OSLIST: Re: Thinking about OPEN SPACE

Fr Brian S Bainbridge briansb at mira.net
Thu Dec 2 03:54:18 PST 1999

Just some thoughts following on from some of the recent discussion on
the net about how Open Space can/could/should work.
I think I have learnt to use Open Space with great simplicity.
Perhaps I am not a good "keeper-up-with-the-latest" sort of person, but
I reckon that the idea of "letting-go" is critical to enabling and
delivering an effective Open Space Event.
Hence I have never - so far - insisted on any follow-up meetings, and
never acted to have extensive preparation meetings in any form.  I
always spend time - and not very much at that - with the key hirer
person(s) and mainly focused on the setting and actual wording of the
theme and what they hope to achieve, checking - in reality - that Open
Space is an OK move for them to be making.  I think that is mandatory.
So - from my experience – I have not been committed to having extended
gatherings as part of setting the Open Space going, and nor have I ever
been contractually committed to follow-up meetings - unless the client
group chooses to do that.  And, generally, they do that after the Open
Space, not before.
It seems so important - to me - to be able to really and fully place the
responsibility for the affair in their hands.  And if that means they
don't achieve as much as I think they "ought" to achieve or "could"
achieve, it seems important to ask whose program it is - and it isn't
I love the look on their faces when they ask such questions and it dawns
that they are really responsible for what they do, that the program
really is theirs, that they can do whatever their spirit allows them to
do, and in whatever time frame they think is appropriate.
One man last Friday approached me to ask if I was now going to get the
second session going since it was "past time", and I simply said "It's
your time and your program" and moved away gently and smilingly - they
were in "coffee-break" mode.  They then – in a little while - got the
next session going, changed the time frames, achieved depth of
connection between previously warring parties which had never before
happened, and even decided after lunch that they had done most of what
they had the energy for - and it was now time (their time) to simply
have a look at what they had done and the priorities they had given
those outcomes (convergence, in our language) and see whether there was
more to be done today or whether they now had to take the outcomes back
to their various agencies and implement at that level.
Fascinatingly, they then found a couple of things they still needed to
explore a little further (which they did), and then used time to talk
about ways of influencing their various agencies so as to implement the
findings and bring a new energy and life into the whole treatment of the
deaf in Australia.  Just a “small but significant” step for (Australian)
mankind, perhaps.
And then they decided to ask my permission to bring it to a close a few
minutes early, please - which was obvious anyway, and they were going to
do, regardless of me.  It worked wonderfully well.  There were about 25
people in the group from all over the nation and from 4 different deaf
support agencies who have, until now, been “traditional enemies”!!
The previous day, there were about 40 of the local staff looking at the
options and opportunities for doing their work among the deaf better.
That, too, went wonderfully well.
I had about 90 minutes with their people as part of the preparation,
not selling Open Space, that had been established from elsewhere by
hearsay and they were prepared to try it.  And I have no idea at this
time whether they will get back to me or talk further about Open Space.
I do know there is not one person who was present on either day who has
anything but the highest admiration for this wonderful way of going
about meetings - the coffee break mind-set was absolutely right and on
All of that is my roundabout way of saying I think a lot of the current
net discussion may well be complicating the whole approach and in danger
of turning Open Space into a process and even a "package", perhaps
putting at risk our way of accessing the spirit that is in people and
helping that emerge and grow and bloom. Maybe we have to be more
conscious that it will grow naturally by "letting it go and grow".  And
if we are to keep it Open Space Technology growing and maturing, perhaps
this quality of simplicity and "letting-go-ness" will matter hugely as
something seminal to the whole way of Open Space.
I think of it as a kind of "purity of heart" that matters, so akin to
the love and peace thing that the great writers and gurus of our world
talked about so much – without getting all religious and mushy about it,
of course.  Those qualities are huge challenges, I find, and a long long
way from being mushy and "religious" in that sense.
So I hope we can try to keep the growth pure, if that's the right way to
express it.  I am sure there are (and will be further) variations and
developments.  But the soul of it remains, I reckon, along the lines I
have tried to describe above - much of which I have learnt from many
others more  skilled in Open Space than I will ever be.
Cheers and blessings,
Fr Brian S. Bainbridge, Melbourne, Australia

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