Open Space Technology Meeting

Open Space is the only process that focuses on expanding time and space for the force of self-organization to do its thing. Although one cannot predict specific outcomes, it is always highly productive for whatever issue people want to attend to. Some of the inspiring side effects that are regularly noted are laughter, hard work which feels like play, surprising results and fascinating new questions.

Michael M. Pannwitz, Open Space practitioner


What is it?

Open Space Technology (OST) is an approach to purpose-driven leadership, including a way for hosting meetings, conferences, corporate-style retreats, symposiums, and community summit events, focused on a specific and important purpose or task — but beginning without any formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme.

In 1985, eighty five participants gathered in Monterey for The Third Annual International Symposium on Organization Transformation. The first two iterations of this continuing international event were organized in a most traditional manner: papers, panels, and all the rest. But the consensus of participants was that, despite monumental planning effort extending over a long time, the real excitement came in the coffee breaks. Which, of course, were not planned at all. And so, the Third International Symposium, hosted by Harrison Owen, was going to be different: at the point of arrival, the participants knew only when things would start, when they would conclude, and generally what the theme might be. There was no agenda, no planning committee, no management committee, but only the theme of the symposium and then simply "open the space" for participants to self-organize around the issues and opportunities they saw as essential to their purpose. Seen by proponents as especially scalable and adaptable, the OST event format has been used on all continents, in thousands of meetings of 5 to around 2,000 people.

The OST format led to the appearance of unconferences, also called Open Space conferences, which are participant-driven meetings. Typically, at an unconference the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space. Unconferences typically feature open discussions rather than having a single speaker at the front of the room giving a talk. This form of conference is particularly useful when the attendees generally have a high level of expertise or knowledge in the field the conference convenes to discuss.


How does it work?

A meeting room or space prepared for Open Space has letters or numbers around the room to indicate meeting locations and a blank board that will become the agenda. Anyone willing to propose a theme for group discussion is called a "convener". The convener writes the issue on a piece of paper and places it on the board, choosing a meeting location. This process continues until there are no more agenda items. The participants consult the agenda board, by now covered with a variety of sessions, and take note of the place for sessions they want to be involved in. Groups convene in the meeting locations and the convener starts the discussion. Then, everybody participates.

Open Space operates under four principles and one law. The four principles are:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  3. When it starts is the right time.
  4. When it's over, it's over.

The Law is known as the Law of Two Feet:

"If you find yourself in a situation where you are not contributing or learning, move somewhere where you can."