Open Space and Action

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Chris Corrigan has a very useful post on action planning in open space. He offers a free pdf describing three different approaches to helping steer people from lively discussion to practical action.

It’s horses for courses of course. But I’m temperamentally quite inclined to Chris’ approach which feels the more minimal tweak to the established open space pattern. Here’s part of his reasoning:

Moving from OST to voting feels to participants like we are going from something amazing to “business as usual.” Not always a bad thing, but my experience says that once people taste OST they want more of it. Creating categories of action based on proceedings from the previous day (the traditional convergence process) limits the patterns that might emerge as people step up to take leadership. Also it often happens that things become so converged that there is no real target for responsibility. It seems like there is often a group or two which everyone agrees is important but not important enough to champion.

I’ve written before about some of the pitfalls of the apparently reasonable invitation to move from talk to action. I think it’s tempting to cajole people into “agreeing” lists of actions in a meeting in order to satisfy the impatience for results: but often these commitments feel empty and lacking real conviction.

I’ll go a step further and question the picture of Open Space and other group processes in which there is one collective movement through divergence and convergence to settled action and consensus.

That may happen and it may not. And whatever appears to be happening overall, never lose sight of all the many smaller scale openings and closings going on for people. We should be willing to embrace a meeting appearing to end in confusion if that’s how it goes; the loops that are left open may well be better closed in another place at another time.

Some of the most thrilling Open Spaces – for me – have been ones which end with participants seeming a little befuddled. They say things like “That was great… I’m not quite sure what happened but somehow it feels important.” Maybe what happened is that their minds were opened to the richness and complexity of what was discussed; maybe there’s no need for folks to start instant action – but perhaps the seeds have been sown for the next steps to happen later.

I find that that possibility may not sound like much of a “deliverable” at the outset, but is actually really satisfying when you get there. A gourmet meal compared to a McActionList.


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