Participation level:

  • Low (Information only)

Innovation level:

  • High (Innovative)

Facilitator skill level, and other support required:

  • High (Specialist skills)
  • Low (No special skills)

Can be used for:

  • Discover community issues
  • Develop community capacity
  • Communicate an issue
Number of people required to help organize:
  • Medium (2-12 people)
Group size:
  • Usually thought of as being large (> 30), but also regularly utilized by groups smaller than 30 people!

I suggest that with fewer than 12 people you might consult a facilitator who has worked with small groups. -- [[Jeff Aitken]],

Open space technology aims to provide an event which is relevant, timely, and participatory. Its relevance is determined by the participants, who determine the agenda, the length of the event, and the outcomes.

The Open Space Technology event puts people of like interests in touch with one another, allows people to exchange views and to understand a wider range of viewpoints, and provides a sense of empowerment to shape the world towards the kind of future the participants might desire.


  • Appropriate for use where there is a need for new ideas and the prevailing climate is characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity and a low level of trust.
  • Because there are a limited set of rules, the process is driven by the participants.
  • Absence of 'control' of the process means participants must be prepared to go where the process takes them.
  • Includes immediate summary and discussion.
  • Provides a structure by giving participants opportunities and responsibilities to create a valuable product or an experience.

  • Facilities should be flexible to accommodate variable group sizes.
  • A powerful theme or vision statement is needed to generate topics.
  • A large number of participants are involved in the process (up to 500).
  • The most important issues can sometimes be lost in the discussion.
  • It can sometimes be difficult to get accurate records of results.


Organizing Open Space Technology

How many people to organize?

Time required:

  • Medium (6 weeks-6 months)


  • Medium (AUD$1,000-AUD$10,000)

  • Determine whether the open space technology process is the most appropriate technique for your situation, considering the people who are likely to take part and their preferences and attitudes, and the venues available to you.
  • Select venue, facilitators and prepare information (open space technology can be successfully used in conjunction with other techniques such as conferences and workshops).
  • Publicize the event.
  • Describe process and rules to the participants, as outlined below:
  • Principles as stated above (Whoever comes are the right people, etc.) and the Law of Two Feet.
  • Follow due process
  • One by one, each person who wishes to, steps into the center of the circle and announces their name and topics they feel passionate enough about to be willing to lead a break out session on that topic.
  • Each passionate person writes the topic on a piece of paper along with time and venue for a discussion.
  • Following announcements of topics by passionate people, the market place becomes open. The marketplace is a wall where all the topics, times and venues are posted to allow participants to decide which session to sign up to.
  • Those who announced the topics facilitate the individual discussions and appoint people to record notes.
  • Reconvene into the larger group and report back, or combine reports into one document and ensure widespread dissemination to all those who took part, and all those likely to make a decision.





The following information was excerpted for the NCDD site from Harrison Owen's book Open Space Technology, the Open Space World website ( ) and Dalar International Consultancy's website ( ).

What is Open Space Technology (OST)?

Open Space Technology, created by Harrison Owen, is a self-organizing practice that releases the inherent creativity and leadership in people. By inviting people to take responsibility for what they care about, Open Space establishes a marketplace of inquiry, where people offer topics they care about, reflect and learn from one another, to accomplish meaningful work. It is recognized internationally as an innovative approach to creating whole systems change and inspiring the best in human performance.

At the very least, Open Space is a fast, cheap, and simple way to better, more productive meetings. At a deeper level, it enables people to experience a very different quality of organization in which self managed work groups are the norm, leadership a constantly shared phenomenon, diversity becomes a resource to be used instead of a problem to be overcome, and personal empowerment a shared experience. It is also fun. In a word, the conditions are set for fundamental organizational change, indeed that change may already have occurred. By the end, groups face an interesting choice. They can do it again, they can do it better, or they can go back to their prior mode of behavior.

Open Space is appropriate in situations where a major issue must be resolved, characterized by high levels of complexity, high levels of diversity (in terms of the people involved), the presence of potential or actual conflict, and with a decision time of yesterday.

