Kolleginnen und Kollegen,
nachstehend sende ich Ihnen / Euch 3 Berichte über Open Space,
die das amerikanische Open Space Institute in die Welt hinausgemailt
Bemerkenswert an diesen Berichten finde ich, daß im ersten Open
Space mit einer Zukunftskonferenz kombiniert wird, im zweiten mit Appreciative
Inquiry (zu dieser Methode folgt bald ein Mail) und im dritten mit Elementen
von Dialog und Community Building.
Ich wünsche eine anregende Lektüre.
Matthias zur Bonsen
The Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US), Issue 1, June 1999
Purpose of the Newsletter
The purpose of the newsletter is to make our stories available to each
other so that we continue to learn and grow. We hope they will serve
you for education, examples, connection and pleasure.
This newsletter is intended for the use of friends and members of the
Open Space Institute (US). It may be reproduced in any useful way with
acknowledgement. When copying, please include the author/contact/publication
information at the end of each story.
In This Issue
1--A High Stakes, Tight Time Open Space
2--OS Event Opens a Space for Children
3--Open Space and Strategy
A High Stakes, Tight Time Open Space
Jay W. Vogt, Peoplesworth
Imagine you&Mac226;re a consultant and the President of an urban community
college calls you and says, I&Mac226;ve been at my job for two
months. I&Mac226;m the sixth president in eight years. The semester&Mac226;s
almost over, but I want to involve all 270 faculty and staff in setting
goals for the College for next year. We have four hours. Can you help
Tell me you wouldn&Mac226;t laugh out loud, or be speechless! Traditional
organizational development methods tell us there&Mac226;s no way to
bring so many people, who are almost certainly so demoralized, together
to get so much work done so fast. In my case, we begin to talk about
Shortly thereafter, over two hundred faculty and staff assemble in the
college cafeteria. The President has invited everyone, saying simply:
Please come if you care about the future of the college. If you
are not coming, please cover for someone who is. Present are long
copy machine operators, and everyone in between.
We adapt Open Space to fit this extremely tight time frame. In the first
half hour everyone eats lunch. In the next half hour the President speaks
briefly, and I set up the theme, process, and agenda. I welcome all
conversations, but remind groups that only those who complete a flip
chart template, listing a goal and a set of measures indicating its
success, can participate in the final goal-setting process. Participants
post over thirty topics for a single, two hour round. We gather in the
final hour for an informal, gallery-style review of proposed goals posted
all around us on
walls. Individuals multi-vote for their favorites using adhesive dots.
People embraced the goal setting conversations with fervor. Twenty two
goals were ultimately posted. The multi-voting process produced seven
clear priorities. People stood and cheered as the goals were announced.
They spoke warmly, sharing their pride, and celebrating their renewed
That next fall the President invited me back, reconvening the entire
College community in another half day Open Space to propose projects
to realize the six goals (one was already done). She demonstrated her
resolve by dedicating a substantial budget for this purpose. Participants
proposed and discussed project ideas, which were, at a later date, refined,
finalized in writing, considered by the whole community, and voted by
ballot. With money and mandate, priority projects happened fast.
In the following fall, the College began an ambitious strategic planning
process. I returned to lead a Future Search Conference that reinvented
the vision and goals of the College, and built strong, new relationships
with external stakeholders. The President credits the Open Space forums
as giving her rapid credibility, mobilizing the community, and setting
the stage for lasting organizational transformation.
Jay W. Vogt email@example.com
for STORIES, the Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US) firstname.lastname@example.org
Event Opens New Space for Children
BJ Peters, consultant, and Cynthia Krauss, consultant
Here is the story of an event we facilitated in February. We hope you
find it useful.
Creating a collaborative design for our new environment and the way
we work together that will enrich the learning of children, the staff
and the community of Buckeye.
It was a combination of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Open Space.
Buckeye Elementary School District (a rural Arizona area)
The people involved were instructional aides, an occupational therapist,
speech/language therapists, a physical therapist, a special education
teacher, all of whom are involved in providing services for children
with handicapping conditions.
