Open Space Technology: Opening Circle

Introduction

This is part two in a multipart series discussion Open Space Technology.  Last time we looked at the 4 Principles and the 1 Law that many attribute to the success of Open Space Technology. Today we are going to look at the Opening Circle and the Market Place.

Other Post in this series:

  1. Open Space Technology: Introduction
  2. Open Space Technology: Opening Circle
  3. Open Space Technology: Sessions, where the sharing happens 

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The Opening Circle

At the beginning of an Open Space the participants sit in a circle. A facilitator is responsible for greeting all of the participants and reminding everyone of the purpose, principles and the one law. Participants are then invited to identify any issues or topics they feel should be discussed.  This process doesn’t take long and it is amazing to see how a group can come to order so quickly in this format.  While attending devLink 2009 and eagerly awaited Alan Stevens to kick off the opening circle I noticed that everyone was talking have have a great time. Alan walks into the circle, doesn’t say a word, just starts pacing in a circle.  Amazing, within a few short minutes everyone stopped talking and started focusing on Alan.  Once the room was quiet Alan kicked it off.  It was amazing to experience, if ever get a chance to go to an open space facilitated by Alan Stevens go, he is excellent.

As I stated earlier, the opening circle is where everything is explained the 4 principles and the 1 law and generally sets the tone for how the rest of the open space is going to flow, communicating schedules, needed resources, closing circle, etc.

OpenSpace Schedule

The Market Place

Once the general flow is communicated it comes down to setting the schedule, I mean we all want to know what we are going to talk about right? ;-).  That is where the Market Place comes into play.  The Market Place is a blank schedule showing times and rooms but no topics. The facilitator encourages the participants willing to raise a topic to come to the center of the circle, write it on a sheet of paper and announce it to the group before choosing a time and a place for the discussion and posting it on a wall. That wall becomes the agenda for the meeting.

No participant is forced to suggest issues/topics, but anyone may do so. The person who posted the topic is responsible for being at the session at the chosen time and place, start the discussion, have someone take notes and post them on the wall when the session is over. It is important to note that this is not a speaker lead session; it is a discussion had by everyone that shows up to talk about the given topic.

When all time slots have been filled, participants sign up to attend sessions. Wow, that is a full day of topics organized in about 30 minutes; this is the definition of self organizing. Once the schedule is finished the Open Circle is done and participants start breaking up to begin the first sessions.

Summary

The Opening Circle and the Market Place is where the Open Space Technology really shines.  This is where the attendees create the list of topics THEY want to talk about and decide WHEN they want to talk about them. I one or two day conference can be organized in about an hour with very little input from the facilitator. 

When I describe this to some they say, “But you will only get the passionate people to come and suggest things”, to which I reply, EXACTLY.  That is the point, you want the passionate people to be there, you want them to bring up topics they are passionate about, and you want others that are passionate about it to get together and discuss it.  If you are not passionate about it and aren’t getting anything out of it or contributing anything, why are you there?

The opening circle is where the attendees take control of the conference by suggesting topics that they want to talk about that they feel they will get the most value out of.  It is an awesome, organic feeling to know that, YOU, has an attendee have that much control over something you want to attend.

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