Open Space Technology

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Open Space Technology (OST) is a method for organizing and running a meeting or multi-day conference, 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 Harrison Owen. It was one of the top ten organization development tools cited between 2004 and 2013.[1]


Harrison Owen, an Episcopal priest and Civil Rights activist, developed the idea of OST in the 1980s, based on his experience that coffee breaks and other unorganized encounters were the most productive parts of formal meetings.[2] At the time, Owen was considered by many large corporations to be one of several New Age consultants whose methods might encourage employee participation and interest in company problems.[3]

Central elements[edit]


Open Space meeting at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

"Open space" meetings are called "self-organizing" because, even though all participants have been invited by meeting sponsor and charged with addressing a pre-chosen theme, the agenda and organization of further discussions are created by the participants.

An "open space" meeting usually will start with short introductions by the sponsor and a single facilitator; the sponsor introduces the purpose; the facilitator explains the "self-organizing" process that is called "open space." Throughout the process, the ideal facilitator is described as being "fully present and totally invisible", "holding a space" for participants to self-organize, rather than managing or directing the conversations.[4]


Because the agenda of an Open Space meeting is emergent, it is impossible to know exactly what is going to be addressed during the meeting; that said, there are several important outcomes that are specifically built into the process, and some other outcomes that can be built in.[5]

At the end of an open space meeting, notes on the proceedings are usually compiled into a document that is distributed physically or electronically to all participants. Good documentation design is vital for ideas, suggestions, discourse, and improvements; it is part of the pre-work to make a good design.[citation needed]

Approaches similar to OST[edit]

Several other approaches to meeting organization share one or more features with OST. For example, several approaches other than OST are often called "unconferences", e.g. FooCamp and BarCamp. Both FooCamp and BarCamp are participant-driven, like OST, but neither is organized around a pre-set theme or aimed at solving a problem; the first Foo Camp was organized by Tim O'Reilly and Sara Winge; because Sara had been a student of Harrison Owen, many elements similar to OST are used in Foo Camp.[6]

A design sprint (a meeting technique related to design thinking and pioneered by Google Ventures) is similar to OST in that participants are invited by an organizer to work collaboratively on solving a problem, with the help of a facilitator who is trained in running such meetings. (Google also sometimes uses OST methods.[7]) In a design sprint, all participants are asked to contribute ideas toward what the problem is and how to solve it, but in a design sprint the facilitator is not invisible but in charge, guiding participants through a (typically) five-day process whose output includes a prototype part-solution and a user-test by some typical "customers."[8]

Some meeting organizers use Open Space techniques in combination with other methods, to avoid what they see as "shortcomings" of OST, for example an atmosphere that is potentially unfriendly for introverts.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abadesco, Enrique V., Jr. (December 20, 2015). "An updated definition of organizational development". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on April 6, 2016. Retrieved July 18, 2018. A cursory review of the top ten OD topics, drawn from contents of the OD Practitioner (the quarterly publication of the US-based OD Network) from 2004-2013 reveal the following: Transformation and change; Coaching; Consulting practice; Diversity and inclusion; Appreciative Inquiry; Strategic management; Balanced scorecard approach; Teams; Complexity theory; Dialogic and large group interventions such as World Café by Juanita Brown and Open Space by Harrison Owen and; Leadership development
  2. ^ Deutsch, Claudia H (April 1, 2018). "Round-Table Meetings With No Agendas, No Tables". NYT. Retrieved July 18, 2018. An Episcopal priest and self-described civil rights activist, he held various governmental posts before becoming an organizational consultant 15 years ago. And he developed the concept of "open space" meetings -- where attendees break into ad hoc groups to discuss anything they think is germane -- after years of hearing people wax eloquent about the good experiences they had at meetings outside of the prearranged sessions.
  3. ^ Cook, Karen (September 25, 1988). "Scenario for a new age". NYT. Retrieved July 18, 2018. Harrison Owen belongs to a new wave of consultants whose ideas are winning acceptance at some of the nation's largest corporations, including Polaroid, General Motors, TRW and Procter & Gamble. The consultants march under various flags - some are known as New Age consultants, others as transformational technologists or human resources specialists - but they all emphasize the importance of realizing each employee's potential.
  4. ^ Owen, Harrison (2008). Open space technology : a user's guide. San Francisco, Calif: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 9781576754764. OCLC 897008244.
  5. ^ "What Is Open Space Technology?". OpenSpaceWorld.ORG. Archived from the original on 2015-05-18.
  6. ^ O'Reilly, Tim (March 8, 2018). "The True Inventor of the Unconference". LinkedIn. Retrieved July 18, 2018. Sara based the design of Foo Camp in part on the "Open Space" work of Harrison Owen from 1985, who is widely credited with developing the concept. However, Sara just discovered that Alexander von Humboldt, one of the world's greatest scientists, pioneered the idea nearly 200 years ago, in 1828!
  7. ^ Stillman, Daniel (December 1, 2017). "Google Design Sprints: How to build *your* Perfect Week". Medium. Retrieved December 31, 2018. I was particularly thrilled to see that the Google crew was into Open Space Conversations, since I’m a big fan. They’re almost the *opposite* of sprints: they are an un-designed conversation….or rather a minimal designed conversation that still gets groups to a solid set of agreements.
  8. ^ Knapp, Jake. "The Design Sprint". The Sprint Book. Retrieved July 18, 2018. On Friday, you'll show your prototype to five customers in five separate, 1:1 interviews. Instead of waiting for a launch to get perfect data, you'll quick-and-dirty answers to your most pressing questions right away.
  9. ^ Howard, Phil (2005). "Integrating open space 16 technology and dynamic facilitation (PLA 53)" (PDF). Participatory Learning and Action 53: Tools for influencing power and policy. IIED. Retrieved July 16, 2018. Open space technology is a very successful participatory process, but it has two potential shortcomings: it is difficult to produce documentation of discussions in meetings lasting less than two days, and the process does not always encourage empathic listening among participants. Integrating open space with another participatory process, dynamic facilitation, could address these weaknesses when modest additional resources are available.
  10. ^ Segar, Adrian (March 28, 2012). "A short critique of Open Space". Conferences That Work. Retrieved July 18, 2018. Open Space session topics are determined by individuals who stand up in front of the entire group and announce their chosen topic. Generally, this is much easier for extroverts, who have few difficulties speaking to a group extemporaneously, than introverts who tend to shun such opportunities; the end result is that introverts are largely silent during the opening process, and the subsequent Open Space sessions are biased towards those proposed and often dominated by a comfortably-vocal minority.

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