[OSList] Renewing the Mission of the Open Space Institute U.S.

Jeff Aitken via OSList oslist at lists.openspacetech.org
Mon Jul 25 10:39:02 PDT 2016

Hi Peggy thanks for these stories!

Harrison offlist also noted that a formal nonprofit organization is helpful
when money is raised for a purpose.

Nice to read again these three/four core activities!

Harold, as Birgitt wrote more eloquently, I suggest returning to these --
to evaluate what's working, what is outdated or better done by others, what
remains to be done, what new core activities feel needed.

Mutual Support and Connection.
Mentoring and Being Mentored.
Learning and Research.

Education and Training in OS.
"Clearinghouse" to connect with people and ideas (e.g., the web site, the
e-mail list, contacts.)

Of these, Research stands out to me as one core activity that has been ad
hoc and not organized in a coordinated way. We have the books and many
articles and graduate theses listed on a website, but no systematic
research agenda on OST or OS Organizations.


On Jul 19, 2016 1:07 PM, "Peggy Holman" <peggy at peggyholman.com> wrote:

Hey Jeff,

Harold gave me a nudge asking that I speak to the origin story for the Open
Space Institute - US. I found a short summary written in early 1998 about
how we got started, called “A Little History”. Others who were there,
please chime in!

I’ve also shared an article
<http://peggyholman.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Forming-OSI.pdf> that I
wrote in 1997 (!!) as we were getting started for those who are interested
in some of the questions we asked back then.



The Open Space Institute got its start in the US when Harrison Owen came
for a visit to Seattle in the summer of 1996 [Note: I believe that
Harrison's visit was part of an around-the-world tour, where he had similar
conversations about starting an institute with folks in Toronto, Canada and
Melbourne, Australia. So three institutes sprung up within a month of each
other].  Harrison proposed the idea of an institute to support the growth
of the Open Space community.  We thought this was a great thing to do.
Someone at the table said they thought it would cost about $700 for us to
incorporate as a non-profit.  Since there were 10 of us present, that meant
if we each put out $70, we'd have the funds to do it.  Thus was born our
wholly spontaneous and grass roots approach to fund raising and our $70
membership fee [Which was long ago replaced with a pay-what-you-can
approach.].  We were incorporated on July 25, 1996 in Washington state.  On
July 16, 1997, a year later, we received our 501(c)3, tax exempt status
from the IRS.

With all that legal stuff out of the way, we were positioned to begin the
real business of the institute.  During the 1996 Open Space on Open Space,
we asked people what they wanted from the OSI.  What they told us was they
wanted a place for:

            Mutual Support and Connection

            Mentoring and Being Mentored

            Learning and Research.

This has translated into activities that are in various stages of forming

           Education and Training in OS


           "Clearinghourse" to connect with people and ideas (e.g., the web
site, the e-mail list, contacts)


These are the core activities around which we expect to build the institute.

We currently have 72 members, $2,250 in funds, and a lot of promise.


At http://peggyholman.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Forming-OSI.pdf


Open Space Technology came into being in 1985. Since that time, it has
spawned several books, many training classes, and attracted somewhere
between 3,000 and 5,000 practitioners (and who knows how many participants)
throughout the world. All this with the support of one man and the help of
a handful of close friends and colleagues.

The Open Space Institutes of Canada and the United States began life not as
a new idea but as a way to sustain and grow what has come before. The
people involved with forming the institutes began with a challenge: to
evolve around the essence of Open Space.

The purpose of this article is to share what I, as a co-creator of one of
the Open Space Institutes (OSI), have learned about sustaining Open Space
in a new venture. It includes some of the story of what we’ve begun and how
we are approaching it. My secondary purpose is to interest you in joining
us as we continue to invent the Open Space Institute.

So join me for a moment to imagine what’s possible: think of a community
dedicated to nurturing the growth of human spirit in action. Imagine having
access to a global network of support; an expanse of knowledge,
possibilities, experience, mentoring,… a home which is always open to you…a
safe space to exercise your wildest ideas. An Open Space Institute that
holds many contradictions: unbridled energy and spirit and a supportive,
safe space; the uniqueness of each individual and the alignment of a
community working together. If this picture attracts you, then read on as
the adventure unfolds…

*What have I learned about sustaining Open Space?*

*Stay close to the essence: it keeps spirit and momentum alive*

What is the essence of the Open Space Institute? Our articles of
incorporation put it this way:
*We believe that inspired (inspirited) behavior can be an everyday
experience and that humanity is limited largely by its perceptions of the
possible. We intend to grow that sense of possibility and make it a reality
by focusing on three fundamental areas: learning, research and practice: *
§  *Expanding the learning and practice of self-organizing communities.*
§  *Understanding and integrating what sustains self organizing
§  *Using Open Space principles in creating and sustaining the Open Space

