Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide


Top 3 things I learned:

  1. The preparation checklist shown in Chapter 2 is very useful.
  2. The 4 principles and law of 2 feet described in Chapter 6
  3. Time can be rearranged

NOTES: Chapter 1: Open Space Technology

SUMMARY:  Introduces Open Space and gives an overview of the book.  Some case studies, some history, some definition, and a few good ideas.  (Also included here are things from the Preface)

QUOTE: Welcome to Open Space! If this is your first encounter you are standing at the beginning of what thousands of your colleagues around the world have found to be a most excellent adventure in which common people regularly produce uncommon results.  Along the way these same people have found deep inspiration from the community of their fellows and the quality of their thought and actions. Open Space Technology is in fact a very simple way to enable more effective and productive meetings.  And as it turns out, Open Space is much more. Be prepared to be surprised!

CONCEPT: The true “cost” of an open space event is that we will share what we are learning.

IDEA: The concept of open space began out of frustration, almost as a joke.  For many conferences, the truly useful part is the coffee breaks.  The question is asked, Is it possible to combine the level of synergy and excitement present in a good coffee break with the substantive activity and results characteristics of a good meeting?

IDEA: The circle is the fundamental geometry of open human communication.  Circles create communication.

CONCEPT: What you need:

  1. Come to a circle
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Create a bulletin board to identify interest
  4. Open a marketplace to bring ideas in

NOTES: Chapter 2: Preparation

SUMMARY: Appropriately named, this chapter is about everything preparation.  The chapter is a bit longer than chapter 1 and filled with useful information.  The author does a good job of highlighting when your conventional wisdom or intuition or prior learning is wrong and why.  The chapter ends with a checklist which is a summary of the chapter.

IDEA: Where Open Space Technologies (OST) is and is not effective

  • Effective: complex unknowns
  • Ineffective: Answer is known and there is a controlling figure

CONCEPT: 5 conditions of use

  1. There is a real business issue
  2. A great deal of complexity
  3. Lots of diversity
  4. Real passion
  5. Decision time of yesterday (urgency)

IDEA: Negotiate the givens.  If something is off-limits, it is usually discussed, limits discussion, and leaves unresolved

FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH: For OST to work, it must focus on a real business issue that is of passionate concern to those who will be involved.

IDEA: Audience? Those who care will attend. Must be voluntary.  Self-selection is a must.

IDEA: The invitation is a little as possible, short, simple to the point. The group will prepare the agenda upon arrival.

CONCEPT: Promises

  1. Every issue of concern to anybody will have been raised, if they took responsibility for doing that
  2. All issues will have received full discussion, to the extent desired
  3. A full report of issues and discussions will be in the hands of all participants
  4. Priorities will be set and action plans will be made.

CONCEPT: Basic invitation format

  • Theme: (issue)
  • Background / Rational
  • Logistics
  • Promises

IDEAS: below are a collection of ideas

  • If doing with other events, do before OST
  • Circle without crowding (room capacity / 2)
  • 2 days works well (Need a chance to sleep on it)
  • Add computers in the same room for report generation
  • Five breakout spaces per 100 people
  • Need feed throughout the day

CONCEPT: Supplies

  • Masking tape – 5 rolls
  • Ink Markers (washable, dark colors) – 50 per hundred participants
  • Flip Charts (1 chart w/stand per breakout room)
  • Post-its (3×5, two packages of 100 per package)
  • Wireless microphone

CONCEPT: Checklist

  • Appropriateness : should we even do this
  • Invitation: sufficient information so people arrive on time, but general to evoke participation
  • Time
  • Main space
  • Unobstructed wall
  • Outer spaces (breakout rooms)
  • Food and Drink
  • Supplies and equipment
  • Consultation with facility management

NOTES: Chapter 3: Proceedings and the Electronic Connection

SUMMARY: Talks about the output generated and produced during the meeting.  The key is that reports are generated during the meeting.


  • Computer to participant ratio: 5:100
  • Computer to 8 foot table ratio: 2:1
  • Computers go out in the main area, not hidden, used by participants
  • Breaking News area where printed material goes
  • 1 printer – yes a bottleneck but ensure all reports are consolidated

CONCEPT: Recommended format

  • Title
  • Convener
  • List of Participants
  • Discussion and recommendations

NOTES: Chapter 4: Personal Preparation for Open Space

SUMMARY: A short, strange chapter with little to offer other htan how to produce value from doing nothing and remaining invisible.  Lots of philosophy here.

CONCEPT: Facilitator does:

  • Create time-space
  • Hold time-space
  • Total Present
  • Absolutely invisible
  • Creates safe-time

CONCEPT: The fourfold way

  1. Show up
  2. Be present
  3. Tell the Truth
  4. Let it all go

IDEA: If you want to fail with OST, control it

NOTES: Chapter 5: Site Preparation

SUMMARY: Wow, what a practical chapter.  Lots of good notes in just a few pages.  A must read.


