people managed to manage themselves for four days in a highly organized, satisfactory, and I have to say, enjoyable fashion. How could that be? I do not claim to have the whole answer to the mystery of Balamah, but at least part of their secret lay in the fact that the village (like all West African villages) was laid out in a circle, with an open space in the middle. The chief's house, and the house of some of the important elders bordered what, in an American or European town, would have been the village square. But here it was a circle, and I think that difference is important. My experience tells me that the circle is the fundamental geometry of open human communication. There is no head or foot, higher or lower, simply people being with people face to face. After all, we do not have a square of friends and on a cold winter's night it is nice to be part of the family circle. Place people in rows (classroom or theater-style) and they all face the source of power and authority,
  10. 10. and it is clear who will talk and who must listen. In squares and rectangles, there is separation which may be useful to keep combative parties apart as in negotiation, but genuine, open, free communication tends to be at a minimum. Circles create communication. The celebration in Balamah occurred as an ordered progression from the periphery of the town to the center of the circle, and back again. Dancers, drummers, horn players, religious and political leaders, all gathered in the outlying sections of the town, and then swirled to the center in kaleidoscope of color, rhythm and song. The circle came alive with ceremony, speeches, and above all, dance. Intensity rose to peak, and the peaked again, until at last it ebbed as villagers flowed outward to their homes. It was as if the village were breathing, and just as no planning committee is required for respiration, none was needed in Balamah either. It seemed to me that in the geometry of the circle and the rhythm of breath I had found two of my basic mechanisms of meeting. If the circle and breath provide the fundamental shape and dynamics, then we need only some way of establishing content and determining periodicity (time table) in order to create our conference in the coffee-break mode. Effective meetings, after all, deal with some issues in a certain order. The alternative is noise and confusion. Two additional mechanisms suggested themselves from the life of Balamah. The community bulletin board and the village market place. The bulletin board provides a convenient, low-tech means for identifying what people are interested in. The market place provides the mechanism for bringing interests together in an orderly way. Both mechanisms are so ancient and ingrained in the human experience that explaining the rules is quite unnecessary. And of course if the village market place has not been a part of your experience, a shopping mall will do. In theory, given a circle, breath, the bulletin board, and the market place, we should have the effective ingredients for high levels of productive meeting, without the interminable planning sessions and an army of on-site facilitators, to say nothing of a resident meeting management team. The question remained: Would theory translate into reality? Experience to Date We have been testing the theory for the past [fifteen] years, and the experiment continues, but the answer to date has been a resounding yes. The folks in Balamah were correct. You could do incredible things without a planning committee, facilitators and conference management team. A brief sampling of the experience to date with Open Space gatherings may make the point. For example, the National Education Association gathered 420 teachers, school board members, and administrators from all over the United States for one day around the theme, "Education for America." In that time they created, and self-managed, some 85 workshops. When they were through, they evaluated their effort on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being highly successful and 1 the opposite. The average score was 9.3. The total preconference planning time for agenda creation was zero. At the other end of the size spectrum, groups of 5 have found the approach quite effective, and intact management teams of 12 to 20 have discovered that OST is an excellent way to build their teams and transact a great deal of business in a remarkably short time. The United States Forest Service's senior management team (known as Chief and Staff), which consists of the 17 people who manage that organization of 35,000 people, have used OST to break out of the mold and consider issues they never could quite get on the agenda. As in many senior management groups, the agenda for the weekly Chief and Staff meetings was guarded as closely as Fort Knox, all in the name of efficiency. The gain in efficiency, however, was often balanced by a loss in effectiveness, as only those things officially on the agenda could be discussed. The rest remained unspoken, and possibly unspeakable. The Forest Service is by no means alone in this shortcoming, but when the "unspeakable" remains unspoken, important business may be neglected. Worse yet, everybody knows, but nobody can do anything, for the issues never come up officially. Open Space can change all that. Everybody has the right and responsibility to place items on the agenda, which allows the unspeakable to be spoken. In South Africa, the 12 members of a totally new management group, which had been created when several corporations merged, used OST with great success to fashion a new organizational structure, reporting relationships and product management procedures, all in two days. More important than the completion of a number of essential organizational tasks was the fact that they had become a team. A strong point of Open Space Technology is its ability to unite groups of enormous diversity in terms of education, ethnicity, economics, politics, culture, social position, or all of the above. In one meeting sponsored by the Together Foundation to promote global unity, 178 people from 28 countries speaking 17 languages addressed their task for five days. Participants ranged from presidents of countries to ordinary planetary citizens, and in just about one hour this group created 82 workshops
  11. 11. which they self-managed for the duration of the conference. There was no simultaneous translation, one facilitator, and preconference planning was limited exclusively to logistical details. Open Space Technology thrives in areas of conflict and confusion. In the early summer of 1992, OST was used in one of the South African townships to promote useful discussion among the several political groups. The focus of conversation was improving communications in the area. For a full day representatives of the various political parties along with nearby industry (largely white) worked together. It would be a supreme overstatement to say that all issues were resolved, or that love and light broke out in full abundance. But the discussions were intense, productive, without rancor, and contrasted sharply with conditions in a neighboring township where conversations had ceased and bloodshed commenced. There was also a continuing benefit. Several days after this particular gathering, one of the participants called to say that for two years as president of a local school organization, he had been attempting to get the people involved in creating their future. Nothing had worked. They sat like bumps on a log. Then he tried Open Space Technology, and his problem was reversed. The people became involved, and he had but one option. Get out of the way. In Venezuela, the new cellular phone company, TELCEL, has been growing at a phenomenal rate in the midst of sometimes incredible confusion. Its American partner, Bell South, predicted that by the