OS and an Org Dev Course
dwcox at pawnee.astate.edu
Sun Feb 14 11:28:37 PST 1999
I shared this with a few folks on the listserv that I thought would be
interested in it, but have been encouraged to share it with the total
list. For what it's worth....
Open Space and an Organization Development Course
David W. Cox, Arkansas State University
At the end of the second year of doctoral course work (EdD in
Educational Leadership), students take a capstone Organization
Development in Education course. This year (Spring 1999), I
included Harrison Owen's two Berrett-Koehler publications as two
of three texts for the course. I also provided the eleven students
with the Open Space listserv address and Open Space web sites.
Goals for the course included experiencing a self-organizing
system and exploring the potential of Open Space Technology as
both a meeting process and as a way of life in organizations.
The first three sessions were devoted to traditional OD topics. A
day and a half retreat, using Open Space, was held in lieu of the
next six class sessions. Five classes were left blank (Open
Space) on the syllabus. The plan was that these would be filled in
as a result of course planning during the retreat. The last class
session concentrated on nuances related to Open Space
Just as proceedings are produced at an Open Space event, the
plan was to produce a set of proceedings for the course.
Discussion and recommendations were initiated at the retreat by
inquiry groups. These same groups then took responsibility for
researching the topic and facilitating the class discussion at a
regular class session near the end of the term. A record of the
class discussions and recommendations was made by the
responsible inquiry group and an electronic record was turned over
to me shortly after that particular class session. I compiled the five
reports into a set of course proceedings and gave everyone a copy
of our collective work at the final class meeting.
The eleven students and I left on a Thursday afternoon for a 3 hour
trip to a conference center in the Ozark mountains. (Financing
was shared between the students and the department.) The
students had read Harrison's books as background so they had a
rough idea of what to expect. Open Space officially opened at 8:30
on Friday morning. The following question, which I gave
considerable thought to, served as the theme:
"Under the broad topic of bringing about positive change in an
organization, what areas of inquiry do you have a passion to pursue
and for which you will take responsibility?"
The students self-organized in an hour and inquiry groups were up
and running at 9:30. Using blocks of 75 minutes, two working group
sessions were held prior to lunch and two sessions were held after
lunch. A laptop was used in each breakout area to record the
discussion and recommendations. The group convened for Evening
News at 4:00. The eleven students generated eight topics.
Saturday reading and prioritization started at 9:00. The students
were given six decals (numbered 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1) and were asked to
award at least six points to their first priority, five to the second
priority, etc. Or they could distribute their 21 points across the
eight topics in any fashion they so chose. Seven of eight topics
received priority points. Convergence started around 9:30 with
planning for the five Open Space class meetings in the syllabus.
The idea was to build toward the end of the course with our top
priority as the topic for discussion on our next to final class
meeting. (The final night was devoted to talking about Open Space
Two topics were combined for the first class meeting subsequent
to the retreat. Two other topics were combined for the second
class meeting after the retreat. Three topics, one per class night,
were left for the remaining class sessions.
As it turned out all eleven students were on multiple inquiry groups.
One student was on two inquiry groups, six students were on three
inquiry groups, and four students were on four inquiry groups. The
seven priority topics were convened by seven different students.
Action plans were quickly developed when all eleven students
huddled around a picnic table and each topic was brought up in
priority order. The students involved with that particular topic spoke
up, action steps for moving the topic forward were quickly outlined,
and the total group moved on to the next topic until planning was
completed for the five subsequent class sessions.
The Talking Stick Ceremony was used to officially close the space.
We departed for home before noon.
The wording of the retreat theme, which I had worried about for
some time, seemed to work well. I will retain it for the future.
Everything seemed to happen at an accelerated rate at the retreat.
Probably because of the size of the group and because the group
members knew each other so well. They had been together one
night every week for two years as a doctoral cohort group.
While three breakout areas were provided, only two were used.
Again I suspect group familiarity was behind the tendency to break
into comfortable, pre-established groupings. I also did not observe
theLaw of Two Feet being exercised or the existence of
This mature group of doctoral students took advantage of the
freedom to learn. There was no hesitancy whatsoever in stepping
forward to post topics on the community bulletin board. The spirit
of learning emerged and students took responsibility for their own
learning. Students indicated the retreat experience exceeded their
It continues to mind boggling to see inspired, self-managed work
groups engage in "high learning" and "high play." The course
contained content which emerged from the group rather than being
handed down from the professor! Open Space helped these
particular students experience leadership, vision, community, and
learning organization in totally new ways. And, Open Space
helped me teach Organization Development from a fresh, exciting
The students and I explored the potential of moving Open Space
beyond an innovative retreat format and a unique strategic planning
tool into a routine way of conducting the business of an
organization. On the way Open Space certainly provided a
convenient vehicle for giving the course "Organization Development"
new practical meaning.
David W. Cox
Professor of Education and Dept Chair
Arkansas State University
State University, AR 72467
(870) 972-3062 Office
(870) 972-3945 Fax
E-mail: dwcox at pawnee.astate.edu
Home Page: www.clt.astate.edu/dwcox
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