Open Space Facilitators

Michelle Cooper coopgrp at
Sun Feb 28 15:58:30 PST 1999

I found the discussion on whether open space facilitators should convene a session very interesting.  My professional education is as a Registered Nurse and as such I, as Joe suggested, am held to a professional code of ethics and behaviors when I facilitate an event that may be different or more stringent than those from other professions.  The ethical code that I must consider is whether my actions cross the boundaries of the nurse-client relationship (facilitator-client relationship).  There is not a hard and fast rule about what that boundary is.  

Most of my facilitation in open space and other forms is with groups that include my profession and on subjects for which I have great passion.  Therefore, whenever I feel the urge to contribute, I ask myself "Whose needs are being served by my action."  In reflecting on that question, I often decide that it is my own need to share my "expertise" or my ego that is driving the want to host a session or intervene.  I have also decided on some occasions that my intervention with process e.g. showing how to do something "right" actually contradicts the message that I give them initially "the wisdom is in this room to solve the problem, issue etc." By doing something or intervening would have actually disempowered them.  

I agree with Harrison, my most difficult moments have been sitting on my hands and saying nothing when every fiber of my being wished to "fix it", and particularly hard when my professional career was built on "making it better".  However, I was thankful after the fact, for the wisdom and restraint not to do, just to be.

I have also found, as Larry indicated, that at any time that I have been engaged by participants in a group discussion about a topic, that guru syndrome seems to apply (An  expert is someone who lives 30 miles away and has slides!!) If I say something, it becomes truth.  

Now that is not to say that there is not occasion for therapeutic use of self in a situation or an appropriate contribution that can be made by the facilitator.  I just think that it takes a huge amount of finesse and skill to keep the space safe and open.  At this point in my experience as a facilitator, it takes so much energy for me to hold space, I too have taken to just focussing on holding space and praying lots!  

What I have done is to take observations e.g. skill gaps, and include them somehow as recommendations as part of a summary report.  This helps me to meet my need to improve the skills of the group a.k.a. make it better, but leaves it to the group to decide that is what they need too.  

Kind regards

Michelle Cooper
The Cooper Group Consultants
200 Crestview  Avenue
Ancaster, Ontario
Canada L9G1E2  
Telephone -     (905) 648- 4633
Fax -           (905) 648-1763
E-mail          coopgrp at

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