Jane Hunt, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Director of Maricopa
Special Services Consortium, in addition to other responsibilities,
is responsible for overall management of the staff of programs for children
with handicapping conditions. She gave her permission to share this
story with you.
Why did you and your client say "yes" to an Open Space event?
The client was seeking ways to develop collaboration among the diverse
service providers. The delivery model of services had been fragmented.
It was not clear who was in charge; services were not integrated; scheduling
was not coordinated; new staff members were not trained or oriented
job expectations; there was not shared clear focus or synergy about
vision or direction of the program.
An underlying theme was that people wanted to feel connected, that they
mattered, that others recognized that they added value to the organization.
They wanted to have the necessary information they needed to do their
jobs and to see how that fit into the bigger picture.
The Open Space discussions resulted in two major passions:
Development of a Harmony Farm.
This was an incredible process to observe. The group working on this
project completed a farm design, a cost/benefit analysis, a funding
proposal. I was in the same room where this group was working, and I
was only peripherally aware of their work. Suddenly, they all got up
and left the room. As an afterthought, one of them came back to tell
me they would be back. About an hour later, they returned in high spirits.
They had gone directly to the office of the Superintendent of Buckeye
Elementary School District and shared their proposal. He committed to
them on the spot that they could have their Harmony Farm and that the
District would fund it. An interesting sidenote is that a new teacher
has been hired, one who has horses, has trained handicapped children
to ride horses, has just moved to the community and is excited to implement
and enhance this project.
Training and Learning
A yearning for training and information emerged from the other six discussion
groups. Since the event, a partnership is forming with the Campfire
Girls and Boys Organization. This partnership will result in staff training
for special education staff as well as development programs for regular
education students. The overall goal is to create collaboration among
special education and regular education to enhance the quality of learning
We must be the change we seek in the world."
BJ Peters email@example.com and Cynthia Krauss firstname.lastname@example.org
for STORIES, the Newsletter of the Open Space Institute (US) email@example.com
Space and Strategy
Every man is a particular kind of leader, no leader is a particular
kind of man"
[Chinese proverb, adapted]
The following is an excerpt from Strategic Conversations as the
Means for Organizational Change; A Case Study, a paper that describes
various approaches to strategy, among them Open Space Technology. The
paper is based on the experience gained at a global provider of engineering
software solutions over a period of four years. In this excerpt only
the experiences as they relate to
the use of Open Space Technology are described. The complete paper can
be requested from the author.
Since 1995, various approaches had been used to create a vision of who
we areand where we are heading." This vision had to serve at least
two purposes, to be of value to the company&Mac226;s customers and to
enable the members of the organization to develop a clear sense of purpose
and direction. Processes and methodologies that proved to be most successful
were based on common sense and unorthodox thinking. The pace of change
in the company's markets required approaches that were different from
traditional strategic planning. The idea of "the plan" was
replaced with "Strategic Conversations"; i.e. the ongoing
quest to find answers to several key questions:
- Why are we in the business we are in?
- Where are we today?
- Where do we want to be in the future?
Openness and a systemic view of the company and its environment proved
to be valuable elements in this ongoing quest. Open Space Technology
provided a path to achieve our goals.
How It All Started
Early 1995 was a gloomy time in the history of the company. Within weeks,
our stock price fell to below $4, reflecting a loss of shareholder value
of more than 80% in less than 12 months. Financial overstatements caused
a crisis resulting in drastic consequences:
- A set of layoffs
- Suspension of the company 401K plan contributions
- Dismissal of the CEO and part of the executive team.
At the same time, one of the company&Mac226;s flagship products at that
time had severe quality problems. For the first time in its 25-year
history the company experienced a real threat to its existence. This
threat proved to be the beginning of a new era. Since then, the company
engaged in multiple initiatives to find a path to its future. Open Space
Technology proved to be valuable in most of them. Two examples demonstrate
how we used it.
