Open Space Technology has been around for a long time, and is included in the overall set of practices known as “the Art of Hosting” (conversations that matter). The Open Space approach was pioneered in the 1980’s by Harrison Owen, an Episcopal priest and Civil Rights activist. His observation was that coffee breaks and other unorganized encounters were often the most productive parts of formal meetings.
The term “Open space” refers to the “self-organizing” nature of the practice. Even though all participants are usually invited with a specific theme or question in mind, the organization of further discussions are created by the participants.
When Joe and Allan practice Open Space in a faith community, there is usually a “calling question” that has brought the group together. The question often focus on a possibility for change and begins with the words “What if …” For example, “What if we could end homeless in our community?” or “What if we collaborated more between our congregations?” Participants are invited to created more refined questions or pose topics for conversations, which are then posted on a large timetable which indicates the place and time that each conversation will take place. The “host” of each conversation is responsible for taking notes and creating a written “harvest” of the conversation. The harvests from all the conversation are shared with the entire group in the end.
Joe and Allan practice a version of open space that has evolved over the past few decades and includes a few “principles” and one “law.” The “law of mobility” is the permission for people to move between conversations, depending on whether they feel they are contributing or receiving sufficiently to the topic. The principles include whoever shows up are the right people, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, whenever it begins is the right time, and when it’s over, it’s over.
A session of open space often follows a World Café experience. World Café helps participants discover themes and patterns in the group or organization. An Open Space process can help begin to create directions or activities that emerge from their learning together.