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Open Space Facilitation

Open space technology (OST) has been used around the world for the past 40 years. It began because Owen Harrison designed and planned an international conference for over a year. When it was completed, much of the feedback, although complimentary, emphasised how the majority of the best work was done during the coffee breaks. It was during these breaks that new deals were made, products designed, contacts forged, and collaborative visioning emerged. The next conference that Owen Harrison designed was therefore ‘all coffee break’ thereby harnessing the energy for emergent design, problem solving and action planning. Open space technology was born.

Since then, OST has been used in more than 60 countries by a wide range of companies, community groups and non-profit organisations. These include: Accor, Guinness, ICI, Ikea, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Shell and World Bank.


What is open space technology?
Open space technology (OST) is “at the very least, a new way to hold better meetings. The normative experience is that groups, large and small (from five to one thousand members), self-organise to effectively deal with hugely complex issues in a very short time.” (Owen Harrison, originator)


How else has it been described?

  • A meeting methodology

  • Organisation transformation

  • Emergent self-organisation

  • Enables groups of any size to come together around complex, important issues and accomplish a unique and meaningful outcome

  • An event where people discuss their heartfelt concerns

  • Emphasises personal responsibility

  • It involves playfulness and high learning

  • An event with appropriate structure and appropriate control



Why and when would you use OST for your next conference, planning meeting or visioning?

  • Where a diverse group of people is involved

  • The issue being discussed is sufficiently complex, and may involve some potential conflict

  • Nobody knows ‘the answer’

  • Ongoing participation is required for a successful outcome

  • The format is supported by senior management

  • Senior management genuinely want all staff/participants to be involved

  • Response time to the issue under discussion is ‘yesterday’

  • No hidden agenda is held

  • The organisation is looking for an innovative way to deal with the issues

  • The organisation is genuinely interested in tapping into the creative potential of its people and providing a space in which this can emerge

  • Stability and the usual methods of problem solving have not delivered a sufficient plan of action for the issues

  • The organisation embraces a degree of chaos as a path to creative problem solving and planning its future



What is the format of an OST event?

  • The ‘sponsor’ (usually the MD or CEO) and the facilitator jointly craft the issue as a question or statement

  • The sponsor and the facilitator jointly craft an invitation

  • This invitation is forwarded to staff who are free to accept or reject the invitation

  • The event is commenced by the facilitator, who explains the process, the guidelines and each person’s responsibility

  • The event is then self-organising, by those present

  • The guidelines of the event are:


Whoever comes are the right people
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened
Whenever it starts is the right time
When it’s over, it’s over
And the one ‘law’ – the law of two feet (ie the law of motion and responsibility)

  • The agenda is created by those present

  • There is an emergence phase, during which the created agenda is discussed in smaller groups. This is usually between 1-2 days.

  • There is a convergence phase, during which an action plan is developed, in smaller groups, by those present. This is usually between half to one day.



What can OST promise your organisation?

  • An event that is unique

  • All participants are involved in high play and high learning

  • Every issue of concern to any staff member has been raised

  • All issues are discussed to the extent that any staff member cared to discuss them

  • A full written record of all discussions is available for every participant – usually during the event

  • An action plan – a way forward – has been co-created by the participants (given sufficient time)


Dr Genevieve Armson, Realisations Consultancy Pty Ltd, is an author, corporate educator and open space technology facilitator. Her company has been involved in creating and facilitating adult learning programs for corporate clients for over 25 years.


We welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how this unique and powerful facilitation methodology can assist your organisation to ‘realise its full creative potential’.

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