Here's the post from the OSlist that inspired this group:
How do the Open Space principles help us both support and resist change? What does this mean for the evolution of OST and opening space?
The OS principles are wise and wily (clever). They are at their best when they remind people to take responsibility for what they love; when, for example, people discover that they really can moderate their own conflicts without a facilitator.
I think the principles are at their worst when they replace co-creativity with resistance. For example, someone comes to me when preparing for an OS gathering and says, Open Space goes broad, not deep. I can turn that back to them quite simply by telling them that they create their own experience. And that's true. It also shuts off an exchange about what it means to go deep and how we can create the space so that people come together with greater depth.
Too often, I have taken the "turn it back" route rather than engaging. And I don't think I'm alone. This may sound heretical, but I believe the cues for making this choice are embedded in the Open Space community's culture and to our detriment, that has made us change resistance. I offer a bit of my personal journey on this and then how I see it relating to this community.
When I began working with OS, I fiercely defended the space from all comers. I worked to keep any pre-work to a bare minimum, sure that people would understand the brilliant freedom of Open Space the moment they stepped in. Since then, I've found compassion for those who experience the disorientation of freedom shock when they first experience Open Space.
When I began working more in community settings, with greater diversity and where there aren't the implicit "rules of engagement", I found that cultivating a sense of connection and clarity of purpose is part of creating a welcome, nutrient space. And contrary to the myth that talks don't work in Open Space, even Harrison has successfully given them in the morning of the second and third day of an Open Space gathering.
In other words, as my practice has grown, I treat quite differently "givens" that I used to take as gospel and defend. Examples:
* Pre-work (clarifying the intention and calling question, identifying and inviting stakeholders) is trivial. If you spend a lot of time on it, you're working too hard.
* Open Space doesn't mix well with other practices. In fact, I have found creative, flowing ways in which different practices work together to meet the needs of the specific situation and culture. It requires getting creative with design colleagues and sponsors to meet the needs of a group.
* Once you're in an Open Space event, stay in Open Space. While this is still my preference, there are circumstances where integrating other activities, like a morning talk, serves the needs of the group just fine.
I want to be clear that I am still there to ensure the space is as open as possible. I have just come to believe that what keeps the space open is more nuanced than I understood when I started working with Open Space Technology in 1993. I no longer defend the space. I co-creatively ensure it stays open.
So what does this have to do with this community being resistant to change?
The OS principles contain deep truths. I think most deep truths contain contradictions. On a light note, here are a few examples of such contradictions:
1. Look before you leap. / He who hesitates is lost.
2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. / Out of sight, out of mind.
3. The pen is mightier than the sword. / Actions speak louder than words.
4. Better safe than sorry. / Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
5. Birds of a feather flock together. / Opposites attract.
6. You’re never too old to learn. / You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Wisdom involves discerning how to navigate the contradictions.
Yes, whatever happens is the only thing that could have. This is empowering when used to awaken someone to their own capacity to meet their needs. When it is used consciously or unconsciously to maintain the status quo, it becomes destructive. It becomes a way to do nothing.
Rather than just saying "who ever comes..." or "whatever happens...", when someone raises an issue, I now treat it as a potential learning moment for either or both of us; an opening to understand something more fully Most often, exploring the issue leads to them discovering their own power to act. But through the conversation, they feel heard, respected, met. And I learn something about their culture.
With this change in my practice, I have become more fluid in how I open space, sometimes using other processes as a doorway in, sometimes hosting a speaker because it serves the needs of the session. I am less glib than I used to be about the principles, recognizing both their power and their shadow. And I am more wiling to experiment with form, knowing that the real work is opening space within and among us.
What does this sort of experimentation which many of us are doing mean for how Open Space Technology itself evolves?
Is OST's form perfection as is? It is definitely elegant. As Harrison often says, a system that isn't changing is dead. Isn't this an interesting paradox?
I think that the last OST innovation that has been widely embraced was when several of us began opening space for convergence following a conversation at the Toronto OSonOS in 1997!
So with all the people experimenting with how we use OST, what might we learn about the nature and form of our work? I suspect there's more fluidity to the nature of opening space than most of us consider.
For example, I sometimes hear from colleagues who use other conversational practices that Open Space doesn't surface the collective intelligence of a group in easily shared ways. I can hear the "open spacisms" raised in objection to this statement. Indeed, I have seen groups come away with a deep sense of how they fit together as a system. Yet, through their words or the notes, communicating that collective intelligence to those who weren't there is often a mystery.
How might we approach this as a design challenge while staying true to the ethics of "one less thing to do" and trusting the people of the system to find their own answers?
I've become more willing to experiment, to seek simple, natural forms that meet these sorts of objections. For example, I have come to appreciate the intimacy of reflecting in small groups. Since people don't all return to the large group at the same time, there's a natural rhythm to starting small then moving to one circle.
I don't pretend to have "the" answer of how OST and our understanding of Open Space evolves. Perhaps the evolution isn't in the form but in our deeper thinking. It could be that the simple elegance of internalizing the practice of opening space frees us to experiment more with the form. After 16 years, I still feel like a novice, learning about the nature of opening space.
I think it is an important, creative question for the evolution of our work and our community to consider how we evolve rather than dismissing criticisms and objections by naming a principle. Is anyone else interested in such conversations?