Opening Small Spaces

Christopher Kloth kloth at
Tue Dec 15 12:34:17 PST 1998

Peg, Thanks for the good question. And Buzz, thanks for reminding me where Marv
learned about soak time.  Here are a few more of my own thoughts:

Peg Holman wrote:

> Recently, with several potential clients where I've mentioned OS, I've heard,
> "oh, we did that awhile ago and it didn't work."  When I dig a little deeper,
> what I frequently find is that people spent a few hours in a larger meeting in
> "open space."

This calls to mind Merrylyn Emery's concern from Participative Design for
Participative Democracy. She refers to the haxards of "mixed mode" which she means mixing a self organizing, democratic
intervention with a traditionally facilitated, managed and structured by the
facilitator intervention.  There is imbedded in the "mixed mode" experience of
the participants a number of mixed messages about power and control that
traditional facilitators consciuosly or, more often, uncosciously collude with
traditional managers to create.  Mixed mode events create client dissatisfaction
that the rest of us must later address when clients say saincerely, "We tried
that, it didn't work."  If you truly trust the process and believe in and
understand the priciples and values that support it,

> And yet there are many stories of small spaces working well and making a
> difference.  I have heard most of those stories from practitioners.  Most of
> the stories I hear of OS "not working"  come from potential clients, often
> describing small spaces.

I am always intrigued when I here that clients report different outcomes that
the consultants.  I hope we pay close attention when they contradict each
other.  When I have had clients express these concerns I usually find that I
failed to do sufficient prework to understand what they needed or wanted or did
an insufficient job preparing them for what to expect.  Most often I find that I
did not push back hard enough to test how truly willing and able they were to
embrace the "letting go."  They really believed they were willing and able until
they got into the middle of it.

> So, I wonder what makes the difference in opening small spaces.  Is it the
> resonance of the theme?  The "tightness" or "looseness" of the community?
> The context in which the space is being opened?

I do believe there are times when the principles of open space seem to work in a
shorter time frame.  My experience is that this is most common when there has
been prior experience with a two day open space or, as I found in a recent
expereience with the Fetzer Institute, experience with deeper dialogue, such as
Bohmian Dialogue.

However, in one very volitile setting involving a group of community based
agencies with major law suits pending against the state agency from which they
derived most of their funding, accepting their legitimate interdependence around
responding to an external threat to both groups from the "Feds" allowed them to
embrace letting go sooner than I would ever have imagined possible.  For me the
key to achieving, in a short period of time, any authentic, deep, productive
connection in open space or other forms of deep dialogue is acceptance of
interdependence on something of value.

I look forward to reading other perspectives on this.

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