Fw: AI/Open Space (AMBER Institute - LONG)

Peg Holman pholman at email.msn.com
Mon Nov 2 13:26:28 PST 1998

Thought you might enjoy this story of Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space.

Peg Holman

-----Original Message-----
From: Dave Potter <3d at turbonet.com>
To: AI list <appreciative-inqry at utdallas.edu>
Date: Saturday, October 31, 1998 11:01 AM
Subject: AI/Open Space (AMBER Institute - LONG)

>Dear AI group,
>Last month, I had a chance to work with a group using AI and Open Space,
>and it went very well, bringing the group to a place it hadn’t been to in
>over ten years of meetings.  My thanks to Peg Holman for her posting on "AI
>Based Strategic Planning" last month which confirmed and informed our
>decision to combine AI and OS.
>As usual, there’s a lot of detail here and I’ve used headings to make
>skimming easier.  If you don’t want to read through this whole thing, but
>are specifically interested in some reflections we’ve had regarding the
>AI/OS integration, you can skip to "ABOUT THE AI/OPEN SPACE INTEGRATION"...
>The 2 1/2 day meeting was for a a non-profit (I’ll call it the AMBER
>Institute) which sponsors a particular brand of awareness-raising
>workshops.  Almost since it’s inception over ten years ago, AMBER had been
>invited into organizations to do organizational development work.  While
>their work with other organizations was usually very good, their own
>internal meetings about their OD work were not.  The sub-group responsible
>for delivering the OD work (some adjunct, some AMBER staff) had been
>meeting sporadically for ten years, without ever really clearly defining
>their role within AMBER, and these meetings were typically disappointing
>and frustrating.  We’ll call this sub-group AMBER-OD
>Since many of the people with the most history with AMBER-OD had stopped
>coming to the AMBER-OD meetings, and some had stopped consulting for AMBER,
>it was important to gather their experiences and stories for the group that
>would be there.  For this, AI phone interviews were done by myself and My
>co-facilitator, and summaries of the interviews would to be brought into
>the meeting.  We didn’t interview any of the 10 people coming to the
>meeting, because we would do AI interviews during the meeting itself.
>The interview protocol used was very similar to the one that will follow
>this posting, except that two questions hadn’t been added yet (the second
>and the last).  This was a refinement that the phone interviews inspired.
>Although all of the interviews were, in the end, positive experiences, some
>of the people interviewed still had some unresolved feelings about
>AMBER-OD, so some of them were challenging.  In fact, My co-facilitator
>nearly hung up part way through one of them because she was so discouraged
>with the way the interview was going.  But, by the close of the interview,
>the tone had shifted to a place of hope and potential.
>The printed summary of  these interviews was very similar to those I’ve
>described for "Turner Realty" in a previous post (September 21).  The only
>difference was that we included a page of "Quotable Quotes" from the
>interviews.  These and the stories were attributed (with permission, of
>course), and everything else (values, life-giving forces, headlines, three
>wishes) was unattributed.
>All ten of us stayed at the retreat center, and the meeting took place in a
>nice, large room in the center of the complex.  Meals were cafeteria-style,
>which made the logistics for meals easy and informal.  The entire meeting
>took place with chairs in a circle, except for small group and paired work.
>My co-facilitator is very experienced with Open Space, and it seemed to the
>planning committee that it was important that the group have a chance to
>share their knowledge and experience, and maybe even come to some concrete
>results, so it was decided to use Open Space for this.  Also, everyone on
>the planning committee was taken with the idea of Appreciative Inquiry, and
>thought it would be a great way to build the field before going into Open
>The retreat was to begin with a day of Appreciative Inquiry, followed by a
>day of Open Space, with a third morning for closure.
>The retreat was designed to answer these four questions:
>WHERE ARE WE NOW? - what have we done so far?
>WHO ARE WE? - what makes us unique, collectively and individually?
>WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF AMBER-OD? - and where do YOU fit in?
>Sequence of events:
>    [DAY ONE, Friday 8:30 - 5:00]
>1.  Where are we now?
>2.  What is the world calling us to become?
