What Is An OpenSpace Conference?

What's the best thing that happened at the last conference you attended? It's very likely that you'll remember one or more "hallway conversations," or perhaps a "Birds-Of-A-Feather" session. An OpenSpace conference creates that experience for the entire conference, by ensuring that you are always having the most interesting conversation possible. The emphasis is on discussion, instead of listening to eyes-forward presentations.

OpenSpace is a simple methodology for self-organizing conference tracks. It relies on participation by people who have a passion for the topics to be discussed. There is no preplanned list of topics, only time slots and a space in the main meeting room where interested participants propose topics and pick time slots.

OpenSpace has been used for conferences and as a facilitation technique for company meetings, community organizations, and other groups that wish to explore the emergent ideas and agendas of their members. I have organized a number of OpenSpace events which have been far and away the best meeting experiences I've ever had (I think I'd put on OpenSpaces all the time if I could).

Prepare to be surprised by the depth and breadth of topics that are discussed in OpenSpace. Each OpenSpace experience is unique in some way. Quite often topics are raised in OpenSpace that are off the radar of the original meeting — this spontaneity is part of the benefit.

Some people have found this concept to be intimidating. In particular, questions like the following may arise:

It doesn't matter if you contribute a little or a lot. And you'll probably be surprised that you may know something that others may not. Everyone has something to give, whether they know it or not -- even if it's the "beginner's mind" that asks the right questions.

One of the greatest things about an OpenSpace is that it's spontaneous. It's not about traditional "eyes-forward" presentations, so if you go to the trouble of creating such a thing, it's likely it won't get used. On the other hand, if you are familiar with some technology that others might like to learn about, we might end up asking you to show us. But not in a formal way. So all you really need to bring is your brain.

How OpenSpace Works

OpenSpace is a small set of rules that allow groups of people to interact in a simple, productive, organized way to create valuable dialogs that address the participants' most important issues.

The Fundamental "Rules" of the sessions that happen during OpenSpace conferences are:

To lead an OpenSpace Talk:

To attend an OpenSpace Talk:

A Note to Lecturers

As someone who often presents to groups, I find it easy to slip into lecturing mode. I resist this impulse, because that's not what OpenSpaces are about. General things to remember:

If you're in a session and a lecturer needs help stopping, raise your hand and say "I'd like to hear what everyone else has to say about this."