Fearless Experimentation: doing Open Space event online
Facilitating people’s conversations on video can easily turn into a difficult task, so some fearless experimentation is required to learn rapidly as a facilitator or participant. Due to a current high demand for anything done remotely, here’s a shareable resource (a.k.a. knowledge asset) on facilitating Open Space events using Zoom Meetings
If you liked what you find below and you’re getting value out it, I encourage you to click the 👏 button and hold down to 20–50 claps as this will help this information get more shared.
Start with excellent 8-minute OST video tutorial by Marai Kiele to get an overview and understanding of the process for in-person or online set-up.
Open Space operates under four or five principles and one law. The four principles are:
- 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.
Some facilitators also list the fifth principle:
5. Wherever it happens is the right place.
The Law is known as the Law of Two Feet or Law of Mobility: “If you find yourself in a situation where you are not contributing or learning, move somewhere where you can.”
Edit 21 September 2020 — the latest Zoom update (version 5.3.0) includes “Let participants choose room” option in Breakout Rooms panel. Thank you Zoom for making hosting online Open Space events easier :)
Here’s how you make it happen:
- Group convenes in a Zoom Meetings video conference and is welcomed by the sponsor, a person motivated to convene an OST gathering. In short events there is no check-in round (a standard video meeting element in my networks) because participants will have a chance to interact informally throughout the event. Some Impromptu Networking could be done, using Zoom Breakout Rooms feature.
- The facilitator provides an overview of the process and explains how it works. A co-facilitatior can help with Zoom Host Controls. Don’t do it alone. Facilitating conversations on video is a high cognitive load activity, so share it with co-facilitators.
- Facilitator invites people with issues of concern to write the issue in the marketplace (or agenda wall in above video) section of a shared document [an example], choosing a time box and a breakout room to meet, and announce it to the group. These people are “conveners.” This process continues until there are no more agenda items. Throughout the event a facilitator updates shared document as needed, editing or adding information to reflect current “state of affairs”. When in doubt participants check what’s in shared document.
- Facilitator in Zoom host role sets all participants as co-hosts and creates a number of breakout rooms: all the required rooms + few extra rooms for people to hang out (breakout rooms in Zoom can be renamed). One of the rooms could be named “lobby” or smiliar. That’s where all participants are moved on start, or for presentation of their topics. From there, participants can move themselves into rooms of their choice. It is good idea to practise moving between rooms for a while, so that participants are clear how to do that. I like to play “catch me if you can” with people. When all clear and ready, facilitator starts breakout rooms, moving everyone to “lobby”. From there, participants move to a breakout room of their choice. This is recommended for up to 30–50 group size. However “There is no limitation on the number of co-hosts you can have in a meeting or webinar.” [source], so with some good co-facilitation this can be done for more participants.
- Step-by-step, for clarity:
— Step one: Facilitator assigns Zoom co-host role to all participants — hey, Zoom, Make All Co-Hosts button would be nice to have! [Edit 21 September 2020: there is now even better functionality, see above.]
— Step two: Facilitator assigns everyone to one of the breakout rooms (“lobby”, for example) and opens breakout rooms.
— Step three: Participants (in Zoom co-host role) join breakout rooms. At that point Breakout Rooms button appears on their respective meeting controls bar at the bottom of the Zoom window. Clicking on it they can see all the breakout rooms and names of participants in breakout rooms. They can move between breakout rooms themselves, at will. [Participants that are not set as Zoom co-hosts don’t have this possibility; instead they can leave breakout room to return to main room. There they can be assigned a co-host role or moved manually by Zoom host.]
- Alternative to #4, recommended for larger group size: a number of Zoom accounts can be organised in advance or crowdsourced during the event so that both the main room and every breakout room has its own Zoom link. Free Zoom accounts can be used too as 40 minutes limit on group meetings is not an issue because that would be normally enough time for a session. Facilitators and participants move betwen the rooms using shared document as a reference (or any other form of a web page).
- Dialogue sessions convene for the balance of the meeting. Recorders determined by each group capture the important points in news wall section of a shared document, in a box assigned to their breakout room number for the time slot (or using any other tool of choice). If wanted, Zoom host can allow conveners to record their sessions locally, to their computer.
- Following a closing or a break, the group might move into convergence, a process that takes the issues that have been discussed and attaches action plans to them to “get them out into the world.”
- The group then finishes the meeting with a closing round where people are invited to share comments, insights, and commitments arising from the process.
If you liked what you find above and you’re getting value out it, I encourage you to click the 👏 button and hold down to 20–50 claps as this will help this information get more shared.
More OST and online OST resources:
A Brief User’s Guide to Open Space Technology by Harrison Owen, the originator of Open Space Technology