Open Space Institute of Canada

Open Space Reports

From Passion to Action

March 13, 1999



Bruce Craig, sponsor

Winston Kinch, facilitator

Larry Peterson, report collecting

Topic Name:

FROM REPORTS TO ACTION – How do we ensure the energy continues beyond the event in constructive ways


Debra Kosemetzky

Other Participant:

Ellen, Marcelene, Diane, Larry, Bruce, Sharon, Sharon, Ann, Bruce

Discussion Recommendations:

Stories of experiences people in the circle have had with respect to ensuring the energy continues beyond the Open Space event include the following with highlighted "nuggets":

Ellen – OS with a community which she is an internal decision maker on nurturing the organization was followed with another OS using the outcomes from the first one to create a synergistic operating plan with a vision and mission developed.

Marcelene/Larry – working with a community in OS, reports were sent to staff of the organization to discern who would work on what for operationalizing the ideas.

Diane – a government dept (federal) used OS with 250 managers who had experienced a lot of pain through downsizing, etc. OS re-energized them. Feedback mechanisms from decision-makers to ensure actions are taken need to be established up front if everyone is not going to participate in the OS.

One ADM who had participated took the microphone and spoke with passion about the action steps in the circle, a sharp contrast from the speech-making approach used by those who had not participated in the OS. RESULT: ensure up front work is done to prepare mgmt team for results, especially if they are not going to participate in the OS and if possible emphasize the importance of the OS and the participation of the mgmt team. Use stories where this was not done as an example to other clients of what not to do!

Another outcome or decision from this event to continue momentum was a newsletter (some form of communication) that fed regular updates about the progress of the teams.

Bruce – Include a more facilitated process ended the OS to decide who was going to do what, by when, who would be part of this step, next meeting, etc. which helped to provide structure to those who are more comfortable with knowing this as they go forward. Knowledge of next steps in this case was empowering and energizing. Also mentioned that the up front work is critical (this was reiterated by several in the group); he uses structured facilitated process at the back end – therefore it is a more structured convergence (this is a matter of personal style and the needs of the organization). What is important is that everyone knows what will be happening at the beginning

Marcelene – decide who is the champion and will take responsibility for the various actions/report areas.

Larry – in a group of 500 people, 95 reports were generated and these were fed into previously determined teams. What they found was that within three months, these were not the right teams to be doing this and the teams were reformulated to achieve what was needed using the right people rather than using the (arbitrary?) organizational structure

Sharon shared an innovative way to communicate results – creating a visual metaphor for the project developments. She described a tree with "fruit" (this was a toy company so the "fruit" were potential new products – i.e. toys). As they fell closer to the ground they were nearing completion, or implementation.

Sharon suggested scheduling a follow-on event before the OS so people know in advance.

Larry reminded the group that convergence is not just a to-do list but leaves people going away doing the things they have passion for

Concern What happens to reports – sometimes the material generated is sensitive and can be misrepresented by people who were not part of the OS and even people who were in the OS event.

  • Suggestion from ANN that we see the Report as a short term document that will have evolve into something else – an action, next steps, etc. (when it’s over, it’s over!)
  • Identify the use for reports in the planning of the OS event. What will happen to the reports is determined in the contracting stage of the project.
  • In one case the substantive issues were raised in an OS and these were actually used against the organization and to challenge its funding!

Also need to think through and establish when it is appropriate to distribute all the reports and to whom.


Topic Name:

Alternatives to Dot and Computer Voting in Small and Large Groups



Other Participants:

Marcelene, Larry, Bruce, Ann, Ellen

Discussion Recommendations:

Diane described how she and her colleague Jacqueline Pelletier, have used an alternative method with small and large groups. Comments from this group discussion were incorporated in the description that follows. The basic concept of this approach to convergence in open space, also called the planning phase, was developed at the 1997 Toronto OS on OS . It involves opening the space again on the last day to plan follow-ups, building on the previous discussions. This method which uses the tree analogy, circumvents a difficulty created by dot or computer voting: votes for similar topics get spread and sometimes these topics do not make it to the top list although their combined totals would have reflected that this issue is a priority for most. Experience has shown that the facilitator attempting to combine topics before the vote can face the discontent of the conveners or other participants who may have a different interpretation of what is similar. A different approach to setting priorities is available. Participants vote with their feet.

