‘Open space technology’ learning
Open Space Technology refers to an established learning strategy that enables a community to engage deeply with topics of relevance and concern to them. It can be adopted in a more ‘purist’ sense following the method as outlined in numerous publications, or it can be modified for smaller or younger groups of learners. In either context, it has the potential to be a powerful learning methodology.
The key to ‘open space technology’ is that the learners or community involved in the process, set the agenda and are given the opportunity to develop real solutions to the real challenges outlined by the group itself. It provides a framework leading to the development of solutions. The key is that the process taps into the existing capacities of the participants.
Open Space Technology (OST) is a method for organizing and running a meeting, where participants have been invited in order to focus on a specific, important task or purpose. OST is a participant-driven process whose agenda is created by people attending. At the end of each OST meeting, a document is created summarizing the work of the group. The OST method is based upon work, beginning in the 1980s, by Owen Harrison.
The goal of an Open Space Technology meeting is to create time and space for people to engage deeply and creatively around issues of concern to them. The agenda is set by people with the power and desire to see it through, and typically, Open Space meetings result in transformative experiences for the individuals and groups involved.
Open Space Technology has been defined as:
- a simple, powerful way to catalyze effective working conversations and truly inviting organizations -- to thrive in times of swirling change.
- a methodological tool that enables self-organizing groups of all sizes to deal with hugely complex issues in a very short period of time.
- a powerful group process that supports positive transformation in organizations, increases productivity, inspires creative solutions, improves communication and enhances collaboration.
- the most effective process for organizations and communities to identify critical issues, voice to their passions and concerns, learn from each other, and, when appropriate, take collective responsibility for finding solutions.
After the opening and agenda creation, the individual groups go to work. The attendees organize each session as they go - in other words, are free to decide which session they want to attend, and may switch to another one at any time. This supports different styles of participation as many people like to sample before landing, others may be looking for the most productive sessions, while yet others are hoping to pinpoint discussion on an issue.
Typical event process (From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Space_Technology)
The full form of Open Space Technology includes the following (but if some part is missing, then it is not Open Space Technology, only something similar).
- Opening Circle (agenda co-creation process at the start, without the facilitator helping / synthesizing / suggesting / reducing topics)
- Facilitator’s explanation of principles and law (calling them guidelines, invitations, whatever)
- Multiple conversations ideally happening around the same big space, ideally several discussion sessions across time (without the facilitator helping those groups)
- Closing Circle (comment and reflection)
Open Space Technology methodologies are particularly suited to contexts where the solutions to challenges can be created by the participants themselves. This becomes a worthwhile option if the intention of a process is to engage the participant learners in the creation of solutions. It is also an excellent way to create an agenda from the minds of participant learners at any given point in time. In this way, it works well in tandem with many other methodologies.