Open Space Technology | Harrison Owen

Summary of: Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide
By: Harrison Owen


Dive into the world of Open Space Technology (OST) with this summary of Harrison Owen’s book, ‘Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide’. Learn how the four basic components – a circle, breath, a bulletin board, and a marketplace – can create an environment that promotes open, enthusiastic communication among participants. Discover how OST has been used in diverse settings and situations, from large conferences to intimate management teams, and how it can address unspoken business issues and bring people together to work through conflicts.

Open-Space Technology

The book emphasizes that computers are not necessary for an open-space conference. Handwritten or typed notes can be used. However, a series of computers can be set up for information entry by group leaders or reporters. The focus must be on a crucial business issue of concern. It is essential to provide a written record as quickly as possible, irrespective of formatting, to allow non-attendees to go through it.

Effective problem-solving with Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology (OST) is an effective approach for organizations to conduct discussions that surface underlying issues. Unlike traditional command-and-control approaches, OST gives all participants an equal opportunity to voice their concerns. OST helps to unite people from diverse backgrounds and work through even the most challenging conflicts. The approach has been successful in the transformation of the U.S. Forest Service organization and divisions in South Africa and Venezuela. Through this method, individuals can see that they are talking about the same issues and work together towards a solution.

Open Space Technology Essentials

Open Space Technology (OST) is a productive approach for bringing diverse people together to work on complex or conflicting issues. However, it is important to consider whether it is appropriate for your situation. OST is suitable for dealing with a question that no one person can answer, but avoid using it if you already know the answer or want to control the search for it. OST is effective in encouraging creativity, self-motivation, and synergy, but it may not work for employees with very different cultural styles. Before using OST, determine what you want to achieve and select an issue that people truly care about. Voluntary participation is a critical component, as it requires passion and responsibility from the participants. With OST, everyone has the right and responsibility to place items on the agenda, which can help address important business issues that may have been neglected. The combination of passion and responsibility is what drives OST forward.

Optimal Participation in OST Meetings

To ensure the success of Open Space Technology (OST) meetings, voluntary self-selection of participants is crucial. Individuals who are sincerely committed and interested in the issues at hand must attend to make the conference effective. The size of the group does not matter, but face-to-face interaction in a single space is usually necessary, although cyberspace can be used to include more people.

Organizing Effective Open Space Technology Events

Open space technology is an effective approach for bringing people together to deal with complex and innovative issues. To organize a successful event, it’s essential to inspire interest by keeping the invitation short and straightforward. The event duration should depend on its purpose, but it shouldn’t exceed three days. It’s recommended to select one large main room with breakout spaces, and to avoid interrupting the event with speakers or meal breaks. To facilitate the program, you’ll need essential supplies such as masking tape, markers, flip charts, and Post-it notes.

Are you looking for an effective approach to organize events that enable groups of diverse people to deal with complex issues in innovative ways? Open space technology (OST) might be the solution for you. This kind of event creates a safe and flexible environment where participants engage in productive discussions and leave with action plans. However, to organize a successful OST event, you will need to follow some essential guidelines.

First, the invitation is the first step in attracting participants and getting them interested in the event. Don’t send out a full agenda with explanations, as the real agenda will come from the participants. Instead, keep your invitations short and straightforward, much like the first paragraph of a good story, to stimulate prospective participants’ imagination. Beyond the location, time, and logistics, your invitations should catch their interest and let their imaginations take the story from there.

The length of the event should depend on the purpose. Generally, a full day is necessary for people to get into the spirit of the event and inspire a “very intense, meaningful, and productive discussion.” However, doing more, such as recording the results of the proceedings, generally requires two days. To create an action plan, you need a third day so participants can prioritize their concerns, focus on the most important issues, and create a plan detailing what to do next. Don’t schedule OST events for more than three days because people are usually too tired from the high energy input to get much accomplished after that time.

The event space chosen should include one large main room where all participants can sit in a circle or, at most, in two or three concentric circles. The room should also have at least one open, blank wall without interruptions such as doors, windows, or pictures, so participants can use it as a bulletin board to post notices about topics of interests. Additionally, breakout spaces are necessary so people can meet together in small groups.

During the event, it’s essential to focus only on the open space activity. Avoid interrupting it with anything else, as that will dilute the group’s focus. If you have any speakers for the group to hear, schedule them before the OST event so people can fully concentrate on the event once it starts. The best approach to coffee and meals during an OST event is to allow people to eat when they want. You can have an open buffet or provide easy access to nearby restaurants. This way, formal meal breaks won’t interrupt the action.

To facilitate the program, you’ll need essential supplies such as several rolls of masking tape, colored ink markers (about half as many markers as participants), flip charts for each breakout room, and lots of Post-it notes. If you have more than 75 people, use a microphone so everyone can hear everyone else.

In conclusion, OST is an effective approach for uniting groups of enormous diversity in their education, ethnicity, economics, politics, culture, social position, or all of the above. It’s particularly useful when nobody knows the answer, and ongoing participation is required to deal with the questions. By following the guidelines mentioned above to organize your next OST event, you’ll create a safe, productive, and innovative environment, where participants’ creativity, synergy, and self-motivation will thrive.

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