Review: Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide

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Harrison Owen

5.0 out of 5 stars Low-Cost Priceless Guide Worth Hundreds of Thousands

October 24, 2010

It’s been my pleasure to know the author of this book ever since he hunted me down after my review of Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World, and I have also had the benefit of being a participant in a number of Open Space sessions run by, among others, Peggy Holman, author of Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity and the older The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems.

I cannot over-state the value of this book to anyone who has a complex and expensive problem but cannot afford to get the author there personally. While the book is no substitute for the genius, the intuition, the experience, and the sheer “quiet energy” that the author can bring to any endeavor, it is not just a starting point, it is more than enough to get you through your first self-organized event, and the results are sure to astonish as well as excite about the potential benefits of having the author lead the next session.

Here is how it works in a nut-shell, and I put this into the review because I am not happy with the minimalist marketing information the publisher has provided but happy that Look Inside the Book is activated–use that feature!

1) Everyone who cares is invited to a meeting in a space large enough to accommodate the group. Many events will charge a fee to cover the space, the food, and the travel costs of the facilitators, some events can be free especially if internal. HOWEVER, the diversity of who is invited (i.e. including outsiders, clients, journalists, the lowest ranking maintenance people), THIS MATTERS….A LOT.

2) The outcome of the meeting is stated at the beginning. At lunch this week Harrison talked about one meeting focused on reinventing an aircraft door, something that would normally take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions. A group under his direction did it in two and a half days, and the humble tarmac guy responsible for actually turning the handle from the outside to open the door make a key contribution.

3) Everyone can propose a topic for discussion. Smaller meetings can have the topic read before posting, otherwise they are all posted for viewing over the self-organizing period where people sign up for the topics they want to join in discussing.

4) Spread over a day or more, the topics take place, and the topic proponents take notes and either keep a wiki updated or submit a final report, but these days, not only is the wiki kept “live,” but people can participate from all over the world.

5) Out of all of this comes another session in which the outcomes of the individual meetings are separated into do now, next step needed, or dismiss for now. From that comes both an action plan and personal commitments of, by, and for the group to get ‘r done.

There are a few other techniques that work, such as World Cafe or Dynamic Facilitation of Citizen Wisdom Councils, see links below, but I have to say that in the ten years I have been embraced by this community and adopted it as my own toward the goal of creating a World Brain and Global Brain, Harrison’s conceptualization remains for me the easiest to understand, the easiest to implement, and the most powerful in terms of outcomes from within–We are the power, We are the collective intelligence, We are the best possible synthesizers, aggregators, evaluators, and “deciders” of what will work best for We.

Among the handful of books I would recommend in addition to this one
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All
Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change
The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence
Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

Cell phones–and especially SMS–and the Internet–and especially back office aggregations and mapping of SMS or Twitter–have made the revolution that man could not complete without a digital noospere such as envisioned by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. The World Brain or Global Brain is in its infancy, but it now exists in a manner completely separated from, autonomous from, governments and organizations. The “We” in back into humanity, and the year 2012 will in my opinion be the year of the great convergence and emergence.

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