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Experiences of Open Space Technology in South Asia

Page history last edited by Hempal 14 years, 2 months ago

OST practitioners claims that it works everywhere. However, there was some skepticism amongst the participants before it was started being practiced in South Asia. These Initially, in South Asia the OST events were mostly hosted in the north or facilitated by the facilitator(s) from the north. The voyage with OST started with hosting small group meetings and workshops by following some of the OST approach. It was only in late 2005 when the first full fledged workshop that was hosted following a modified form of OST, namely was WeConnect workshop in Nepal. Then onwards various experiences of OST and its modified versions were implemented as per the needs and demands of the local contexts. With over six years of practicing OST in various actions and activities, including for organizing the meetings and workshops in South Asia, it had been acknowledged as a great learning and enriching experience.


Based on the simple variation of after action review (AAR) for reviewing the gatherings, this chapter attempts to provide a brief synopses of these learnings from few cases of OST gatherings held in South Asia.


Many initiatives in South Asia took a jump start with hosting space event or gatherings following OST. There were complex dynamics in each of these practices. Looking back and reflecting on these learnings, we find that either these complexity were finely balanced by OST in some cases, or they were converted into strengths in others. The following few cases of hosting and participating Open Space in South Asia and certain other neighbouring countries bring up our learnings on what went well with OST in South Asia?; what could have been better with OST in South Asia?; and what can be done better next time with OST in South Asia and local context.


  • Knowledge Management Workshop in Nepal, July 16-18, 2003
  • ENRAP II Regional Meeting in Bangkok, June 19-21, 2004
  • Bellanet planning Retreat in Canada, 2005
  • WeConnect: Connecting the grassroots, policy and practitioners of ICT4D in Kathmandu, Nepal, December 12-13, 2005.
  • Asia Commons: Asian Conference on the Digital Commons, Bangkok from June 6-8, 2006
  • Nepal Commons: Paving Path Towards Inclusive Democracy, Nepal, July 14-16, 2006
  • Women in ICT, Kathmandu, Nepal   
  •  Software Freedom Day celebration, Lalitpur, Nepal, September 16, 2006.
  • Open Space and August gathering : August 23-24, 2007: Facilitated ICCO August Nepal Gathering, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Workshop on  "Invisible Faces of Violence on Women in Politics: Breaking the Silence", Kathmandu, Nepal, September 18-20, 2007
  • Open Space and August gathering : August 23-24, 2007: Facilitated ICCO August Nepal Gathering, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Opening space in Pakistan  March 21-22, 2007:
  • The Art of Collaborative Leadership organized for ICCO partners, Kathmandu, Nepal, February 20-22, 2008
  • Cries of Women in Politics: Quest for Justice, Sri Lanka 
  • Workshop on Opening Educational Resources in Nepal: Localizing Content, Disseminating Knowledge, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • Youth Information center and Open Space, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Open WriteShop, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Workshop on Open Information Society in Pakistan organized jointly by Bellanet Asia, SAP Pakistan and Bytes for All, Lahore, Pakistan
  • The Art of Collaborative Leadership organized for discovering personal leadership and developing collaborative strategies.
  • The Art of Collaborative Leadership organized for exploring Collaborations for New Republic Nepal and Open Space
  • The Art of collaborative leadership and towards the common goal of promoting peace
  • The Art of Collaborative Leadership organized for developing a collaborative actions and leadership.
  • Knowledge Management for Development Workshop, Lisbon, Portugal, June 15-21, 2008


Here below are some of the worth sharing experiences of application of OST in South Asia:


WeConnect : Connecting the grassroots, policy and practitioners of ICT4D in Open Space, December 12-13, 2005, in Kathmandu, Nepal.


These workshops were carried out as part of the WeConnect project's objective to raise ICT4D awareness at the grassroots and promote ICT4D policy making dialogue at the national level. It acted to draw greater attention of development and government agencies, private sector and the civil society towards ICT for development in Nepal.


The four regional workshops in Pokhara, Biratnagar, Chitawan, Nepalgunj and one national workshop which were facilitated using following amalgam of OST methodology and informal participatory gathering. It borrowed some elements of OST like feather group discussions. Borrowing pieces of OST was a success to achieve our objective as a complete OST would have been inappropriate given the short time period, assumptions, directions and expected outcomes.


There were participation from various grassroot level organizations (NGO/CBOs), regional and national level donor agencies, media and key ICTs stakeholders including government agencies, business partners and professionals.


These workshops were the icebreaker event for BellaSap to host any event on its own following OST. One of the organizing partner team member reflected that it was an useful tool for them to host any further meeting for participatory decision making and developing collective action plan. The participants were interested in more informal approach of the workshop.


