OSONOS-my struggles,my viewpoint

Peg Holman pholman at email.msn.com
Tue Nov 24 17:14:35 PST 1998

Isn't it interesting the variety of reactions that an event can hold for
people?  Having "listened" to several postings about OSonOS as well as
feedback from participants throughout the event, I thought I'd offer a
counterpoint to the experiences expressed so far.

I was one of the trio who opened the space for OSonOS.  As such, my
experience was less of the sessions, because I attended very few of them and
more listening to what people were saying and not saying about their

Saturday evening was intended to set the stage with storytelling.
Unfortunately, our approach to that created a feeling that the space was
more closed than open.  We got very quick and direct feedback on this, so
when Sunday morning came around, we focused our energies on ensuring the
space was as open as possible.  To my knowledge, it was a pure OS opening,
so I'm not sure what Birgitt is referring to when she says "Some of the
dilemma was that some of us believe (myself included) that Open Space works
best kept simple and pretty pure (I am a purist). Others feel differently."
Several of the people who had expressed frustration about the Saturday
evening storytelling told me that they felt that the space now felt open and

A quick aside on Harrison's presence or lack thereof.  I remember exactly 2
people making a comment about his absence as a positive thing.  This was
hardly an overwhelming sentiment as others expressed their regret and
disappointment at his absence.  A giant "card" made of chart paper and
shaped as an open circle was placed in the circle and people were invited to
write their messages to Harrison.  Harrison's spirit was VERY present.  His
generosity of spirit noted by many who were there.  I personally think
Harrrison acheived the ultimate in OS facilitation -- he was fully present
and totally invisible!  So much so that on Monday morning Ralph Copleman
physically moved Harrison (in the form of the chart paper card) out of the
center of the circle so we wouldn't keep tripping over him.  Because he
wasn't physically present at OSonOS, the community of OS practitioners got
it's first taste of a solo flight.  Personally, I missed him, but there it

About participation, we did have an unexpected mix of people.  Fewer people
had deep OS experience.  And many more people with no OS experience.  I
remember at my first OSonOS in 1996, a number of people expressed
frustration about the number of old timers and the need for fresh
perspectives.  So, the learning I take away from the two experiences is the
importance of the mix.  Old timers need newcomers to bring their questions
and challenges.  Newcomers need old timers to provide context, perspective,
experience.  My learning is that part of what keeps a community healthy is
the continual flow of membership.

Perhaps the most frequently expressed sentiment I heard from participants
was the extraordinary learning that took place.  At Morning Announcements on
Monday (day 2), we spent about an hour in very concentrated conversation
about experiences of belonging.  Perspectives from newcomers (do I belong?
am I welcome?) and old timers (can I have the deep, meaningful conversations
I expect with so many newcomers?) were heard.  The disonance that bubbled on
Sunday was expressed publically on Monday.  And done with respect and deep
listening.  Many people told me how valuable it was for them to have
witnessed or participated in this kind of expression among 60 people.  They
had never before seen conflict handled so effectively by a community.  I for
one rejoice in the depth of learning that would not have occurred had we
anticipated every nuance.

Another wonderful aspect of OSonOS.  One person commented that it was the
most international OSonOS they had ever attended.  There were people from
Germany, Australia, Canada, Colombia, France and the US.  I think that may
have helped set the tone for the readiness to form an NGO called World-wide
Open Space.  In addition, many of the most experienced practitioners were
from outside the US, making it a fabulous and inspiring learning environment
for newcomers.

So, as I reflect on the experience, which I expect I'll be processing for
quite a while, here are my thoughts:

1.  Opening space with 3 people requires deep preparation among them.  We
didn't take the time to really be in tune with each other's needs and who we
were serving.  I suspect that would have better prepared us to hold the
space together when things got rough.

2.  Communities require a mix of old timers and new comers.  They have
different needs.  Understanding who is participating is always important.
Had I better understood who was coming this year, I would have suggested we
use the opening evening to make the mix visible.  It would have given us a
different launch point.

3.  We did discuss that next year we would once again make the invitation
for OSonOS to people who have participated in an OS or at least read a book
on it.  And we won't do OSonOS back to back with a training!

4.  There will ALWAYS be things that happen that are not anticipated.  I
rejoice in them because they are the ground for the community to learn and
grow together.  This was a rich experience because it wasn't smooth.

So, there you have it.  Another perspective.

Peg Holman

P.S.  The proceedings will be posted next week.

P.P.S.  OSonOS 1999 will be in the mid-west hosted by Sheila Isakson and
Michael Herman.  I suspect it will be in September to increase the
likelihood of nice weather.  We'll put out the word as soon as the date is
finalized.  Many thanks to Sheila and Michael for taking this on.

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