Creating innovative meetings

You can empower participants to get more out of meeting times with Open Space.

Conference or meeting organizers are often tempted to schedule tightly-packed sessions and meetings in order to maximize the use of participant time. Many times, however, conference attendees find the most value in having freedom and space on the agenda to network with colleagues, community partners and organizational stakeholders. Often, the most valuable conversations take place outside of scheduled activities as people network casually with each other, talking about topics most important to their work.

Liberating Structures has created a template to assist meeting organizers in developing Open Space, a structured yet open time where participants dictate the topics they want to discuss. Several professional development sessions at Michigan State University Extension have used this structure with great success. Using this process, participants are first brought to a central location to be briefed on the structure of Open Space and are invited to a “marketplace” to post their agenda topics in a central location. After topics are identified, meeting organizers assign the topics to specific locations and participants are given a block of time to meet in those locations as they determine.

Through the Open Space format, meeting participants are encouraged to make the conversations meaningful to them by determining the topics to be discussed and being empowered to move to a different session if the conversation becomes less meaningful to them. Liberating Structures calls this principle the “Law of Two Feet,” stating: “Go and attend whichever session you want, but if you find yourself in a session where you are not learning or contributing, use your two feet!”

Liberating Structures explains the power of Open Space, saying “Open Space makes it possible to include everybody in constructing agendas and addressing issues that are important to them. Having co-created the agenda and free to follow their passion, people will take responsibility very quickly for solving problems and moving into action.”

Imagine the power, creativity and enthusiasm that can stem from trusting people to determine important issues and contribute to the conversation in ways that are meaningful to them. The next article in this series will share tips on utilizing the Open Space structure with youth.

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