Online Open Space: How To Get Moving

Some say it was invented because the “hallway track” of a conference was more interesting, useful and fun than the presentations. Wherever it came from, Open Space Technology has proved its worth over the years.

It’s a great way to get a group of people to self-organise so that they end up talking about the stuff that really matters to them.

I’ve been experimenting with online open space since 2016. I wasn’t the first – people like Qiqochat had been doing a text-only version of online Open Space for years. But I was certainly one of the first to use Zoom video conferencing to bring an online open space to life.

The challenge was how to get people moving. In Open Space, there are usually several sessions going on at any time, plus informal, spontaneous conversations outside the co-created plan.

It’s seen as very important that people are free to move themselves between conversations. It’s not rude to get up and leave halfway through a session: it’s your job to obey the “law of two feet” if you aren’t learning, contributing or having fun.

But Zoom isn’t designed for self-organisation, as Mark Kilby recently explained. You have to hack it to make it possible for people to move.

There are currently two options:

  1. Use several Zoom meetings running simultaneously, and add a way for people to know what’s happening where. This could be a Google doc, a website, an online whiteboard, the current version of Qiqochat… or something different. This is the safer option, for larger groups.
  2. In one Zoom meeting, make everyone co-host. This allows them to move themselves between breakout rooms (as long as they have enabled breakout rooms in their own Zoom account). The host still has to create the breakout rooms. Don’t attempt this with large groups, or with groups of strangers.

I’m aware of several projects which, if successful, will get people moving more easily in online Open Space. Some add more sophistication to Option 1 above. Others step away from Zoom and use a different videoconferencing platform.

But what is clear is that more and more people are trying online Open Space, and finding that it works. Sure, it isn’t “the same” as in-the-room. It’s different. And, it’s still getting great results. It’s enabling great conversations about the things that matter to those involved. And it’s doing all of that while we’re unable to travel. I’m impatient to discover what happens next.

  • The online Open Space event for the Clean Language community, Metaphorum 2020, will happen on 4 December. Book your seat today
  • More detailed “how-to” guides for online Open Space are available here and here

1 thought on “Online Open Space: How To Get Moving”

  1. Hi Judy, I think Open Space Online is the text-based platform you’re thinking of. It started back twenty years or more. Qiqochat was actually video from the beginning. That’s what we used for the virtual Open Space on Open Space (VOSONOS) in 2015. At that time, it had a different video provider, but now uses Zoom.

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