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Open Space Technology


OPEN SPACE ACROSS THE WORLD


Open Space Technology (OST) is being used more and more often as a process of choice – for conferences, meetings, planning, learning and sharing information; in situations that include diversity, potential conflict, rapid and on-going change, and when there is no clear direction or no one knows the “answer”. OST provides a forum for those people in organizations and communities who are not in positions of power, alongside established leaders, to share critical wisdom and experience, but also to take responsibility for those things they have an interest in and passion for. And it works with groups from 10-1000 participants.

The following examples are representational of non-business programs that have enabled incredible po


* An event for 250 local politicians from all over Sweden

* A contract for a large group process from the Scottish Parliament, including the Social inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. This first event was held at one of the universities in Glasgow. There were 88 attendees, drawn from a wide range of public, voluntary and community bodies from all over Scotland, helping to form the next two years of agenda for the Social Justice Committee. So the event was to raise issues, not action points. A total of 57 issues was raised and discussed in small groups, and the whole group posted 12 further issues they would have liked to work on, if there had been time.

* A group of 550 teachers, parents, local residents and administrators in an American school district met to discuss, and in some cases argue over, how to improve education and deal with the districts budget crisis. Setting their own agenda, topics included the district’s money management, shortening the school week and cutting staff, the food service plan, dealing with unwilling and failing students, even the possibility of closing the school. By the end of the meeting the group had drawn up a list of guidelines for reviewing school closures, including community need, the ability of neighboring schools to absorb additional students, the cost of operations and maintenance, and a list of alternatives to school closings. The proceedings of the meeting were then used by the school board in their restructuring process.

* Several divisions of the US National Forest Service used Open Space around issues including recycling and with 224 people representing 65 organizations to meet on the issue of access to public land.

* Seventy-two people from local governments, NGOs, medical staff, journalists, users, ex-users etc. in mental health in Brasov, Romania. The event lasted one and half days and the commitment for implementing the priorities was 95%! At last count, the priorities are being realized in five cities and through one steering group on national policy.

* A most wonderful OS last year was with 30 student council representatives from a local high school aged 13 through 19 - two and a half days of action planning. They took to it like fish to water. They then invited us to their regular session in their school a week later. And they did it in open space...I have never seen such immediate transfer. Of course, it worked, everyone was flabbergasted...after decades the first productive session: 2 hours total with next steps being reported from 8 issue groups...pretty close to what I think could be an inspired organization. If the kids take to Open Space there may well be hope for our species on this planet.

* The US Peace Corps has used Open Space all over the world with its Youth Development programs, and within the span of two years, changed how the Peace Corps helps its volunteers prepare for and organize their work. The training department was responsible for providing technical support to more than 6,500 volunteers in 90 countries. The contrast between Open Space and our traditional meetings was powerful, especially in terms of energy and commitment.

* One large Provincial Ministry (in Canada) uses OST for various types of gatherings, from financial planning, IT implementation, cross jurisdictional community building, establishing communities of practice with regard to agility. One group is looking at Open Space every 2 months. Another for forums involving business and government across the Province.

*...I just completed a pre-conference workshop for the International Association of Facilitators on how Open Space transforms our understanding of facilitation. After developing the theme the group went for an afternoon and the next morning in Open Space. The overnight was critical to the breakthroughs. The ‘ah ha's’ that next morning were the high point.

* A program to introduce OS as a planning process in a local government authority in Adelaide, South Australia. The CEO of a planning and architectural firm suggested that OS be used initially to find out what the residents of Marion, a city comprising several suburbs of greater metropolitan Adelaide, making up a population of about 80 000, wished to see happen in their proposed new cultural center. What emerged was a total surprise to the planners and architects. Several components they had deemed to be important, included in their planning document, such as a library and art gallery, were not touched on in the community consultations based on OS. Instead, passion expressed by participants was for elements which could be construed as 'the heart of the cultural center,' such as a performing arts facility, a meeting place for ideas, links with a local Aboriginal center, a drop-in venue for young people, and design of the external environs.
* A group in the cardiac surgery section of the Operating Room in a large urban hospital met to explore the issue: 'Given our current caseload, how can we increase efficiency so we all get home on time?' This may seem straight forward, but it's a very complex problem involving everyone from cleaning staff to nursing staff to cardiac surgeons to anesthesiologists to equipment attendants. Add to the stew the traditional hierarchy within health care, half a dozen hidden agendas, and the involvement of several layers of self-employed professionals as well as employees from five different unions.

* Invitations were extended to 150 administrators, teachers, students, and community leaders (including the Police) on 'Safe Schools' and included school board staff, administrators, a few teachers, students, community police, and social service personnel. There is great turmoil between teachers unions, the boards and the government in Ontario, Canada, so the number of teachers was less than hoped for. About 100 came. However, it was a resoundingly successful Open Space, with strong relationships forming, 35 small group session reports shared and distributed to all, high spirits and real sharing of ideas all around.

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