Open Space Technology (OST):
An Attractive Method for Online Learning Conversations
With Open Space Technology (OST) you can do it all, and you can do it online. Every issue of concern to anybody, in your group or community, will have been raised and discussed to the extent desired. In OST participants take responsibility for their learning. All you need to do is create the right conditions for this to happen.
What do you need to hold a successful Open Space in online settings?
Select the theme for the OST. What exactly should the main focus be?
- Introduction slides. Click here to download.
- Breakout rooms: one room for one topic in one time slot.
- Jamboard, Padlet or other online collaborative document for participants to share notes and reports of their conversation.
- Google drive or other online collaborative document: schedule with topics, times, and rooms, and links. Such as in this example that present how to manage two rounds of 20-minute conversations:
Step by Step Procedure
Go through the steps below.
The day before:
- Create a schedule using a google document accessible to all. 1) Offer exact times when rounds start; 2) mention the exact breakout rooms for small group conversations in online settings. Times and locations should be set out on the document. Participants propose conversation topics and they are referred to as ‘conversation leaders’. (See example above). Conversation leaders are made aware of the link to their jamboard for taking notes (see next point).
- Prepare online document – jamboards, or padlets or google docs – for participants to share notes and reports of their conversation.
Introduction (30 minutes)
We provide you with slides that present the process of OST, the four principles and three laws.
Present the way Open Space works:
- whoever comes is the right people;
- whatever happens is the only thing that could have;
- whenever it starts is the right time;
- whenever it’s over, it’s over.
- The law of two feet or the laws of the click: if you feel you are not learning, go somewhere else to another discussion, take yourself where your time is better spent!
- Be prepared to be surprised! This invites you to come to dialogue with an open mind.
- Bees & Butterflies: you may act to cross pollinate conversations by going from group to group spreading and connecting ideas, or stay at the coffee shop and see if people may flock to you just for hanging out, daydreaming or gossiping. All this collective activity adds up to a system of self-organisation that is highly creative.
- Explain that participants will be invited to start filling the schedule and repeat that they can feel free to attend whatever they want, whenever they want. Only ‘conveners’ proposing topic should be in their room at the right time to host the conversation around the topic they proposed.
- “Open the schedule”. Participants look on in doubt… Explain how to ‘raise hands’ to ask for the floor and propose a topic. After waiting a bit, facilitators help emerging conversation leaders to come forth: the first will make herself known and explain a topic of conversation. She is invited to write in the google document 1) topic & 2) name in one of the available slots. Continue until all topics have been proposed and noted in the schedule. remind converner that the link to their collaborative writing space is also in the schedule for them to use.
- Open space conversations (x times 20 minutes). Participants can freely choose what conversations to participate in, they may roam or stay put… according to the OST principles.
- Debriefing – Back to plenary (30 minutes): a reporting back session is organised for conversation leaders (conveners) to offer feedback to the plenary. Open the floor for conveners to offer feedback on their conversation by referring to notes prepared for this (on the jamboard, padlet or other online collaborative document).
- Disbanding: create a collective word cloud NOT for outcomes, but personal thoughts to close the activity: ask participants to add their key word expressing how they feel about this session in a word cloud generator (example: mentimeter.com). Briefly comment.
Tips for Expected Difficulties
- Be patient. Silence is okay! If in the beginning no topics are proposed by participants, don’t get impatient, give space and time for them to think. If difficulties remain, then you may call on other facilitators and partners to open the schedule with a topic. This will help others ease into the activity and dare propose topics.
- Participants must realize they can choose what they want to do, always. Remind them of the principles and laws of OST!
- Be flexible, but keep in mind that what one participant wants should not interfere with the freedom of others to choose what they want.
Photos by Surface, Arthur Lambillotte, Chris Montgomery and heylagostechie on Unsplash.