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Open Space (also known as Open Space Technology or OST) is a method for convening groups around a specific question or task or importance and giving them responsibility for creating both their own agenda and experience. It is best used when at least a half to two full days are available. The facilitator's key task is to identify the question that brings people together, offer the simple process, then stand back and let participants do the work. The process is admirably described in a number of languages at
When to use:
"Open Space works best when the work do be done is complex, the people and ideas involved are diverse, the passion for resolution (and potential for conflict) are high, and the time to get it done was yesterday. It's been called passion bounded by responsibility, the energy of a good coffee break, intentional self-organization, spirit at work, chaos and creativity, evolution in organization, and a simple, powerful way to get people and organizations moving -- when and where it's needed most.
And, while Open Space is known for its apparent lack of structure and welcoming of surprises, it turns out that the Open Space meeting or organization is actually very structured -- but that structure is so perfectly fit to the people and the work at hand, that it goes unnoticed in its proper role of supporting (not blocking) best work. In fact, the stories and workplans woven in Open Space are generally more complex, more robust, more durable -- and can move a great deal faster than expert- or management-driven designs."
Problem solving - bringing stakeholders together to understand a problem and seek a shared solution.
Strategic planning - Identifying goals and actions.
Sharing and synthesizing knowledge - reflecting on what has been learned and understanding how it applies to work going forward.
Community, team and network building - working together in small and large groups to help build relationships - secondary benefit.
How to use:
What will happen?
We never know exactly what will happen when we open the space for people to do their most important work, but we can guarantee these results when any group gets into Open Space:
All of the issues that are MOST important to the participants will be raised.
All of the issues raised will be addressed by those participants most qualified and capable of getting something done on each of them.
In a time as short as one or two days, all of the most important ideas, discussion, data, recommendations, conclusions, questions for further study, and plans for immediate action will be documented in one comprehensive report -- finished, printed and in the hands of participants when they leave.
When appropriate and time is allowed for it, the total contents of this report document can be focused and prioritized in a matter of a few hours, even with very large groups (hundreds).
After an event, all of these results can be made available to an entire organization or community within days of the event, so the conversation can invite every stakeholder into implementation -- right now.
AND... results like these can be planned and implemented faster than any other kind of so-called "large-group intervention." It is literally possible to accomplish in days and weeks what some other approaches take months and years to do."
Tips and Lessons Learnt
Examples & Stories
An Open Space session at CIFOR’ Annual Meeting: Biodiversity and much more
Sharing Knowledge on Wheat Improvement at CIMMYT
CIAT’s Knowledge Sharing Week
A story of Open Space at an International NGO
Use of Open Space to design meeting agenda
(summary from the Second Knowledge Sharing Workshop)
Who can tell me more?
Jamie Watts (j.watts [at] cgiar.org)
Douglas Horton (d.horton [at] mac.com)
Simone Staiger (s.staiger [at] cgiar.org)
Nathan Russell (n.russell [at] cgiar.org)
Fiona Chandler (f.chandler [at] cgiar.org)
Nadejda Loumbeva (nadejda.loumbeva [at] fao.org )
Sophie Treinen (sophie.treinen [at] fao.org)
Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at] fao.org)
Gerard Sylvester (gerard.sylvester [at] fao.org)
The World Cafe
More Information/References/Related Resources:
The Open Space community at
Open Space is an online community of OST practitioners, with subgroups in 20 languages and a world map with a facilitator list. You can access a whole range of Open Space materials such as stories, photos, quotes, and references. The Web site also contains a section with tools and tips for facilitators and gives information on the existing e-mail listserves for OST practitioners.
Michael Herman Associates' most up-to-date offerings about how you can practice OpenSpaceTech in your organization.
An Interview by Farah Lenser with Harrison Owen, the originator of Open Space Technology:
"Anatomy of an Open Space Event" - a series of photos illustrating Open Space, by Lisa Heft of Opening Space:
A paper describing the Open Space process, by Lisa Heft of Opening Space:
Further papers and resources on Open Space, available on Lisa Heft's website:
A glossary of Open Space terms and phrases, compiled by Lisa Heft of Opening Space. If you would like to add another language to this glossary to grow this resource,
, contact Ms. Heft at
A collection of videos on Open Space:
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