Parameters announced at the opening of the OS are repeated. Ideally, the organizers have indicated at the outset that they will give feedback on all the suggested actions within a reasonable delay, specifying what that time frame is. Experience has demonstrated that to ensure follow-up and give credibility to the organizers’ commitment to follow-up, it is almost essential that a coordination group be formed in advance: with decision-makers that can help move things forward and with representatives - champions - of the priority action areas identified during the open space meeting. A more inspiring name for this group was suggested: "Stewardship team"

What does the "tree concept" look like? A tree trunk with long branches is drawn with masking tape on a large wall. The theme of the open space and/or the front page of the discussion reports are placed in the center of the trunk. Participants are reminded that action planning is rooted in the previous discussions, it is not separate from but a result and a continuation of.

Each branch represents a common area for action. A colored sheet of paper is placed at the beginning of each branch to later identify the main subject of the branch. Participants having read the reports name topics that now appear to them as important areas for action. The question to guide the setting of priorities can be "What issue do I feel is important to act on?" Other suggestions of questions from our discussion: "Where do I want to put my energy and enthusiasm now?" ...something about which you would feel excited if it got done.

The concept of convergence as represented by the tree can also be depicted as a mind map or by creating clusters of topics, instead of branches. The topics are placed around the central subject of the cluster. The cluster image has proven to be more practical when space was limited, for example when cork boards had to be used in lieu of a wall.

Participants go to the center, write their topic and their name, announce it and post it on a branch without attaching a post-it for time and place. All discussions will take place at the same time and determining the meeting site is done later on so that topics groups of a same branch can meet in the same general area. Topics in the tree analogy are leaves on the branch. Participants are encouraged to not duplicate topics. If they want to post a different wording they tag it under the similar sheet. Similar topics get put on a same branch. When a few are up, the facilitator invites a participant to suggest a name for the branch that reflects the affinity of the topics.

A flip chart page for each branch is posted on each side of the tree. Members of the support team or volunteers note on each flip chart page, branch topics as they are announced. These will later be placed at the branch meeting sites for reference. This way, groups will have a list of the related topics of their subject (branch) without dismounting the wall which is an important source of information for the whole group and for bumblebees in particular.

When all topics are up, it is time to assign rooms. With large groups, logistics need to be different. The intention is to locate groups of a branch or cluster in the same area so that they can more easily combine if they wish to do some planning on a branch/subject basis. Near the tree, post-its with room names are grouped by color, a color for each subject/branch. The facilitator can ask for a quick show of hands of who is interested in each subject/branch so that if a subject attracts considerable participation, the plenary room for example can be chosen to accommodate larger numbers. Since the principles of open space still apply, people can raise their hands for more than one branch subject. Once the general areas for the branches have been identified and announced, a support team member assigns the post-it meeting sites for each of the topic sheets and other support team members note those sites on the branch flip chart pages which they will then post in the respective general meeting areas during the break that follows. Participants are also invited to come to the wall to consider their choices during the break. To save time, especially with large groups, they do not sign up on the wall but in each of the discussion groups. Since there is only one discussion period for planning, not signing on the wall has less of an impact on the self-organization capacity of the group.

Conveners are responsible to post their topic at their individual meeting site. After 45 minutes of action planning discussions by topic, the open space bells ring and participants or groups who wish to do so, regroup as a branch/subject. The new "subject" group can identify links or areas for concerted action. In plenary before breaking out, each branch group was asked to identify and note on a flip chart, 3 key points they wish to communicate in plenary. A spokesperson for the branch is chosen and reports are typed up as soon as possible. If the groups do not meet as a branch, each topic group is invited to present one key point from their action plan.

Back in the plenary, verbal presentations are brief (3 minutes for 3 key points per branch) followed by questions and comments from the circle. Participants are invited to sign up to the branch key point sheets if they were not able to go to that group but have a passion for it and want to get involved. They can do this during a break or at the end of the meeting. With large groups, this verbal presentation occurs after lunch followed by the closing circle.

Copies of the action plan report are made and distributed as soon as possible or at least before participants leave the meeting. This has a very powerful effect on participants. Credibility, ownership and commitment just shoot up. Momentum is not lost. Participants have said about getting the action report before leaving: "now this makes it real!"

A minimum of a half-day is needed to read discussion reports and complete this planning process. If time is really short, planning discussion groups can be done by topic only (leaves of the branch), skipping the branch coordination meeting. Some organizations will only prioritize - fill the tree - and do the actual planning at the work place or in a subsequent meeting. This planning approach is a work in progress. Experience will allow it to grow.

