Open Space facilitation

Posted by Doc
May 05 2010

Dan Mezick, a colleague who had engaged me to facilitate an event (Agile Boston Open 2010), asked me about my behavior during the event. That is, he noted “As a practitioner, I noticed that during the event, you stayed in a neutral space and did not circulate when not doing facilitation tasks. I am eager to discuss this with you at some point.”

In fact, while I did circulate (he was very busy as the organizer and a participant), that circulation fit within my concept of my role. Here’s what I wrote to Dan:

Regarding my behavior at the event…

Harrison Owen talks about what I refer to as “invisible presence”. I remain very conscious that the event is not mine, nor about me. My value lies in holding space and holding time, as well as “igniting the spirit” (my term) and providing the opportunity for closure and continuation.

The opening: this is where I believe my responsibility is to ignite the spirit of the community, and to connect the individuals into something larger than themselves. While that responsibility includes guiding the process, my focus remains on helping the community that is present to form and grow.

The closing: “When it’s over, it’s over,” as Harrison Owen says. “And when it’s not over, it’s not over,” as Doc says. 😉 That is, the end of the event is an opportunity for people to share, and to absorb from other people’s sharing. The closing circle has a different flow of energy than that experienced at the opening, and it’s no less important. The chance to share one’s thoughts and feelings, and to feel a connection with others who share those thoughts and feelings, is extremely powerful. My responsibility is to guide them, encourage them, and to assure them that it’s all right to share and to feel.

In between: This is the interesting part. Harrison often says “find more ways to do less.” My focus during this time is on the process, and in allowing the participants to self-organize. It might be tempting to engage with the participants, to join sessions, or to otherwise be a part of the event. I believe that my role is not to do any of those, although on occasion I have participated in a session. Mostly, though, I take responsibility for making sure that things keep moving, that the participants have a sense of ownership, and for helping to keep things clean. That’s not to say that I’m disengaged. Rather, I have a vision, a sense, of what my role is and what my responsibilities are, and that’s where I try to stay. That’s why the place I choose to spend my time is generally out of the direct flow of traffic, but visible and accessible. It’s important to me that people know where to find me, are aware that I’m there and available, but do not feel that I’m trying to control things or in any way intrude on their event/experience.

4 Responses

  1. Twitter Comment


    bookmarked: Open Space facilitation | The Doctor Is In [link to post]

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  2. nate delgado says:

    i find your thoughts on open space interesting. i’m on the organizing committee for agile open california (well NorCal now). most of my work is done prior to the event. helping to find a location, website work, snagging volunteers, and doing agile evangelism anyway i can ( i would do that if i was part of the conference or not). during the actual event i spend a chunk of time delegating duties to volunteers, but i do have time to hop into sessions. the self-organizing of sessions fascinates me. i’ve only been doing this for 3 years and i’m still amazed. my best memories of past conferences comes from spontaneous meetings outside of sessions. our last conference was in SF and walking along the marina was an environment conducive to this process.

    i’m new to the open space and agile worlds still, but the self-organizing, if in session or not, is the beauty of it all. your thoughts shed light on what must go through our facilitators mind. she is awesome at removing herself from the process and allowing what happens, happen.

    thanks for the interesting post.

    • Doc says:

      You’ve got me curious about who your facilitator is. And I’d love to talk with you about organizing an Agile Open, as I’m thinking of doing one in Texas.

  3. Twitter Comment


    @julezwitschert @IlIlIIlIlIlIlII re: last nite’s convers’n RT @ipreuss: Open Space facilitation | The Doctor Is In [link to post]

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