Facilitating and convening, convergence, training

Jeff Aitken ja at svn.net
Thu Feb 22 10:17:00 PST 2001

A few things, including a follow up on something Lisa wrote (about me) -- I
have convened sessions in OST events I've facilitated, but only a few
times, and here's why.

I really like how Giles Hopkins from Washington DC articulates this in the
famous At Work magazine dedicated to OST. Here's my paraphrase:

"Open Space helps preserve appropriate boundaries between myself and my
client. Their work is clearly THEIR work, not mine, and my role is to hold
space for them to do their work."

I once again discovered the strange truth of this with a client a few
weekends ago: two full days of open space after the firing of their
executive director and the dilemma of a huge grant award which would change
their mission in a way they might not want.

They had two fruitful days of conversation, and we did a convergence to end
the second day. But rather than move into action groups to work with the
prioritized clusters, they stayed together to work on the highest priority
cluster. (First they decided quickly on follow-up steps for the other

The board chair led an hour of conversation which got them to an
understanding which enabled them to go back to work with clear roles. I sat
next to her and held space, trusting that she was doing the right thing.
There is no way I could do otherwise, because I had no idea how important
that conversation was, and she (and they) did.

The next day it was so clear to me that OST had enabled my client and me to
make a clean break, a clear conclusion to our work together. They had all
the proceedings and action steps, some hard-won common understandings, plus
the fresh experience of board-staff-customer interactions, and they did it
all themselves.

I felt a bit lonely! But they were not at all dependent on me as of Monday

-- Back to my original point: I have only convened sessions in an OST I
facilitated when the work was ALSO MY work, and even then, with GREAT care.
I'm part of a team of activists, for whom I did two days of OST last year.
My primary role was to hold the space; but on the second morning, with
everyone well into the process, I posted a session on my own passion for
our activist work.

A few people came and we had an important conversation. I later checked
with some participants and got feedback that, because I handled the first
role well, it was not intrusive to take the second role for one session.

-- Finally I have tried one-day trainings in OST in which I facilitated the
group directly into open space, and then I convened a session on theory. As
the marketplace unfolded, my session became the only morning session, which
everyone (chose to?!) attend. At lunch and in the afternoon all the other
sessions took place - mostly questions which we sat around and explored -
which to my mind is the way "training" takes place for OST; it's mentoring:

Taste all, and hand the knowledge down. - Gary Snyder

I thought it worked well as an introduction to the feel of OST, and to the
flexible dynamics of the bulletin board and marketplace. It was not, of
course, an OST in which several breakout sessions took place at once -- but
not all OSTs are like that, in my experience.


Jeff Aitken
Inverness Ridge, CA USA
ja at svn.net
trainings in open space process:

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