Making Open Space work LO13192

Doug Reeler (
Fri, 11 Apr 1997 19:12:21 +0200

Stimulated by Susan Inches' comment that:

' Open Space is recognized internationally as an innovative approach to
creating whole systems change and enhancing human performance. It is used
in organizations world-wide to create shared vision, new product ideas,
marketing strategies, customer service strategies and implemention plans.'

and having used Open Space (OS) many times, I would like to open a
discussion to explore why it works -and therefore what principles can be
learnt and applied elsewhere - and how it can be improved.

First of all I do think it is an innovative design and can produce some
exciting results. For me the essence or power of OS is that it pays
enormous respect to each individual participating in the workshop, by
elevating each of their passions and needs t o an equal place on the
agenda (ie no-one is overshadowed by any expert) and by giving them
complete freedom to choose where to go and where to stay. But it does not
allow them to be free but rather it challenges them to be free (the Law of
Two feet?). T his for me provides the creative tension for each
participant and gives the workshop part of its life-force. Strong
community must also be based on the willing association of free
individuals and OS provides a fairly quick route to that.

One of the problems I have experienced with OS is that sometimes the level
or depth of discussion in the small groups remains shallow and seldom gets
to very deep dialogue. I know that true dialogue needs more space but I
do feel that the design of OS co uld be improved. One thing that I do at
the front end of an OS workshop is to have a 1.5 hour listening fours
workshop (based on the Rudolph Steiner notion of reflective listening at
the thoughts, feeling and will (head, heart and feet) levels of each pe
rson. This exercise establishes a marvellous listening culture to the
whole workshop as well as helping participants to explore and tease out
their ideas, feelings and motivations prior to being asked to contribute
to the OS agenda. Two friends of mine are considering doing some LO
dialogue input and exercises for an Open Space they are due to facilitate.
These ideas do not disturb the elegant simplicity of the OS design -
although that is not sacrosanct, as I know some people feel it should be -
but do enhance it.

I look forward to a discussion.

Doug Reeler


Doug Reeler <>

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