Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Open Space Method to design the Agenda

I first used the Open Space Technology method during the KM4Dev meeting in Lisbon. The open space is a self-organizing method for creating agenda during a meeting or an event. According to the Wikipedia page on OST, this method was developed by Harrison Owen in 1985. It works when there are people who are flexible in setting up their own agenda, are passionate about similar issues, and responsible enough to have the right learning experience.

Pete started by explaining the four principles of this method:
  • Whoever comes is the right person.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • When it's over, it's over.
  • Whatever happens is supposed to happen.
Open Space Principles and the Laws!

The ground rules of OST include the "law of two feet". This means that every participant has the right at any time to leave a group when s/he feels that s/he has nothing to learn or contribute. This gives each participant total control over their own learning experience and managing expectations. In OST, there are also two types of participants: butterflies and bumblebees. Bumblebees are participants who choose to float between groups/discussions and contribute when and where appropriate. They have the tendency to pollinate sessions with ideas from different groups. The butterflies, on the other hand, move between groups/discussions but settle nowhere. They may be seen smoking outside, having a coffee by the window or dicussing other topics with other butterflies! My personal experience has been that when I am not interested in any sessions, I appreciate having the opportunity to sit by myself thinking out how the various sessions I had participated in or people I had met were useful for my work.

As next step, after explaining the various principles and ground rules of OST, Pete invited the participants to start proposing topics that they would like to discuss in the upcoming day and half. Here is a picture of Agense talking about topic important to her.


Once each person wrote down the topic and announced it to the rest of the group, the next step was to put it on the "agenda". We had prepared a table on the wall the day before. Initially, the participants can put their topic anywhere in the agenda.


Once the agenda starts to become full, the next step involves looking for overlapping topics, negotiating and adjusting the agenda to everyone's content. In many cases, even after negotiation process there are conflicting interests and thus requires one to choose what is most important to oneself.


The role of the facilitator is to explain the process and support organization of the agenda. Once this is done, it is a self-conducting process. Eventually, at the end, the facilitator should close the open space. In our case, we used the debriefing method.

We used the Toolkit Wiki to capture notes from all the Open Space sessions.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gauri I found your piece to be a really good description of how an Open Space session is run. I was at a session of the UK AI network on Friday and wrote about that making a link to your blog see - http://www.sparknow.net/blog/2008/10/27/open-space-life-changing-experiences-and-that-elusive-elevator-message/

Thanks again


Gauri Salokhe said...

Hi Paul, thanks for stopping by and giving me your feedback! I have added your blog to my feedreader.. looking forward to reading more about your work!