[OSList] Is there experience in developing Open Space further in organizations and networks after the initial intervention

Harrison Owen hhowen at verizon.net
Tue Aug 7 09:20:09 PDT 2018

Kari… The answer is YES – with multiple examples. Long, long ago in the Great State of Kentucky (USA), Some strange things happened…


The University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health Loyd Kepferle and Karen Main 


For reasons remaining somewhat obscure, it turns out that Open Space often migrates from the status of "meeting methodology" towads a new status as, "the way we do business around here." One might assume that an organization doing business in an open space mode would accomplish little. That does not seem to be the reality, for Open Space frames the total operation, and internally there is an appropriate alternation between open exploration of new opportunities and pre-determined, structured responses to known situations. The key word is "appropriate." In those situations where people know what to do and there are systems in place to take care of that particular business, that is the way things work. On the other hand, when novelty is the order of the day open space becomes the dominant mode. The people in Kentucky have been experimenting with all of this, and what follows is a description of their efforts. vvvvvv The employees of the Center for Rural Health believe that the Center exists as one mechanism for making life better for people who live in rural Kentucky and rural America. These people include our students, our patients, our constituents and of course, ourselves. We try to make life better by educating people for better 40 careers in health care, through the health services provided in our clinic, through our Community programs which help people improve their health care systems, through research and policy analysis coupled with advocacy for improving health in rural areas, and through programs which will help all of our employees achieve their potential. The Center is a complex organization functioning within the rules of a much larger bureaucracy to which we are accountable (the University Kentucky Medical School). While the philosophy enunciated below is one of personal empowerment, we recognize that we are not empowered to act in ways that are contradictory to University rules and regulations. Some of our programs, such as the academic programs, may be more constrained by these rules than others, such as Community Programs. In addition, while we espouse an egalitarian philosophy, we recognize that for the purposes of accountability, there is an implicit hierarchy within the Center. For example, while employees interested in technology are strongly urged to explore innovations that may help our programs, they will require information from the Center Administrator regarding availability of funds since the Administrator is accountable to the Director for not overspending the Center's budget. In this example, however, if funds were not available from the Center, this information would only lead the technology group to consider other funding sources. It would not negate their right to improve our programs. We believe that even with these limitations, the vast majority of problems and opportunities which come to the Center can be resolved by maximizing the talents and creativity of our 41 employees through empowerment. In this regard, we believe that all of us are using our abilities to make the Center succeed. ALL OF OUR CONTRIBUTIONS ARE EQUAL. In these efforts there is no hierarchy or "chain of command". We simply perform different functions. To operationalize this philosophy, we are working hard to make a process we experimented with a reality in every day life at the Center. The process is called "Open Space". The main idea of this process is that "People who care most passionately about a problem or opportunity have the RIGHT and the RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it". This basic idea supersedes all notions of a hierarchical organizational structure which requires individuals with problems or ideas to proceed through several layers of authority in order to articulate a problem/solution or idea before it can be addressed or implemented. Underlying this approach is the idea that success is dependent on commitment which comes from Ownership which is dependent on power. There are only five constraints on this model of personal empowerment: 1. When a problem or opportunity is to be discussed, there must be wide notification of the meeting time and place so anyone who is interested can attend. 2. Proposed solutions/ideas must be broadcast widely so they can be acknowledged as Center policies, programs or procedures; or, if they are contradictory to University of Kentucky rules, another solution can be sought. 3. Proposed solutions cannot be hurtful to anyone else. 4. Proposed solutions should channel our limited resources in such a way as to have maximum impact on achieving 42 our goal. 5. Accomplishing the work for which we were hired takes precedence over our group work. However, if the RIGHT people (those who really care) are involved in any topic, they will find a way to make sure their work is completed and the work of the group is brought to a successful conclusion. There are NO CONSTRAINTS on the following: 1. Who can call a meeting. 2. The type of problem or opportunity that is being addressed. 3. The availability of time to have a meeting. 4. Who may attend a meeting. 5. The availability of information necessary for a group to work. Open Space assumes a consensual process will be observed by the ad hoc groups that form and that all ideas will be considered respectfully by the people in the group. Within a group, the convener takes responsibility for articulating the situation under discussion. Another member of the group will act as a recorder. Between the two of them they will develop a brief report of the meeting and circulate it to everyone else at the Center. The ad hoc group may choose to modify its plans based on feedback. In this kind of organization there is little reason for an ongoing committee structure. Some groups, for example the academic program heads, may have reason to meet on a regular basis. But we believe committees are most useful when they are composed of people who are really interested and when they are established to deal with relatively discreet situations and then dissolved. While we believe this is a good way to develop a truly successful organization, it is an approach to organizational behavior which is fraught with insecurity which, in the short run, may produce fear, anger and frustration. It will take a long time for 43 those of us who have lived in hierarchical and paternalistic organizations to believe we are really empowered. We, at the Center for Rural Health, recognize this philosophy is somewhat revolutionary and will be uncomfortable for all of us some of the time. But we also believe people do their best when they are empowered to control the conditions that affect them. We also think that solutions which are imposed on people rather than generated by the people who are affected are doomed to failure. Finally, we think we have a wonderful opportunity to test this theory because of the quality of the people who work for the Center. If we are wrong, then, in the spirit of Open Space, we are empowered to throw it out and adopt another philosophy. For further information contact: Loyd Kepferle / Karen Main Center for rural Health 100 Airport Garden Drive.


And if you want your own copy (with many other examples) go to www.openspaceworld.com Look in “Books,” and check out “Tales From Open Space.” Can’t rember when we published it, but sometime in the ‘90’s. A while ago.




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From: OSList [mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org] On Behalf Of Kári Gunnarsson via OSList
Sent: Monday, August 6, 2018 8:06 AM
To: oslist at lists.openspacetech.org
Cc: Kári Gunnarsson
Subject: [OSList] Is there experience in developing Open Space further in organizations and networks after the initial intervention


Hi my dear open space family


I wonder if there is experience in developing Open Space further in organizations and networks after the initial intervention and how we could, each of us, go about inviting this experience to participating in the next and future Wosonos events.


Who are the people that want to explor how to develop the OST approach further in their organizations and networks? I think we usually call them sponsors!


With love 




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