Open Space Technology

I’m in a bit of a food coma (and what luxury is it to eat with my feet up on the bed, watching TV?).  I’m also getting ready to start the afternoon session.  We’re getting ready to start open space, a method which involves gathering a group of people either around a topic or just around a location, with faith that the right people will show up to have the conversation that they need to have.  This is an activity of which I have always been skeptical.  It’s also an activity that has proven to me time and again that my skepticism is unnecessary.

Open Space is governed by four principles:

1.  Whoever comes are the right people

2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.

3.  Whenever it starts is the right time.

4.  When it’s over, it’s over.  Don’t stay keep going just because you have time to fill.

and one law:

The law of two feet tells us that we should leave a group when it either stops generating passion or energy for us or when we stop contributing.  (How different would faculty meetings be if that were the reality in schools?)

I’m always sort of shocked to discver that this works, that we actually do get what we need when we bring a group of folks together to talk about something they want to talk about, with the time and space and permission to just trust that it will work.  It stands to reason, then that we would have the same result if we chose to bring together groups of educators in the same way.  Not to imply that we don’t- between the PLCs and TLTs and PLTs adn the CFGs…we have lots of structures that provide the time and space.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  More often than not, they work- sort of.  Some progress is made, some support is given, some connection is made, but nothing really big changes.  We make the small adjustments, we tinker around the edges by changing pedagogy and structures or by figuring out better ways to resolve dilemmas, but how often do these groups make great big changes?  When was the last time one of these groups made a decision that truly rocked the world of the school from which it was drawn?  Not often, at least in my experience.

You know what’s missing?  Faith.  Permission.  The understood reality that whatever we decide, no matter how big, will become reality (if it is well reasoned and thoughtful and good for kids).  Maybe that’s way this works in the small, temporary groups in which I’ve experienced it.  We have not only the blessing of a certain degree of anonymity- no one knows wether we’ll really do what we say we’ll do, which allows for a certain mythology of achievement- but also the blessing of an ideal community to bolster us.  I can’t imagine how much more powerful this would be if we were able to move forward on those powerful promises in a community of peers that we trusted enough to hold us accountable?


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