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Open Space – how to?

June 17, 2013


Last week I had the pleasure of helping to prepare an Open Space session together with Jorgen Hesselberg after his trip to Europe for his talk at xp2013.
I though of sharing some tips with you on how to set up an Open Space Session, and who knows?, I may be able to give new ideas :).

The Open space

Although it may not look like, an Open Space Session is very organised and needs to be prepared in advance. The risk of not doing so is that you’ll be helding a session with no objective and you may end up with a bunch of info but no real ideas, solutions or practical ideas to implement next. and that woukd be a waste of your (and everyone’s) time wouldn’t it? :)

1st Step – Basics

I would say, read this Open Space primer. So you’ll know the basic stuff and from there you can prepare a nice Open Space.

2n Step –  Mission

Define your mission. What are you trying to solve by gathering all those people?  What’s the purpose of it?

3rd Step – Invitations

You should do your list of people to invite and why.
It’s true that the more the merrier, because then you’ll have wider perspectives. On the other hand it’s also true that some people in your company  may not have anything to do with the thing you are trying to solve or improve (specially if it’s a big company) . So you might want to think whom it makes sense to invite.

4th Step – The space

Get a confortable  area, specially one where people feel ok to speak freely and to open their mind and heart.
It should be big enough for you to set up a big circle with chairs (to open the space) and also big enough for people to move around the different topics while brainstorming.

5th Step –  Material

Prepare everything in advance. People should enter the room and have everything they will need ready. That may be:

– Pens and paper for people to right
– Flipcharts or other, spread around the room – preferably with the titles of what you expect people to do already written down.
– Chair disposed in circle  – circle is good cause everyone will be at same level, everyone will see the facilitator and circle provides a feeling of both closeness and safe space.

Also, put the Open Space Principles in plain sight (I’ll show you how below).

6th Step- The Principles, Rules and Roles

Open space has 4 principles:

1- Whoever comes is the right people

This means that the people that come to your open space are the ones who actually you want to have there, because they saw value in your calling and are open to share and help you out.

2- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened

Meaning that whatever comes out of the session is the only thing that could have happened. So this is about you turning off your expectations and just pay attention to what you are getting from the people around you, and know they are doing their best.

3- When it starts is the right time to start

As this is a brainstorm session, time is not that important. you should start when the people around you feel they are ready to do so. don’t make the Tic-Tac louder than their thoughts.

4 – When it’s over, it’s over

The session should only end  when people feel there is nothing else to talk about.

Open Space has 1 Rule (at least that I am aware off, if you know more please let me know!)

The law of 2 feet : whenever you are not learning or sharing anything, use your two feet and go away :)

Open Space Principles. I took the drawing idea from some other example in the web, worked out nicely :)

Open Space Principles. I took the drawing idea from some other example in the web, worked out nicely :)

Open Space Roles:

Butterfly – goes from one discussion to other, does not participate soa ctively, just observs and listens

Bumblebee : someone who jumps between topics but kind of cross-polinates stuff, so taking ideas of one discussion into other. (Bridging!)

Here's the drawing I did to explain the Roles. I'm not such an artist but people got the picture, specially the bear paws for my berlin community ;)

Here’s the drawing I did to explain the Roles. I’m not such an artist but people got the picture, specially the bear paws for my berlin community ;)

Details :

You should make the Rules, Roles and Principles big and visible in the room. You must also explain them to participants in the beginning of the open space. :)

Here’s how it looked on our big Wall:


Have a nice Day! :)

Catia Oliveira


From → Agile, People, Scrum, Tips

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