Decreasing numbers and thoughts about open space.

Michelle Cooper coopgrp at
Fri Dec 3 13:51:22 PST 1999

I too have had varying numbers of participants at the end of open space.  I
have thought about following up with people who do not attend the closing,
and then I wondered, "Does one violate the safety and principles of open
space if we take notice of who is not there and then ask them why?"  It is
generally my ego and need to evaluate that drives me to want to ask.  My
conclusion was that if I have truly implemented the law of two feet, then
people should not feel that they have to explain anything to me. Most of the
group seems turn up when they know that there is some kind of convergence
activity.  Sometimes I have failed to adequately invite them to the closing
....oops, there always something that I seem to forget!  Others apologize
profusely because they have other appointments etc. to attend to.  So, I
have stayed with "whoever comes is the right people".

<<<Each time I open space, I think of one more thing not to do.>>
I agree with Harrison's principle of simplicity.  And I recognize that with
experience, you do what works for you.  Here is my experience.  The more I
do open space, the more I listen to what touches peoples' souls, the less
desire I have to drop some of the basic elements (except of course, when I
forget :-)) that I learned in my original training with Harrison and
subsequently with Birgitt.  Definitely not to add on, but to preserve those
basic parts.  This week I did an open space with a group where the most
vocal skeptic (a partner) commented that the most powerful part of the
opening was the acknowledgement that the wisdom was in the group to do what
needed to be done that day. He realized at that moment that he did not have
to go outside the organization to solve his problems.   Others have
identified different aspects of the opening or closing or the day that have
created the "ahas".  So, what do we drop when we don't know what will deeply
touch people?

Last week I worked with another consultant who was not too comfortable with
the talking stick idea.  We were providing the same two day retreat format
for two different groups of people (we couldn't shut down parts of the
Hospital for all to attend.)  We did not use the talking stick with the
first group on day one.  People said nothing when invited to comment on
their day and you could feel the flattened energy at the end of the day.  We
used the talking stick with the second group and everyone had something very
powerful to say (and this was the group that we had thought from the level
of earlier participation "its just a stick for heaven's sake!!"  would not
take to this ritual well).  My colleague observed that there was high energy
and a sense of closure with the second group that we did not experience with
the first.  So, it was powerful learning for me that there is value in
having some sort of ritual closing that enables the energy of the group to
be gathered together.

I believe that much of what we are doing in holding space comes from the
facilitator working in intangible ways with the energy of the group.
Perhaps as facilitators get more skilled working at the soul and energy
level, we can achieve the same results without the ritual, just by being
centred and fully present. All of that certainly requires a lot of personal
work and preparation.  My experience as a participant when there was an
abbreviated  introduction or the closure was not closure, was that it has
taken me far longer time to engage my passions (if at all), I have not had
the depth of experience that I have had in other events and have left with a
sense of incompletion.  Who knows what other variables also affected me on
these occasions, but my experiences have been consistent. I have found value
in the rhythms and cadence that emerge as some of the rituals take place.
When I knew little about the process, it allowed me to focus on what was
intended.  As an experienced person, it is like a mantra and gives me time
to reflect on my passions and what I might like to discuss.  So, I will
continue to use the expressions of the basic elements to open and hold the
space based on my experiences.

Wishing you all a joyful Holiday season in whatever tradition that you

Michelle Cooper, RN, MScN
The Cooper Group Consultants
200 Crestview  Avenue
Ancaster, Ontario
Canada L9G1E2
Telephone -     (905) 648- 4633
Fax -           (905) 648-1763
E-mail          coopgrp at
The paradox of control is simple. The more we try to control life, the
less control we have.  Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., Minding The Body, Mending The

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