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Facilitating and participating in an Open Space gathering

Page history last edited by Hempal 14 years, 1 month ago

2.2 Facilitating and Participating in an Open Space Sessions

 

The gathering hosted following OST is productive if the participants are provided with comfortable environment and opportunity for equal participation. There are various other factors that contributes in the success of the event, which includes arrangements of the hall; welcoming and inviting the participants to the OST event; motivating and encouraging everyone to participate and speak out their views; facilitating convergence and crystallization of actions; and final summarization and concluding of the gathering with a message for way ahead. The details of each of these activities can be sequenced as below:

 

Welcome and opening the Space; Check in a circle

 

Before starting the OST event with an opening welcome note from the host or organizing team member, the organizers should make the participants sit in concentric circles with a large open space in the middle. Participants should be given some time to allow themselves to feel settled in the group. Then the host or a member of an organizing team should welcome the participants and can introduce the team members and others who had associated with organizing the event. S/he can also briefly share about the background and expected objectives from the gatherings. A brief outline of the gathering can also be informative for participants to get prepared for the day to follow. The lead facilitator than takes on the center stage and welcome and introduce all the participants about the circle and its importance. S/he can start by saying something like:

 

“...I hope you must have noticed that we are gathered here in a circle. Why we are now gathering in a circle? It is because the circle allows equal representation.. In circle we practice to: Listen with attention; Speak with intention; and Take care of the well-being of everyone. People also like to be in circles because it creates an informal setting. It also denotes that we are experts and bring a larger impact if we are all together. Thus, we are gathered here today to have a strong feel that we all are the experts and have lots to share with others so that we all can learn from each other... thus I would invite you to be part of this circle throughout this gathering and follow the three practices of the circle...”

 

Icebreakers, hopes and expectations

 

The facilitator than can introduce some informal activities or games to let participants introduced to each other. This acts as an icebreaker as well as can offer an opportunity for the group to get to know each other in a friendly and informal manner. This activity can be used to introduce participants, share about their background and their interest in the group, and open the dialogue and discussion on a light note. Appropriate icebreakers can be developed as per the background of the participating group. It can be fun activity which relates to the work of the day. It should be ensured that every participant is involved and respected while doing this activity.

 

The next flow of the program could be mapping the hopes and expectations of participants from the gathering. For this, the facilitator can than introduce a talking piece (something that has a meaning) and share the practice of circle associated with this talking piece. S/he can say something like:

“... to follow the practice of circle of listening with attention; speaking with intention and; taking care of the well-being of everyone we will be using this talking piece.... we pass the talking piece around, if you don’t feel ready to speak then just pass it on and it will come back again, we each get a turn to speak: you can introduce yourself/your work and share: What brought you to this gathering? ...”

 

Once these hopes and expectations are shared and listed in a flip chart, it should be posted in one common space, where it can be reviewed throughout the flow of the gathering. Linking with the expectations of the participants, the facilitator can now briefly share about the flow design and outline framework for the gathering. This allows participants to explore and walkthrough about the objective(s) and the program flow design. This exercise acts as an match making of the expectations and the flow design. This also acts as a guidelines for the facilitation team to check back as the evolving process and how they had been able to meet the hopes and expectations of the participants in this gatherings.

 

Framing and focusing the gathering

 

In our practice, we have found that some presentations or general overview of the central theme of the gathering is very helpful to bring all the participants to a certain common understanding about the issue or the topic. This framing of the central theme of the programme also drives the further discussion in the open space sessions in more constructive way. This sharing can also highlight the actions to be taken further by the organizers to support the ideas and activities coming out form the sessions.

 

After this sharing, the facilitator can elaborate about the central theme of the gathering. S/he can start with the “focusing statement” or “question for the interaction”. Explaining the purpose of the gathering, along with a brief explanation of the theme or question in their local languages and examples from local contexts. S/he also talk about the importance the theme, that holds to the group. This briefing should also include sharing about the givens and assumptions that the host has shared for making this gatherings more productive. In some practices, we develop certain other gathering's principles to be followed throughout the event. These are the basic principles to enable deep and intense dialouge on the burning topics and ideas they care for.

