What is Open Space

Open Space technology was created Harrison Owen in an attempt to find improved methods to bring people together to collaborate, learn and solve problems.  Harrison experienced (like many of us have) that attending conferences and symposiums, he received the most value out of the informal discussions that happened as people were gathering for breaks, meals and/or between the scheduled sessions at the conference.  The intent of Open Space technology is to allow people who have a common interest to gather and self-organize focusing to invest their time discussing and collaborating on the topics that those present are most interested in.  Hence rather than planning a formal program and assigning people to speak/present at set times, we ask those interested in learning / discussing to present themselves and as a group we will self organize to focus on the topics of the greatest interest.  Regardless of if you have ideas to share, or are simply interested in attending and listening to others that are sharing, Open Space provides a mechanism for all to be involved and learn.


How it works (simplified version):

  • All participants gather in the Opening Circle at the designated start time.
  • Members of the group are then invited to share ideas for discussions, activities and/or presentations during the opening circle.
  • As ideas are shared, they are assigned to a space and time when those interested can gather to discuss / participate – a simple grid (called the Marketplace) is posted and used to help participants keep track of the location and timing of each topic.
  • If you submit a topic, idea or question for a space, you become a “convener” – a convener need not be an expert, but rather is someone who is willing to gather those interested in the topic, idea or question and begin the discussion – once the discussion begins, those interested (not necessarily the convener) can determine where it goes, and when the discussion / topic ends.
  • Participants then attend the sessions / activities that interest them most, having the freedom to shift of session to session (and/or find a space and throw a new idea on the grid at any time).
  • At the end of the event, all return to the Closing Circle to share key learnings, takeaways, and appreciations from the Open Space experience.


An “Open Space” experiment for November 2015:

For the November 2015 Open Space, we are conducting an experiment seeking to defer commitment to specific topics, questions & activities within the Open Space until the “last responsible moment” – the goal of this experiment is to ensure there is time & awareness to accommodate new ideas that may emerge through the Open Space and overcome the challenge that can occur when the marketplace fills up in the morning leaving no time (or space) for new ideas that come up later in the day.

  • Following the morning circle, we will only populate the marketplace for the morning time slots.
  • Following lunch we will convene another circle in the main gathering area, during the afternoon circle, we will populate the marketplace for the remainder of the day.


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