[OSList] Open Space as Yarning Space (long)

Jeff Aitken r.jeff.aitken at gmail.com
Fri May 18 00:54:35 PDT 2018

Thank you. Very rich. Lots to appreciate here.

One initial question stands out: how do billabongs act in open space?

(We know about the butterflies and bees.) With thanks

San Francisco

On Fri, May 18, 2018, 12:38 AM Brendan McKeague via OSList <
oslist at lists.openspacetech.org> wrote:

> Hi folks
> Here is a story (Irish style) of a recent Open Space meeting 'in
> disguise'.  I hope it adds something to our ongoing learning and collective
> wisdom.
> Cheers
> Brendan
> *Open Space as Yarning Space - an Australian story*
> *Context*
> A group of five different ‘language/family groups’ wishing to pursue their
> intention of working together to submit a claim for native title over a
> certain area of land that their families had continuous connection with for
> many years. There was a history of disagreement, division and destructive
> conflict between some of the group during the past 10 years, illustrated by
> separate, competing claims over parts of the area in question.  They had
> arrived at a place where most of the elders had decided it was time to work
> together otherwise their chances of achieving a successful claim in the
> national Native Title Court would be unlikely.  In order to prepare
> themselves for the next steps in submitting a formal legal claim over the
> region, they suggested it would be appropriate to spend a couple of days
> together so that ‘they could sit and yarn' about the issues that divided
> them in the past, about how they might reconcile with each other and how
> they might work together in the future.  The sponsor, a representative of
> the regional Land Council that would be responsible for resourcing the
> meeting, wondered if an Open Space style meeting would be appropriate.
> *Naming the Process*
> Another part of the context was that the sponsoring body did not have a
> favourable disposition towards Open Space. I’m not sure of the details,
> although it sounded like someone in senior management had previously
> experienced some sort of Open Space meeting and wasn’t impressed. My
> contact within the system asked that we not call it an Open Space meeting.
> I was happy to oblige and we came up with the loosely described notion of
> creating Yarning Circles ('yarning circle' is frequently used in indigenous
> vocabulary in Australia to describe a group, often referred to as 'a mob’,
> sitting in a circle discussing/having a yarn about whatever mattered to
> them. So the underlying concept was similar, without the structure of an
> OST meeting).
> From an introductory meeting with the family leaders, we formulated an
> invitation that asked the questions: ‘how will we work together AND respect
> our individual differences and identities?’
> In describing the process, I simply renamed the main circle as the group
> Yarning Circle, and the break-out spaces as Yarning Places…everything else
> pretty much the usual set-up.  I shortened the principles on the posters to
> read: Right People; Right Time; Right Place; Right Yarning…the Law of Two
> Feet; Butterflies, Bees and Billabongs; Be Prepared to Be Surprised…and
> linked my introduction to each of these.
> *The Event*
> There was a lot of anticipation about what might happen. The complexity of
> longstanding inter-familial, inter-generational disputes is well known in
> the world of native title in Australia. Security guards were hired for the
> meeting so that only those who were entitled to be there (another
> interpretation of 'the right people') were admitted. This was to do with
> the requirement that only those who are directly descended from the
> original ‘traditional owners’ of the particular areas are entitled to be
> part of the discussions and eventual decision-making process. There are
> strict protocols around anthropologist 'connection research’ to ensure that
> this is the case and these reports often generate additional conflicts
> among family groups.
> On the first morning of the two-day event, while people were beginning to
> gather in the meeting space, there was a very animated and highly charged
> interaction between two rather large men (I subsequently discovered these
> were two brothers who had not spoken directly to each other for nearly ten
> years) and this generated a burst of high tension energy.  A security guard
> intervened, in a very professional, low-key way, creating a pause between
> the men and providing an opportunity for some of their mutual relatives
> (mostly the older women) to exert a calming influence on them…fortunately,
> they seemed to be well practiced at such interventions!
> I was certainly wide awake now!  Too soon for a nap…and I wondered, rather
> nervously, how the rest of the meeting might go
> The men calmed, the senior elder (one of the women) gave a ‘welcome to
> country’ asking that everyone in the room (about 60 participants) respect
> the ancestors, and each other, during this very important time together. I
> was then invited into the circle…I did my usual intro, with slight
> variations of language, verbal and body, to adapt to my environment. A the
> end of my introduction, as I usually do, I wished them well for the work of
> the day, handed the space over to them and exited the circle….
> As I was heading towards the edge of the meeting area, I noticed a couple
> of people dive straight in the centre for their paper and pen…and to my
> surprise, the first topic announced was from one of the family members of
> the feuding brothers who invited the whole family to meet in the first