 

Welcoming the Open Space Technology

 

Now the facilitator can introduce the OST as the methodology the group will be following for developing the agenda for the gathering and to share ideas and collaborating to develop action plan to address the central theme of the event. He can start by saying something like, “As we have outlined the program flow and you must had observed that the only confirmed agenda items in our schedule in when the meeting would start, when it would end and somewhat few other items. The blank time/space matrix (marketplace) that you see in the wall is going to be our the detail agenda for this gathering. If you are wondering how we are going to make this gathering productive event with this blank matrix, that I would like to welcome you to Open Space. It is an wonderful approach to host productive self organizing meetings. It has been used successfully to host gatherings of groups all over the world. There had been numerous events in various South Asian countries also. These groups all over the world, some as large as 500, come together in Open Space and create their own agenda for the multi-day meeting in less than one hour. They than proceed to self manage the entire group meetings and feather group discussions.”

 

The facilitator than can pause for a while and move on to explain the process to be followed and spaces to be used. S/he introduce the participants to the time/space matrix (marketplace) in this way; “In a while, I will invite you to identify any topics or ideas related to central theme that you want to discuss with the group. You can write it and post it into the time/space matrix (marketplace). This topic or ideas must be accompanied by your commitment and passion to lead the discussion and take personal responsibility to the actions identified. You may propose as many topics as you like. And if any idea that you have great believe in does not show up in the time/space matrix, than it is you who is responsible for that . Once all the topics will be posted on the time/space matrix, we will look into the possibility of consolidating two or more similar ideas if so required and agreed by the both the idea initiators. After this, the participants will be invited to sign up for these Open Space feather group discussions, they was to be part of.”

 

In some cases, the group might not be able to completely follow the process described by the facilitator. Thus the, sample demonstration would be a great enabler. The facilitator can perform a mock up and write a topic, with his name below in a A4 meta card. S/he can than come to the center of the circle and read out the topic for everyone. S/he can than post the card in one of the time/space matrix and inform the participants about the session time and space which this cell represents and where the feather group discussion will take place. Further, s/he can explain the time/space matrix, the number can represents the session with its respective start and end time. The letter can represents a “space.” If there is break out rooms, the letter represents a room. And, if the OST beak out sessions are taking place in the same hall, than the letter may represents the space, lobby or conner that is designed to hold the meeting. This is useful in communicating the meeting space and helps in organizing the report writing. Based on this, the facilitator can share that his/her break out session will take place at such and such place at the described time duration.

 

Further he can share that the “OST runs on passion and responsibility. The passion brings one here, it motivates one to propose topic and move through the process. Thus, if one has a topic that is vital to answering the theme, passion is what will get him/her out of the seat to put the topic on the time/space matrix. The responsibility gets the things done and move the things forward. Thus, when its time for the OST breakout feather group discussion, the idea initiator starts the meeting by being present at the specified breakout room/space. S/he takes off and carry the meta-card with the topic from the time/space matrix to the group for further discussion. S/he make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and that the notes of the discussions are taken and inputed into a computer for group reporting.”

As the mock up session is over and the participants might be energetic to propose their topics. But, the facilitators have to introduce the four principles of OST and one law of mobility. The facilitator can ask the participants to keep these principles and laws in mind while they are hosting or participating in an OST feather group discussion. S/he can continue as “the first principle of OST is Whoever Comes is the Right person. The people who have signed and turned up for your session are the right person to carry ahead the idea. They are the one who are empowered and passionate to find the answer to this topic in connection to the theme of the gathering. And, it doesn’t matter what level you are at, if you are here, you are the right person, and you can make a difference.”

 

“The second principles of OST is Whenever it Starts is the Right Time. In our South Asian context, it is quite common that our programs starts late and runs off the time schedule. You must have also observed that in our program flow, we have planned for some basic outline only. The starting and closing of the gathering in just few of them. In a while, we will also develop the agenda for this entire gathering as per our requirement and convince. While following open space discussion, we might be early at times and may be late at other time. But, it starts when condition necessary to get it going are matched, thus this is the right time. The schedule that we had developed is more of a recommendation than a schedule, thus we can be flexible and initiate a topic when its the right time to begin the discussion.”

 

“The third principle of OST is Whatever Happens is the Only Thing that Could Have. This is not to say that you have no control over what happens. To the contrary, what will happen in this meeting is the only thing that this group, in this space, at this time could do. This frees us from regrets and focuses ourself in the flow of the discussions of open space.”