Perhaps my first and most vital learning is that staying close to the
essence, the intention that inspires us, is vital. We find that every time
we drift from what the Open Space Institute personally means to each of us,
our desire to invest any time or energy in making it happen dissipates. We
discovered this through our early meetings on incorporation. As a person
schooled in "good meeting practices," I’d prepare an agenda full of things
to discuss, decisions to make, and we’d "slog" our way through, leaving
everyone exhausted by the end of the session. There had to be a better way!
So I swallowed hard, let go of a pre-set agenda and asked, *"What has real
vitality and meaning to us?"* Here is an excerpt from our reflections on
that question:

*Let us make the primary purpose of our time together the renewal of our
spirit and commitment to what OSI is about. This is a time of restoring
energy by focusing on our relationship to our purpose and to each other.*

This has a variety of implications. It puts a great deal of responsibility
on sub-teams to get things done. It means using a different vehicle for
keeping everyone informed. Our thought is to heavily use e-mail for this
purpose. It takes a "leap of faith" by each of us that things will get
done. It also means trusting that those areas needing the whole group’s
attention will naturally emerge in our meetings since they are important to
the people who are there.

The result? We are discovering that simple rituals of relationship, such as
checking in and checking out, provide the form to "hold" the spirit of the
community. We begin every session with a check-in on what draws us here -
what has heart and meaning to each of us right now. We end each session
with a check-out on how we’re feeling about the process and our progress.
This has consistently led to conversations that not only cover more than we
would have with a formal agenda, but leaves each of us energized and our
connection to each other renewed.

*Pay attention to Basic principles: they define the character of the

Open Space Technology makes four principles and one law explicit. These
principles, coupled with the intention or theme of the session, form the
boundary conditions that give an Open Space event its organization. Stating
them is part of the ritual of beginning an Open Space meeting:
§  Whoever comes is the right people;
§  Whatever happens is the only thing that could have;
§  When it starts is the right time; and
§  When its over, its over.
The law of two feet says to take responsibility for what you care about; if
you are neither contributing nor adding value where you are, use your two
feet and go somewhere else.

While these principles continue to shape the OSI, we are applying some
other principles that are implicit in Open Space. By naming them, they help
us hold the space claimed by the OSI across time and distance; beyond a
single event. They are:

*Inclusion is our lifeblood*
Three stories illustrate different aspects of this principle.

*The Need for New Generations*
This year marked the fourth annual Open Space on Open Space (OSonOS). There
were over 60 people in attendance, some of whom have worked with Open Space
Technology since its beginning, some for a few years and some who were in
Open Space for the first time. Many "old timers" hadn’t come back this
year. In several conversations, people reflected on why this was so. The
year three OSonOS had few newcomers, so it was mostly the same people
having the same conversations with each other. For many, it had very little
life. What those who did return were noticing this year, was that a "new
generation" had arrived. They brought "old questions," which gave new
purpose to long time practitioners, who acted as mentors. The new comers
also brought new ideas and perspectives into the mix. This served as a very
graphic reminder of the obvious: without new generations, there is no
continued life.

*Who Do We Think We Are?*
Here we were, a handful of relative new comers to Open Space, having formed
an institute without the involvement of many who have been part of OS since
its beginning. Our challenge: to make the institute theirs as much as it
was ours. We held conversations on "What would an Open Space Institute mean
to you?" and "Staying Connected: holding space for the Open Space
Community" and other related topics.

Through these conversations, the purpose of the OSI became clearer:
§  a space for mutual support and connection
§  a space to mentor and be mentored
§  a space for learning and research.

It also set the focus for the OSI’s next step -- get the word out: broaden
the community. Our challenge is to create ways for everyone who cares to to
participate. This led to two priorities:
get a Web site established and get a mass mailing out to invite the known
community of Open Spacers in. Once again, it reminded us that Open Space is
fundamentally about inclusion, we sustain ourselves by constantly inviting
people in.

*A Tale of Two Institutes: Diversity is a blessing*
At the same time we were forming the OSI in Seattle, another group was
forming the Open Space Institute of Canada. The seeds of competition were
present as we compared notes on how differently we’d approached our
start-up. Yet, as we talked, we found we both had interest in answering
many of the same questions: What did people want from the institute? How
can we keep the OS community connected? How can we foster learning and
research? How can we do a better job of training new facilitators? It
became clear to us that starting with two affiliates was a blessing in
disguise: there would never be a single "center." In the spirit of
inclusion, our mutuality of intention would guide what we do together and
where one or the other would take the lead.

*Giving is our legacy*

Harrison Owen, the creator of Open Space managed to grow the practitioners
of Open Space to approximately 3,000 people. That was a lesson to us on the
value of generosity of spirit. When people spoke of the role of the OSI,
many expressed the desire to pass on to others what they had learned, just
as Harrison had supported them in learning about the power and use of Open
It was Harrison who suggested the formation of the OSI. It is now his
challenge to "let go of his baby." He has figuratively stepped from the
center of the circle to join his colleagues on the circle’s perimeter. The
tradition of giving is at the heart of our founding.

