We have all been to them, we all know what they are like and yet nothing changes. I’m talking about conferences in general and in some cases the strategy sessions and planning sessions that go on in the corporate world. They are generally, to use an analogy, like last weeks rolls that have been warmed up in the oven. They seem to be good, they look good, until you bite into them and then you know they are stale. The same goes for company planning sessions and conferences, they are generally stale and boring. So what is the fix. Well, according to Chris Corrigan, an Open Space Technology practitioner, an unconference based on Open Space needs to be arranged.
So what is Open Space Technology? Here is a definition from a practitioner of it in the States called Michael Herman:
“Open Space Technology is one way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to create inspired meetings and events. Over the last 15 years, it has also become clear that opening space, as an intentional leadership practice, can create inspired organizations, where ordinary people work together to create extraordinary results with regularity.
In Open Space meetings, events and organizations, participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance, such as: What is the strategy, group, organization or community that all stakeholders can support and work together to create?
With groups of 5 to 1000 — working in one-day workshops, three-day conferences, or the regular weekly staff meeting — the common result is a powerful, effective connecting and strengthening of what’s already happening in the organization: planning and action, learning and doing, passion and responsibility, participation and performance.” – Michael Herman
So, basically, an unconference is running a session without a predefined agenda, without strict times and timing put in place and according to Open Space Technology principles. What are the principles you may ask, simply this:
- Whomever comes is the right people
- When it starts is the right time
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened
- When its over, its over
Open Space has one Law, called the law of two feet which simply states – if you find yourself in a situation where you are not learning or contributing, go somewhere where you can. Its that simple and that complex.
According to Corrigan, there is no better method of structuring a conference that better mimics social networking than an Open Space session. I know that many of you might be saying “ja right, that wont work in our company” well, you have to try it. In the next few weeks, I will be putting some posts up in what an Open Space Technology session comprises of as well as some other interesting insights into the whole strategy session world. In the meantime, maybe you should rethink that session you are about to have and take a look at doing something different, not for being different’s sake, but for making the time effective, in the long run, it will be worthwhile.