 

“The fourth principle of OST is When it’s over, it’s over. While you are  discussing the ideas in the OST feather group discussion, you will know when you have completed talking about a topic. Or, when the ideas has come to be resolution, it might be “early” and it might be “late.” The important thing is that you to know that it is over. Thus , when it’s not over, it’s not over and its time for you to move on to next discussions or join other discussion taking place or simply take some time off for yourself for deep thinking on the ideas and issues raised by others in the discussion.”

 

“There is also one Law of Mobility. This law makes you are responsible for how you use your time. It says that if you are not contributing or learning in a group, you should use your two feet and move somewhere you can learn or contribute. For example, if in your group, someone is dictating the discussion and talking all the time, and you are not learning or contributing, you should obey the law and move to other groups where you can contribute. In such a case, you can be like a bumble bees, which goes from flower to flower, pollinating flowers. You can go from meeting to meeting and pollinate our meeting with information from other groups. Or, you can be like butterflies and fly around the newsroom, coffee table or oversee the discussion going on. These are the people who have “full brains” or people who are shy and may hesitate in participation, or sometimes they are the “hosts” of Open Space. Being a bumble bee or butterflies are seen as rude or being lazy in OST. Rather, they play an important role in the OST process to succeed.”

 

 

 

Inviting participants to Open Space Technology

 

Once, the facilitator has shared about the process and the principles and laws of the OST, s/he can repeat the focus statement and ask participants “What are the issues and opportunity around our this statement, for which you are passionate to discuss and committed to take forward? I invites you to come into the middle of the circle and write down the topics they want to discuss and develop some common understanding or action plan with your names in a meta-card. You can than market your idea to ensure larger participation in the group discussion and thereafter select a time slot present in the time/space matrix agenda wall for further discussion. The time/space matrix will be available on the first come first serve basis.”

 

The facilitator should provide enough time and space and motivation to the participants to share the ideas and topics they really care for. It is also very crucial that this encouragement should not be turn into an act of forceful participation or unnecessary instructions. Which might in due course can be counter productive.

 

There should be plenty of A4 paper or meta-card and markers on the floor in the center of the circle for participants to write down the topics for discussion. Also, the facilitator should design the time/space matrix in such a way that there is always plenty of Open Space and possibility to add more if so required.

 

Facilitating consolidation of topics and invitation to sign up

 

When everyone has finished raising their issues, it is a good practice to see if there is any requirement of consolidation of topics. There might be another topic that looks the same and participants can ask if they can combine them. The facilitator than can ask both the idea initiator if they see both ideas as same. If they agree, than the topics can be combined and OST breakout feather group discussion can be planned in same time/space. Otherwise, at times having two topics that look similar is desirable. As the topic may look the same, the view of the initiator may be different. Also, sometime if a topic is proposed more than once it means it will need more time to discuss. If not, than it can be taken down by the idea initiator later.

 

The final act of inviting participant of OST is inviting them to sign up for the topic that are of their interest and passion in the time/space matrix. They are asked to write their name in those cards. If they have some more free time, they are encouraged to regularly check the matrix as some new ideas might had been posted by someone in the mean time or there had been some rescheduling of the topics of your interest. It is informed that the signing up to a topic will be helpful to the idea initiator and organizers in making the logistics arrangements. However, they are reminded that the Principles of Open Space and the Law of Two Feet mobility will drive their participation.

 

Freeing participants to organize the feather group discussions and setting them loose

 

The facilitator can now signal for beginning of the breakout feather group discussion ringing a bell. S/he can invite the idea initiator of first session to take the topic off the matrix and move to the space specified for the discussion. S/he can ask them to organize themselves and help them with other logistics announcements.

 

The group meets in a small circles of the breakout room/space, each with a white board stand, papers and markers. A facilitator is selected for gearing up discussion and a reporter for documenting the findings of the discussion based on the documentation framework made available to each group member. The reporter makes sure that the highlights of the discussion are captured and the report is made available on the News Wall.

 

In our practice of OST, we have found that the facilitator now can keep a low profile and observe the meeting convening from a distance. If there is any consultation or assistance needed from the group, s/he can be located and available.