Topic Name:

Open Space and Convergence in the Classroom


Mary Ann Maruska

Other Participants:

Mark, Monica, Christine

Discussion Recommendations

Consider combining other processes of group facilitation and cooperative learning as needed. (They should be consistent with the philosophy of Open Space.)

Effective learning takes place when three levels of the person are addressed:

    • the individual
    • the person as part of a small group
    • the person as part of the larger community

It is valuable to give instruction in effective processes, eg. guiding young children in how to discuss their respective points of view when arguing.

A good teacher is not so much a master of techniques; it is one who

    • believes in the learner’s potential success
    • loves their subject, and
    • loves the learners.

Christine had great success coaching baseball, about which she knows very little, by giving her team the following directions:

"You know the rules. You decide who plays where, etc. the only things that I insist on are no swearing, cheer wildly for your teammates, successes, and no bad-mouthing anyone, including our opponents."

Topic Name:

Effective ways to create community after open space meetings with group


Debra Joy Eklove

Other Participants:

Sharon, David, Janine, Bruce, Larry, Sharon

Discussion Recommendations:

Grieving process when group ends since groups knows it won’t continue. To continue contact, people need to focus around their passions, or deeper connections, even transcendent issues emerging from a group

Sense of meaning important for buy-in – sense of meaning changes over time as time passes or other priorities arise. Important to recognize that events are different from the daily living, and it is reasonable to expect that contact with others all the time?

Group coming together over passionate issues inevitably there is a shadow that needs to be brought to light and gone through to keep process going and bond solid. How to form community? Need to go through shadow. In companies the end result may not be valued enough to form community around. A workplace/company creates a structure of people to come together where there is buy-in.

Task oriented people and process oriented people approach things from different perspectives and the need for valuing the diversity was stressed.

Size of community was mentioned – small groups can be more unified. But there are different levels of community - intimacy is one aspect, meaning of event is another. Need various projects to address needs of people to do things in different ways, and to be more effective not orchestrated ways, community needs to be emergent. The intention of the group is crucial and people come for together for various needs. Over time a process for decision making develops which is effective for that group.

Generally a group needs a focus - needs to be creating something to keep engaged.

The example of the Centre for Creative Ministries was given. Community was created by two people taking their ideas and with compassion creating projects " ministries", and also having regular events to nurture the community.

How do we define if we are in or out of community? If ones gift values one feels more willing to participate and share. The external communities we are in is a reflection of our internal state. Community is internal and the external groups we interact with is a manifestation of our internal needs.

Community - we are connected to everything else. Community is a particular enhancing and strengthening of those connections. Community goes through life cycles. One can participate on many different levels, and it is important to recognize that all organizations have cycles and are transitory. Feeling connected to all allows us to let go easier knowing that other groups will appear.

Part of individual’s journey is to deal with our own and others behaviours or actions without controlling, for controlling creates problems. It has been observed that if a person dominating group the energy will drop.

Forming, storming, performing – a description of the process of group and community. The need for connection or relationship is the basis for the creation of actions. Then to create and maintain opportunities without the risk making barriers or hard feelings. Willingness and take risk is what makes things happen.

Virtual community on the internet can be strong. E-mail transforming what we mean by community. But actually meeting people makes connections stronger. Interesting that people care about this. - the list of names and ideas is not enough.

Commitment to community is also an issue. If there are difficulties with group, commitment gives strength to persevere and then a deep strength and richness is to be gained.

In one group the once a month face-to-face sharing on spirituality and pot-luck dinner dissipated but a sense of belonging remained. The sense of belonging nurtured by valuing people where they are and use creative process as potent community binding agent. An example, expressive art therapy useful to overcome words - the building of the Bahai temple in India is an example of creative a project bringing people together

Open Space rules allows people to be butterflies and bumblebees - leave and flit around. Can this be accepted outside the open space framework. It may be helpful to learn something from knowing why people leave a group – asking people to tell their reasons for leaving if they can.

Topic Name:

Open Space in Education


Mark Brubacher

Other Participants:

Christine, Janine, Debra, Monica

Discussion Recommendations:

Theme: Making Connections, personal and inter-organizational

What are the similarities between Open Space and Cooperative Learning? How do they connect with other groups such as Life Long Learning for retired people, formal educational organizations, and education in the workplace?