SMP (Strategic Management Process) was a corporate business strategy
initiative based on a process developed internally. SMP included insight
from a variety of sources among them strategic planning, business, leadership,
science and philosophy. CCSD (Customer Council for Strategic Direction)
brought together key customer executives, industry leaders, academe,
and the company&Mac226;s executive management team to jointly talk about
Strategic Management Process (SMP)
In 1997 we decided to explore the world of strategic planning more thoroughly
before any initiative was started. We considered various sources to
better understand strategy, among them:
- Roughly 60 books on strategy, covering a wide span from ancient strategic
thought to recent understanding of strategy.
- Theme searches on the world-wide-web with focus on consultants and
their methodologies in the areas of strategy and organizational development.
We also looked at processes and methodologies used in strategy development,
in particular processes with an underlying holistic approach.
- Large scale group interventions including Open Space Technology (Owen,
Systems Thinking (Senge, 1994), the Future Search Conference Model (Weissbord,
1995) and Servant Leadership (Greenleaf, 1983).
Eventually, a set of key questions formed the underlying basis of SMP,
- WHY are we in the business?
- WHERE are we today?
- WHERE do we want to be in the future?
- WHAT are the opportunities?
- HOW do we seize the opportunities?
- HOW do we react to gaps between actions and plans?
The SMP process was designed for and used by the corporate strategy
team, which was composed of the CEO, his executive team, and some key
business and technology professionals. This small group, except for
the Environment Scan, carried out all SMP process steps. The result
of SMP was a set of documents that covered the territory described in
the list above.
The SMP Environment Scan, the key event to gather information about
the company&Mac226;s internal and external environment was conducted
as a two-day Open Space event in which 85 people participated. This
event was structured around the following inquiry:
- The key question: What do we know about us and our environment
today and where do we want to be in the future?
- Twelve questions, developed by the executive team in a smaller Open
Space prior to the Environment Scan
After sharing the dimensions of the inquiry in the opening ceremony,
the event followed the principles and laws of Open Space. The initial
twelve questions were expanded to eighteen and the group self-organized
into smaller groups to answer the questions.
During the Environmental Scan each group documented its results in a
very simple form and presented them to the entire group at the end of
each day. By the end of the event a 120-page document was created and
made available to all participants within 24 hours. Within two days,
the group had covered a wide area of concerns, covering both internal
and external areas. The document is still a valuable resource today.
Its usefulness would even be higher, had customers, industry analysts
and others taken part in its creation.
Customer Council for Strategic Direction (CCSD)
In early 1998 the company took a real leap of confidence. For the first
time we opened the conversation about the future of our markets and
ourselves to the participation of customers, academia and close business
partners. A formal business event combined with Open Space provided
the framework. The latter was imbedded inside the formal meetings with
the intent that both forms would not interfere with each other. Two
days of the three-day event were totally
dedicated to Open Space. Only the Open Space event will be described
As is the case in all Open Space events, there was no preset agenda,
except for a trigger question. The question The Future Role of Information
Technology in Making and Moving Digital Product Information;
Local and Global Perspectives had been communicated in the invitation.
After opening the space, which included the explanation
of the process, the agenda was created by the group in less than one
hour. The group then self-organized in sub-groups, with all
participants attending the sessions that they felt most passionate about.
It is worth sharing that the group consisted of eighteen very senior
industry leaders from around the world.
In the sub-group meetings, the observation work happened in multiple
forms. Informal conversation, formal presentations of material that
individual members had brought in anticipation of topics they wanted
to talk about, and creative brainstorming were used at different times.
The diversity of the groups enabled the creation of a rich web of information.
This was further enhanced by the seniority of the CCSD members, ensuring
that the groups addressed the key areas of today&Mac226; business and
Each day we provided space to share results, insights and observations
of the different sub-groups. All sessions were recorded online using
a laptop. This provided the opportunity to share the results with all
attendees directly after the conference was over. We used a local overnight
printing service to provide draft copies of the results.
We used Dialogue sessions to end each day. Two techniques helped to
make these sessions very successful, the use of the Native American
talking stick and a rule, adopted from the Quakers, that one would only
speak if one had to something of significance to say.
The Learning Experience
The following describes the learning that occurred during these interventions,
specifically in Open Space. We use the following model to relate the
experience to different stages in our learning cycle.