  • Open Space requires circles, maybe concentric circles

CONCEPTS: 3 things you need

  1. Plenty of space
  2. Makes the wall accessible (6 feet)
  3. Nothing in the middle, nothing. I need to see your eyes to see your ideas

CONCEPT: 4 signs that you need

  1. Theme
  2. The 4 principles
    1. Whoever comes is the right people
    2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
    3. Whenever it starts is the right time
    4. When it’s over, it’s over
  3. The one law: law of two feet
  4. Be Prepared to Be Surprised

CONCEPT: Space  / Time Matrix

  • Horizontal is the time slots – 90 minutes
  • Vertical is the spaces
  • Size is post-it notes
  • Add lunch
  • Add Evening News

CONCEPT: Schedule

  • Time slot 1: Agenda Creation
  • Time Slot 2: Session 1
  • Lunch
  • Time Slot 3: Session 2
  • Time Slot 4; Evening News / Closing


  • Chairs in a circle
  • Nothing in the middle
  • 6 feet to that wall
  • Computers – sign newsroom
  • Coffee
  • Breaking News

NOTES: Chapter 6: Creating Time and Space

SUMMARY: A very practical chapter on how to get an OST to launch.  Describes in great detail the actions you take at the beginning to, as the title says, create time and space.  To me it is about the framework that is needed. The chapter is a mix of high-level concepts and low-level cue cards.

CONCEPT: 6 stages of Initiating an OST

  1. Welcome
  2. Focus the Group
  3. State the Theme
  4. Describe the Process
  5. Create the Community Bulletin Board
  6. Open the Village Marketplace
  7. Get out of the way!

IDEA: Invitation has the whys and the wherefores so make the Welcome brief from someone they know

IDEA: When stating the theme, include expectations

CARD: Cue card text on theme and expectation stating

IDEA: When describing the process, state how impossible the task is because

  • Acknowledge their anxiety
  • When the group accomplishes the impossible in the first hour it is impossible to stop them after that

CARD: Cue card on the history of open space

CARD: OST Process

IDEA: Commitment comes from when you say “My name is….” and “My issue is ….”

CARD: Cue card on anxiety

CARD: Cue card on you don’t have the answer only the question

IDEA: Don’t take questions, only plays to anxiety and slows the process down

CONCEPT: 4 Principles

  1. Whoever comes is the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over, it’s over

IDEA: 1st principle is about quality over quantity

IDEA: 2nd principle reminds us that real learning and real progress only happen when we move beyond our agendas

IDEA: 3rd principle is tough for westerners, but there is no guarantee of useful conversations starting on time

IDEA: 4th principle we can rearrange time just like the furniture.

CONCEPT: The One Law

  • If during our time together, you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go to some more productive place.
  • Puts a person’s responsibility for quality on that person
  • Bumblebees – flirt and pollinate
  • Butterflies – sit around, conversations come to them

CARD: Many good cue cards for the rest of the launching topics, but nothing earth shattering

NOTES: Chapter 7: Holding Time and Space

SUMMARY: A companion chapter to the previous chapter.  This chapter talks how to trust the people.  Many examples are given but no big concepts.

IDEA: Intuition

  • Awaken/Focus
  • Trust

IDEA: 3 Questions to help intuition

  1. What is the dance
  2. What is the smell
  3. What are the colors

IDEA: Morning Announcements and Evening News are the structure to bring things together

IDEA: Get yourself a set of Tibetan Bells

IDEA: Not a fan of name tags

IDEA: Space Invaders happen, use law of two feet

CONCEPT: The facilitator cannot make choices for people, but can give everyone the opportunity to choose.

NOTES: Chapter 8: Movement to Action

SUMMARY: Again, practical advice.  How to get people into action.  A neat, novel, and simple framework for action.

IDEA: When you shrink the Plan-Do-Act-Check cycle to a very short time (remember with open space we rearrange time and space) you get things happening simultaneously.

CONCEPT: Steps to creating an action plan

  1. Group IDs area where action is needed
  2. Action has sufficient detail that real work can commence
  3. ID responsible parties who will get the show on the road

TERM: Soak Time: The overnight period where we think about and reflect

CONCEPT: Voting techniques

  • Dot Voting (good for less than 100)
  • Ballots (good for more than 100)

CONCEPT: Flip Charts (1 issue = 1 Flip Chart)

  • Issue
  • Related Issue
  • Next steps (immediate next steps)
  • Co-Conspirators (interested in working on a particular issues)

CONCEPT: Issue Triage

  • Do It
  • Talk About It
  • Clear as Mud

NOTES: Chapter 9: Endings and New Beginnings

SUMMARY: 2 major concepts presented here.  First the talking stick to close and second the medicine wheel.  I didn’t really get the medicine wheel concept and I felt the talking stick could have been a sentence.

CONCEPT; Talking stick.  Use a microphone.  One person talks and passes to the right.

CONCEPT: Medicine wheel>

  • North : Deer : Leadership : Powerful trail breaker
  • East : Eagle : Vision : High Seer
  • South : Mouse : Community : Warmth at hearth and heart
  • West : Bear : Management : Slow moving handling details

NOTES: Chapter 10: Follow-Up

SUMMARY: Unlike the rest of this book, this chapter has no practical notes, case examples, etc.

NOTES: Chapter 11: Unexpected Gifts: Leadership, Performance, Peace

SUMMARY: Summed up by saying leadership will be enlightened, performance will happen, and peace is attained.

NOTES: Chapter 12: What Next?

SUMMARY: Not much of anything


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