wow, what a community!

Birgitt Bolton birgitt at
Tue Dec 1 18:47:00 PST 1998

Hello friends in Open Space,
I just wish to say a very big thank you to all of you who participated in
feedback about OSONOS, my struggles, my viewpoint. The comments were good,
thoughtful, and what is most important to me, there were so many (on the
list and dozens sent individually) which means that we must be a real
community. Real communities care about each other and are willing to be
engaged. I like that. I would just like to clear up one point about me. I
like strangers. Always have. One of my hopes for this list is that we build
community through it. We now have access to the record of proceedings thanks
to Peggy Holman for her hard work and you can see that we actually also had
some very good conversations. The good news is that Open Space works. The
bad news is that Open Space works :-)

I think that we have some things to keep working at and working through, for
those that are interested.  I am going to note below some of the
conversations that I hope we have and that I think we need to really put our
heads together to come up with our best wisdom. Mostly, I realize that we
have alot of assumptions that we don't have a forum for noting or clarifying
and so I thought I would start here.
1. I assume that others want the development of a community of Open Space
"practitioners" so that we can support each other, learn from each other,
mentor each other, etc.
2. I assume that as soon as we come together for a common purpose, that we
then qualify as an organization. And we know that organizations operate
better (thanks Rod) if they are clear about their purpose and values. We
still need to do that, although bits and pieces of the work have happened.
3. I then assume that the best kind of organization is the Open Space
Organization--this is basically about using the principles and learnings
that we have about an Open Space event and using them to organize ourselves
for the long haul. It's a little more complicated than that. And takes a lot
of thinking to get the foundation well laid, the field tilled. Mostly about
understanding the purpose (heart) and then about clarifying our "givens" or
non-negotiables. For me, one of these is clearly sorting out what Open Space
is and what it isn't. A much harder task than meets the eye. I have been
plugging away at trying to get answers to this for some time now. Now please
don't misunderstand. This is not about dogma. Heaven forbid! It is about
root, fundamentals. I do know that everyone will apply their own style and
persona to how they "do" open space. I think another "given" that needs to
be sorted out is what it means to "hold space". I hear much in the way of
who holds space and how we hold it together and so on. But what do we all
4. Can an organization be truly emergent without taking care of the above,
or do we need to till the field and claim it as a wheat field or a corn
field and define it by at least that much (creating the container in which
the emergence can happen!)

For me, we have the knowledge about how to work with organizational
excellence, the inspired organization. We need to apply it to ourselves, and
to do that we first need to have lots of conversation. This list is one of
those places. The institutes are another. Maybe posting these questions on
the websites are another. I don't know. I know I would love the discussion
so that I can get clearer.

My vision is one in which we are an Open Space Organization, with givens and
purpose clearly defined. To allow for beautiful growth. The organization is
World Wide Open Space. And it will mentor and enable Open Space to be used
around the world. And who knows, through Open Space, we may yet find our way
to world peace.

Warmest regards,

Birgitt Bolton of Dalar Associates
55 Ravina Cres., Ancaster, Ontario, Canada
 L9G 2E8
phone: 905-648-5775  fax: 905-648-2262

>From  Tue Dec  1 22:49:17 1998
Message-Id: <TUE.1.DEC.1998.224917.0500.>
Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 22:49:17 -0500
Reply-To: dgp at
From: Parkinson & Gibeault <dgp at>
Subject: Newcomers at OS
X-To: "OSLIST at" <OSLIST at>
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>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

>From  Thu Dec  3 16:16:16 1998
Message-Id: <THU.3.DEC.1998.161616.0500.>
Date: Thu, 3 Dec 1998 16:16:16 -0500
Reply-To: lpasoc at
From: Larry Peterson <lpasoc at>
Subject: Bibliography
X-To: OS List Serve <OSLIST at>
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At OS on OS I said that I would share the bibliography that I have developed
of Open Space articles or books of which I am aware that have been produced
or published in some form. Some are from OSI Canada and are certainly have
not been published in larger circulation magazines. I have not included all
the stuff we have published on our Web pages, but maybe a list of Web pages
we have with OS material would be helpful too.

I am sure that I have missed a lot!!!  So please forgive and act. I am
giving you this and expecting ListServe folks to respond by sending me
citations of other articles or books on Open Space that you have found
helpful or produced. I'll add them to the list. Include as much info as you
can and follow the format that I have, please. We can then put it on Web
sites or where ever its useful.



Larry Peterson
Associates in Transformation
41 Appleton Ave., Toronto, ON,
Canada, M6E 3A4
Tel:/Fax: 416-653-4829

lpasoc at

Open Space Bibliography

Marcelene Anderson, Larry Peterson. Spring 1998. "A Swarm of Bumblebees".
OSI Canada News. Vol. 3 Issue 1, pp. 5-7. Toronto.
Bainbridge, Fr. Brian S. 1998. "Transforming Organizations by Open Space
Technology". Self-Transformation of the Forgotten Four-Fifths. Robert Dyck,
Matjaz Mulej. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. Dubuque, Iowa.
Birgitt Bolton, Larry Peterson. March 1996.  "After the Open Space Event:
Managing Organizations in Ongoing Open Space". Open Space Institute of
Canada. Toronto.
Birgitt Bolton, Jody Orr. October 1996. "The Discovery Centre: Open Space
Creativity and Ongoing Organizational Life". Open Space Institute of Canada.
Barbara Bunker, Billie Alban. 1997. Large Group Interventions. San
Francisco. Josey-Bass Inc. Chapter 13. Open Space Technology, p. 177
Gibeault, Diane, Spring 1998. "Opening More Space while Concluding an Open
Space". OSI Canada News. Vol. 3 Issue 1., p. 3. Toronto.
Glouberman, Sholom. March 1995. "The Psychoanalytic Implications of Open
Space Events". The Open Space Institute of Canada. Toronto.
Hopkins, Michelle. August/September 1998. "Open Space Technology: Tilling
Fertile Ground for an Impassioned Community". The Inner Edge. Vol. 1 No. 3,
Innovision Communications, Aliso Viejo, CA.
Owen, Harrison. 1997. Expanding Our Now. San Francisco. Berrett-Koehler
        1997, 1993. Open Space Technology: A User's Guide. San Francisco.
Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
         ed. 1995. Tales from Open Space. Potomac, Maryland. Abbott Publishing.
        1994. The Millennium Organization. Potomac, Maryland. Abbott Publishing.
        1991. Riding The Tiger. Potomac, Maryland. Abbott Publishing
        1987. Spirit: Transformation and Development in Organizations. Abbot
Rao, Srikumar. April 1994. "Welcome to Open Space". Training Magazine.
Minneapolis. Lakewood Publication.
Schoch, Christopher. September/October 1997. "An Open Space Blueprint for
Action". At Work: Stories of Tomorrow's Workplace. Berrett-Koehler. San
Stadler, Ann, ed. March/April 1997. At Work: Stories of Tomorrow's
Workplace., Volume 6, Number 2..(Edition devoted to Open Space)
Berrett-Koehler. San Francisco.
Walker Daniel, Marlene. 1994. An Ethnographic Study of an Open Space
Technology Meeting: Self-Organization at Work. Unpublished Doctoral
Dissertation. University of Maryland.

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