How to make an Open Space Technology (OST) session work

Open Space Technology (OST)

When something is truly transformational, we don’t know what its outcome will be.  If we are truly open, we don’t know what our answers will be.  We have to place our trust in the complexity of human nature, and how we have succeeded overtime to come together, self organise, prosper, and grow.  This insight forms the basis of Open Space Technology. There are no gadgets, gizmos or gimmicks. Although there can be if you choose, they would only serve as a distraction from the deep connection that can take place between one human and another.  As Steve Pashley – our local OST guru – would say, ‘that’s about as touchy-feely as it gets.’ There is nothing but the topic that you have all gathered to care and talk about, and:

  • Space
  • People
  • Passion
  • Responsibility

‘OMG!? No speakers, power point, frameworks, checklist, or tools,’ I hear you cry?  Nope, none of that stuff.  There are no unnecessary distractions. No experts, just a simple structure that provides participants with ‘just enough’ for them to magically ‘get on and do’.  At first glance this could appear to be experimental, but in fact it has been around for thousands of years, and was brought to the attention of the western world by Harrison Owen in the 1990’s.


How to make OST work:

  • 4 stages – Agenda setting, market place, group meetings, and a closing round (with a native American talking stick, should you be in the mood)
  • 4 roles – Convener, participant, bumblebee, and butterfly
  • 4 principles – When it’s over it’s over, who ever turns up is the right person, when it starts is the right time, what ever happens is the only thing that could have happened
  • 1 law – Law of ‘two feet’

As a facilitator it can be scary.  It’s very light touch and you place your faith in the process and.. just hold your breath.

I ran an OST event this week.  There were 70 people in a room from all walks of life, coming together to consider the ‘Future of Research in Primary Dental Care’.  They had very little information prior to the event about what would happen; the important point was that they were passionate about Dentistry.

It was a roller-coaster ride

Participants left the room buzzing on the work that they had lead and the outcomes that they had achieved in such a short space of time. Everything you need to know can be found here

Note of caution

It might sound simple, and at one level it is the simplest of concepts.  However, all good facilitators know that the success or failure of any event hinges on:

  • Planning
  • Planning
  • More planning
  • Getting the right people in the room
  • A trusted and fabulous team (often behind the scenes)
  • Stage management
  • A bit more planning

The best way to bring this to life is that using theatre as a metaphor.  With this in mind, you need:

  • A good script – the topic and understanding of OST
  • An experienced director – facilitator
  • A stage and props – right venue and equipment
  • Dress rehearsal – planning (several meetings)
  • Behind the scenes team – administration, authors of outputs
  • Cast of actors – participants
  • Identified roles – convener, participant, bumble bee and butterfly
  • Beginning, middle and end – and maybe a review to finish!

If you’ve brought together all these elements, you should be ready for a successful OST session! Don’t forget to get in touch or leave a comment if you have any questions about how we might be able to help your OST event.





2 thoughts on “How to make an Open Space Technology (OST) session work

    1. Thank you for your encouragement. Open Space Events are great fun and planning another one for exploring research ideas for health care delivery in general practice and primary care.

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