Open Space runs on two fundamentals: passion and responsibility. Passion engages the people in the room. Responsibility ensures things get done. A focusing theme or question provides the framework for the event. The art of the question lies in saying just enough to evoke attention, while leaving sufficient open space for the imagination to run wild.

Open Space Technology has one outstanding characteristic - the generation of energy and commitment. It also has one outstanding enemy - control. It will not work where the energy and commitment generated are not permitted to bear fruit. This is not to suggest that OST is an invitation to anarchy. Far from it. Provided the constraints -economic, political, legislative - are recognized and spelt out very clearly at the start, and the areas where discretion and freedom to be creative ("defining the space") are also made clear, Open Space Technology is proving itself to be a powerful tool for harnessing commitment and responsibility. Several organization-wide Open Space Technology meetings within a short time frame will start to shift an organizational culture from something that might be de-energized into a more vibrant organic networked community that is effectively producing results.

Open Space Operates on Four Principles and One Law

  • Whoever comes is the right people.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  • When it starts is the right time.
  • When it's over, it's over.

These principles are simple statements of the way things work. While they may appear counter-intuitive to some, they are my observations of what always happens when people interact.

The one law or rule is called The Law of Mobility,' also known as 'The Law of Two Feet. The Law of Two Feet says to stand up for what you believe and if you feel you are neither contributing nor learning where you are, use your two feet and go somewhere else. The law is fundamentally about personal responsibility. It makes it clear that the only person responsible for your experience is you.

The Mechanics of Open Space

An Open Space meeting is announced. A duration of three days is recommended. The venue is a large conference room with lots of "break-out" or session rooms or areas adjacent. When people arrive for the Open Space Technology meeting, they initially come to the plenary room and find a venue in which there is an empty room, except for a large circle of chairs. The circle is an invitation to communication with no barriers.

The workshop begins with a welcome by the sponsor that is brief, highlighting the theme and the "givens," and then a facilitator explains how the Open Space Technology workshop will operate. The broad purpose of the workshop is stated again, as are the "givens" or constraints. An example of a broader theme might be "Issues and Opportunities for the Future of the Organization." Sometimes the broad purpose is quite focused such as "Issues and Opportunities for reworking the assembly line." In the middle of the circle is a collection of newsprint paper, masking tape, and felt pens. Participants are then invited to create the agenda for the workshop. It works like this.
  1. Anyone who has any ideas at all that relate to this broad topic are invited to take a sheet of paper and along the top write their topic of interest or passion. People are asked for ideas for which they have passion and for which they are prepared to take the responsibility of leading a discussion group on that idea (they do not need to have had previous experience in leading a discussion group but simply to get their topic started and to be sure that everyone who comes to their discussion has a chance to speak), and to make sure a record of the discussion is recorded (report forms are provided). The sheets announcing each of the ideas, along with the name of the person who put up the idea and a note of when the topic will be addressed and which breakout area it will be in) are affixed to a blank wall. Participants can put up ideas for which they have a lot of information including having handouts that they have brought to the meeting for the purpose of sharing the information, or they might know nothing more about the idea than to have a question.
  2. The next step involves a "marketplace." All workshop participants go to the market wall to look at the ideas outlined on each sheet. When they find the topic of most interest to them, they sign up, by writing their name on the sheet beneath the topic.
  3. The next step involves participants going to the break out spaces to participate in the topics of their choice. As far as possible, each session is defined by a circle of chairs and no other furniture, though it may have flip charts, post-its, felt pens, etc. The person who posted the idea is responsible for leading the session in whatever way s/he chooses. The facilitator has no involvement whatsoever. The only requirement is that, at the end of the session, the session leader brings back to a central point a summary of session ideas, and who has agreed to do what. This is to be provided in a somewhat standardized format, usually noted on a pro-forma given to the session leader at the start of their session. It is important to record the highlights of the discussion in such a way that they can be understood by people who were not part of the discussion.
  4. A bank of computers is available and session leaders or a representative from the group enters the report into a computer. As soon as a report is entered, the facilitator prints a copy of it for a newswall and posts it so that all participants of the broader meeting can read about what has happened in each session. As well, a copy of the report is made to be entered into a "book of proceedings", a book that is comprised of all of the reports and contact information of the participants so that they can reach each other for further networking. This book is available to each participant of the meeting. In a multi-day meeting, the "book of proceedings" is handed to each person prior to a time of converging the various topics and getting further input from the collective about next step actions. In a meeting that is one day or less, the "book of proceedings" is available to participant within the week, either through a pick up or mailing. Often, the "book of proceedings" is available electronically as well on a website or by e-mail.
  5. In meetings where the intention is to move topics to action steps, the facilitator conducts a summarizing session for convergence, prioritizing and action planning, including seeking input on next steps and follow-up. This is a feature of Open Space Technology meetings that are longer than one day.

Open Space Institutes and Open Space World

There are a number of Open Space Institutes (OSI's) worldwide, all born and raised by the efforts of volunteer members. Most of these OS Institutes have their own websites, as do a number of individual practitioners and other organizations.

The Open Space World site offers an open invitation to connect with the people and practices, insights and experiences that are showing up in worldwide open space. This site was created in the spirit of the simple, powerful functionality that is Open Space Technology -- to provide easy access to the growing number of Open Space organizations, practitioners and resources available on the web.

Open Space Technology Resources

Open Space World website

Harrison Owen and colleagues, articles, training workshops, books and more.

Dalar International Consultancy

Senior Consultants Birgitt and Ward Williams offer the Genuine Contact training program and other Open Space services.

Open Circle Company

OST toolbox, papers and other resources offered by Peggy Holman.

Opening Space

Lisa Heft's website offers resources, articles, training programs and photos for people learning about Open Space and facilitators working in Open Space.

Global Chicago

Michale Herman's website contains a wealth of resources on the practice and application of Open Space Technology.

Chris Corrigan Chris Corrigan's Open Space Technology pages contain reources and stories of OST application and a list of weblogs maintained by OST practitioners.

Open Space Books

Expanding Our Now''

Owen, Harrison. Berrett-Koehler. What is Open Space Technology, and why does it work, particularly when it apparently violates all the rules of meeting and organizational management? The global experience to date is described and the search initiated for the new rules by which Open Space operates. It seems to have more than a little to do with self-organizing systems and ancient mythology.

Open Space Technology: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition

Owen, Harrison. Berrett-Koehler. All you ever wanted to know about facilitating an Open Space event. Included are the specifics about time, place, logistics, invitation and follow-up. Special attention is devoted to the preparation of the facilitator and when not to use OST. New material on the computer connection and how to bring the Open Space Event to the critical point of concrete action.

Open Space Technology: A User's NON-Guide''

Herman, Michael and Corrigan, Chris, eds. A conversation between 37 practitioners of Open Space Technology which captures the spirit and deep work of the process. The book is a complement to the User's Guide as is available for free at

The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform

Owen, Harrison. Berrett-Koehler. This book is about Spirit and the ways in which Spirit forms and transforms in organizations.

The Spirit of Leadership

Owen, Harrison. Berrett-Koehler. All about leadership in Open Space.

Tales From Open Space

Owen, Harrison, Editor. In this book, journalists, practitioners, and just plain folks share their experiences with Open Space Technology, and reflect upon the outcomes. Downloadable for free at

And the following text was originally copied with permission from the Citizens Science Toolbox.

Open Space Technology (OST) is a radical participatory approach developed by US Management Consultant Harrison Owen in the 1980s. Stated simply, open space technology allows participants to offer topics for discussion and others to participate according to their interest. The theory behind open space technology is that people will take ownership of issues they wish to address.

OST operates on the following four principles:

  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it's over, it's over. (InternationalAssociationForPublicParticipation, 2000)

[Open Space Technology][] - a chart from Peggy Holman and Tom Devane's //The Change Handbook: Group Methods for Shaping the Future//, Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright *1999 by Peggy Holman and Tom Devane Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, CA, USA. Adapted to online form by Lisa Heft.

Other Articles about Open Space

See also Large Group Intervention

Category Practice | Category Large Group Intervention




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  --Michel Bauwens (Not signed in).....Sun Jan 31 00:53:33 -0800 2010

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