>3.  Intro to AI
>4.  AI interviews in pairs
>5.  De-brief and more about AI
>6.  Group sharing of interviews
>7.  Integrating today’s interviews with phone interviews
>8.  Closing - learnings
>9.  Fish-bowl discussion about recent work [after dinner]
>    [DAY TWO, Saturday 8:30 - 5:00]
>1.  Check-in
>2.  Open Space Introduction
>3.  Open Space session #1 [9:00 - 10:30]
>4.  Open Space session #2 [10:30 - 12:00]
>5.  Open Space session #3 [12:30 - 2:00]
>6.  Open Space session #4 [2:00 - 3:30]
>7.  Open Space "Evening News" and Closing
>    [DAY THREE, Sunday 8:30 - 1:00]
>1.  How are we doing relative to the AMBER-OD charter?
>2.  Actionable decisions/tasks for the next leg of the AMBER-OD initiative.
>3.  Closing
>[DAY ONE - Friday]
>About a one hour update by the manager of Amber’s OD efforts, outlining all
>the work that had been done since the last meeting, three months before,
>including over a dozen clients that are now being worked with.
>This served as a segue into the AI portion of the meeting.  There had been
>numerous organizational identity crises for AMBER-OD during the past 10
>years, and it was felt important to determine just where AMBER-OD fit
>within AMBER and within the greater context of its calling to OD work.
>Very similar to what was posted to the AI group for "Turner Realty" on
>September 21.  (if you don’t have it, and want it, send me a private note)
>As with Turner, I didn’t spend much time here, because I wanted them to get
>into the interviews right away.  Even so, it was important to set the
>stage, since for this group, there was/is a bit of a "no pain, no gain"
>philosophy in many of their interventions.  We needed to let them know that
>we were taking a positive approach consciously and that we weren’t just
>being stupid or naive (ie., "let’s talk about the positive stuff just
>because it feels good").  More about AI background and theory would come
>after the interviews.
>Again, similar to Turner Realty.
>The main difference was that, for this group, the interviews were VERY,
>VERY important because much of the discussion in previous meetings was at a
>very high level of abstraction, and many of the individual practitioners
>didn’t really know specifics about how their AMBER colleagues worked with
>clients.  It was especially important to offer them the chance to talk
>about specifics because the organizational work they each do differs
>greatly from the structure of the public workshops AMBER sponsors.  I think
>they all assumed they knew what each other did.
>Because of the importance of the interview and because they are all
>experienced facilitators, I gave them an almost three hour period, which
>spanned lunch (logistically easy because lunch was cafeteria-style in the
>retreat center).  This gave them over an hour for each direction, and I
>asked them to return with a set of notes which I could read (and which they
>had gotten permission to share) which included:
>    One story
>    Things they value about AMBER-OD
>    Life-giving forces of AMBER-OD
>    Headline
>    3 Wishes
>    What gave them hope for the future
>I wanted the notes in readable form so I could write these up for them
>after the meeting.  These were transcribed, printed, and mailed after the
>meeting.  In the meantime, in the "GROUP SHARING OF INTERVIEWS" section, we
>would discuss, record and display on flip-charts some of the information so
>it could inform the collective.
>Asked them, content aside, how did this feel? We put their comments on a
>flip-chart.  There were 5 groups (I got to be in one, since we were exactly
>10 people), and of those 5, 3 said they could easily have gone past the
>three hours, and 2 said it was exactly the right amount of time.  There was
>clearly a shift in the room after the interviews, a feeling of peace,
>generosity, and support that people in the group told me later they had
>never experienced with this group.
>One person said "I thought it was so much time, but we would have needed
>another 2 hrs to start anything else.  So... we ran out of time, even with
>1.5 hours apiece!"  Another said, "There was something very peaceful about
>the process.  Sort of going to a place, both separately and together, where
>there is a lot of nurturance, a lot of things available..."
>Even with these comments, I don’t think I’d ask an inexperienced group to
>spend this length of time - every one of the AMBER folks are very
>experienced in leading and participating in process.
>Now, I said a little more about AI background and theory, drawing in part
>from Cooperrider’s "Positive Image, Positive Action".  (chapter 4 of
>"Appreciative Management and Leadership: The Power of Positive Thought and
>Action in Organizations").  Parallels/learnings were drawn from sports
>(Olympic coaching methodology - Greg Louganis), education (pygmalion
>effect), David’s bowling example.  Also, a little of the AI theory (law of
>simultaneity, etc.)  Not a lot of time was spent on AI theory - maybe 10-15
>Since we were only 10 people, it didn’t make sense to split into smaller
>groups, so I simply opened it up to the entire group to share what they
>thought was significant about what they heard from their partner.  This was
>in no particular order and I didn’t even suggest that one person had to
>completely finish describing what they heard from their partner.  This gave
>it a sense of give/take, and free-flow that we probably wouldn’t have had
>if I had suggested we go around in a circle and have each go through all
>what they wanted to share about their partner.
