Books : reviews

Harrison Owen.
Expanding Our Now: the story of open space technology.
Berrett Koehler. 1997

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 31 December 2013

Open Space Technology (OST) is an effective, economical, fast and easily repeatable strategy for organizing meetings of between 5 and 1,000 participants. First developed in 1984, it has now been used around the world with all types of organizations including corporations, community groups, government agencies, schools, and churches.

OST produces better meetings and helps groups achieve such organizational goals as self-managed work groups, distributed leadership, and utilizing diversity quickly and without training.

In Expanding Our Now, OST creator Harrison Owen offers numerous examples to illustrate the evolution of OST and explores what it is, how it developed as a process for meeting management, and how and why it works all over the world, for groups of all sizes dealing with a vast range of issues. Owen shows how OST can move organizations to higher levels of performance, without elaborate training or professional facilitators.

Open Space is touted as a new way to run meetings, using self-organisation to generate spectacular results. That maybe so, but this book does not demonstrate “how and why it works”. It merely gives a few examples of when it was used, and states that these uses had marvellous outcomes. These examples certainly sound exciting, but there is not enough detail given to evaluate the claimed effectiveness. There is nothing said of what went on during the meetings that resulted in these claimed great outcomes, and no analysis of how or why the approach works.

Maybe one of the other books on OST gives more detail; this volume adds little to any such discussion. At 140 pages of widely spaced text, it is a quick read.

Harrison Owen.
Open Space Technology: a user's guide: 2nd edn.
Berrett Koehler. 1997

Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide is just what the name implies: a hands-on, detailed description of facilitating Open Space Technology (OST). Written by the originator of the method—an effective, economical, fast, and easily-repeatable strategy for organizing meetings of between 5 and 1,000 participants—this is the first book to document the rationale, procedures, and requirements of OST.

OST enables self-organizing groups of all sizes to deal with hugely complex issues in a very short period of time. This practical, step-by-step user’s guide details what needs to be done before, during, and after an Open Space event.

Owen begins by outlining all the practical considerations necessary to create Open Space. He starts with the most important question—should you do Open Space at all—and examines what types of situations are appropriate for Open Space Technology and what types are not. He goes on to look at nuts-and-bolts issues such as supplies, logistics, and who should come and how you should go abort getting them there.