Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology

Sep 15, 2021

Open Space Technology (OST) is an approach to hosting meetings, conferences, corporate retreats, or symposiums, focused on a specific and important purpose or task – but beginning without any formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme.

The participants create the agenda for themselves, in the first 30–90 minutes of the meeting or event.

This approach works best when there are high levels of

  • Complexity, in terms of the tasks to be done or outcomes achieved;
  • Diversity, in terms of the people involved and/or needed to make any solution work;
  • Conflict, real or potential, meaning people really care about the central issue or purpose; and
  • Urgency, meaning that the time to act was "yesterday".

Typical meeting process

At the beginning of an open space the participants sit in a circle.

The facilitator greets the people, briefly re-states the theme of their gathering and invites them to spend the next ten minutes, say, in thinking through and identifying any issue or opportunity related to the theme.

When the time is up, any participants willing to raise a topic go to the centre of the circle, write a very short description on a sheet of paper and announce it to the group, post it on the bulletin board, and assign it a space and time to meet.

Anyone may call for a topic; however, if they do so, they are expected to start the discussion on it and make sure that a report of the discussion is posted so that content is available to all. The only limit on the number of issues that get posted is the number of people who take responsibility for a topic getting discussed.

When all issues have been identified and posted, participants sign up and attend those individual sessions, which typically last for 90 minutes.

If the person who announced the topic is the only one to show up for a session, they can use the session as free time to think the issue through and record their thoughts as a contribution to the proceedings, join another discussion leader on a related topic and see if they're open to joining topics together, or drop the topic altogether. However, they must post a report, indicating how they resolved the situation.

The attendees are free to decide which session they want to attend, and may switch to another one at any time. This supports different styles of participation as many people like to sample before landing.

If at any time during the exercise participants lose interest and get bored in a breakout session, or accomplish and share all that they can and are neither learning nor contributing, they should ‘use their two feet’ and go somewhere else.

Whenever an issue or conversation is finished, they should move on to the next thing and not keep rehashing just because there's 30 minutes left in the session.

All discussion reports are compiled in a document on site and sent to participants, unedited, shortly after.