Learn about Open Space Technology, its applications, and process in our comprehensive guide

My favorite approaches to designing events, workshops, or programs for groups are participant focused (and even designed) ones. There are frameworks and activities (like liberating structures or world cafe) that can make this experience of designing and facilitating an interactive event easier, flow better, and be more productive. Open Space Technology (OST) is a flexible and scalable approach designed to enable people in any kind of organization to create inspired meetings and events. Developed in the mid-1980s by Harrison Owen, an organizational consultant, OST has since been utilized worldwide to handle complex issues with efficiency and innovation.

Open Space Technology Origin and Core Principles

OST originated from Owen’s observation that the most productive part of conferences often occurred during coffee breaks. To harness this dynamic, OST facilitates open, creative conversations without the typical constraints of structured corporate meetings. The method is underpinned by four guiding principles and one law, which help participants to engage freely and productively.

Guiding Principles:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people: This emphasizes that the group’s composition is perfect whatever it is.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: This encourages acceptance of the unfolding events.
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time: This counters punctuality norms that can stifle spontaneity.
  4. When it’s over, it’s over: This principle honors the natural rhythm of discussion.


  • The Law of Two Feet, or mobility, states that if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet to go somewhere else.

Benefits and Applications

The power of OST is particularly evident in its versatility. It can be used for a wide range of events from small business meetings to large conferences, in educational settings, and across non-profit and corporate environments. OST helps to surface innovative ideas and take action efficiently, making it an excellent choice for tackling complex or sensitive issues. This approach encourages responsibility and enhances meaningful participation, often leading to unexpected insights and impactful resolutions.

Preparing for an Open Space Technology Event

  • Setting Objectives: Success in an Open Space Technology event begins with clear objectives. Facilitators should collaborate with sponsors to define what they hope to achieve — whether it’s generating innovative ideas, solving a specific problem, or building stronger team dynamics. The clarity of purpose guides the design of the event and informs participants of their goals.
  • Choosing the Venue: The venue plays a critical role in facilitating open discussions. Spaces should be large enough to accommodate all participants comfortably in a circle, with plenty of breakout spaces for smaller group discussions. Natural light, minimal noise distractions, and comfortable seating can significantly enhance participant engagement.
  • Materials and Logistics: Basic supplies include chairs, flip charts, markers, and sticky notes. Technological needs might involve a microphone for the larger group interactions, especially in bigger spaces, and a method for participants to record and share outcomes of discussions. Preparing a detailed schedule while allowing flexibility for the event’s flow is crucial.
  • Creating an Inviting Atmosphere: The setup of the space should encourage spontaneity and movement. Having an open circle at the beginning, with a clear central area for announcements and instructions, sets the stage for collaboration. Refreshments should be easily accessible, reinforcing the informal, cafe-style interactions that inspire Open Space Technology events.

Roles in Open Space Technology

  • The Facilitator: In Open Space Technology, the facilitator’s role is less about directing discussions and more about providing a framework within which participants can self-organize. The facilitator opens and closes the space, explains the principles and the law, and supports the participants in creating and managing their agenda.
  • Participants: Everyone is a contributor. Participants are encouraged to lead sessions around their own questions, issues, or topics they are passionate about. This self-directed engagement is key to uncovering innovative and meaningful solutions.
  • The Sponsor: The sponsor of an OST event usually provides the resources necessary for the event and sets its scope. They must trust the process and be open to the outcomes of the unscripted dialogue, which may differ significantly from traditional expectations.

The Open Space Process

  1. Opening Circle: The OST event begins with an opening circle, where all participants gather. The facilitator introduces the principles and the Law of Two Feet, setting the tone for self-organization and active participation. Participants are invited to identify issues and topics they are passionate about and for which they would take responsibility to lead discussions.
  2. Creating the Agenda Collectively: Directly following the opening circle, participants come forward to announce their topics by placing them on a public agenda wall, scheduling them at specific times and locations. This wall becomes the organizational hub, guiding participants to various breakout sessions.
  3. The Breakout Sessions: Participants move to the breakout spaces according to their interests. These sessions are self-managed and can vary in format, from open discussions to more structured workshops or presentations. The facilitator might move between groups to ensure that the process is running smoothly and that resources are available as needed.
  4. Evening News and Daily News: At the end of each day, participants reconvene to share insights and progress in a news circle. This activity not only provides updates but also encourages cross-pollination of ideas and maintains the momentum of the event.
  5. Closing Circle: The event concludes with a closing circle, where participants reflect on their experiences, summarize discussions, and outline next steps or actions to be taken based on their conversations. This session is crucial for capturing the energy and commitments generated during the event.

Challenges and Solutions

  • Handling Complexity: One of the biggest challenges in Open Space Technology is managing the complexity that arises from having multiple, simultaneous discussions. Facilitators should be prepared to help participants prioritize and focus, ensuring productive discussions without overwhelming the process.
  • Dealing with Conflicts: Conflicts may arise when diverse views are expressed freely. Facilitators should encourage respectful listening and remind participants of the importance of diversity in sparking true innovation. Providing clear guidelines on constructive dialogue can help maintain a positive atmosphere.
  • Sustaining Engagement: Keeping energy high throughout an event can be challenging. Facilitators can encourage breaks, provide refreshments, and use energizing activities between sessions to keep spirits high.

Measuring Success and Outcomes in Open Space Technology

  • Feedback Collection: Immediate feedback during the closing circle provides initial impressions of the event’s impact, but more formal methods like surveys or follow-up interviews can help gather detailed insights. Questions should focus on participant engagement, the relevance of discussed topics, and the effectiveness of outcomes.
  • Evaluating Impact: Assessing the long-term impact involves tracking the implementation of ideas and initiatives that originated during the event. Facilitators and sponsors should establish mechanisms to monitor progress on action items and continue the momentum generated from the OST.
  • Follow-up Actions: To ensure sustained impact, facilitators can help participants and sponsors plan follow-up meetings or create digital platforms where conversations can continue. These actions help maintain the network and further develop the initiatives started in the OST sessions.

Resources for Deepening Understanding

Books and Articles:

Online Resources:

  • The Open Space World website offers resources, case studies, and a global directory of OST facilitators.
  • Various LinkedIn groups and forums dedicated to facilitation techniques can also provide community support and advice.

Workshops and Training:

  • Participating in OST-specific training sessions can be invaluable. These workshops not only offer practical experience but also allow for networking with seasoned practitioners who can provide mentorship and insights.

Open Space Technology Guide Conclusion

Open Space Technology is more than just a method for facilitating meetings; it’s a transformative approach that leverages the collective intelligence of a group. By embracing principles such as spontaneity, self-organization, and inclusive participation, OST allows for the exploration of complex and challenging issues in a uniquely effective manner. Whether you’re a novice facilitator or an experienced leader, integrating OST into your practice can dramatically enhance your ability to generate meaningful and lasting change.

Interested in learning additional ways to innovate meetings and facilitate creativity, innovation, and collaboration? Review these other relevant articles on our website or contact us for an open space technology experience!