I pinged Johnnie the other day to see what he was up to in London while I was blowing through this week and lo, also behold, there he is facilitating an Open Space session at the Blogs & Social Media Forum and, being the kind soul he is, has wangled a pass for me to join the jollity.
The whole shebang is being moderated by Euan Semple so it looks like old home week for me. As Johnnie points out, this real world meetup and collaboration is a hidden, but huge, benefit of long term bloggery.
I'm very interested in the Open Space idea because we have just had the Stockholm Challenge event last week and we ran a modified form of it there.
The whole thing started with the fact that the participants were all invited as finalists in the Challenge; you can't get to buy your way in, you have to qualify. The huge benefit of that is that it creates a much broader base of participants whose ideas and programmes are validated in the process and it brings in many people who would not be able to make such an event otherwise. The conference and workshops were sponsored by SPIDER which also meant that [paying for the event was not a barrier, it made for a MUCH more OPEN Space than many might expect.
We then said to the folks that, since they had been identified as the most interesting people we were in contact with, it would be insulting to trundle in some outside experts to talk to them, so we made them the focus of the event.
They spent a day under the guidance of 6 moderators (one for each Challenge category) and in the process they produced from each of the 6 workshops, three speakers who would deliver their perspective on one of the three conference themes for the next day.
Then came an accidental stroke of genius; we put all 6 speakers for each theme together at the end of the day to work out their presentation for the conference the next day. I watched in admiration and fascination as they promptly started to reform a new group and go to work on their collective material. In a couple of cases for several hours at the end of a long day while everyone else was eating and making merry.
The only restriction we put on them was that each speaker had only 3 slides to make their case.
The next day we had three great sessions where each speaker stuck to their topic and their time limit and the discussion afterwards was informed, energetic and above all, busy for the half hour we allotted.
We took a risk by offering a conference with only 3 themes and no speakers or agenda and only a day to build it in, but i couldn't have asked for more and the feedback has been very positive. In fact, we had an online moderated forum up and running for the 2 months prior to the event so people had already had a say and begun to have discussions before the event started. One even came up to me the evening of the reception before the workshop day to say that it was already a great event because ti was the first one he had ever been to where he could hope to influence what happened.
Now it wasn't the pure Open Space system and I'm hoping for some more from Johnnie and co tomorrow, but this whole idea is looking better and better.