Open Space Technology (OST) is a dynamic and participatory approach to organizing meetings, conferences, and gatherings. It was developed by Harrison Owen in the 1980s and has since gained popularity worldwide as an effective method for fostering collaboration, creativity, and engagement. OST is based on self-organization, inclusivity, and emergent order.
At its core, OST operates on the belief that the participants are the most knowledgeable and capable of addressing the issues. It creates an open and flexible structure that allows individuals to set their own agenda, share their expertise, and collaborate on topics of mutual interest. The foundation of OST can be understood through the following key elements:
Opening Circle: An OST event begins with an opening circle where the facilitator explains the principles and guidelines of the process. Participants are invited to take responsibility for their own experiences and contributions. The facilitator also introduces the concept of the “law of two feet,” which empowers individuals to move between different discussions if they feel they are not learning or contributing.
Marketplace of Ideas: Following the opening circle, the facilitator invites participants to propose topics or issues they are passionate about and would like to explore. These proposals are written on large sheets of paper or cards and posted on a designated wall or bulletin board, creating a marketplace of ideas. The proposals can range from specific questions or challenges to broader themes or areas of interest.
Self-Selection: Once the proposals are displayed, participants can review them and decide which sessions they want to attend. They are encouraged to follow their interests, passions, and expertise when choosing. This self-selection process ensures that individuals are genuinely engaged in the discussions and invested in the outcomes.
Breakout Sessions: The selected proposals become the basis for breakout sessions or discussion groups. Participants gather in small groups to explore the chosen topics. No preset agendas or prescribed outcomes allow the conversations to unfold organically. The discussions are self-organized, and participants are encouraged to freely share their experiences, insights, and questions.
Documentation and Reports: During the breakout sessions, participants are encouraged to take notes, capture critical insights, and record any action items or commitments that emerge from the discussions. These notes can be in the form of flip charts, electronic documents, or any other method that works best for the group. At the end of each session, a representative from the group shares a summary or report with the larger gathering, highlighting the key points and any follow-up actions.
Closing Circle: The OST event concludes with a closing circle, where participants reflect on their experiences and insights. This provides an opportunity to share learnings, express gratitude, and acknowledge the value of the collective wisdom that emerged during the gathering. The closing circle also serves as a transition, as participants return to their regular roles and responsibilities, taking the ideas and connections generated during the event.
The foundation of Open Space Technology rests on principles of self-organization, inclusivity, emergent order, and collective intelligence. By creating an open and flexible space for collaboration and exploration, OST taps into the collective wisdom of the participants and encourages engagement and ownership. It values individuals’ diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise, allowing for emergent solutions and outcomes that may not have been anticipated initially.
Open Space Technology is a participatory and self-organizing approach to organizing meetings and conferences. OST fosters engagement, creativity, and emergent solutions by providing a space for participants to set their own agenda, share their knowledge, and collaborate on topics of interest. It is a powerful tool for harnessing collective intelligence, promoting inclusivity, and generating