What is open space?

I’m going to be lazy here and point you over to Jake’s blog post as it gives a description and highlights some key expectations/tips.

Short version: Open Space is a straightforward way to create participant-driven conference sessions.

Where’s why I value open space:

  • Insight:  Who is proposing sessions?  What the are the sessions people are proposing?  What sessions are people attending?  The reality is for most conferences the submission cycle is 6+ months prior to the conference.  Lots can change in that time.  This is real time data for me.
  • Smaller size:  Typically the way the open space floor plan is structured – the size of the attendees is limited to under 30.  I love a large energized room but I also love and miss small intimate conference size groups too.
  • Practice:  I often use open space to experiment with new session topics and/or exercises.  Do people attend?  Do they like the content?  Did the exercise produce the results?
  • Collaboration: In addition, I often find myself quickly deciding to collaborate with someone else on a topic.  We don’t spend hours coming up with a game plan – we improv together during the session.  I love it.
  • Lower barriers:  Writing submissions is an art and takes time.  This lowers the barrier for many people to give a session.
  • Expectations:  Honestly, I think some people deliver better in open space then when they are formal in front of the room.  Powerpoint can be a safety net for some that actually hinders the delivery.  Just engaging produces results.  If people know you are passionate, know you are trying, know that you just decided to do this session…they will cut you slack.  Go with it.
  • Choice:  Sometimes I hear things like “open space is a waste of time” – sure if you go to topics that you don’t care about or stay in sessions that are not engaging you. I always point back to law of two feet – including taking a mental break.
  • Responsibility:  Sure, everyone else sucks… have you proposed a session? No, hmmm…maybe try it before you judge others (just saying!).  Ok.  Snarky side put away…what can you challenge yourself with during this open space?  Can you join forces with someone and propose a session?  Many times in an open space session – I learn a ton from the people in my session (which is exactly what should happen!).

The hard part is that the open space facilitators have to rock.  The have to create the structure.  They have to make the process clear.  They have to set the energy tone.  They have to encourage participation.  They have to provide an opening and closing that doesn’t bore people to death.  I’ve seen a number of people do this well but I think my ultimate favorites thus far were Jake Calabrese and Allison Pollard at the ScrumGathering.  Instructions for proposing sessions were clear, quick and they had two lines going to speed it along (plus a very big and visible schedule).  What really sealed it for me was the closing.  They didn’t have every session report out. Instead, they asked for several people to speak up with a sentence about what they found valuable about the day.  It was quick. Yet, very powerful.

What do you find valuable about open space?

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick is a leadership and organizational advisor. Her transformational leadership at all levels of an organization, ignites growth of leaders and high performing teams to deliver quality outcomes. Tricia has more than twenty years of experience in the software development industry. She is a highly-rated trainer, coach, facilitator and motivational keynote speaker. Beyond her extensive knowledge and skills, her biggest offering is inspiring people to believe anything is possible.

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