Overview of Open Space Technology:
Often called 'unstructured,' OpenSpaceTechnology is more accurately described as 'perfectly appropriate structure' which is created by corps members themselves, within the established boundaries. In the first segment of an Open Space meeting, corps members identify their most important issues and opportunities related to advancing the Broader Outcomes in their practice and take direct responsibility for convening table-working sessions to address them.
Why Open Space Technology?
Open Space Technology as a universal intervention in our tiered development approach allows corps members to:
- Organize quickly and effectively to address any issue or situation of real importance or immediate concern as it relates to their Teach For America experience and/or classroom leadership.
- Focus on the issues and opportunities that are most important, the assets and resources already on hand (even if they are few), and the people who can and must be involved in any successful outcome(s) or resolution(s).
- Foster the movement and connection of people, information, resources and ideas that are related or required by the main issue or situation — to create (or renew) a genuine sense of community and collaboration.
- Identify and execute responsible, informed and immediate next steps, in many directions, on many levels, and by many different kinds of people, all at once — and to sustain this sort of action as long as is needed to address or resolve the issue or situation.
Principles & "The Law":
There are Four Principles:
- Whoever comes is the right people.
- The first principle reminds everyone of the obvious fact that those present are the only ones there. Whatever gets done will get done with them, or not at all. There is little point, therefore in worrying about all those who should have come, might have come, but didn't come. It is essential to concentrate on those who are there. The experience is that, in some strange way, the group present is always the right group.
- In more practical terms, it has been discovered that if the group is deeply involved in the issue at hand and excited by the possibilities, that involvement and excitement are contagious, and others will soon join in. Even if the technical expertise present is not of the highest order, a committed group will find the needed expertise. However, if all the time is spent in telling each other that the group is neither right nor competent, it is always the case that the group will live down to it expectations.
- None of this is to suggest that effort should not be made before the gathering to be sure that invitations are extended to critical people. Or indeed that those critical people should not be specially urged to attend. However, when the gathering starts, it is unarguably true: those who came are the ones who came. Whatever gets done will be done by them, or not at all. They will be the right people.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
- The second principle is yet another statement of the obvious. Given the theme (job) at hand and the people in attendance, whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Change the people, time, place, or theme, and something different will result. It is, of course possible that the result of the gathering could be a miserable failure, but experience shows that such a negative result is usually the product of negative expectations. Expect the worst, and you will very often get it.
- Expectations are in fact critical. Be prepared to be surprised -- positively. Those who come to an Open Space event with a precise and detailed list of intended outcomes will be frustrated. More than that, they will inevitably miss the positive and useful things that occur. Never before, and never again will the assembled group gather in that time and place. No one could possibly predict the synergism of effect that will take place when those particular people assemble. Some of what happens will be non-useful. But it is the special function of the leader to raise the expectations of the group, and heighten their sensitivity to the opportunities at hand, whatever they may be.
- Here is the most difficult and important point about leadership in Open Space. The leader must truly trust the group to find its own way. Attempts on the part of the leader to impose specific outcomes or agenda will totally abort the process. Any person who is not fully prepared to let go of their own detailed agenda should not lead.
- Whenever it starts is the right time.
- The third principle will seem essentially wrong to those whose lives have been dictated by the clock, which is basically all of us. The conventional wisdom says that if you want to get something done, you must start on time. The conventional wisdom is right so long as you know what you are going to do, and how. On the other hand, when creativity, and real learning are involved, the clock can be more of a detriment than an assist. Things will start when they are ready, and whenever they start is the right time. In fact, when the creative learning moment arrives, it seems to create its own time, or put another way, clocks don't seem to matter much anymore. The Open Space environment provides the nutrient setting for creative activity, and those who would lead in that environment must keep their eye on the creative process and forget about the clock. When "it" happens, it will happen in its own time, and scheduling a breakthrough for 10 am is not only an exercise in futility, it is consummately destructive of Open Space.
- Open Space Events do, of course, occur in time, which means that there must be a time of beginning and a time for closure. But everything in the middle must be allowed to run its own course.
- When it is over, it is over.
- The final principle, "When it is over, it is over," again states the obvious, but it is a point we may forget. Deep learning and creativity both have their own internal life cycle. They may take more or less time, but when they come to completion, they are over. Occasionally this means that we have to spend more time than we had planned, but more often than not, the reverse is true. The creative moment has a nasty habit of occurring very quickly, and just because the session or meeting was scheduled to take two hours is no reason to sit around and waste time after the moment has passed. When it is over, it is over.
And one "Law":
- The Law of Two Feet
- Briefly stated, this law says that every individual has two feet, and must be prepared to use them. Responsibility for a successful outcome in any Open Space Event resides with exactly one person -- each participant. Individuals can make a difference and must make a difference. If that is not true in a given situation, they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two feet, and move to a new place where they can make a difference. This departure need not be made in anger or hostility, but only after honoring the people involved and the space they occupy. By word or gesture, indicate that you have nothing further to contribute, wish them well, and go and do something useful.
Our Open Space Process:
- Welcome & Introductions (3 minutes)
- The Market Place (7 Minutes)
- Table Work Time (75 Minutes)
- Table Map
- Table Map
- Closing & Survey (5 Minutes)
- Survey Link
Open Space materials and language adopted from: