Open Space Conference

Method

Freedom to create self-organization and shape development

The Open Space Conference is a type of meeting which emphasizes openness. Inspired by the observation that coffee breaks are often used to effectively collaborate during more formal conferences, this method’s defining characteristic is the freedom to self-organize.

This method works well for groups of all sizes – even for large groups of over 1,000 people – and takes place over the course of one to three days. Sub-topics of the larger question at hand are presented during an opening talk, after which participants are free (without an agenda or moderation) to form working groups depending on their interests. These working groups select a representative who presents the group’s findings at the end. The Open Space Conference method is particularly effective in processes of reorganization and change, as it helps initiate learning processes, energize new potentials, and support networking among individuals.

Open Space at a Glance:

  • Suitable for practically all group sizes
  • Especially effective in processes of change
  • Openness and self-organization as guiding principles
  • Emphasis on the independence and creativity of each groups
  • Development of new collaborations and networks 

Literature

Owen, H. (2008). Open Space Technology. Ein Leitfaden für die Praxis. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta. (Erstausgabe 1997)

Maleh, C.; Rath, U. (2001). Open Space: Effektiv arbeiten mit großen Gruppen. Ein Handbuch für Anwender, Entscheider und Berater. Weinheim: Beltz.

Maleh, C. (Hrsg.) (2002): Open Space in der Praxis. Erfahrungsberichte: Highlights und Möglichkeiten. Weinheim: Beltz.

References

Details

The Open Space Conference was developed in the 1980s by Harrison Owen (2008). This conference method allows for groups of all sizes (even very large groups) to develop innovative solutions in a relaxed atmosphere. The open structure inspires creativity and gives participants the space needed to self-organize and develop new problem-solving tactics and approaches. Diverse participants allow for the exchange of different ideas and experiences. Normal working structures are abandoned, thus encouraging the development of new networks and widening the horizons of opportunity. Openness and self-organization are the method’s defining features. The method avoids controlling mechanisms like moderation, as they are seen to be detrimental to the process of innovation.

Favorable conditions for a successful Open Space Conference include:

  • A topic of universal interest
  • A heterogeneous group of participants
  • A high degree of complexity in the problem/question
  • Time constraints

The Open Space method is particularly well suited to working out complex and potentially conflictual problems in situations which demand solutions to problems of change and reorganization.

An Open Space Conference program consists of a plenary session, group work, and market places, in which the newly developed ideas are presented. After a presentation of the main topic and the guiding principles of the event, participants are encouraged to articulate subtopics related to their own fields of expertise. Groups are then formed around these subtopics. One representative is deemed the permanent member of the work group, while the others can intermingle amongst the other groups, allowing for an exchange of inspiration and innovation. Each group work session lasts for a duration of 90 minutes. Groups are responsible for their own working procedures and notate their results. At the end of the day, information is exchanged; and depending on the length of the event, further group consultations continue until all the results have been presented.