The outcome of the series of workshop was able to enhance active discussions and in depth exploration. It was able to produce concrete issues as well as opportunities and challenges along with recommendations to address challenges such that they could all contribute towards advocating for a national level ICT4D policymaking dialogue. These workshop prepared the good ground for collecting grassroots experiences, perceptions, challenges opportunities and learnings of ICT for development (ICT4D). The national workshop was a delivery workshop of the regional stories and outcome of mapping study carried out for ICT4D status.


The learnings were that the availability of OST guidelines in local language ie. Nepali would have very appropriate and helpful for the participants to relate with the concept of OST. Also, the ICT4D was a new concept for most of the participants, hence more time allocated for the workshop would have been more meaningful.


Asia Commons: Accha! An Asian story of Open Space and Digital Commons 


The Asia Commons: Asian Conference on the Digital Commons held in Bangkok from June 6-8, 2006 was an attempt to explore and build collaboration towards a healthy Asian digital commons. The unconference was designed following half 'traditional' and half OST approach flow, 1.5 days each. During the preparation phase it was observed that, the amount of time that it took to organise the traditional sessions was at least 20 times the amount needed to plan the open space sessions, if not more.


Given the themes of the event (related to openness, participant-driven collaboration), the OST made it more meaningful. The approach of enabling blogs in the conference website and having a conference wiki proved to be both very necessary and very successful. In result, the Asia Commons turned out to be a vibrant platform for discussing issues and concerns of digital commons in Asia. Towards the end of the Asia Commons facilitators had a shared their surprise by sharing that the outcome of the unconference had surpassed their expectations.


The pre-information to the participants about the unusual format of the conference where participants decides the agenda of the meeting. Assurance that the conference will create many opportunities where deep discussions and exchange can happen on issues and topics of interest. And the belief that all participants have experience and ideas that are important to the issue worked better in the unconference.



Software Freedom and hosting Open Spaces


By the evening of the last day of the unconference, the participants had put together some four dozen pages of notes. These were practical ideas to take ahead the commons movement in Asia. This gathering was able to create numerous collaborative initiatives and groups in the region.


September 16, 2006 was the 3rd Software freedom day to be celebrated worldwide. In Nepal, this was the second series of celebration. For this celebration, one of the space developed was an OST space for sharing ideas, projects and activities to “make iT FOSSible” in Nepal. The message about this space was announced in the community's discussion email list in advance. There had been various brainstorming over the OST methodology and how will work in our context. After weeks of online and few face to face preparation, the passion to make iT FOSSible really showed up in the time/space matrix (marketplace). There were about dozen of ideas on the matrix and more than 100 participants participated in in those break-out feather group discussions. The starting of Drupal community in Nepal was an outcome of the one of this OST break-out session.


The factor that worked in this specific case was the passion for the cause, Free and Open Source Software. The setting arrangements, open venue and open invitation sparked the spontaneousness of the group formation and making the discussions fruitful.


This could have been more output oriented if the complete OST session could have been followed though. But this had not been possible due to other parallel activities taking place and the OST was allocated only few hours to convene.


Cries of Women in Politics: Quest for Justice, Colombo, Sri Lanka


This event was organized by SAP International as part of its regional Program, Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWIP). The event was organized as unconference, following a more informal approach to draw a picture on the status of VAWIP in each individual countries of South Asia along with participants suggestion on ways to mitigate those. OST was adopted as part of the process where participants were asked to first list out there areas of concern in general at the market place. Irrespective of individual countries, the generic issues were then clustered and Birds of feather group discussions took place around each cluster. Later, country specific groups were formed to discuss the issues and come out with national level recommendations.


Improvised OST where participants were allowed to use market place for posting issues and discussing on them worked better. However, specific group discussions were organized to discuss issues at national level and recommendations accordingly.


The participants of the unconference were policy makers, women politicians, development workers from South Asian countries. They were initially hesitant to this new method of Knowledge Sharing. However, they were convinced to the power of OS to draw meaningful conclusion after facilitator explained the concepts and gave a proper demonstration of how it worked


Using of networked WIKI stations to take notes and compile findings instantly also worked very well. Also, some senior level politicians and practitioners who didn't want to participate in OST and preferred more formal methods were simply allowed to freely roam around and jump in any birds of feather discussions. Also, if participants were pre informed and explained of the OST methodology to be adopted for the meeting, they could have come prepared. Also, the champions within the group could have been identified earlier in advance who would actually help facilitator in adopting the OST.

  1. Open Space and August gathering : August 23-24, 2007: Facilitated ICCO August Nepal Gathering, Kathmandu, Nepal

workshop on Open Information Society in Pakistan organized jointly by Bellanet Asia, SAP Pakistan and Bytes for All, Lahore, Pakistan

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