Open Space Technology is a methodology, developed by Harrison Owen, for meetings in which there is (1) complexity, in term of the tasks to be done or outcomes achieved; (2) diversity, in terms of the people involved and/or needed to make any solution work; (3) real or potential conflict, meaning people really care about the central issue or purpose; and (4) urgency, meaning that the time to act was "yesterday".
A big sheet of paper is put up on the wall, or drawn on a whiteboard, divided according to the available times for meeting and spaces available. People are encouraged to put up the topics they would like to meet around or present, choosing a particular time and place. They each make a short announcement, describing their session (10 words or less.) Participants are free to go where they wish. Each session has a notetaker, who types notes onto a computer after the session is over, allowing the entire group to easily and quickly produce a report that can be circulated to participants, and beyond.
Open Space Technology has Five Rules and One Law:
- Whoever comes is the right people ...reminds participants that they don't need the CEO and 100 people to get something done, you need people who care.
- Whenever it starts is the right time ...reminds participants that "spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.
- Wherever it happens is the right place ...reminds participants that space is opening everywhere all the time. Please be conscious and aware.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have ...reminds participants that once something has happened, it's done—and no amount of fretting, complaining or otherwise rehashing can change that. Move on.
- When it's over, it's over ...reminds participants that we never know how long it will take to resolve an issue, once raised, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on to the next thing. Don't keep rehashing just because there's 30 minutes left in the session. Do the work, not the time.
Owen explains his one "Law," called the "Law of two feet" or "the law of mobility", as follows: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.