Mandatory Open Space

Chris Kloth kloth at
Wed Sep 9 13:59:03 PDT 1998

I appreciate two particular concerns expressed by Esther and Richard.  I
agree that we should do no harm and that we lip service has the
potential to do harm. I also like Ralph's "raising of the bar" image.
Esther, it seems your assumption is that a manager who calls a mandatory
meeting has a predetermined agenda to sell and that there will be know
listening.  I agree that those conditions have the potential to do
harm.  My paradoxical intervention when a client seems to be trying to
use pseudo-participation is to call their suggestion a sales & marketing
task, suggest to them that it may be a very good idea they could
implement without my help because they have done it so often before and
seen how well it works and but suggest that they consult with marketing
people about how to deal with people's anger when they discover they
have been tricked.  At this point they either throw me out, which is
fine, or begin to rethink their strategy.  Now my foot is in the door.

By the way, at this point I would not have mentioned Open Space or any
other technology that I use.  In fact, if they raise a particular one,
even during the first exploratory call where they have heard that
changeWorks does "X" methodology, I am likely to ask why in the world
they think that approach is something they want to do. In addition to
helping me learn more about who they are and what they know, it allows
me tho shift the focus to outcomes rather than methods.

However, back to the possible assumption that there would be no real
choice in a mandatory meeting.  I have seen managers call a mandatory
meeting because they know they desperately need to listen and that there
are many reasons why people might not attend otherwise (see Barry
Oshry's Seeing Systems).  I always let managers know that they need to
understand that once the process has started that they will have no
control of the agenda or the outcomes and that part of my job does not
include helping them be in control.  I have seen real choices emerge in
a mandatory meeting.

This brings me to Richard's question about whether or not this is "Open
Space."  This brings to mind earlier conversations on this list about
the nature of Open Space.  Is it only the 2 - 3 day "pure" process, is
it a one day process as long as the principles are explained and
attendance is voluntary,  is it a one day process that occurs after they
have had "enough experience" with "pure" open space to "know what they
are doing" or are there other types of meetings when the principles of
open space might be employed to improve the quality of the meeting?

Larry and Brian have asked that I share the article I am working on
regarding this issue, but I am not ready to share yet.  In short, I
believe that there are deeper issues that Harrison and others have
stated or implied in their work.  I think they relate to principles of
dialogue which have been raised by David Bohm, Martin Buber and many
non-western traditions.  So, while the question "What is Open Space
really?" makes me nervous, I support our ongoing dialogue on the matter
and look forward to learning more from your perspectives.


Chris Kloth
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