>I had five flip-charts set up with these titles:
>    What do you value (about AMBER-OD)?
>    Life-giving forces for AMBER-OD?
>    Headline?
>    Three wishes?
>    What gives you hope?
>One of us stood by the easels, and whenever we heard a response that fit
>into one of the five categories, we’d write it on the appropriate easel.
>As the energy started to die down, I noticed there wasn’t much on the
>"Headlines" and "What gives you hope", and just mentioned I was curious
>about what they had heard.  What came out then was some of the most
>powerful stuff of this session.
>At this point, I handed out the written summary of the phone interviews
>done prior to the meeting of people who weren’t in attendence.  It was
>broken down into the following sections:
>    Quotable Quotes (attributed to who gave the quote)
>    Stories (attributed)
>    Values and Life-Giving Forces
>    Headlines
>    Three Wishes
>While Values, Headlines, Three Wishes were unattributed, there was no
>boiling down to the least common denominator.  Everyone’s input was
>represented (eg., there were eight sets of three wishes).
>I asked them to take a few minutes to look over the phone interview
>summaries, then look up at what we now had on the flip charts and consider
>similarities, differences, common themes.
>My co-facilitator and I shared a little about our experience with some of
>the more difficult phone interviews.  Hearing how a positive approach can
>still move people through difficult stages caused a significant shift in
>several of the people there about the value of an AI approach.  Up until
>then, several of them thought that maybe AI side-stepped the hard issues.
>Simultaneously, and paradoxically, there was also some modification of
>their "no pain, no gain" beliefs.
>Asked what they had...
>    learned (what they didn’t know before about individuals or the org.)
>    unlearned (what they thought they knew before, but had that belief
>We shared just a tiny bit about what to expect in the Open Space portion
>Closed for the day, went to dinner, everyone was invited for the evening
>This was optional, but everyone came.  A very recent organizational
>intervention was de-briefed by the three facilitators involved in that work
>in the center of the circle.  Lots of questions, comments, conversation.
>This was very useful since, up to this meeting, it was rare that this much
>detail about an intervention was shared, and there were many aha’s and much
>learning about the different approaches represented in the room.
>[ DAY TWO - Saturday]
>We took about 20 minutes to reflect on the day before, and to check-in.
>Before the meeting, My co-facilitator put on the walls a matrix of meeting
>areas and times, as well as "The Four Principles of Open Space" and "The
>One Law of Open Space".  She opened the Open Space with a short description
>of what it is, letting us know we would be setting our own agenda, using
>the four time slots and three meeting areas.  As is customary with OS, this
>was very short, maybe 10 minutes.
>For those who don’t know Open Space, there is a very complete description
>of Open Space in Harrison Owen’s two books, "Open Space Technology - A
>User’s Guide", and "Expanding Our Now:  The Story of Open Space".  Highly
>Six or seven topics were offered to the group by participants.  Convenors
>selected time slots and meeting places and the "marketplace" was opened for
>people to sign up for sessions.
>It was fascinating to watch the group deal with several of the time slots
>that had two or three items.  In some cases, the convener opted not to do
>their session so they could participate in another in the same time slot,
>and in another, two of the topics were very similar and were combined.  The
>net effect was that the entire group of 10 stayed together for all four
>3.  OPEN SPACE SESSION #1 [9:00 - 10:30]
>4.  OPEN SPACE SESSION #2 [10:30 - 12:00]
>These two sessions were very lively, pertinent and productive.  The group
>had a chance to discover talents, experience, and offerings that had been
>available, but not tapped or brought to awareness prior to this meeting.
>5.  OPEN SPACE SESSION #3 [12:30 - 2:00]
>This session, after about 45 minutes, was (by some participant’s
>estimation) beginning to drag and to get very abstract and heady.  At 1:45,
>several participants expressed their concern that we might wind up leaving
>Sunday afternoon (the next day) without having accomplished anything that
>had a life beyond the weekend.  In other words, it might wind up like
>nearly every other AMBER-OD meeting that they’d had over the previous ten
>After a few minutes of discussion, the convener of session #4 (one of the
>people most vocal about not wanting to "just talk abstractly") offered to
>give her upcoming slot up.  It seemed there were three or four things the
>group REALLY wanted to get started.
