Open Space

Open Space Technology, as identified by Harrison Owen, is sometimes referred to as “un-meetings” or “un-conferences”.

Organizers and attendees alike agree that the Facilitator is a critical element in the success of any Open Space event, whether it is an internal meeting or a public conference.

An attendee at ALT.NET Calgary, Adam (AdamDotCom) said:

“Thanks for facilitating the ALT.NET conference in Calgary. Observing your openness, venerability, and integrity within a technical setting shattered my view of the traditional technical realm. Previous to this event, I had been perceiving the technical setting as a sterile (often hostile) environment. Now, I find myself embracing relationships, conversations, communication, and team work more. I find myself happier, and more enthusiastic about life in general.

Keep up the great work! I’m also enjoying your blog!


Followed by Howard Dierking, Editor-in-Chief, MSDN Magazine

” It is quite true Ð you have a very disarming, perhaps even fatherly approach to managing groups of incredibly talented but high-strung individuals; and I think that without that approach, events like ALT.NET would likely devolve into little more than shouting matches.


According to Simon Guest of Microsoft:

“I first met Doc at the ALT.NET conference in Austin, TX in 2007. In my opinion Doc is one of the leading open space faciliators in the industry – the attentiveness, preparation, and passion that he showed at the ALT.NET conference made the event come together for all of the attendees. I am looking forward to working with Doc at other open space opportunities this coming year.”

According to David Laribee of Xclaim Software:

Simply put: Doc is an amazing Open Spaces facilitator. An excellent speaker and consummate “people person” he latched on to the Open Spaces concept right away and guided a group of very opinionated and seasoned people through the process. Doc was a key ingredient in making this an event to remember, and when planning the next event one of our first questions was: “can we get Doc?”

Read “A Description of Open Space Technology” by Lisa Heft

From Wikipedia:

In Open Space, a facilitator explains the process and then participants are invited to co-create the agenda and host their own discussion groups. Discussions are held in designated areas or separate rooms known as ‘breakout spaces’ and participants are free to move amongst the discussion groups. Each group records the conversations in a form which can be used to distribute or broadcast the proceedings of the meeting (in hard copy, blog, podcast, video, etc). Online networking can occur both before and following the actual face-to-face meetings so discussions can continue seamlessly. In a multi-day Open Space, participants have the opportunity to announce new discussion topics / late-breaking sessions each new morning. At the end of the day (or 2 days or 2.5 days) the full group reconvenes for comments and reflection. This helps participants to re-engage in the full group over the duration of the meeting.

While the mechanics of Open Space provide a simple means to self-organize, it is the underlying principles that make it effective both for meetings and as a guidepost for individual and collective effectiveness. The Law of Two Feet (also known as the Law of Mobility in settings where participants don’t necessarily have the use of both feet) — a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility — expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you’re neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can. It is also a reminder to stand up for your passion. From the law, flow four principles:

  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over

People can choose different roles for participation in Open Space meetings:

  • Host: the person who feels a burning passion for the subject and is willing to take responsibility to call the conversation, invite others in and make sure something gets harvested.
  • Participant: Anyone who is drawn to a conversation wants to stay the whole time and participate fully.
  • Bumble bee: The ones who move from conversation to conversation cross-pollinating the learning.
  • Butterfly: A butterfly may not want to be in any conversation, instead they prefer to sit on the lawn and look beautiful. A new, unexpected conversation may happen when two butterflies meet.

The organizing theme of an Open Space meeting is that people who care about the subject will come together. The initial meeting notice takes the form of an invitation, thus the people who have attended have chosen to be there and are willing to contribute. The objectives for the meeting and the time available affect design decisions such as whether action planning is included in the Open Space or not.

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