Always something else to learn about open space

21 September 2010 2 By Viv McWaters

Yesterday I watched my friend and colleague, Johnnie Moore, open space. It’s always a joy to watch other facilitators at work (especially those that are as masterful as Johnnie) – something that doesn’t happen that much for those of us working alone.

Here’s some of what I picked up – much of which I’ll be trying next time I open space.

Johnnie did a great job of connecting with the audience, nearly all of whom were experiencing open space for the first time, by telling a story of the experience of the process and blending the principles into that narrative. He did this without explicitely naming the principles, and I thought it sounded much less stilted than my more pedestrian approach.

He further built the story of open space by talking about different ways of creating an agenda for a meeting and pointing out that the agenda for this meeting was blank. He brought the materials into the centre of the circle as he explained the process.¬†Until I saw this it never occurred to me that it could be done this way. Now it’s so obvious. Just proves my point about the need to be vigilent about disrupting patterns of thinking and behaving – others’ and our own!

One of the difficulties of posting open space topics is that many people are prone to link their topic with someone else’s because they appear to be similar. Sometimes even 4 or 5 topics are clumped together because of a common key word. I’m always wary of this. I took part in an open space session where two topics were joined together and the whole conversation revolved around the two leaders arguing over what they really meant. It would have been far better to have had two separate sessions. So I really liked Johnnie’s advice to the participants to NOT colonise other people’s topics and to honour the individual offerings made.

And I particularly liked the way he named and described how to have a ‘bad’ experience of open space: wait for someone else to take the lead, don’t propose a session on a topic you’re really interested in, stay in boring conversations, and grumble at the end that nothing worthwhile happened. Just brilliant.