There are detailed articles about how to host Open Space Technology, but for now I just want to list the one law and four principles.
The Law of Two Feet: “If you find yourself in a situation where you aren’t learning or contributing, go somewhere else.”
The 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 is over it is over.
- Just Action Oriented?
These principles suggest that Open Space emphasizes individual accountability, and much of this is true. The participants set their own agenda, design their action plans and make commitments to their cause (which, if people are following the instructions, ought to be at the core of their desires).
But the emphasis on action does more than set accountability. It removes the tendency towards “language battles” that happen in many other large group discussions. A symposium on “Social Justice” will inevitably degrade into wars about what “justice” means. Full restitution? For recent injustices or historical ones as well? Ultimately the discussion is a power struggle for the definition. The group who chooses the language also chooses its limits, which often means that the popular, rich or otherwise authoritative groups get to make up the rules to suit their own interests. Or worse, no consensus is reached and nothing gets done.
By focussing on the here and now, and tying actions to the agenda, language battles are mostly subverted. Boundaries of a word have no meaning, because the boundaries are no longer set by the environment, but instead by the commitment of the individual.
I cannot dictate a quantitative income for the poverty level in an open space. I can only do those things that result in less poverty — however I interpret that to mean. My interpretation will be informed by the experiences brought forth by others, but the law of two feet lets me set my own rules for engagement.
- Just Authority Devolving?
Open Space has a habit of re-shaping cultural or traditional authority structures. I say “re-shape” because the structure of Open Space is not perfect. In fact, those who have a high individuality orientation are apt to become quite influential in an Open Space project. But, unless he or she can be everwhere at all times, it is unlikely that a CEO or high-ranking official will be able to dictate to the whole group what ought to happen in the organization.
Open Space is not anarchical though. Authority exists, but on merit, commitment or plausibility, instead of a structural norm.
- The Gap? — Bring Open Space to the Online World
I think that there has to be a way to enable this sort of discussion over the internet. There barriers are familiar:
- Inherent power given to the tech-savy.
- Anonymity and distance impact on accountability.
- Visual cues and body language are lost in online conversations.
- “Listening” is not a pre-requisite in the online world.
The online Open Space situation is imperfect, but not impossible. In fact, as with e-learning, a mix of the two is probably in order.