*Less is more is our work ethic*

When the practice of Open Space first began, early practitioners, used to
elaborating on a good idea, wanted to embellish it. Harrison Owen would
always caution, "less is more; what can we take away and remain true to the
spirit of what we are doing?" Thus, we strive to "keep it simple," by
constantly reminding ourselves of the essence of whatever we do.

The genius of Open Space is that it puts no structure on the content; the
form is entirely shaped by intention and principle. This is probably the
most challenging part of forming the OSI. An institute implies stability
and order. We seek to re-invent "institute" as an adaptive structure; a
continually emerging community expanding itself through learning and action.
*Someone has to "hold the space:" otherwise its just another good idea
before its time*

When an idea does not yet belong to everyone, it requires at least one
person to keep investing time and energy. This includes the mundane stuff
of setting meeting times, putting out meeting minutes to help those at a
distance stay connected to the conversation. Ultimately, if the idea is
viable, others "catch the spirit" and activity starts happening in many

I have learned that while many think the idea of an Open Space Institute is
a good one, its only a few who have an interest in creating and holding the
space. If one or two of us were distracted, its not clear that the OSI
would continue. Open Space teaches us that organizations run on passion and
responsibility. How this moves from one to many is a lesson we are still

*Peggy Holman is a co-founder of the Open Space Institute. She also works
for Weyerhaeuser Company as a Quality Director, supporting communities of
knowledge workers in changing the way they work. If you want to know more
about the Open Space Institute, contact Peggy Holman at (206)643-6357
<%28206%29643-6357>, by e-mail at **usa at openspaceworld.org*
<usa at openspaceworld.org>* or visit the OSI web site at: *
*www.openspaceworld.org* <http://www.openspaceworld.org>*. We provide
access to training, research, publications, special Open Space Technology
events and contact with others interested in Open Space.*

*Draft of*
*Holman, Peggy, (1997, March/April), "Sustaining Open Space", At Work, p.

Peggy Holman
Executive Director
Journalism that Matters
15347 SE 49th Place
Bellevue, WA  98006
Twitter: @peggyholman
JTM Twitter: @JTMStream

Enjoy the award winning Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into
Opportunity <http://www.engagingemergence.com>

On Jul 18, 2016, at 4:13 PM, Jeff Aitken via OSList <
oslist at lists.openspacetech.org> wrote:

Some q's come to mind...

What's the origin story of the OS Institute? What flash of insight gave
birth to an organization to meet a need? What was the need?


On Jul 18, 2016 4:05 PM, "Harold Shinsato via OSList" <
oslist at lists.openspacetech.org> wrote:

Thanks Harrison!

Great wisdom... if you could invite people into living questions you might
encourage us to enjoy - what might those be?

Inferring from your response - I'll guess at a few living questions...

?How can I/we do as little as possible?
?How can I/we be fully present, but basically invisible?
?How can I/we have fun opening space - whenever, wherever, however, with
whomever, about whatever as often as I/we can?

Anything else?


On 7/18/16 3:41 PM, Harrison Owen wrote:

Harold – I love your intensity and focus! And -- I have a few suggestions
for your “practical questions” (How can the OSI-US best support our
How can we best work together with the community to co-create a broad and
diverse circle of people holding space for open space?)

Do as little as possible.

Never work harder than you have to.

Be present, but basically invisible.

Remember the 5 Principles

Practice The Law of Two Feet

Have fun.

That ought to do it. At least it always worked for me. J


PS – and if you need something more specific – Just open space whenever,
wherever, however, with whomever, about whatever, as often as you can.

*From:* OSList [mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org
<oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org>] *On Behalf Of *Harold Shinsato
via OSList
*Sent:* Monday, July 18, 2016 5:11 PM
*Subject:* [OSList] Renewing the Mission of the Open Space Institute U.S.

Dear People of Open Space:

The Open Space Institute of the U.S. has been "holding space for open
space" since at least 1997. It's origins lie in the summer of 1996, 20
years ago. In the beginnings, there were many serious conversations in the
community as to the role and mission of such an institute, and that role
has certainly evolved over the years. The board has determined it is time
for us to revisit our mission and role, and especially to invite and trust
the rest of the community refresh and renew our purpose.

Rather than have a mission statement, we hope instead to have a mission
question. Or series of questions. What are the most valuable and alive
questions for our community right now, and for the foreseeable future?

To start the "question storming", here are some questions that have been
reportedly asked deeply within our community in the early days:

What is Open Space Technology?
What is Open Space?
What is Space?

And here are some practical questions that would help guide the OSI-US's

How can the OSI-US best support our community?
How can we best work together with the community to co-create a broad and
diverse circle of people holding space for open space?

    Harold Shinsato
    on behalf of the Board of the Open Space Institute, U.S.

Harold Shinsato
harold at shinsato.com
twitter: @hajush <http://twitter.com/hajush>

Harold Shinsato
harold at shinsato.com
twitter: @hajush <http://twitter.com/hajush>

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