I had my first true taste of of using the open space format for a meeting today at ASAE and the Center's 2006 Annual Meeting, and I may just be hooked on it. As one participant said at the session's end, "I may have to miss the rest of today's sessions. No matter how good the content, I won't be satisfied with less than this."
The basic premises, according to session facilitator Joan Eisenstodt of Eisenstodt and Associates, are: Whoever shows up are the right people; whatever happens is what's supposed to happen; when it starts is the right time to start; when it's over, it's over; and follow the law of two feet (if you don't like what your group is doing, move to another one, or feel free to leave altogether). How it worked was that Joan asked for some topics around the future of meetings we wanted to explore. Each person who proposed a topic wrote it on a flip chart, then whoever was interested in discussing each topic went to the person holding that topic on the flip-chart paper. I proposed "overcoming resistance to change in trying new forms of knowledge transfer (i.e., education), and our group retired to the hallway where we sat on the blow-up chairs, regular chairs we dragged out of the meeting room, or the floor (that would be me). Other topics people wanted to work on included dealing with the threat of future terrorist attacks, how to increase attendance at meetings, improving sponsorship relationships, attracting new members to an association, and something else that is escaping me at the moment—hey, it's late, and I'm tired. Oh yeah, duh: How to use open space for different types of meetings.
After 45 minutes or so of trying to solve the world of meetings' future problems, we reconvened as a group and shared what we came up with. I can imagine that, if we changed the makeup of each subgroup, we'd have a whole new set of results. It was, as Joan pointed out, just a taste of what open space really is like, since we didn't have time to truly go through the whole process, but it was amazingly engaging, invigorating, energizing, and productive. Two big thumbs up from me!