 

In our experiences, we have observed that there are some participants who are shy or will find it difficult to participate or express themselves, thus a facilitator in this mean time can motivate and create an comfortable environment for them to open up and participate in the discussions. Further s/he must ensure that all participants have an opportunity to speak during the entire process

 

Also, in OST there are participants who would feel uncomfortable enough with the process that they feel it necessary to control or alter it. People who start to making decisions for the group. The facilitator can acknowledge the validity of the idea and suggest they put their ideas on the time/space matrix, the others can follow the Law of Two Feet and attend or not. In some other hosting spaces, the OST champions including Michel Herman suggested that “if they persistently do so, it might be time for the facilitator to walk out of the room. Either the group will follow, or they won’t. Either way, it is the group’s decision.”

 

As the OST breakout feather group discussions progresses, the facilitator and other organizing team members can assist the participants in keying in the arranging the discussion reports in the computer. They can print them and post the completed reports in the News-wall for others to review when they have free time. In the meantime they regularly check and ensure that all logistic arrangements are running smoothly.

 

 

Closing the day with evening news; check out circle

 

If the OST gathering is a multi-day event, than at the end of each day, there must be a check out closing circle. In this closing circle the participants return to the circle for “Evening News.” The participants are encouraged to use the “talking stick” to express what they have experienced that day. The organizing team can share logistics announcements and other news.

 

This closing circle acts as a place where participants once again see the entire group and try to connect with each other. This also convey a message that the OST activities for the day is over. In our experience we have observed that if the OST gathering is an residential event, the participants meets after this closing circle in small groups and socialize. They sing around in a circle, take dinner together and develop a strong feeling of a community. In many cases this has worked in developing a stronger team.

 

Debriefing meeting of the core team and facilitators

 

During the OST event, it is a good practice for core team members to meet at the end of the day and reflection upon the development. The best time to meet is immediately after the closing check out circle. This meeting needs to be very brief and precise. The facilitator, organizing team members and some other participants, who might be interested to assist in running OST gathering activities can meet to review and debrief the days proceedings. This activity is very crucial as it opens up a space where all organizing team members can come together and review the day's development. They can also check the progress that the gathering had made with respect to the hopes and expectations highlighted in the initial session. They can also brainstorm about the challenges and opportunities in coming days and plan their actions accordingly.

 

They can follow upon the logistics arrangement which worked and others which need to be organized better. They can also prepare plan for the next day, divide responsibilities for the documenting the reports and preparing other background materials required for facilitation. They also review the progress made in documentations, effectiveness in time management and others aspects of practicing OST.

 

Opening the day with morning news; check in circle

 

The next day's OST gathering begins with an opening check in circle. At the beginning of the second or third day, the participants gather in a circle. The facilitator or organizing team shares any changes to the schedule or other announcements. The participants are invited to share what they would like to. Further they are offered another chance to add topics to the blank spaces available in time/space matrix. After these activities, the initiators of the first session of the day are invited to start breakout feather group discussions in their respective time and space.

 

The importance of morning check in circle is that it brings everyone to the same space to begin the day flow. They are also informed about any changes. This also acts as a platform to briefly review the previous days outcome and build on those learnings.

 

Posting the topics discussion highlights in the news room: sharing the findings

 

Once all the topics and ideas raised for the discussions are hosted and the reports are prepared and documented in the computer. The facilitator can present the reports to the group, and honor the hard work and wisdom that they represent. S/he can prints two-thee sets and post them on the news-wall and welcome everyone to roam around the news-wall to review the findings of the discussion. This quick round of roaming through different walls helps in gathering information on the highlights of all feather group discussions.

 

The common framework suggested for documenting the discussion saves others time to review the learnings. The facilitator can also inform the group that a compiled report of all the feather group discussions is given to all the participants before they leave.

 

Converging the Open Space discussions and crystallizing the action plan

 

At the end of most OST gatherings some form of convergence will need to be done. This is particularly true in any multi day gathering. To facilitate this process, the facilitator should prepare a space where s/he can paste A4 size papers with all the topics and its time space number. Than s/he can provide the participants with as many stickers as the number of most vital ideas for answering the theme can be taken forward.

 

The facilitator ask them to wander the room, read the reports and place one sticker each on those topics which they have passion for and think that they are most vital to answer the focus statement. Certain time can be announced after which the voting process will be closed. Once the voting is finished, take one set of reports off the news-wall and the A4 with the stickers and place them in a circle in the middle of the room.

