Free Open Space Conferences

Posted by Doc
Mar 28 2010

I find it fascinating that there’s a common attitude amongst various of the communities I work with that Open Space events should be free. In fact, I just had a conversation* about this with a friend in Austin. It stumps me that people have this attitude.

First of all, most of the people who attend Open Space events would tell you that these are among the most valuable events they attend. Then, I also find that people are coming to some of these Open Spaces from all over the world, because they know how valuable they will be. Whether they drive or fly, they are typically spending their own money to get their, and sometimes substantial amounts of money.

It does cost money to put these events on. So let’s do a little bit of math…

Let’s say that it costs $5K to put on an event, and the organizers decide to cap attendance at 150 people. The hardest part of these things is to find sponsors – someone to cover the venue, someone to cover food, and someone to cover supplies and such. In my experience, the organizers spend substantial time just trying to find sponsors.

$5K, 150 people. Hmm – if 150 people paid $50 each, that’d be $7500, which is probably enough. And if they paid $100 each, that should be more than enough, depending on the venue and the cost of the food.

How much would you spend for a weekend event that you knew would be particularly valuable? $250? $500? $1000? So why not $50 or $100?

The example I gave to my friend was this: suppose that 20 of the colleagues that you like and respect most said “Let’s get together and talk about stuff we really care about, and let’s split the cost.” How much would you be willing to put up? $25? $50? $100?

I’m not suggesting that the organizers of these events should be looking to make money. I am suggesting a model in which they break even by sharing the cost with the participants. Is that unreasonable?

We won’t even talk about PAYING for the facilitator, who is a professional, eh? 😉

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* Okay, I ranted and he listened politely. And then he said “oh – I get it – that makes sense!”

3 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven (Doc) List, Brandon Satrom and Todd Reade, IASA Austin. IASA Austin said: RT @athought: Blogged: Free Open Space Conferences http://www.stevenlist.com/blog/2010/03/28/free-open-space-conferences/ […]

  2. bonniea says:

    While I’m not opposed to charging for Open Space events, doing so changes the character of the event’s body politic, so to speak. It sparks a chain reaction of questions of what you would like the event to look like and how it should be shaped by the participants.

    Neither is bad, just different.

  3. Doc says:

    I don’t agree that charging changes the character. While in the Alt.Net community, and various other technical communities, the bias has been toward free events, in many other communities they pay for the event. Where the event is “free” it’s usually internal to a company/organization or geopolitical entity. In that case, the “sponsor” is paying for the whole thing.

    Some of my objection is personal/professional: as a professional Open Space facilitator, clients pay me to facilitate their events. And yet in the technical community, it seems to have become expected that facilitators work for free. On the few occasions that I’ve tried to get a colleague to step in where I’m not available, there is a lot of resistance. And I think that’s reasonable. If we’re not getting paid, why should we give up our time (usually our weekend time)? What’s the benefit?

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