September 24-27, 2018  /  Washington, D.C.

> Open space

Maryland Ballroom A

Open space is the simplest meeting format that could possibly work.
It is based on (un)common sense of what people do naturally in productive meetings.


Principles (from Wikipedia on Open_Space_Technology):

While the mechanics of Open Space provide a simple means to self-organize, it is the underlying principles that make it effective both for meetings and as a guidepost for individual and collective effectiveness. The Law of Two Feet — a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility — expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you’re neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can. It is also a reminder to stand up for your passion.

From the law flow four principles:

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over

The open space rallying cry is: prepare to be surprised :‑O

Open Space Mechanics

Since the meeting is supposed to be self-organizing, the conveners put their energy not in running the meeting but creating a setting that gets everyone’s creative energy flowing.


  1. Show the timeline, how the event breaks down into Opening, Marketplace of ideas, Breakout sessions, Closing.
  2. Sponsor introduces the theme. Briefly. One or two minutes max. Long openings drain the energy of the meeting quickly. Get participants to work ASAP.
  3. Facilitators introduce the principles and the format. Explain how the marketplace of ideas works.

Marketplace of ideas

  1. Participants write ‘issues’ on pieces of paper. Preferably with bold markers, so they are easy to read from a distance.
  2. Participants choose a timeslot for their topic on the agenda wall.
  3. One by one, participants explain their issue to the others, with the aim of drawing the right people to their breakout-session.

Breakout sessions: Once people do not come up with new issues (wait a little bit, and ask ‘are we done?’. I find the silence that often happens at the beginning and end of the marketplace the scariest. However, this silence seems to be very productive.

You may ask people to put their name on sessions they want to attend. More than one session per slot is OK… (law of two feet :) ). This gives conveners an idea of how busy their session is going to be. It gives participants an image of how the breakout session is going.

People may shuffle sessions around, or merge sessions as they are deciding where to go. Have a wiki where people can record outcomes of sessions, or provide paper forms for note-taking during sessions (recording who attended, a summary of the session and outcomes/questions for further work) that you can collect into a ‘book of proceedings’.

The facilitators’ role in this bit of the conference is to answer questions, and make sure everyone has the materials they need to run their breakout session. They do not (in principle) intervene in the sessions - the participants are supposed to self-organize.

Closing: Have everyone back in the circle. A simple and effective way to close is to have the participants pass a ‘talking stick’ around, and let them (briefly, e.g. in a sentence or a word) say what they feel about the day.

Bumblebees and butterflies: Bumblebees internalize the law of two feet quickly, and constantly flit from meeting to meeting, pollinating, cross-fertilizing, and adding richness and variety.

Butterflies may never get into any meeting. They are focal points of quiet and beauty. If you watch them, every once in a while you’ll see them engage in conversation. Those conversations often are significant.

Monday, Sept 24 (2-5pm): Open Space @ SpringOne Platform