end of TELCEL's first year of operation, TELCEL might sell 15,000 units. The fact of the matter is that TELCEL sold 50,000 units in less than a year, to become the fastest growing cellular phone company in the world. That was the good news. But there was some bad news as well. The growth was so rapid that people scarcely had time to breathe, talk, or solve organizational problems. The whole venture was about to be overwhelmed by waves of confusion and fatigue. A major mid-course correction was required, without any reduction of speed, for slowing down, or stopping, would mean the loss of their major objective, market dominance. On a Saturday, every employee of the corporation was invited to an Open Space event focused on the future of their company. No additional compensation was offered. People were going to do this on their own time or not at all. Of the 263 people then employed by TELCEL, 252 showed up. In less than an hour some 32 issues were identified, which then formed the basis of a similar number of task groups. For one full day, the discussion raged. Technical people talked to sales, who talked to marketing, who talked to finance, who talked to computernics, who talked to senior management. And around it went one more time. Interestingly enough, only one of the 32 working groups was led by a member of senior management. All the leadership came from the trenches. When evening rolled around, and the final report-out had been completed, a most remarkable thing occurred. Somebody put a catchy dance tape on the sound system, and for the next three hours, the party rolled on, stopping only when the buses had to leave. And this was a corporation at the edge of destruction! Six months later, virtually everybody in the corporation looked at the day in Open Space as the turnaround point. Obviously not all the issues were solved on that day, but the critical element necessary for their resolution was set in place: communication. People found they could talk and work together. Open Space Technology has now successfully been utilized in India, South America, Africa, Europe, the United States, and Canada with groups of 5 to 500. The purposes have ranged from corporate redesign in the face of intense competition, to national redesign in the face of massive transformational forces as in South Africa. The technology is not magic, nor does it solve all problems. However, in those situations where highly complex and conflicted issues must be dealt with, and solved, by very diverse groups of people, OST can make a major contribution. OST by design and intention is simple. It will work equally in third world village environments and sophisticated board rooms. As with most simple things, it is true that almost anybody can do it. It is also true that doing it well may require a lifetime of practice. Harrison Qwen Peace is infinitely more than the cessation of hostilities. And Peacemaking neither starts nor ends at the negotiating table, for the objective is not just a set of treaty terms acceptable to all parties, but rather the renewal of meaningful and productive life for the planet, nations, organizations, and each one of us. The search for peace is critical and univeµPrograms§ offered world wide, and/or read the book. But no matter what, Practice Peace!
  12. 12. The Practice of Peace (2nd Edition) by Harrison Owen Notes by the Author And Details of Purchase It was never my intention to get into the "Peace Business." Nor was it my intention to write another book. But in the course of my life my intentions are often overlooked, and happenstance rules. So much for a life plan. And now, the book - The Practice of Peace - is available in a 2nd edition. Happenstance, in this case was a fortuitous journey to The Middle East several years ago. I went to that troubled part of the world lacking any clear understanding of what I might usefully contribute. To say that I was confused would be gross understatement. But confusion, as I have learned, is often (always?) an essential precondition to deeper insight. Confusion rids the mind of all you thought you knew, and thereby opens some space for new ideas. The new ideas, in my case, were perhaps closer to a blinding flash of the obvious. Twenty years' experience with Open Space Technology in over 40,000 iterations in 83 countries had demonstrated to myself and thousands of colleagues, that every time space was opened, a most remarkable and unexpected result occurred. I called it Genuine Community, the sort where differences (of opinion, ethnicity, economics, politics etc.) were if anything amplified AND those involved found it possible to treat each other with respect, often coming close to real affection. It seemed to me that another word for this phenomenon is Peace. Further more, the deeper the original conflicts, the more intense was the sense of community. Why all this should be happening and what might be done with it remained hidden in my cloud of confusion. Hence the book, which began life as a set of confused notes to myself in search of clarity and understanding. Anybody who says that they write a book does not fully understand the process, I think. And certainly in my case, the book wrote me. As those of you who have shared in this little odyssey will know, confused notes eventually yielded to some form of connected text, which in turn was shared with some 180 colleagues for their critique. And critique in full measure was given and gratefully received - yielding a book which was published collaboratively by the several Open Space Institutes around the world with the title, The Practice of Peace. In the intervening period since publication, there have been multiple workshops and conferences around the world, each contributing to a deeper understanding of Open Space and the possibilities of Peace. Now, I am pleased to announce that a 2nd Edition has been published by The Human Systems Dynamics Institute. In substance, the 2nd Edition is not radically different from the 1st, but countless hours of concerned conversation with colleagues and friends around the world have tightened the focus, enhanced the flow, and brought to mind a number of facets that had been neglected in the first attempt. In short it is a much better book. As an author, I have always found it difficult, not to say embarrassing, to recommend my own books. However, in the case of this book, The Practice of Peace 2nd Edition, I have no such qualms. This is not theory in search of a practice, but just the reverse. The practice required the theory simply because the practice works. Every time Space opens, Peace seems to break out. And the application is not only in the global arena of conflicted people, but also in the multiple arenas of human life were Peace appears in jeopardy, including families, community organizations, and businesses. Such qualms as I may have about apparent self-serving advertising are also mitigated by the fact that even though my name appears on the book (and I take full responsibility for all errors of omission and commission), this book is in truth a communal production. Literally thousands of people all over the world have contributed great thoughts and ideas. So this is not so much an advertisement for my book, but our book. Harrison Chapter I Peace, and The Practice of Peace Peace. It is a wonderful word in just about any language. And strangely, it seems to be most commonly used in that part of the world where there is no Peace, by whatever definition. In the Middle East, virtually all parties greet each other with "Peace." Shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic. At time of meeting and again at departure, both Jew and Muslim invoke Peace. And they are not alone in the practice. Christians know The Kiss of Peace, and politicians run on Platforms of Peace. And people everywhere have gone to war in search of Peace.
