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The history of Open Space Technology is detailed in the Introduction to "Open Space Technology: A User's Guide", by Harrison Owen. (Paperback: 192 pages, Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 3 edition (April 1, 2008), Language: English, ISBN-10: 1576754766, ISBN-13: 978-1576754764)
In the early 1980s, Harrison Owen wrote a paper on what he called "Organization Transformation". He presented this paper at a traditional management conference. It was well enough received that a number of people urged Owen to organize a conference to specifically address the issues and opportunities he identified in his paper. Owen hosted the first annual Symposium on Organization Transformation in 1983, in a traditional conference format, in Monterrey, California. The event was a success, inasmuch as it was generally agreed that it should happen again. The second annual symposium (OT-2) one year later, but still in a traditional conference format.
Harrison Owen agreed to organize OT-3 for the following year, but by his own account, did not relish another year of work to manage all the details. Upon volunteering to host the third symposium, he retreated to the bar, where he consistently claims to have discovered what he later called the "Open Space" approach to meetings and events, at the bottom of his second martini. His plan for the following year's symposium was informed by his experience as a biblical scholar, associate pastor, peace corps organizer in the villages of west Africa, and federal government staffer and organization development consultant in Washington DC.
The following year, he sent out a simple, one-paragraph invitation, and more than 100 people showed up to discuss Organization Transformation. In his main meeting room he set the chairs one large circle and proceeded to explain that what participants could see in the room was the extent of his organizing work. If they had an issue or opportunity that they felt passionate about and wanted to discuss with other participants, they should come to the center of the circle, get a marker and paper, write their issue and their name, read that out, and post it on the wall. It took about 90 minutes for the 100+ people to organize a 3-day agenda of conference sessions, each one titled, hosted, and scheduled by somebody in the group.
Participants at OT-1 and OT-2 said that the best part of the events was the coffee breaks, which Owen always pointed out was the one part of the event that he didn't plan and couldn't take credit for. His inspiration to articulate the theme, the larger purpose for the work of the symposium, in an invitation and then a brief opening comment, and then simply "open the space" for participants to self-organize around the issues and opportunities they saw as essential to that purpose, was a conscious decision to make "more of what works". His martini-based plan sought to minimize the grunt work by leadership (him) and assign responsibility for maximizing productive learning and contribution to his participants (everyone else).
The approach worked well, in the 3-1/2 days symposium, where it was repeated annually through OT-20. Soon after the first "open space" event at OT-3, however, Owen tried the same approach with a consulting client, a large chemical firm and a group of polymer chemists. When it worked there, too, the participants of OT began trying it out with their clients, in a variety of different kinds of organizations, to address many different kinds of strategic and community issues, in countries around the world. They returned to the OT symposium each year to share learnings.
Owen never trademarked or patented or certified "Open Space" in any way. He always claimed to have discovered, rather than invented, it. He said it could be practiced freely by anyone with a good head and good heart. From the beginning, he said only that those who used the approach and found it valuable, should share their stories and learnings as freely, as well.
Twenty-five years later, Harrison Owen estimates that more than 100,000 different "open space" meetings have taken place. The Open Space World Map ( documents that these events have taken place in more than 160 countries. In December 2009, the OSLIST email listserve (hosted by Boise State University at for practitioners worldwide had 660+ members in 39 countries and more than 26,500 publicly searchable messages, relating to all aspects of practice. Information about Open Space is now posted in 21 different languages at Open Space World ( There are at least five different government-chartered associations or institutes (France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and USA) promoting Open Space practice around the world, and also active, but informal, organizations in several other countries (including Canada, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, and the UK). The German-language Yahoo group started February 2002, had 233 members at year-end 2009, mostly from Germany, Austria and Switzerland and also from France, Spain, The Netherlands, Poland and elsewhere, with 3497 messages in its archive. At year-end 2009, the Australian email group was more than 500 strong.
Harrison Owen originally used the term "open space" for his "self-organizing meetings". One of the earliest implementations of the approach was for a conference theme of "The business of business is learning," in Goa, India. The organizer of the conference was interviewed by the local media and described the simple process. When asked what the process was called, he embellished it a bit, with the more important sounding "Open Space Technology". The story was picked up by the New York Times (need date, c. 1985), and so "Open Space" became "Open Space Technology".
The OST approach

At the beginning of an Open Space the participants sit in a circle, or in concentric circles for large groups (300 to 2000 people and more).

The facilitator will greet the people and briefly re-state the theme of their gathering, without giving a lengthy speech. Then someone will invite all participants to identify any issue or opportunity related to the theme. Participants willing to raise a topic will come to the centre of the circle, write it on a sheet of paper and announce it to the group before choosing a time and a place for discussion and posting it on a wall. That wall becomes the agenda for the meeting.
No participant must suggest issues, but anyone may do so. However, if someone posts a topic, the system expects that the person has a realpassionfor the issue and can start the discussion on it. That person also must make sure that a report of the discussion is done and posted on another wall so that any participant can access the content of the discussion at all times. No limit exists on the number of issues that the meeting can post.
When all issues have been posted, participants sign up and attend those individual sessions. Sessions typically last for 1.5 hours; the whole gathering usually lasts from a half day up to about two days. The opening and agenda creation lasts about an hour, even with a very large group.

After the opening and agenda creation, the individual groups go to work. The attendees organize each session; people may freely decide which session they want to attend, and may switch to another one at any time. Online networking can occur both before and following the actual face-to-face meetings so discussions can continue seamlessly. All discussion reports are compiled in a document on site and sent to participants, unedited, shortly after.

Very large groups have generated as many as 234 sessionsrunning concurrently over the course of a day and longer meetings may establish priorities and set up working-groups for follow-up.
The Open Space Technology operates in a very simple fashion, and OST meetings require very little planning up-front. The organizers set no agenda and prepare only a very rough schedule; the meeting largely self-organizes. The facilitator remains largely invisible and has no control over the meeting itself. This means that one need organize only basic logistics (like space and food, for example) in advance.

OST proponentstake the view that Open Space meetings offer highly successful examples of self-organizing systems. Through self-organization, meetings allegedly have more success in addressing complex topics than do more traditional meeting methodologies.

Some proponentshave suggested that the reasons for the perceived success lie in what they call theFour PrinciplesandThe One Law. Participants hear these "rules" announced and described during the opening session. These describe rather than prescribe; they do not operate as rules which one must obey but simply describe what the system expects will happen in any case:
  1. Whoever comes is the right people: this alerts the participants that attendees of a session class as "right" simply because they care to attend
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: this tells the attendees to pay attention to events of the moment, instead of worrying about what could possibly happen
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time: clarifies the lack of any given schedule or structure and emphasisescreativityandinnovation
  4. When it's over, it's over: encourages the participants not to waste time, but to move on to something else when the fruitful discussion ends
There also exists a tentative "law", usually referred to as the"Law of Two Feet"(or"The Law of Mobility"), which reads as follows:If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet. Go to some other place where you may learn and contribute.

This last "law" emphasizes that no one should sit in sessions that they find boring; instead only people genuinely interested in the topic at hand should attend the discussions.

Beyond offering a meeting-methodology, OST can also express a philosophy and a life practice. People have frequently copied and adapted OST to private open space meetings and for public open-space conference purposes, including many practices not originally part of the initial scope.
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Architect – Engineer - Planner

18501 Vidora Dr. #A Rowland Hts, Ca 91748

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