I am not a professional facilitator of short term events, in the sense that I only live of assignments for such one time events. Rather I work as a facilitator of long term processes in a specific sector (since 8 years the water sector). When dealing with long term processes of change, as a facilitator, one is obliged (I feel) to think beyond one time events and
rather constantly look for options and ‘most appropriate’ facilitation methods and tools for specific phases or steps in such processes. That means that one time Open Space may seem adequate, another time it can be one of the many other methods, tools, instruments that are at the disposal of a facilitator….
At times, I must admit, I feel ‘professional facilitators’ of one-off events (like an Open Space event) think fairly lightly about what will happen next and what kind of facilitation may be appropriate. It is not in their terms of reference, so why bother. Do I see this correctly?
I agree. Organizations and communities have a life long before an event and a life long after the event. One event does not create change.
As an OST facilitator I spend easily 75% of my time with a client preparing the ground for an Open Space event and getting very clear about how action is to be supported. The process is not magic…what makes it sustainable is the practice before, during and after the event. If a leader can work with participants and members of the organization or community to develop practices that support Open Space, then the results that one experiences in an event such as emergent leadership, passion and responsibility, deep engagement and so on, can be supported moving forward. It is then that the people in the organization become learners of practice and practitioners of their learning.
Open Space is powerful often because it challenges traditional notions of control, management and leadership. People get excited because they see what happens when we do things a little differently. But with no sense of how all of this gets grounded into the life of the organization and community, there is no harvest of the benefits, and no tendency towards change.
Michael Herman and I have called this part of working in Open Space “Grounding” and that represents a whole set of practices that is about supporting action, aligning work with the natural flow of work in the organization, and making it all real – “getting it out of the room with integrity.”
Grounding practices complement the other practices we teach and write about: Opening, Inviting and Holding. Without grounding, the work stays in the ether.
I think this is true, by the way, of any short term intervention aimed at facilitating “change” in the organization. Working with leaders and participants in Open Space needs good coaching and needs facilitation that not only opens and holds space but, in the words of the International Association of Facilitators, teaches new ways of thinking. It is for this reason that I believe we facilitators have to align our use of Open Space as a process with the practices that we also live in our life. If we view OS (or any process) as simply a tool without being in ncomplete alignment with it, then it doesn’t provide the fullest possible potential ground for work.
I am not an advocate of using OST for everything. I am a strong advocate of using OST where leadership is willing to practice opening and invitatation, where they hold and trust people and have a stroing sense of how the work can be grounded. If we have those conditions and we have urgency, passion, complexity and diversity, then we can play marvellously, everytime, with results that last.