  13. 13. Obviously the word, and what it connotes, has great importance in our lives, but its meaning, at least in common usage, is more than a little elusive. It is possible to understand the universal Semitic practice as more in the nature of a hope or prayer than a confirmation of present reality, but the meaning of the word remains a will-of-the-wisp. Like the word Love, the meaning of which stretches all the way from raw fornication up to and including "the essence of divinity," so also Peace seems patient of a multitude of interpretations. For many of us Peace is defined by the absence of its opposites, such as chaos, confusion and conflict. Absent any, or all, of these and we have Peace, and the way to Peace would obviously be the elimination of this unholy trinity. But what sort of Peace would we have? Unfortunately, I think the answer would be, pretty boring and quite dead. Peace under these terms would amount to some static, frozen, idealized state. In the hot moments of living, we might look at such a state with envy, but as a long term reality, we may just have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In the name of preserving life, we have removed precisely the elements that make life possible. The temptation to desire a life devoid of chaos, confusion and conflict is quite understandable, if only because all three produce circumstances that are decidedly uncomfortable. Given any reasonable choice, who would want such a life? Unfortunately, I suspect all three come with the territory, and are not to be considered under the heading of unnecessary nuisances. For the truth of the matter is that chaos, confusion and conflict are integral to the process of living, and each brings its own special gifts, without which life, in the fullest sense of the word, is scarcely worth living. Heresy, I am sure, but let us look more closely, starting with the "biggie" – Chaos. Chaos From ancient times to the modern day, Chaos has definitely been "off the list" in polite society. And for good reason, Chaos makes a mess. Chaos comes in an infinite variety of sizes and packages, but all share a common trait. They do violence to the established order. Rather like a skunk at a garden party, or a bull in a china shop – when chaos raises its head, the old order stands in jeopardy, or worse. Human beings, as indeed most of the critters in nature, become very attached to that old order, which provides the shape and structure of our lives, gives us meaning, and allows for the orderly planning of our futures. Should the agent of chaos be a rampaging river, our response is to raise the levies and protect our towns. Change "river" to "volcano" and the response is rather the same, but usually much less effective, for molten lava usually runs its own way. Contemporary corporations are no less adverse to the appearance of chaos, and when one implodes due to competitive pressures, change in consumer interests, or because of internal corruption and greed, the response is not unlike ants when their hills are under attack. At first they scatter and run, but soon they may be found attacking the invaders and rebuilding the ruins. No news here. Chaos is not a welcome guest, now or ever. But it may be important to notice two components of the chaos laden situation for human beings: outrage and control. Indeed these two go together, for the basis of the outrage is often the loss of control. Somewhere along the line we humanoids developed the notion that we are supposed to be in charge, and when things go contrary to our expectations, we are not pleased. I grant that this idea seems to have some validity, if only because our dominant position is carefully written into some of our oldest and most revered sacred texts. For example, in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament (for Christians) or Torah (for Jews), it is specified by God, no less, that Mankind shall have dominion over the earth and all her creatures. Definitely in charge, or so it might seem. I leave the detailed exegesis of this text to the experts, but I would point out that this idea of being in charge has its limitations, not the least of which is that it never quite seems to happen. Despite our best efforts, some river rampages, some volcano explodes, our business goes kaput, and the ants invade our picnic. If we are supposed to be in charge, something is definitely wrong. Part of what’s "wrong," I think, is our inability to comprehend the enormous complexity of the cosmos in which we reside, albeit in a very small and insignificant corner. Being in control, or in charge, requires that you have some idea of what’s actually happening, "get a number on it," so to speak. True we are gaining some knowledge, and perhaps even have a general idea of the forces at work and the elements at play. But it seems that more we know the more we discover our ignorance, and when it comes to turning knowledge into power, we are definitely playing catch-up ball. After all we can’t even accurately predict the weather on this silly little piece of solar driftwood we call home – let alone control it. But someday. . . And then we come to the matter of outrage. Somehow it seems that the universe is not treating us correctly. When a river takes out a town, a hurricane batters the East Coast of the United States, a
  14. 14. typhoon swamps a Pacific isle – or our business goes bump, something inside us demands that the Ruler of the Universe take counsel with us, for clearly there has to be a better way. But it could be that the way chosen has not done at all badly. After all, with the passage of typhoons and hurricanes rock crumbles into fine sand – without which it would not be possible to have a nice day at the beach. And the passage of our favorite business typically opens up space in the competitive environment for new business and new ideas. Painful for us to be sure, but not all that bad for the consumer and the world at large. There seems to be a rhythm here. You have to plow before you can sow and reap. Breathe out before breathing in. Chaos appears in multiple forms. It is always painful if you happen to be caught in the path, but for all that pain there appears to be a purpose – opening space in the old order so that the new may appear. It might just be that this life we hold so dear is less about the established forms, and existing order, than the journey itself. In which case the chaos we experience is by no means just a painful incidental, but rather an essential component, for the journey would clearly cease without open space in which to move forward. And when it comes to our notion of Peace, I would suggest that Peace without chaos would be no Peace at all. Confusion Confusion is the intellectual equivalent of chaos. Just when you thought you had it all figured out, the path straight, the map set, suddenly the world changed, and somehow it did not match what you were planning on. Surprise, and definitely not a nice