Open Space and Cooperative Learning allow more free flow of ideas in these milieux. They see the overlap between life learning and school learning and encourage intrinsic motivation for learning. They move from rows to circles; there is power in the format of the circle; teachers become facilitators. As learners work to discover answers they are given responsibility and confidence. They form their own questions and the shape their own interpretations. They do not need someone to tell them the right answer at the end. Rather, each person in a small group is prepared to present ideas and information to a larger group, be it a classroom, a conference, or an organization.

Open Space and Cooperative Learning take into account that emotional blocks to learning need to be overcome. The Arts need to be integrated into learning; people need to work in groups at times. There needs to be an awareness that skills learned in school are necessary outside of school, both in the present and in later life.

Authoritarian models are not working anymore. A sense of awe does more for taking responsibility for one’s own learning. Facilitation must be more in tune with what the group needs and how each person learns. Space must be provided to make things work.

What falls between the cracks can be most beautiful. As in a stone walkway which in itself is barren, the growth between the flagstones can be flowering and fragrant. A facilitator/teacher can potentially see destructive behavior as a gift to be turned into something positive. In "Taking your soul to work" Honeywell says that willing souls didn’t live as long as unwilling ones. Those who took control of their own lives fared better than those who constantly tried to please everyone.

Rethinking teaching approaches is important. What works well for gifted students will also work for others. School tends to gear for girls. Boys rebel against being forced to sit for 4 hours. Yet girls could also benefit from a less sedentary environment. Even for academic students the things remembered are often practical skills.

Open Space and cooperative learning work in every subject. Learners benefit from explaining what they know to others in a group. Each person becomes accountable for learning and sharing what is learned with others. Poetry, math, science, art, history are all areas in which interactive learning can flourish. Connections between fields of learning are being rediscovered. The compartmentalization (by age and subject) of learning has made learning far more difficult by setting up artificial barriers in our knowledge about the world.

We have much to learn from the traditions of the Native Peoples. Europeans did permanent damage to North American aboriginal ways of life and we need to open up and be aware of what they can teach us if they are allowed to heal emotionally and culturally. Maori children, for example, behave much better and are enthusiastic about learning in school when their own traditions, culture, and language are valued by replacing the format and curriculum of the schooling of mainstream society.

Open Space and Cooperative Leaning both provide a space, literally and philosophically where human beings can achieve a greater sense of worth and wellbeing.



"Imagination; language of the soul". How can non rational, non verbal, body related processes such as the expressive arts contribute to convergence?




Mary Ann, Sharon, Monica, Deborah, Deborah, Ann, Mark, David, Larry,


Due to the nature of our discussion which focused on using a right brain approach, it is fitting that our reporting be also right brain. This innovative mind map was initiated and drawn by Deborah as we were brainstorming ways to engage the whole person in both Open Space and convergence.

We talked about ways that we could welcome creative expression without pushing it. We discussed specific ideas on how we could bring together the learning with group art, whether visually or with movement, and many creative ideas were put forward. We toyed with the idea of having bumblebees that would instigate or tease creativity, but we can’t make it happen. What stood out was the importance of freedom of choice, and of creating a safe container, particularly when we work with the expressive arts.

The net of it is that we can’t set it up, it is up to the group to find its own way. But if magic is in the air, and the spirit moves wherever it wishes, how can we enhance the environment to include those who are more comfortable with other modalities,? It was agreed that we can only provide lots of options and make materials available..

It seems that if the circle is conducive to open communication, the environment can invite magic. And it happens on its own volition. Monica, suggested that we do a progressive drawing where each person would add a mark to the evolving image. And voila! what emerged: A whimsical, mysterious creature with a life of its own. We gave it a voice, by responding with one word each and after pooling our words together, this stream of consciousness poem surprised us. There was no time to edit, it just arrived! Ann suggested dancing to the words, so we gave it more life with movement, drumming and sounds. "It" came alive and so did we. I am sure we can glean meaning from this spontaneous, irrational, poem even if unpolished. We can sense the power of the metaphor and from the newness of the image, we can also see that imagination and play are of the spirit.

I am free said the mystery fish

I’m free to be.

What is my destiny?

Diversity is my destiny.

I’m free said the whimsical fish

What’s the mystery?

Fantastical diversity and destiny.

