Association for Conflict Resolution: Environment and Public Policy Section held their annual conference in Austin, Texas earlier this month. The conference was facilitated in an Open Space Technology (OST) format, which I knew nothing about until I got there for a facilitation training prior to the conference. This conference was a sure place to meet the experts in the field of mediation whose academic articles and books I was reading during my graduate program in Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University.
First thing I noticed as I entered the large open classroom at UT was the rules of the OST pasted on the wall:
Whoever comes are the right people.
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
Whenever it starts is the right time.
When it’s over, it’s over.
After the formal introduction of the OST process, participants were invited to post topics that interest us, and everyone was welcome to commence their own sessions. My first thought was, this is absolutely terrifying for introverts like me. So I did the only thing that made sense to me. I decided to post a topic to discuss if OST is a good format for introverts and sat down in my assigned session area wondering if anyone would join. Shortly after, I had a gathering of 8 people, most of which were introverts like me ready to discuss. I knew then, this would be a very interesting conference.
In the next two days, the conference attendees managed to commence close to 50 different sessions, and the format allowed the participants to move freely between the sessions if they preferred. A vast variety of topics were covered in these sessions ranging from engaging new generation of mediators, mentorship opportunities, government contracts to dealing with protesters at a mediation. This format brought the rich conversations in the sessions which are usually found in breaks and happy hours during such conferences. I found this to be the best way to network with professionals that share your interest and are ready to talk about the things that you are most keen discuss.
Please leave a comment about your experience with Open Space or similar facilitation formats.
Association for Conflict Resolution is professional organization dedicated to enhancing the practice and public understanding of conflict resolution. ACREPP is an annual conference organized by ACR’s Environment and Public Policy Section and was held on June 7-8 at University of Texas at Austin.
Open Space Technology, usually abbreviated to just Open Space is a facilitation technique devised by Harrison Owen presented in his 1993 book Open Space Technology: A Users Guide