one, particularly for those of us who take pride in our rational capacities, our ability to look the future dead in the eye and come up with a winner. Plan makers everywhere fall prey. The general whose carefully crafted battle plan gets lost in the mists of war. The CEO, whose business Plan looked great on paper and in all the Power Point presentations, suddenly discovers that the yen has fallen through the basement and "The Plan" was directed towards the Japanese market. And the dissolution of nice plans is not an experience limited only to business folks and generals. Lovers have the same dilemma. That great life plan which included graduate school, building the business reputation, creating a little capitol for investment – all go out the window when "she" appears and whisks you off to Bali. In all cases, it’s confusion. The consequences of confusion can be real and painful, but the major pain, I think, is to the ego. We really thought we had it pegged – but we didn’t. Our problem, it turns out, is that we had forgotten Korzybski’s famous dictum, "The map is not the territory." To be sure, maps are useful, but never to be confused with the land they depict, even as menus are not the meal, nor is the book the experience. The cloud of confusion, however, holds a silver lining. For as the faulty maps of our of our fertile minds are dissolved in the acids of experience (life), we find the page wiped clean so that we can begin again. If we are wise, we will remember the lessons of our confusion, even as the good general recognizes that The battle plan goes out the window when the first bullet is fired, but the activity of planning is still a valid one. Its validity, however does not come from the plan’s capacity to create the future, for the future almost inevitably has a mind of its own. But the plan is a great place to start, and a wonderful checklist of things to notice along the way. In a word, confusion clears the mind of all we thought we knew, or suspected, so that we can truly appreciate what actually transpires. Without confusion we would be condemned to live in a world of old maps and outdated plans which quickly become dogmatic pronouncements. And the dead weight of dogma is something a vital mind can live without. If wisdom begins with an acknowledgment of our limitations, confusion may be an essential first step. Conflict If ever there was a true opposite of Peace, conflict would appear the natural culprit. Even Conflict, however, has its positive side. The presence of conflict in the human community means quite simply that people care. Show me any organization or situation where there is no conflict, and I will show you one where nobody cares. And without caring, some real passion, the long term vitality of that organization is in jeopardy. Conflict only becomes a problem when people run out of space. The appearance of conflict in our lives indicates the hot points of growth. In the realm of ideas, philosophies and paradigms, to which might also be added social systems and technologies, conflict not only indicates the points of growth, but is also essential for the growth process. Thomas Kuhn, in his seminal work, The Structures of Scientific Revolutions, describes the progress of science in terms that many at the time, and still, find quite uncomfortable. In the place of the nice, neat, linear, rational rolling out of scientific discovery described in many high school and college classrooms, he relates a tale filled with explosive jumps and massive conflicts which not only characterize the process, but are seemingly essential to its progress. As paradigm succeeds
  15. 15. paradigm the process is characterized by discomfort at the beginning (things just don’t seem to fit anymore, and confusion abounds) and culminating, more often than not, in massive confrontation, as an older view of the established order gives way to a newer, and usually more adequate, one. Along the way, the presence of conflict gives rise to a clarification of vision as differences are perceived, formulations rationalized, and new data considered. At the end, a new paradigm emerges, a new map of our world. And then the process begins again, for it remains true that the map is not the territory. The world of scientific inquiry may seem abstract, and far removed, from the everyday world of our common experience, particularly as we witness the bloody consequence of conflict in the hot spots of The Middle East and elsewhere. But it is probably worthwhile noting that even in the temple of science things can become very heated, and sometimes result in disastrous consequences, as Galileo discovered in his struggles to articulate his new map of the cosmos. It would be very nice, of course, if such disastrous consequences could be avoided, but not through the elimination of conflict through which ideas are sharpened and clear positions formed – until the next time. It turns out that physicists and astronomers are passionate too. They care deeply about what they do. Absent the passion, and we would probably still be living on a flat earth. When two passions collide there you have conflict, but you also have the intellectual heat and desire that transmutes half formed ideas, clouded in confusion, into blinding new insights. The problem, I suggest, is not the conflict, but rather that there is insufficient space to work things out. Destructive conflict occurs when you run out of room – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. And the answer would seem to be – open more space. The applicability of Kuhn’s insights to the broader world of human affairs is amply demonstrated by the rapidity with which his notion of paradigm and paradigm shift have found a place in the thinking and vocabularies of those in business, government, non-profits, and the whole broad range of human institutions. As a testimony to the pervasive impact of his thinking it appears that many folks have forgotten (if they ever knew) that it was Thomas Kuhn who started the whole thing rolling. No discussion of organizational change seems to move very far without the magic word paradigm putting in an appearance. It is interesting to notice, however what is typically not a part of such discussions: conflict and its potential consequences. As Kuhn’s thinking has moved into the public domain, it has seemingly become domesticated and sanitized. Shifting paradigms becomes a matter of rational choice, or executive dictate – as in "We will have new paradigm thinking." Or, "Our business will operate according to the new paradigm." Doubtless there are elements of rational choice and decision making in the shifting of paradigms, but that, I think, is just the tip of the iceberg. In truth, people care deeply, and have great passion for their old paradigm. No matter how attractive a new paradigm may sound, at the end of the day, it is not me. The passage from old to new will only be negotiated with chaos, confusion and conflict. It all