Topic Name:

Open Space Institute Canada Web


Larry Peterson

Other Participants:

Diane, Sharon, Ellen, David, Winston

Discussion Recommendations:


We have been supporting Barry Owen's Geocities web site for WorldWide Open Space. It is great and has been a help. We were willing to put in $$ if that was needed or requested, but it has not been requested. There has been a lot of recent discussion on the ListServe as to the networking and linking of web sites in addition to supporting a master link. US OSI has its own web site. Diane expressed concern at sending potential clients to the WorldWide site first rather than to a Canadian site. A real Canadian site needs to have both official languages as options. Larry has received complaints from Jim Muckle and other recently trained Canadian folks who have been concerned about how long it has taken to change information on the site. Barry has been getting married, so we understand the delays. However, Sharon has just developed the Participative Design site and knows how we can get an inexpensive domain name. We have a substantial operating reserve at OSI Canada and thus could afford to develop an inexpensive site. It was decided to proceed with our own site to link to the WorldWide Open Space site and individual practitioner sites in Canada.

Possible Items on the Site

    • List of Active Members and Trained Facilitators
    • Membership Application Page
    • OSI Canada Newsletters Posted
    • Links to WorldWide Open Space, US site, Personal Web pages with OS content
    • Market Place to indicate topic discussion that someone wants to have, when and where on the internet.
    • OSI Sponsored Events

A doable simple site

  • The domain name will cost $15 up front and $11 a month (Sharon has already reserved it:
  • It can be used on any server.
  • We like having a central reference to Barry's site
  • IT NEEDS TO HAVE TWO LANGUAGES (and Diane will making it so!)

Site Team:

Sharon, Larry, Winston, Diane, Ellen


Follow-up Strategies -Contracting for ongoing, meaningful action/ support to realize change




Mary Anne, Sharon, Monica, Ann, Christine, Bruce, Diane, Alan

The discussion explored a number of ideas and experiences on how to ensure effective follow-up with a strong emphasis on the need to contract these activities up-front:

  1. clarify with up-front with the client what will happen to the conference reports
  2. communicate the importance of giving people who attend a "green light" at the end of the conference on beginning to take action based on the sessions outputs
  3. contract for a follow-up session of the whole group - 6 weeks to 3 months down the road to assess progress and identify any new or emerging issues or roadblocks
  4. contract with the client to work through a problem, change process or implementation cycle vs. an event or doing OS .. focus on asking "why?" they want OS .. to what end state or goal are people being brought together
  5. build into the OS a discussion on the obstacles and ways to maintain momentum .. engage the group in the issue of how to ensure effective follow through
  6. contract to set up action teams or task groups at the end of the conference - the topics of each to be determined at the end of the conference and that these groups will work and report back to a management sponsor or to the whole group at a second gathering
  7. ask what has worked and not worked in the client’s organizational experience in relation to making change happen… the issue of follow-through will usually emerge as a theme that is then owned by the client vs. "being told"
  8. as part of #7 .. ask what assumptions underlie the past behaviours that have not worked and what assumptions underlie what they would like to see or success
  9. have a follow-up OS to look at where they left off and continue the work
  10. develop and provide up front (create a climate of safety around speaking out and taking action ie. the rules are known) a clear set of parameters, guidelines and steps around how the results will be worked with following the conference
  11. ask the client to think about a past change experience where they were a participant - and what helped and hindered them from engaging and moving to action
  12. build in time at the end of the session (2 hours or so) for action planning including setting up of action groups and follow-through mechanisms
  13. be clear up front on the desired outputs and their use.. ie. if the session is for input only to a committee or management group state that and set a time for a response to the whole group that includes the rationale for what decisions are made on what to take from the session and not
  14. contract up front for follow-on support mechanisms.. ie. champions for action groups, setting up a web site for communication, a notice board area for information, a coordinating committee, etc.
  15. leave the accountability for the follow-up and overall success in the hands of both the leaders and the larger group.. vs. the leaders taking this away
  16. ask the client system what they think would be an effective follow-up
  17. have informal get togethers ie. a "water cooler" space and time, a notice board area, a project room, lunch and learn sessions every Fri., etc.
  18. hold events to celebrate accomplishments and use these to discuss progress and raise new issues
  19. have a cross-stakeholder session planning or design team up-front take responsibility for the implementation of the outputs and the overall success of the process ie. the change goals or reasons for the session
  20. when people want an "OS event" start by asking they "why" - what are the issues, goals, etc. of the session .. be clear about the purpose, outputs and expectations and communicate to the participants
  21. ask the client or the management team which often feels that they end up taking all the responsibility for everything ie. people don’t step forward.. what they do to reinforce or encourage this situation - letting go of control and refusing to take it back can be way of ensuring that those in OS with an idea have the support they need to continue working on that idea

Summary by: Bruce Craig