Open Space Technology (OST) is a great way for groups to think, talk and take action together. It can work for as few as 5 people, and as many as 5000.

Participants self-organise to create their own agenda on the day, allowing a dynamic and immediate response to the issues at hand. The process allows free-flowing conversations about the things that really matter to the people in the room. Open Space Technology shifts culture towards a more responsible and pragmatic outlook. Over the last 30+ years OST has been used across the world in an incredible range of contexts: to design aeroplane doors, resolve land disputes, address economic, environmental, social, political and artistic issues of every kind. The process was invented by Harrison Owen:

"In 1985 Open Space was born. It emerged not so much as a product of intentional design, but rather as an outgrowth of frustration and at some level…laziness. The frustration appeared as a result of my having spent an entire year organising an international gathering for 250 people, only to discover that the best part, as judged by myself and all the participants, were the coffee breaks. It was during the coffee breaks where the real juicy stuff happened. All the rest (featured speakers, panel discussions and the like) seemed almost an interruption to the core activity." Harrison Owen 

The process starts with all the participants meeting in a circle. The facilitator explains the process, and then there is a chance for anyone present to timetable the topic they want to work on. Once all the topics are timetabled, participants move into smaller, informal and flexible break-out conversations to work on the topics they are interested in. It’s up to the participants how they work - we’ve seen plenty of chatting, but also action, song and play. Participants are invited to make notes and create reports on their break-out sessions. Participants can create their reports directly onto this website, where they add to an ongoing free public library of ideas and learning. At the end of the event, the group meets together again to share any observations or action points with each other.

There are five principles that help participants to navigate Open Space:
Whoever comes are the right people.
Wherever it happens is the right place.
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
Whenever it starts is the right time.
When it is over, it is over.

There is only one law in an Open Space event: The Law of Two Feet, also called The Law of Mobility. This states that if you find yourself bored, not learning or not contributing, use your mobility to take yourself where your time is better spent.

During an Open Space you might see "bumble bees" going from group to group spreading and connecting ideas, or "butterflies" hanging out, daydreaming or gossiping. All this collective activity adds up to a system of self-organisation that is highly creative and effective at dealing with real issues in a remarkably efficient way.

If you’d like a more detailed description of what to expect at a Devoted & Disgruntled Open Space event, please take a look at our Event Access Information page. We also have a clear-English guide with pictures showing the different stages of the process. If you would like an audio version of this document, please contact us on 0207 240 4556.

You can find out loads more about OST and it's use in the world, including some great thoughts on facilitation, letting go of control, and many of the underlying principles or philosophies that guide the process on Harrison Owen's website, and on the OS World website. There are free PDFs and other resources to support you to use the process yourself, and to help you understand the hows and whys of it all.