comes with the territory, no matter how many consultants offer Programs for Painless Paradigm Progress. And there is even a more bitter pill to swallow. There is an end to the old paradigm. It dies. In rather dry tones, Kuhn says as much. "But if new theories are called forth to resolve anomalies in the relation of an existing theory to nature, then the successful new theory must somewhere permit predictions that are different from those derived from its predecessor. That difference could not occur if the two were logically compatible. In the process of being assimilated, the second must displace the first. (Italics mine)" The ending of anything, be it a theory, a paradigm, a way of life, or life itself does not take place without trauma, and even on a good day, trauma is not something that most people look forward to. And yet the old dictum holds its truth: In life only death and taxes are inevitable. Actually, taxes may be avoided, which leaves death as the inevitability of life. Not wishing to dwell on the macabre note of ending and death, I think it important to point out that even as chaos, confusion, and conflict must have a place in our understanding of Peace which may be painful, but also positively contributory, so also ending and death. Peace on earth which does not include, and also transcend, all of these apparent negatives is bound to be a very shaky Peace. And a Practice of Peace which does not effectively deal with these realities is, at best, naive. Peace How shall we understand Peace in ways that allow the inclusion and transcendence of the harsher realities of our lives? Peace without chaos, confusion and conflict is no Peace, not because we would not prefer it that way, but because each member of this unholy trinity makes a positive contribution to
  16. 16. the process of living. Equally, Peace without ending and death is productive of an idealized, static life, stuck in its ways – precluding the possibility of any sort of evolution. Had the Ruler of the Universe taken our council at the start, perhaps we could have suggested a better way. Indeed it seems that He or She almost had it right in those halcyon days of The Garden of Eden (or whatever primal/primitive vision of our initial utopia). But then something happened. Some folks will see the departure from that happy place as the beginning of the end, and the source of all our problems. Personally, I see it as the end of the beginning, the starting place of the incredible human journey. In a word, we were kicked out of the nest and forced to fly. Like young eagles, we have been screaming ever since, and for sure our initial wing beats were frantic, verging on comical. But we have learned. Not without a multitude of rough landings, ill advised take-offs – to say nothing of more than a few "crash and burns," but we now know something of the joys of flight. For those who desire a return to that idyllic state, I say lots of luck. And when the going genuinely gets tough in this thing we call life, I can certainly see their point. But at the end of the day, and indeed on most days, I choose to celebrate the rich heritage of Homo sapiens, crash landings and all. The flight of the human spirit is, for me, truly awesome. But you do have to leave the nest, and that departure has its consequences. As for Peace – I like the metaphor of flying – all of flying, including first flights, last flights, and bumps along the way. Peace then is a process, not a thing, a journey and not a destination. It is flow and not a state. Peace is the dynamic interrelationship of complex forces productive of wholeness, health and harmony. The Practice of Peace is the intentional creation of the requisite conditions under which Peace may occur. Peace, as far as I am concerned, is infinitely more than the cessation of hostilities, which often takes the form of bombing the offending parties into submission until they can no longer fight back, or each other. And Peacemaking neither starts nor ends at the negotiating table, for the objective is not just a set of treaty terms acceptable to all parties, but rather the renewal of meaningful and productive life for the planet, the nation, businesses, social institutions, the family, and each one of us. Please do not expect a radical, new approach. In fact, I believe each and every one of us already has both the knowledge and skills necessary, and the fundamental mechanism is essentially "hardwired" into our being. We have only to remember what we know, and practice what we are. I concede that the apparent simplicity of these affirmations verges on the naive. It may also be true that a blinding flash of the obvious may be good for the soul. The core mechanism referred to above is the phenomenon of self-organization, and the core practice is what we now call Open Space Technology. I will suggest that self-organization drives towards Peace and, when freely operative, is generative of the dynamic interrelationship of complex forces productive of wholeness, health and harmony. Open Space Technology (OST) is an extraordinarily simple approach which enables groups of people, large and small, to engage complex, chaotic, confusing and conflicted issues in a Peaceful fashion. Further descriptions of the approach, and its various applications are presented in the following material (see especially page 51ff), and for a complete account, please consult my book, Open Space Technology. First utilized in 1985, Open Space Technology has now been applied thousands of times, all over the world, with virtually every imaginable sort of group. It’s effectiveness as a tool for meetings is a matter of record, but many continue to find it strange, if not shocking. The reason is not hard to ascertain, for Open Space apparently violates essentially all theory and practice of group organization. The notion that large groups of conflicted people could virtually instantaneously organize their affairs and pursue their tasks without elaborate pre-planning and a host of facilitators flies in the face of what appears to be the accepted wisdom. And yet the global experience demonstrates that every time a group of people gather of their own free will, around an issue of strong common concern, the experience is repeated – provided they sit in a circle, create a bulletin board on which to identify issues, open a market place to arrange time and place particulars – and they are on their way, typically in something more than an hour. From the point of view of what I might call "standard" theory and practice, what happens not only should not happen, but could not happen. But it does. However, when viewed from what we are now learning about the power and function of self-organizing systems, the unbelievable becomes the predictable. In truth, I find the Open Space experience much more interesting as an ongoing natural experiment in which we can both experience the reality of self-organization and learn to support and enhance that experience. The phenomenon of self organization is a relatively recent discovery, and not an altogether comfortable one for those who have understood that order in our lives can only be the product of humongous effort. Recently, we have been learning that, given certain very simple