> session to sort out the issues that had been dividing them for the past
> decade. And it was an amazing ‘yarning place’…for much of an hour, there
> were loud voices, quiet voices, shouting, tears, hugs, reconciliation,
> laughter, resolve and agreement to disagree on what had caused their
> disturbances and, beyond that, agreement to work together in the future so
> that they could contribute constructively to the collective claim for
> Native Title….amazing to witness.
> For the remainder of the first day, people wandered, sat, stood and
> lounged around the room, energy and passion flitting and flowing in their
> own time, with differing degrees of high intensity, laughter and lightness.
> And for good measure, we also had a ‘space invasion’ in the afternoon,
> when another group that had been seeking to prevent this combined claim
> going ahead, and had convened a separate meeting in another part of the
> conference venue, entered the space uninvited. Some of the leaders in the
> room stood up and started towards the exit saying they would not stay while
> this new group was there. In the pause of surprise and wonder, I could only
> think of asking a question: ‘I don’t really know what’s happening here,
> would someone please explain?’  That led to the incoming group, some of
> whom were related to the meeting group, requesting to read out a short
> prepared statement to the meeting group and then to leave. The meeting
> group agreed to listen. The statement was delivered, there was silence and
> no return comments, the incoming group left the room and the existing group
> spent the rest of the afternoon discussing how they would respond to the
> information in the statement…a new agenda emerged for Day Two.
> The second day of the meeting saw the group working together in the
> Yarning Circle, as an extension of ‘morning news’, for the first part of
> the morning, then breaking out into yarning places in response to new
> issues that were emerging. After a stretched-out lunch, the group converged
> to feed back the Action Plans before a very emotional, enthusiastic and
> energised closing circle (that included a short impromptu  dance of
> celebration…)
> *The Outcome*
> On the next day, following the two day Yarning Circle, there was a formal
> meeting with their legal representatives to ratify agreements made and
> provide instructions to be taken forward into the due process for native
> title claimants. Needless to say, this meeting was nothing like an Open
> Space meeting. However, the group on the previous afternoon had decided how
> they wanted the room to be set up for the formal meeting and, guess what,
> they chose to have five different circles for each of the five family
> groups and one centre circle for the elders from each group to enter when
> it came to delivering decisions to the legal representatives…creating a
> very different environment from the usual 'top table and rows'. That’s
> another story!
> *Concluding Reflections*
> A few thoughts: the presenting context seemed suitable for Open Space; the
> meeting methodology was renamed, the underlying structure was retained; the
> conflictual energy that appeared prior to the meeting provided a catalyst
> for release of built-up tension and the courage to address what had caused
> it by those who lived within it; the stunning significance of self
> organisation at work, developing resilience to cope with a potential
> distracting/de-railing invasion; the use of the opportunity (the space
> invasion) to generate new agenda, to strategise and commit for the
> follow-up formal legal meeting (a complex adaptive system at work?); the
> presenting signs of relationship building, collective commitment and deeper
> levels of trust.
> *Sponsor feedback *
> *1)       Why did you chose to use Open Space?*
> *We held a two day OS community consultation followed by a native title
> authorisation meeting.   *
> *For the community consultation we needed an approach that allowed for a
> general theme, linked to progressing a native title claim, that allowed for
> the native title group to work out for themselves the best way to work
> together on a native title claim and beyond.  OS provided the environment
> for this to occur.      *
> *2)       What did you notice about the process, the engagement and the
> outcomes in this particular context?*
> *The OS approach to the meeting allowed for the attendees to take
> ownership of the direction of the two day meeting and, as a result, the
> outcomes/undertakings that were generated.  In turn, the outcomes provided
> a roadmap for how the different traditional factions within the larger
> native title group could effectively cooperate while acknowledging and
> respecting differences.  The outcomes will feed into the rule book and
> policy manual for the corporation earmarked to be the PBC.    *
> *We used some OS concepts to good effect in the authorisation meeting. *
> *3)       What did you learn from this experience?*
> *That our clients can truly benefit from an OS meeting and that certain
> elements of OS can be introduced even into meetings with an agenda
> prescribed by legislation. *
> *I am convinced that an OS meeting should be convened early in the process
> of working with a native title group, particularly if there are internal
> divisions. *
> *If used properly, I consider OS could also be useful in some overlapping
> claims.   *
> Who knows what will happen next…indeed, that's not ours to know in the
> complex and mysterious world of emergence!
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