"The conference was a great success and I was delighted with Clarity's facilitation."

Global HR Manager - Mars UK

Open Space

What is Open Space?

Open Space is a facilitation process that allows delegates at conferences and meetings to set the agenda and select which topics to discuss. It stands out from other meeting formats in the extent to which it both empowers and challenges each participant to take responsibility for their active participation, and for its ability to get groups of participants to create lively and meaningful conversation.


Open Space was designed by Harrison Owen in the 1980s and is now practiced thousands of times a year across the world.


How does Open Space work?
Every Open Space is different, and we have used versions of the format for events as short as one hour to as long as two days, with audiences from less than 20 to over 300.


Depending on the time available, there may be one or several rounds of conversations, and an opportunity to add to the agenda as the session continues.


Participants collectively nominate topics for discussion and then have a free choice of which conversations to join. They may also choose to rove between different conversations. There are no rules about the size of groups, although larger groups may be gently encouraged to split into smaller groups. Some conversations may attract large numbers; others may be two person chats.


At the end of the process, everyone gathers back into a large group where there’s an opportunity to share experiences and learnings from the smaller conversations. The format for this, and the ways the conversations are recorded, will vary from one event to the next and according to the needs of the organisers and participants.


The Benefits of Open Space…
Because the conversation topics are not created in advance for participants, there is a sense of spontaneity about this process which makes people more alert. And they are reminded that if something important is not on the agenda, they have the power, and responsibility, to do something about it.


It allows people to examine themes from every angle, asking whatever questions they are moved to and speaking up for (or against) the issues that are of most importance to them. It’s our common experience that it brings up unexpected intelligence from corners of the room that tends to get squeezed out in formats that pre-set what the key questions are or pre- allocate people to groups.


Essentially, each participant takes cares of his or her own engagement, and in this way there is little likelihood of tokenism or boredom. The understanding that this freedom exists can have a galvanising effect: no participant will be able to take an audience for granted.


A key strength of Open Space is that it avoids what we call “pseudo- agreement” where a large group is “facilitated” towards an “agreed” set of outcomes that everyone claims to agree to. Often this agreement is half- hearted and the action points agreed often fail to materialise.


In Open Space, participants who feel moved to act in response to their conversations do so, without having to be nudged into it. We find that these emergent actions are usually more inspired and motivated.


And, because Open Space is self-organising and self-optimising, we find that individuals who can present challenges to other meeting formats through dominance or dissent, have far less power in Open Space as others can choose whether or not to engage with them.


Networking in Open Space takes place far more efficiently than with any other format as delegates with common issues and challenges meet each other through the conversations. In comparison orthodox networking is very much a hit and miss affair.


Until you’ve seen the process in action, you may wonder how Open Space can possibly work. You may fear that it will descend into chaos, or perhaps simply create a talking shop that doesn’t lead to practical action. Our experience is that Open Space creates far more lively participation, and leads to richer and wiser actions, than most conventional meeting formats.


Why Open Space Works…
We believe Open Space works so well because it’s based on trusting that, given the right circumstances, almost all people are not just willing, but eager, to take responsibility for working together effectively.


The notion of taking responsibility for the success of the process is central to Open Space: it works by encouraging each person in the room to take that responsibility and fully empowering them to do so.


Also, Open Space is designed to allow people to work in a style that most suits their own learning and communication style. No one is forced into sessions they don’t want to attend; those who like to think out loud and be active have free rein to do so, and those who are more reflective can take their time and engage in a way that feels good for them.


Who We Work With…
We have facilitated Open Space for a range of organisations including educational institutions, public service broadcasters and commercial companies. Clients include British Aerospace, Surrey County Council, Mars, BBC, National Police Improvement Authority, the NHS, Railway Safety and Standards Board, Royal Academy of Dance and many more.


Contact us now at [email protected] to discover more.