  17. 17. preconditions, order just happens. We will be taking a look at some of these new learnings in Chapter IV. From where I sit, Open Space does not contribute anything new, but rather helps us to see what is already quite functional in our midst as a naturally occurring phenomenon. But just because it occurs naturally does not mean that we can’t learn to use it, and learn to use it well, even as the natural occurrence of gravity can be used to our advantage. To the extent that self-organization in general, and Open Space Technology in particular, is productive of Peace, this is an experiment we must run. I hope that you will take everything I have to say as a testable hypothesis, which of course is a critical part of any experiment. Don’t believe a thing, and certainly not on my say so. Do it – and if the experimental results are replicated, do it again and do it better. It could just be that Peace will break out. Two Stories to Set the Stage In the early ‘90s, I happened to be in South Africa a few weeks after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. For the vast majority of the population this release was an occasion for celebration and joy, others were not so sure, and everybody felt the deep anxiety characteristic of the onset of massive social change. With the approaching end of Apartheid, a dark period of the human story was seemingly coming to a close, but how it was going to play out remained a total mystery. Some saw only bloodshed and disaster. Others envisioned the dawning of a new golden age. And somewhere in the middle, reality would set its marker. For all of the uncertainty, one thing was crystalline clear – people needed to talk to each other, quickly and very deeply. In Capetown, where I happened to be, the situation was nervous, to say the least, made all the more so by virtue of the fact that Mandela’s island prison, lay just off the coast. My hostess, Valerie Morris and her associates managed a hotel, and when they had sensed the moment, they immediately volunteered their facility as the site of potential conversation. Who, what and how remained to be determined. Their decision was made on a Sunday, and by the following Wednesday a hundred or so people had agreed to show up several days later. And it was quite a group ranging from the mayor of Capetown to young residents from the local township (Black area), with others coming from all over the local society including the ANC and Afrikaners. They all shared a common concern for their country, but most did not know each other, and certainly had had little occasion for intimate conversation up to that present moment. We met in Open Space. One hundred people sitting in a circle were invited to identify their passions and concerns for the future, announce them on sheets of paper, and take personal responsibility for their discussion. Within 20 minutes from start, multiple issues were posted on the wall, and one hour later discussions were under way. The issues were not the easy ones. Land reform, reparations, education, housing, employment – all made a showing. But the last one posted said it all. A young man from the township said, "I have one issue. Fear. My fear and our fear. And how do we get through it all." And it started. For 8 hours the discussion groups ebbed and flowed. Sometimes in anger, sometimes in silence, and occasionally with laughter. By the end of the day, we stood silently in a circle, and then shared with each other what the experience had meant. There was anger, fear, hope, despair – and at the end silence, broken by a single voice saying, "I think we are the new South Africa, and we have a lot of work to do." Final Peace did not arrive that day in Capetown. But in a very powerful sense, Peace was already there. Amidst that chaos, confusion and conflict, there was also a sense of connectedness, and people sang the songs of their homeland in the tongues of their birth. It is noteworthy that the whole enterprise was created in four days. There was one facilitator who spoke only briefly at the beginning, and never intervened in any way with any of the groups. The people did it all by themselves. A Different Tale – USWEST From a very different world, and slightly later in time (mid ‘90s) comes this story of USWEST (now known as Quest), an American local phone company which found itself in some degree of difficulty. The sources of its difficulties were multiple, including the fact that a massive "Process Re- engineering" project had failed to take into account a major shift in their market. After several years of effort, costing many millions and involving massive amounts of executive time, the new organizational design was revealed. Unfortunately, there had been an unforeseen event – major earthquakes in California, This caused many nervous Californians to seek alternative habitation, which they did in
  18. 18. such places as Washington State, Oregon, and the American Southwest – all of which constituted the service area of USWEST. The net effect was that projections for customer growth were off by wide margins, and the demand upon the system was almost more than it could tolerate. Installations of new phone lines, even emergency ones, could take as long as six months. Added into the muddle was the fact that a major part of the "re-design" included a substantial reduction of the work force – downsizing, as it was known. The net effect was a most unhappy situation, made even worse in the State of Arizona by the occurrence of a major flood. As most people know, floods are not supposed to happen in the desert, and when they do, the damage can be severe, particularly if you happen to be a phone company. For the 5000 employees of USWEST in Arizona, "unhappy" was too mild a term. Angry, frustrated, confused would come a lot closer to their reality – to the point that the union let it be known that unless there were some serious conversation with management, prior to the beginning of contract talks, it was their stated intention to "have the company for lunch," as one Union representative explained it to me. The union suggested Open Space as the means. Barely 6 weeks after the union suggestion, 160 representative of the company, including the full management team and people from all the skills, trades and geographical areas in the company found themselves sitting in a circle at 9 a.m. There had been no warm-up, no training, no agenda building, no caucuses. There was only a focusing issue, stated as "How do we fix Arizona?" And nobody had any question that it was broke. There were obvious questions, however, as to whether anybody could be civil enough, or even wanted to be civil enough, to work