- Observation&Mac246; Activities to record, without distortion, what
occurs in the whole system (inside and outside of the company.
- Understanding (insight)&Mac246; Processes to make sense out of what
has been observed.
- Planning&Mac246; Processes to create common mental models (vision)
and shared meaning
- Acting - Short or long-term action the organization undertakes in
support of its vision.
Open Space is very powerful, specifically in the observation and insight
phases. The key positive behavior of the observation stage is the capability
to listen, based on:
- The ability to suspend assumptions (Senge, 1994), enabling a more
complete picture of reality to emerge;
- The ability to suppress the urge for instant response, enabling true
understanding (Peck, 1992); and
- The ability to express mutual empathy, enabling trust to be build
among the participants that partake in the conversation (Covey, 1990).
Equality of participants proved to be the leading prerequisite that
is required for these characteristics to emerge. The structure of Open
Space and Dialogue fulfilled these criteria naturally.
Meaning making is a human characteristic (Maslow). Collective
understanding (meaning) was best created when the following conditions
- Diversity was valued and accepted as a prerequisite for rich"
- Individual views were understood as important, but limited, means
to fully describe complex environments;
- Open sharing of individual thoughts, among non-judgmental peers, has
the potential for collective insight that can not be achieved on the
individual level (the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts).
Dialogue and Open Space proved to be powerful methodologies that enabled
collective insight. An important organizational element of these methodologies
is the circle. The seating arrangement in Open Space and Dialogue enables
equality of the participants and prevents individual domination because
there is no physical location in a circle that supports it.
Individual and Organizational Change
It is a tragic illusion to assume that we can change others without
changing ourselves. This misunderstanding seems to be related to a shift
in the fundamentals of our thinking more than 300 years ago. The mechanistic
view of the world, initiated by Newton and enforced by the industrial
revolution of the 19th and 20th century, has created a mindset that
separates planning from doing. This mental model, aided by specialization,
contributes to an unspoken reality, where only certain people have to
change, while others are exempt. But the emergence of knowledge work,
distributed worldwide and linked in a network fashion, is challenging
Any change in such a dynamic environment, where formal power and control
are undermined by dynamic realities, will depend on voluntary, individual
change first. One encouraging observation, across all initiatives, is
that this individual change actually happens.
It&Mac226;s Over When It&Mac226;s Over (or probably not)
Our journey of the past four years can be described as evolutionary,
moving from the hierarchical model of management to a more participatory
model, where plans and actions are done by the people based on knowledge
and not on formal status. This is consistent with organizational trends
observed in highly successful companies in many knowledge-driven industries.
In particular the following insights that shape our ongoing strategic
conversations are encouraging:
- The diversity of environment and organization is best captured if
the whole system participates in the observation stage.
- Any constraints put on the observation stage results in bias. Automatically
these biases work like filters further reducing the capability to see
what really happens.
- Insight gained while the whole system is present has the potential
to become part of the organization&Mac226;s culture. This makes resistance
to follow-on plans and actions less likely.
The experience of the past four years is changing the way we think about
what is important to sustain our organizational existence. Changes,
impacting our corporate identify, seem to emerge in several areas, among
- A shift from technology-centric to market-centric thinking.
- A broadening of our value system, from individual contribution to
team (collective) contribution.
- An understanding of interdependence, within the organization and between
the organization and its environment
In summary, we are in a state of change. We are embracing the needs
of our markets, and allowing those needs to guide our innovative spirit.
We are broadening what we value, adding team recognition to the existing
focus on individuals. We are developing an understanding for interdependence,
within the organization as well as between the organization and its
environment. And finally, we are realizing that we can not walk away
from our own insights. By keeping the conversation about our identity
and our future alive, actual change is happening. This is not a bad
place to be.
Uwe Weissflog firstname.lastname@example.org
STORIES is published online 3-4 times a year by the Open Space Institute
To subscribe, or to join OSI, contact Peggy Holman, email@example.com.
To submit your story, contact Joelle Everett, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org