OSonOS 2008 has begun with Lisa Heft opening up space in a beautiful building at San Francisco’s Presidio this morning for 120 of us from more than 15 countries to get into what Open Space is all about. This is my third worldwide OSonOS and I love these gatherings because I get to hang around with people for three days that I don;t have to explain myself to! That, I think may be a good working definition of a community of practice.
THis one is different for me as I am here with my whole family, and my kids are actively participating. I sat with my seven year old Finn today in a session on facilitating Open Space as a kid. For him I think it was an experiment in what it is like to post a session and see who will come and find out how the whole thing goes. There was a small group of us talking about a number of issues having to do with working with children both in Open Space and facilitating Open Space, and a few insights came to light.
First, when working with kids, it’s important to know that the principles of Open Space will always be pushed to the max, and probably beyond what most adults are comfortable with. We had a story of a gathering that my kids were a part of that was hosted by adults, but in which the outcomes were predetermined and “the best face” was put on the event. Working with kids means whatever happens in the only thing that could have happened and that might also mean that nothing of significance happens. Being okay with this, especially if resources have been sunk into something, can be hard for adults tied to outcomes. Working with kids will always teach you something about your practice.
We heared some good points about the kinds of ways adults need to show up with kids in Open Space, notably around the issue of time rhythms and silence. Kids operate on a different time engine than adults, sometimes speeding ahead, other times slowing down. Often kids won’t speak until they know they are safe and they will silently canvas a circle of their peers to see who might talk first. This can seem interminable to adults who are expecting answers and yet this relationsl field is very important to kids.
We talked too about making sure that spaces are meaningful for kids. If we are doing work that involves kids voices, we need to make sure that these voices will have impact and that we may be prepared to be changed by the experience. Adults can be advocates to kids – even in child-based organizations – to make sure that children’s wisdom is heard.
Finally we talked a little about a real world issue going on in our home community of Bowen Island, where some trees are being taken out of a playground to build an all weather playing field, something Finn is pretty interested in. The need for children to have spaces in which unfettered social self-organization can occur is critical. While there are many forested areas on our island, there are very few in which all the island kids can meet and in which the co-create self-organized worlds. In this sense kids already know how to live and be in Open Space. Helping them to actually run meetings like this might benefit from drawing on these expereinces.
My son really co-convened this session with me and at times he was lost for words. I think for him, there was a little experiment going on: what is it like to call a session? Who will come? How does the power work in this process? He learned a few things about this, including the fact that if you call it, people will come. He also learned about checking in and checking out and knowing that that is okay, but it reminded me that for a wide open learner it may be true that working in Open Space is equally about learning about the content and playing with the process. Fascinating all round.