Open Space and Dialogue

Peg Holman pholman at
Fri Dec 24 08:22:56 PST 1999


I was quite struck by your comment:

>It ends with me hypothesising that in consensus processes situated in
collectivist cultural settings, there is no distinction between the
>individual and the group.

My experience of OS is indeed that it allows both the indivual and the group
to be most fully themselves.

I want to poke a bit at this work being about consensus.  I think it moves
into something much richer than consensus.  This may be subtle, but for me
part of the power of what happens in AI, OS and/or Dialogue is that a
collective understanding of essence or spirit emerges.  And people act from
that place.  They don't necessarily act from consensus, they act from how
the whole's spirit moves through them.  In OS, we speak of this as passion
and responsibility.

When I was first introduced to Dialogue, I read Bohm's "On Dialogue".  He
describes this idea in this way:

"The hunter-gatherers...from time to time met like this is a circle.  They
just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose.  They made no
decisions.  There was no leader.  And everybody could participate.  There
may have been wise men or wise women who were listened to a bit more - the
older ones - but everybody could talk.  The meeting went on, until it
finally seemed to stop for no reason at all and the group dispersed.  Yet
after that, everybody seemed to know what to do, because they understood
each other so well.  Then they could get together in smaller groups and do
something or decide things."

Best of success with your work; it sounds powerful and important.

Peg Holman

----- Original Message -----
From: "Chris Corrigan" <corcom at>
Sent: Friday, December 24, 1999 12:16 AM
Subject: Re: Open Space and Dialogue

> Interesting responses...
> I have in fact only just stumbled upon Bohm's work and came to it quite
> circuitously.  Lately I've been reading a lot of books about physics --
> The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Paul Davies's works, Fritjof Capra's stuff.
> This was just out of interest, but like everything, I found a way  to
> integrate it into my facilitation practice, and anyway, quantum physics
> has a lot to do with Open Space, so it's just like reading about Open
> Space without Harrison doing all the talking ;-)...
> David Bohm's name came up in a few places.  Also I have just been in a
> fascinating dialogue on the GRP-FACL list about consensus, and in
> rereading Senge to buttress some of my thinking, I came across Bohm's
> name again.  So all paths led there, and I've just started looking into
> his work.
> On the face of it, it ain't new to me at all.  Because I am First
> Nations (mixed Irish/Ojibway), and most of my work is with First
> Nations, I incorporate a lot of traditional First Nations group dymanics
> into my practice, and Bohm's thinking isn't really out of step with the
> age old techniques of consensus building that were (and occiasionally
> still are) used in First Nations communities.
> I'm going this way with Open Space too...introducing it as a technology
> that's been around as long as First Nations have been organizing
> themselves to do things, which is a very long time indeed.  I talk about
> Open Space as a technique we have to rediscover, because it got knocked
> out of us over the past 200 years or so.  Once people figure this out,
> they GROOVE in Open Space...I mean, they take to it like you could never
> imagine.  Picture a group of people not only charged up about the
> subject matter but motivated in the process by the realization that this
> is probably the first time in their lives they've actually met as their
> ancestors did.  It's fantastic when the kind of dynamic gets going.
> So I'm used to giving little hints in my opening, like navigation tools
> for people to use as they're weaving through Space.  What I'm interested
> in is finding other ways to express these ideas without drawing heavily
> on the traditional metaphors that may not always be appropriate in mixed
> groups where the non-First Nations people are a bit nervous about
> sitting around a circle with Indians to begin with.  I find Bohm's
> "rules" of dialogue to be helpful in this respect, because it gives me a
> language that I can use for those who might not dig the traditional
> stuff.
> This is a long way of saying that I agree with Christopher Kloth who
> warned about trying to "structure" dialogue in at the beginning...I've
> never seen that kind of manipulation of the process work in Open Space.
> Peg hit the nail on the head with her comments about how people just do
> it (the old Nike approach to self-organizing!).  I agree.  That is what
> happens in Open Space, always and invariably.  In the words of a great
> Monty Python sketch, "you tell people that today and they just don't
> believe you!"
> Anyway.
> Thanks for those who responded.  I'm sorry now to have started this
> thread so close to the Christmas break for many, but let's follow it and
> see where it goes.
> As an aside, for those of you who are interested in the results of my
> discussions on GRP-FACL regarding consensus, email me off list.  The
> discussion weaves together theories about the role of the individual and
> the group, collectivist vs. individualist cultures and the use of
> consensus in First Nations communities.  It ends with me hypothesising
> that in consensus processes situated in collectivist cultural settings,
> there is no distinction between the individual and the group.  That was
> the point where I seemed to have lost people.  So I'll move the
> discussion to interested people on this list, as I'm sure anybody who
> has ever seen an Open Space will recognize what I'm saying.
> What I have is a fifteen page trasncription of the discussion, quite
> readable, structured somewhat narratively and full of a million good
> ideas.  I'll gladly send this to those who are interested, but I'd
> prefer to keep the discussion off line here, because it only barely
> touches on Open Space.
> Happy mid-winter festivities to all.
> --
> 108-1035 Pacific Street
> Vancouver BC
> V6E 4G7
> Phone: 604.683.3080
> Fax: 604.683-3036

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