Open Space Technology as Culture, Tradition, Identity

I’ve just finished up three days attendance at the 2008 World Open Space on Open Space, here in San Francisco. “Open Space Technology” refers to a method of coming together, having conversations, and moving forward with action, first developed by a fellow named Harrison Owen, over 20 years ago. Open Space Technology gatherings depend on 4 Principles…

Whoever comes are the right people

Whatever happens, is the only thing that could have

When it starts, it starts

When it ends, it ends

And one Law, the Law of Two Feet:

If you are neither learning nor contributing where you’re at, use your two feet to move somewhere where you can.

And an assortment of other understandings:

Be prepared to be surprised

Open Space works on passion, and responsibility

More on all this later.

My first thoughts coming out of this particular event involve the notion that ironically, “Open Space” does not describe an event at all! Rather, “Open Space” describes a culture of people who act and think in accord with its guiding principles, law, and understandings. In particular, Chris, Caitlin, Aine, and Finn’s description of how they unschool (or lifelearning, as they term it) as a family using the culture of Open Space, really opened my eyes to the possibilities. Both Chris and Caitlin described how their increasing understanding of the Open Space culture determined their ability to have a satisfying unschooling experience, as a family.

This means that we could say, that with Open Space Gatherings, as events, we take baby steps, opening up temporary spaces where for a short while participants try on this new culture for a while, seeing where it can go, and acquiring ever deeper accord with the cultural understandings that drive it.

Eventually though, if the space we create with Open Space truly vitalizes and nourishes us, at some point we may ask: “why ‘end’ the space?”. Does “Open Space” describe an event, or does it describe an ever-renewing process? What does it look like when entire communities and families act in accord with Open  Space, in this way?

And what does this say then, about the emerging identity of people who live  in accord with this evolving tradition?

And if “Open Space” does not describe an end-point (an event, a place, a static state), since we (as participants and facilitators of the space) perservere in acting in ever deeper accord with the principles and law of Open Space…

How does this differ from “Becoming Traditional”?

I would say it doesn’t differ much at all. In fact, during this Open Space more and more, I feel that deepening one’s accord with the culture of Open Space will naturally bring one to the same ever renewing processes of Rewilding: following one’s own heart and authority, withdrawing consent from institutions and obsolete political systems, acting out from a deep sense of belonging to one’s Land and Family, seeing the profound personhood and participation in Open Space among all the other-than-human members of one’s place: trees and clouds, stones and water, animals and plants. Passion, and Responsibility!

I feel really worn out from this experience, and later may take another, more successful crack at articulating this particular epiphany, but for now it feels good to get this out there. These past few days have really enriched my confidence and understanding of Open Space. We’ll see where it takes me, my Family, my Village, and my Land next!

Written by Willem