together for a resolution. Looking at the surrounding faces, it was apparent that most people could not figure out whether they were attending a funeral for the company or the opening rounds of civil war. Peaceful it was not. Following a brief 15 minute introduction, the assembled body answered the invitation to identify the issues and opportunities for fixing Arizona with a curious enthusiasm. Within 45 minutes, 60-70 issues had been posted on a large blank wall, people had signed up to participate in the multiple discussions, and it was off to work. The first day was intense, to say the least. Discussion raged, people came and went, and as one participant said – there was an incredible amount of anger and bitching. But it all held together, and on the second day the same participant said, "I think we are finding solutions for what we were bitching about yesterday." By the morning of the third day, it was quite a different world. Issues were prioritized, actions identified, and people accepted responsibility for carrying them out. But that was just the business side of things. Perhaps more significant was the atmosphere of the final gathering. One more time 160 people sat in a circle, but this time they were thanking each other for the opportunity to work together, and for the steps that were being taken. A final participant rose to address the group, a large union guy with tears running down his cheeks. He said something like, "As some of you know, I have had some trouble with my family. But I just want you all to know that I have found my family, and it is you." When a group traverses the treacherous ground from incipient civil war to addressing each other as members of a family, it is clear that a profound shift has taken place. It was also clear that massive amounts of chaos, confusion, and conflict remained to be dealt with, but the assembled folks had demonstrated, most importantly to themselves, that they were up for the task. Indeed, they had already been doing it. And they did it essentially all by themselves. A Starting Point It might appear from the two stories told above that Open Space Technology represents the magic bullet for Peace. That would be a profound error. It is only a start. The true power lies with the incredible capacity of self-organizing systems to create Peace for themselves and with their environment. Not all the time, not always perfectly, and not without continuing problems, but Peace, none the less. This power is owned by no one, and is available to everyone. We have only to use it. Unpacking all of this, and making it quite practical, is our task for the balance of this book. There is little need for yet another theoretical discourse on the nature of Peace, even less for impassioned exhortation. Theory is useful, and the temptation for exhortation understandable, but given the state of our world, practical application is essential. The manifestation of Peace in our personal lives, with our neighbors on this shrinking planet, and with the planet itself, is the first order of business, indeed it may be the only business – unless, of course, we choose to go out of business. Working in Open Space:.A Guided Tour ...
  19. 19. µMichael Herman§ Welcome to Open Space...look around, please, and see who's here. Imagine that you're sitting in a circle of friends, colleagues and perhaps some strangers, too. It might be just a dozen of you for a one-day working conversation, but perhaps it's 120 or even as many as 1200 gathered for a 2 1/2-day strategic conference. If it's just a few, we might be in your office conference room or a small hotel meeting place. If it's a very large group, we're likely in a hotel ballroom, a high school gymnasium, or even a warehouse facility that your company has cleared out especially for the work of this conference. In these times of swirling change, conversation qualifies as real work -- and is essential for powerful, profitable action. As specialization and customization increase, complex webs of relationships and information emerge, pressure for frontline decision-making and on-time delivery rises, and individual control seems to be slipping away, it's never been more important to be deeply connected with our partners at work. Open Space Technology is a simple, powerful way to catalyze effecitve working conversations and truly inviting organizations -- to thrive in times of swirling change. However many are here and wherever we might be, our chairs are certainly set in one large circle. Even if the circle has several concentric circles, the room is set, from the start, so that everyone can see and hear everyone else. The middle of the circle, even if it's very large, is empty and open. There are no tables or podiums, but you can see that there are half sheets of flipchart paper and markers on the floor in the center. Then you notice that someone has apparently already been busy with these markers, as there are handwritten posters hung on every wall...although there is a large (and a little suspicious) blank area that fills most of one wall under a banner that says, simply, "marketplace." Someone sits down next to you, probably an old friend, somebody you know, but perhaps haven't seen for awhile. You begin a conversation, "well, hello...good morning...I didn't expect to find you here...gosh, how long has it been, how are your kids...well of course I should have known you'd be interested in this...how did you hear about it...I thought of you when I first saw the invitation...glad you were able to move your schedule to be here...wouldn't have missed this for the world...what do you suppose is going to happen...not sure, but I know we need to do something about..." Your conversation is repeated around the room as others arrive and connect. They join you sitting in the circle or stand at the edges, talking with people they know or people they are connecting with for the first time. Some are sitting quietly by themselves, taking in the whole scene, glancing at the notes they've brought, or perhaps having a look at a one- or two-page handout that might have been placed on every chair. There is a table with coffee and juice, doughnuts, bagels, fresh fruit. Everyone is eating or drinking something. And everyone is here for a purpose, having received an invitation and having made whatever simple or grand arrangements it took to get themselves here this morning. Everyone is here because they've chosen to be here, because the theme or issue or question at hand is something they have real passion about -- and because they saw this gathering as a unique opportunity for connecting with others who are eager to learn about, plan for, and take action in an area that they see as critical to the success of their own interests, the work of their organization(s), and/or their relationships with colleagues, customers or suppliers. The invitation itself was very simple, probably just a page or two, maybe a short email or postcard, or even