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Igniting Self-Expression: Open Space Technology
 by: Judith Richardson

Judith Richardson, MA, of Pono Consultants International and Emergent feminine, thrives on working with groups, and she exercises this passion in forums ranging from the chairing of formal Board meetings to efficient and effective staff meetings to the facilitation of creative discovery sessions for hundreds of people, to the hosting of deep, intimate conversation circles. As a caring, passionately curious woman who brings warmth, humor and compassion to clients and colleagues, Judith is recognized for her skill in facilitating high-value results while empowering organizations to create increased profitability and high-quality relationships, and uses her own unique creative energy to ignite change.

Her alchemy includes an innovative meeting format called “Open Space Technology”. The Open Space concept is designed to elicit real internal change within a company.

The Open Space concept works by building relationships among diverse employees or departmental organizations and by creating an “open space” to address challenges or resolve conflict. Open Space Technology (OST) is currently used in over 80 countries; Judith’s experience is in Siberia, Jamaica, Canada, US, Alaska, Hawaii, and Denmark!

One of the keys to a successful and productive OST event is the relationship we establish with the client before the group meets. We work closely with the client to understand their organization and to effectively create the appropriate theme or forum to frame the discussions, as well as the non-negotiables.

The theme is the only frame that participants see. The Open Space event appears to be unstructured and chaotic. It isn’t. There are four unusual principles and one law.

The principles are:

  1. Whoever comes is the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
  4. When it’s over, it’s over.

The law of mobility invites participants to move from to another group or elsewhere if they are not learning or contributing. Moving like butterflies and bumblebees.

Butterflies sit down and look pretty. Maybe they have a cup of coffee. I’ve seen people go for a walk or take a nap. It frees you up to do what you need to do for yourself. Surprisingly some of the greatest learning can occur when you’re a butterfly. You attract other participants. Bumblebees tend to cross-pollinate, moving between discussion groups, sharing ideas.

Using the theme and principles, and taking into consideration the “givens” or non-negotiables, participants identify issues they find personally relevant. When all issues are collected and written on sign-up sheets displayed in the room, participants are then invited to choose the issues they want to address.

Open Space Technology is productive because it operates on the concepts of passion and responsibility. Passion engages people and responsibility ensures that tasks are accomplished. As groups meet and diverge, hand written or computer-generated reports are posted and the central issues are developed in further detail. The groups become self-managing and write concrete action plans. By the end of the seminar participants have a professional book of specifically- addressed company issues as well as plans for their implementation.

Organizations going through transformative change often experience chaos, confusion and conflict. Open Space Technology, discovered by Harrison Owen in the 80’s, is a powerful approach for engaging people in change. It is now used around the world by facilitators in thousands of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, governments, non-profits and communities. Judith’s own journey led her to open space in organizations and communities in deep conflict. In June 2003 she facilitated Palestinians and Israelis, and often uses OST with diversity issues, international debates and multi-stakeholder events. Judith now has an even clearer understanding of how Open Space and self-organization can address chaos and confusion and conflict in ways that build better organizations and communities.

In addition to substantive outcomes from Open Space meetings, seminars, or conferences, participants have a new performance benchmark. Employees or organization members experience shared leadership, personal empowerment, an appreciation of diversity and they create an ongoing forum to resolve problems.

About The Author

Since the early 1980s, Judith Richardson, M.A., has been pioneering in the fields of sustainable leadership, essential partnership, international teamwork, educational renewal, creating a customer service culture and workplace diversity. Featured in ICFAI University’s Executive Reference on Diversity Management, author of Four Keys to Engaging Leadership, and Keynote at International Conferences, winner International Coach of the Year 2004, Judith works with International Organizational Development across North America, Europe, Jamaica, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and Russia. (

Contact: Judith Richardson, M.A.

This article was posted on August 12, 2005


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