 

After calculating and marking all the votes posted, the facilitator can further share that “ the topics with more votes are areas that the group is suggesting that we focus our energy first. Other ideas are still possible, but these are the urgent important topics. As you know that in OST nothing happens without passion and responsibility. Thus, we invite champions who have passion for these topics to come forward, pick up a topic, speak out to the group the area they will be convening and take the responsibility of developing a action planning following the suggested template provide along with all other interested participants. It needs to be clearly understood that the “who” on the action plan form can only be people who are in the room and agree to the action. If the decision maker or “doer” is not in the room, then someone else needs to take responsibility for asking that person.” One sample of this form can be refereed in the resources and sample for facilitator section.

 

Once all the topics that are going to be selected are picked up, groups convene and fill out their Action Plan Forms. After completing this the participants once again return to the main circle. The champions of convergence topics places their Action Plans on the wall and stand next to them. Others follow the Law of Two Feet looking at the Action Plans, making suggestions and and offering support.

 

Closing the OS event; Check out circle

 

After the action plan are developed, shared and feedback and support are offered, it time to proceed for closing of the OST gathering. But before that the organizing team can also share any other logistics arrangement and other news to the participants. In addition, evaluation sheets and printed (or digital) copies of the draft report of proceedings can also be tabled at the newsroom for participants to help themselves. This evaluation sheet is helpful in collecting recommendations for future gatherings.

 

The final check out circle should be informal but serious closing. The participants can once again come back to the big circle with a ringing bell. The facilitator honors the hard worked and the wisdom that the group has bring. S/he attempts to briefly highlight the entire program flow and what had been the major outcome from the gathering. S/he than re-introduce the talking object and pass it in the circle. S/he ask anyone receiving it can share their great moments during the gathering and their major learning. Or simply s/he can share whatever comes to mind or to pass it over if the person does not have anything to talk about.

 

The last person to speak in the closing check out circle of the OST gathering is the host of the gathering. S/he can share about his/her feelings and how this group will convene in future. S/he can also share about how the development will be shared and communicated. S/he can also briefly summarize as what actions will be followed on from the ideas shared and action plans developed in the multi-day gathering. Finally s/he can thanks the participants and other for their contribution and participation in the OST gathering.

 

In our practice, we have found that this closing become memorable when people connects face to face before they depart. Group activities like singing, dancing, skits and other games are cheering and people go back home with cherishing memories.  

 

“...I hope you must have noticed that we are gathered here in a circle. Why we are now gathering in a circle? It is because the circle allows equal representation.. In circle we practice to: Listen with attention; Speak with intention; and Take care of the well-being of everyone. People also like to be in circles because it creates an informal setting. It also denotes that we are experts and bring a larger impact if we are all together. Thus, we are gathered here today to have a strong feel that we all are the experts and have lots to share with others so that we all can learn from each other... thus I would invite you to be part of this circle throughout this gathering and follow the three practices of the circle...”

 

Icebreakers, hopes and expectations

 

The facilitator than can introduce some informal activities or games to let participants introduced to each other. This acts as an icebreaker as well as can offer an opportunity for the group to get to know each other in a friendly and informal manner. This activity can be used to introduce participants, share about their background and their interest in the group, and open the dialogue and discussion on a light note. Appropriate icebreakers can be developed as per the background of the participating group. It can be fun activity which relates to the work of the day. It should be ensured that every participant is involved and respected while doing this activity.

 

The next flow of the program could be mapping the hopes and expectations of participants from the gathering. For this, the facilitator can than introduce a talking piece (something that has a meaning) and share the practice of circle associated with this talking piece. S/he can say something like:

“... to follow the practice of circle of listening with attention; speaking with intention and; taking care of the well-being of everyone we will be using this talking piece.... we pass the talking piece around, if you don’t feel ready to speak then just pass it on and it will come back again, we each get a turn to speak: you can introduce yourself/your work and share: What brought you to this gathering? ...”

 

Once these hopes and expectations are shared and listed in a flip chart, it should be posted in one common space, where it can be reviewed throughout the flow of the gathering. Linking with the expectations of the participants, the facilitator can now briefly share about the flow design and outline framework for the gathering. This allows participants to explore and walkthrough about the objective(s) and the program flow design. This exercise acts as an match making of the expectations and the flow design. This also acts as a guidelines for the facilitation team to check back as the evolving process and how they had been able to meet the hopes and expectations of the participants in this gatherings.

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