The “Open Space” technology allows participants to create their own meeting agenda, based on a main theme. This technique makes it possible to engage people and ensure that the topics covered are the right ones, in the sense that they are important enough for participants to want to discuss and act on them.
As a facilitator, you explain to the group the issue or theme they are invited to reflect on. At this time, you also present the Open Space operating principles, namely:
“The people who come forward are the right ones”: everyone has something to contribute to the debate.
“What happens is the only thing that could happen”: participants are free to evolve as they wish during the exercise and they contribute to the debates individually.
“It starts when it starts”: the Open Space operates without a strict schedule, the participants decide themselves to start the conversation.
“When it’s over, it’s over”: on the other hand, the Open Space ends at the time announced at the beginning of the session.
This introductory time is also an opportunity to talk to them about totem animals and the “law of two feet” or “law of mobility” that governs the Open Space Technology: if a participant finds themselves in a situation where they no longer contribute or learn, then they move on to another space of conversation or move from conversation to conversation.
Totem animals, an invitation to be yourself
During an Open Space, two types of profiles emerge among the participants that can be summarised as follows:
Butterflies create spaces of non-action where silence is appreciated. They tend to take breaks or isolate themselves to reflect, alone or in small groups (as they can be joined by other participants). “I isolate myself if I want” “I think alone or in a small group”
Bees, on the other hand, take the law of both feet very seriously when moving from conversation to conversation. They “pollinate” conversations by circulating ideas from one to another. “I collect and circulate information”
Agenda planning (15 minutes) Individually, participants reflect on an idea that is important to them in relation to the set issue or theme, write it on an A4 sheet and then stick it on the agenda, explaining it quickly if necessary/possible.
These ideas become topics and make up an agenda.
The person who proposed the idea may or may not lead the conversation about it in the space they choose. A subject can also be present without a dedicated leader.
Exploration (30 to 45 minutes per slot) Start the first conversation slot: conversations are free (without predetermined questioning) and take place simultaneously in the different spaces.
Remind participants that they can move between different conversations (cf. totem animals and the law of both feet)
Harvest (10 min)
Shortly before the end of the first slot, you distribute a harvest canvas to facilitate a recap for the rest of the group.
Then start the second slot, during which the exploration (3) and harvesting (4) phases are repeated.
Then lastly start the third slot, during which the exploration (3) and harvesting (4) phases are repeated.
At the end of the various slots, one spokesperson per topic presents the highlights of the discussion to the group.
Commitment to individual and collective action
Following the various presentations, it is advisable to leave some free time for participants to question, add to and identify as contributors to the emerging initiatives that have spoken to them, in the spirit of the marketplace method.
It is advisable to draw up the agenda table in advance (without writing the topics, but simply by preparing the paper) to be 100% available for facilitation on the day of the Open Space.
Since this is a flexible format, the “break anytime” principle applies. This means that there is no fixed schedule for breaks: participants choose how they manage the allotted time.
To be more effective, ensure participants sign up for a reasonable number of projects. This will allow them to really get involved and actively contribute to project implementation.
If you do not have enough time to finish the exercise (steps 7 and 8), you can suggest a sign-up sheet for projects/actions after the exercise. However, by doing so, you will partly lose the benefit of the collective energy of the moment.