something posted on a bulletin board. It spoke plainly about what's working, what's possible, and/or what's needed now in some area of real importance. It was clearly not an invitation to complain or even "solve problems," but rather to co-create some dimension of the organization, the community, or the world that we all really want to be a part of. This doesn't mean that it denied or in any way minimized the importance of existing problems, only that it really focused attention on our strengths and assets -- and invited people to work together to create more of them. If circumstances allowed, you received this invitation well in advance of the gathering date(s), so that you could plan your schedule around it. A late invitation just isn't as open, credible and welcoming as one sent in advance, whatever "in advance" means in your organization. Alternatively, this gathering could be an urgent call to respond to some new situation or opportunity that's popped up. Either way, the invitation announced the theme (purpose or intention) for this gathering and provided a brief explanation (or reminder) about its importance or connection to your life. Perhaps it also invited you to spread the word, to other people you know who are interested in this work. We should note, here, that Open Space can only fail for two reasons: if people show up with no passion and/or if somebody tries to control the process in order to achieve some sort of pre-
  20. 20. determined outcome(s). And, the commitment to openness, passion and responsible self-organization begins with the invitation process itself. The theme or purpose on which we've been invited to work was open, broad, and demands a creative, collective response. The invitation was extended to a diverse group of stakeholders and clearly stated the parameters for our work here. And, to the greatest extent possible, everyone here is participating voluntarily, because they have discovered that they have something to learn or contribute to the work we need to do. The simple, clear, broad and open invitation process assures that the people who show up have real passion for the issue AND signals to them that the best outcomes are theirs to create. A good invitation lets everyone know, even those who can't or won't actually attend, that this meeting is intended to go beyond suggestions, beyond recommendations, beyond rubber-stamping, beyond past expectations. This meeting is for real responsibility, real learning, real action on the issue(s) at hand. Even if the number of attendees had be limited, for financial or other concerns, this could and should have been done in ways that don't limit the passion and possibility of the work. So, as you look around at the crowd assembling now in the main meeting room, you are aware that everybody in this diverse group somehow received the same invitation, that everybody here seems to have some connection to the theme question, but that nobody seems to really know exactly what will happen next. The level of anticipation and energy rises as the stated starting time arrives and seems to pass, the noise level in room rises, too -- and then a totally new sound rings through the room. Someone is ringing a small set of bells whose chiming pierces every conversation, even if the group is several hundred. This immediately invites and focuses everyone's attention on the one with the bells, who is standing with a person who nearly everyone in the room knows, or knows of. This familiar person is the leader of the sponsoring or planning group. She introduces herself, welcomes everyone into the meeting and into the circle, perhaps adding a very brief word about why we've all come here today. Then she introduces the bell ringer as the meeting facilitator and takes a chair in the circle with everyone else. At this moment, the facilitator is, quite possibly, the only one in the room who has absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this group of 12, 120 or 1200 is on the brink of filling that large, suspiciously empty wall with a detailed agenda that will keep everyone working, playing, and learning for the duration of the conference -- on the brink of what most (at this point) would call the impossible. The sense of anticipation and energy is so high in the room that even the sponsors and planners of the event are a little edgy, and eager for the agenda to appear. But first, a few instructions must be given, a few simple principles introduced, one basic law enacted, and a few logistical items explained. All of this, you notice, is also presented on the handful of posters that are scattered around the room. The facilitator begins with an invitation to do what you've already been doing, looking around the room, seeing who's here, signaling good morning to the people you know and taking notice of any faces new to you. The theme is restated and briefly explained, perhaps a short story of how we got here, with the reminder that everyone you now see in the circle is here because they care about some aspect of this theme -- and have chosen to be here, to learn from and contribute to the work at hand. The facilitator also explains that the big empty wall is, in fact, our agenda. He acknowledges that it is a giant empty space, but reassures us that it will, within the hour, be filled with discussion topics related to the theme. He makes it very clear that all of these breakout session topics will be proposed by us, the people now sitting in the circle. The logistics of this are equally clear. While the reality of this responsibility sinks in, the Four Principles are explained. What seemed strange when you read the posters earlier, now seems to make a lot of sense. "Whoever comes is the right people" acknowledges that the only people really qualified or able to do great work on any issue are those who really care, and freely choose to be involved. "Whenever it starts is the right time" recognizes that spirit and creativity don't run on the clock, so while we're here, we'll all keep a vigilant watch for great ideas and new insights, which can happen at anytime. "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have" allows everyone to let go of the could haves, would haves and should haves, so that we can give our full attention to the reality of what is happening, is working, and is possible right now. And finally, "When it's over, it's over" acknowledges that you never know just how long it'll take to deal with a given issue, and reminds us that getting the work done is more important than sticking to an arbitrary schedule. Taken together, these principles say "work hard, pay attention, but be prepared to be surprised!" The one law is The Law of Two Feet, or in some cases, The Law of Personal Mobility. It says simply that you, and only you, know where you can learn and contribute the most to the work that must take place today. It demands that you use your two feet to go where you need to go and do what you need