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Open Space Technology

Main Takeaways
Reading Time: 3 minutes Open Space Technology is a highly scalable and adaptable facilitation method to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organisation, to create inspired meetings and events. It relies strongly on self-organisation of the group of participants.

Description of Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology is a facilitation format I use frequently. Open Space Technology (OST) is a highly scalable and adaptable facilitation to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organisation, to create inspired meetings and events. OST relies strongly on self-organisation of the group of participants. It is a purpose-driven approach, focused on a specific and important purpose or task — but beginning without any formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme.

In OST the participants plan and run self-organised timeboxed sessions (30min, 45min, or 60min) to topics they are interested in. Characteristic for OST is a missing agenda or schedule at the beginning. The participants organise it themselves in the so-called "marketplace".

Procedure of marketplace:

  1. All participants sit in a circle. In the middle are post-its, index cards and pencils placed.
  2. The facilitator provides an overview of the process and explains how it works.
  3. The facilitator invites people with issues of concern to come into the circle, write the issue on a post-it or index cards and announce it to the group. These people are “session hosts" or "conveners.”
  4. The session host places their paper on the wall and chooses a time and a place to meet. This process continues until there are no more agenda items.
  5. The participants cluster and prioritise the agenda items on the wall.

After the marketplace, the group then breaks up and heads to the agenda wall, by now covered with a variety of sessions. Participants take note of the time and place for sessions they want to be involved in.

During the sessions, the host or a recorder takes notes and capture the important points of the session. At the end of each session, the notes are published on a shared news wall.

The participants then finish the open space meeting with a closing circle where people are invited to share comments, insights, and commitments arising from the process.

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Rules of Open Space Technology

Marketplace Rules

  • Every single issue that anybody cares about enough to raise will be "on the table".
  • All issues will receive as much discussion as people care to give them.
  • All discussion will be captured in a book, and made available to the participants.
  • All issues will be prioritised.
  • Related issues will be converged.
  • Responsibility will be taken for next step actions.

Sessions Rules

Open Space operates under four principles and one law. The four principles are:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened
  3. When it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over it’s over

The Law is known as the Law of Two Feet: ”If you find yourself in a situation where you are not contributing or learning, move somewhere where you can.”

The four principles and the law work to create a powerful event motivated by the passion and bounded by the responsibility of the participants.

Principles of Open Space

When to use of Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology is useful in almost any context including strategic direction setting, envisioning the future, conflict resolution, morale building, consultation with stakeholders, community planning, collaboration and deep learning about issues and perspectives.

Use it if

  • There is a real issue of concern with a need for a quick decision.
  • Diversity of players matters.
  • Complexity of elements matters.
  • There is passion (including conflict).

Open Space will work under all of these circumstances. It is only inappropriate when the outcome of the meeting is predetermined or if sponsors are not prepared to change as a result of the meeting.

Facilitator Role

  • Frames and guides the marketplace
  • Supports the prioritisation of agenda items
  • Facilitates the closing session

Page contents adapted from material of

Other facilitation techniques I use

: Kristina Alexanderson, via flickr.comHenrique Versteeg-Vedana via, .