>My co-facilitator asked if the group wanted to have another opening
>(offering of new topics for the last time slot).  They did, and she opened
>it up, and four topics were offerred.  The "marketplace" was also opened
>up, and the group formed into three smaller groups to address three of the
>four topics.  This all took place in 15 minutes, and the last session (#4)
>was devoted to these topics.
>6.  OPEN SPACE SESSION #4 [2:00 - 3:30]
>An unbelievable amount got accomplished in this short period, including the
>framework for a Field book for AMBER-OD practitioners, and a
>transformational evolution of one of AMBER’s workshops to make it more
>relevant to the kinds of organizations AMBER-OD was involved with.
>Energy was high, and there was clear commitment to make these initiatives
>happen.  In fact, it seemed then (and now) that there wasn’t any way to
>stop them, because the individuals and sub-groups involved had taken such
>ownership that they were determined to make them happen with or without
>AMBER’s sponsorship.
>Each of the three groups presented their work to the whole.  There was a
>level of excitement and ownership that several people said had never
>happened within AMBER-OD before.
>There was to be another fishbowl this evening, and, in fact, the group
>gathered for it after dinner, but there wasn’t anyone who really wanted to
>do this, so we just visited, told stories, laughed and joked.  Mostly, just
>enjoyed being with each other.
>[DAY THREE, Sunday]
>By Saturday night, we had already accomplished most of the objectives, and
>so we could devote Sunday to tying loose ends and evaluating just where we
>were.  This was a very different experience for AMBER-OD.  They had never
>gone into the third day of one of these meetings with their work mostly
>done.  In fact, they usually got on airplanes Sunday afternoon before any
>clear resolution was reached about what they were going to do next.
>The three people that had been with AMBER the longest, each said that in
>ten years, they had never had a meeting like this - people usually left
>feeling somehow incomplete.  In the words of one of these old-timers:
>"Something is different, the spirit of generosity and sharing is profound,
>safe, available.  This meeting is very nurturing.  This gives me renewed
>hope for AMBER-OD."
>We had originally planned for the AI day to move more smoothly into the
>Open Space the next day by generating some themes from the AI part, maybe
>even some Provocative Propositions.  These were to create the theme for the
>Open Space.  As it turned out, the AI part didn’t develop that far.  We had
>decided it was more important to extend the interviews than force the AI
>day to go into an explicit generation of themes and Provocative
>Propositions.  Amazingly enough, even without any explicit integration of
>AI and Open Space, they worked together in a natural and powerful way.
>My co-facilitator had said in her opening remarks on Saturday morning that,
>ideally, a group devotes three days to Open Space.  If you only have one
>day, it would be useful, but should be thought of as a day of good
>conversation.  If you had only two, on the second day, there would be an
>opportunity for important issues to be raised, but not resolved.  If you
>had three, then there’d be opportunities for issues to be resolved, and for
>We still haven’t sorted it all out, but it seems that having the day of AI
>preceeding the Open Space created such a strong field of connection, shared
>values, and common goals that the Open Space component went through a
>series of phases that normally takes three days in a much shorter time (the
>one day).  It had really been quite remarkable to see the group do this
>unplanned shift (OS people will remember the phrase "Prepare to be
>Surprised") in Session #3.  It was clear that they were all of the same
>mind and all but forced us to create a new opening so they could get to
>A month later, energy has not died.  If anything, it’s gotten higher as
>things begin to happen.  The Fieldbook is coming along, with the AMBER
>member acting as editor saying that he’s so excited about it, he would do
>this even if it weren’t an AMBER-OD initiative.  Similarly, several who
>have committed to contribute have said that they would write up their parts
>even if there weren’t going to be a fieldbook.  The new generation of an
>AMBER workshop has already changed (the next scheduled one was held last
>week) due to the work begun at the retreat, and everyone is energized about
>the new directions.
>Maybe more significantly, it seems that what we did last month for AMBER-OD
>has begun to affect AMBER as a whole in a positive way, bringing new hope
>and new energy for the ambitious goals AMBER has set for itself.
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