Newcomers at OS

Parkinson & Gibeault dgp at
Tue Dec 1 19:49:17 PST 1998

>From Diane Gibeault, Gibeault & Associates, Ottawa, Canada


To begin, a warm thank you to those who shared some of their experience
and learnings from the last OSonOS.  I would like to share my experience
and learnings with a similar situation. My learning was that it is not a
question of lack of heart to welcome strangers that is at hand but a
question of clarity on the purpose of the event. I was happy to hear
many of you commenting on how the purpose and the invitation to OSonOs
must be clearer, that it is a place for furthering our learning as to
how to open space and not an orientation ground for those who have not
experienced Open Space.

The 1998 invitation described OSonOS  as "the annual event for Open
Space practitioners, a great opportunity to meet with peers who have
been working with Open Space". There was no reference to novices being
introduced to OS. Like any OS, one can expect a few strangers (in this
case, newcomers to OS). A turn out of newcomers at the level of 75% of
all participants cannot but change the nature of the OSonOS meeting as
it would for any meeting.

What is a stranger? I agree that we are all strangers in the sense of
being open to the unknown but to my understanding, H.Owen's use of the
"stranger concept" refers to something different. As I remember, it was
described more as a "few" people, not related to the group who happen to
be there even if they are not part of the group, who listen and at times
can raise questions or issues that can be enlightening for the group.  I
do not sense that people who have commented on this "stranger" or
newcomer issue have problems with the concept of a few strangers and in
that context of welcoming "strangers", on the contrary. I do not
perceive this concern about the number of newcomers as being
"insiderisms". Rather, the concern seems to recognize the importance of
clarity of intent and focus which in the end is more respectful of
everyone's needs and in that way, more inclusive.

There seems to be two main needs that one event tried to address. This
approach may have served well the OS community in the past. The
evolution and expansion of that very community may now warrant a
different way of doing things. Maybe we need two events, which could
even occur one right after the other to facilitate some
cross-pollination, each having a clear objective. One of these two needs
is to offer an opportunity for OS practitioners to further their
learning; the second need appears to be one of spreading OS, one that in
other contexts would be described as sensitization or promotion, and can
translate itself into promotion of a way of thinking or a philosophy, of
training workshops, of membership, of books, etc.

The "similar" personal situation I was referring to earlier was in fact
the 1997 OsonOS. I  experienced the same thing about the imbalance
between people wanting to discover OS and people wanting to deepen their
knowledge of OS. The difficulty was in small groups where newcomers
would often divert  the discussion of the issue at hand to raise
personal questions on the technique of OS itself and at times
challenging those with experience to "prove" to them, to "convince" them
that it works, as some indicated they were downright sceptical. One may
say that this offered good practice for an OS practitioners but such
practice, we get everyday around us. More rare is the opportunity to
exchange with peers from across the world to further our own training as
facilitators. It is true that we can always learn from any situation.
The question is are we working on what we most need to work on? If
pursuant to an invitation, we (people with OS experience) invest time
and financial resources to come to the event, we bring our passion to
address the specific issue presented to us, ie, deepening our learning,
it is normal that we have expectations to be welcomed and respected in
that need.

At the 97 OSonOS, during a group discussion that was precisely on how to
further the training of those who have had some training and are
practitioners of OS, I raised my concern about the purpose of the event
and the imbalance in the composition of the group.  I gave the following
example to explain. What if an organization invited its members to
discuss how it can do better on the day to day job and that it also
invited outside people to a rate of 70%. It is possible that much time
would be spent bringing new people up to date as to what the
organization is, what the jobs are, clarifying and telling stories
before some of the issues of "betterment" could begin to be addressed.
Air time for the members of the organization to actually explore their
specific needs is most likely reduced. This could result in some level
of frustration on the part of the organization's members who came with
the intent to accomplish something very concrete on their issue related
to their day to day work. The nature of the meeting was changed by who
was invited and attended  - more precisely, the number of newcomers.
Both sides could feel they have been brought under false pretenses.
There seemed to be some recognition in our discussion  group that the
level of the exchange in such a case would be one of conversation, not
one of in depth discussion. In the course of this discussion, it was
suggested to have one clear objective for the OsonOS, learning for
people who practice OS,  and to invite people accordingly. This proposal
was a "different" way of doing OSonOS and as any new way of doing
things, time was needed for reflection.

Harrison Owen says in his guide on OS that "focus and intent must be
clear,... that the first thing is to determine in concrete terms what
you want to accomplish". In any facilitation approach, we  aim at
reaching the objective of the meeting to its fullest potential. This is
what it's about: having a clear, transparent intent and organizing the
event in a way as to maximize the potential of reaching that intent.

As was said in other responses on this issue, we need to look at why the
"difference" - in this case, the proposed new way of doing OSonOS - is
bothering us if it is, try to integrate it and give and receive
feedback. In other words, lets talk about this proposed future
orientation of OSonOS as suggested by others and as described by Barry
Owen as "a place where Open Space facilitators can find safety in
learning from each other". Another day could be tagged on for the newly
"interested" in OS. We need heart for newcomers and we need heart for
the facilitators of the Open Space community. Lets create spaces for

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