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Open Spaces Learning
Lessons (2011 . 2012 . 2013)
Reflecting Forward

Towards a checklist for next time (incorporating a few 'wise after the event' edits and insights).

With Owen (2008)[1] as the primary source, this page evolved during the process as a means of helping us to remember everything that needs to be done by way of preparation. It worked for us in this particular situation and will need adaptation for yours.

Although the checklist is useful, in general the team just needs to get on with it and do what needs to be done.

Roles and Responsibilities

It is wise to clarify roles and tasks among the 'disorganisers' of an 'unconference'.

Current "Disorganisers":

John Kostaras, Kim and Kate Tucker, Kirk Pepperdine, Heinz Kabutz, ...
  • Defining and assigning of tasks - Kirk
  • Tea boy - Heinz
  • Catalysts/facilitators - Kim, Kate, John, Kirk
    • keep the energy and knowledge flowing
    • end-of-day and next-day wrap up and preparation
  • Tours, walks - John
  • Coding - Kirk
  • Infrastructure support - Heinz
  • PR - Heinz, Kirk, ?
  • Scribes[2] - volunteer(s) in each session (to capture proceedings - wiki text and other media).
    • Roaming scribe: photograph flipcharts etc. and upload, ensure each group has an active scribe (updating the wiki).
    • Rapporteurs (where applicable) - volunteer(s) in each session.

Touching Base

  • Disorganisers to touch base each day routinely at the end of each day's proceedings and/or before breakfast and/or as required.


Select a venue with attention to convenience[3], location, catering, conference facilities and support, management-friendliness, accommodation, budget. not too many distractions[4], etc.

Check whether there are other events at the time which might affect (or be affected) by this event. For example, the wall must still be there the next day (the rooms should not be used for other activities during the event). Our participants will move around and potentially use unplanned locations for discussions such as the pool area, an available lounge in the lobby, etc..

Room Requirements

Check well in advance that the rooms are suitable: a big enough plenary room and sufficient break-away rooms. For open spaces events, as indicated below, ensure the existence of a suitable wall.

Maximise flexibility.

The following serves as an example applicable to a particular situation (adapt according to yours).

Bal de Mer (main plenary room)

No. Title Requirement Status Contact
1. Room Size Big enough for all 40-50 participants seated in a circle, or 2 concentric circles (no tables in the middle - just a few possibly around the sides out of the way for projector, sound system ...) Under control Heinz
2. Sound Roving microphones, speakers, etc. Done Heinz
3. The Wall - planning board (space-time matrix) Line of flipcharts/ pin-wall(s)/ large white board/ etc. If applicable, check that masking tape sticks and that management allows this. We will improvise (this is really important)[5] Heinz (et al)
4. post-its big enough to be read clearly on the wall[6] Done Heinz
5. masking tape a few rolls Under control Heinz
6. Blu-Tack/prestik/... In case needed[7]. Done Heinz
7. Flipcharts x 4 stands + extra sheets (pads) Under control with hotel Heinz
8. Projector Data projector + screen + table/stand for the projector Done Heinz


No. Title Requirement Status Contact
1. Room Size: chairs size dictates 10 - 12 chairs Under control Heinz
3. Tables (in either Elyros or Kydonia probably not both)[8] e.g. 2 folding tables, each seating 6 with own laptops for coding activities Done Heinz
2. Flipcharts 2 flipchart stands + extra paper in opposite corners Under control with hotel Heinz
4. Monitor/TV A display screen for all 6 - 12 to see Done Heinz


No. Title Requirement Status Contact
1. Room Size: chairs size dictates 10-12 chairs (in a circle/oval) Under control Heinz
3. Tables (in either Elyros or Kydonia probably not both)[9] e.g. 2 folding tables, each seating 6 with own laptops for coding activities Done Heinz
2. Flipcharts 2 flipchart stands + extra paper in opposite corners Under control with hotel Heinz
4. Monitor/TV A display screen for all 6 - 12 to see Done Heinz

Other spaces


For discussions only, not locking or sticking papers on walls etc., wireless internet available.

Le Pont Rest

For discussions only, not locking or sticking papers on walls etc., wireless internet available.

Notes etc.

No. Title Requirement Status Contact
1. Folding tables Enable flexibility. Most hotels have them. Otherwise, consider setting up one of the smaller rooms as a permanent "geeking out" room (for coding sprints, etc.). Not available. We will improvise (probably Kydonia or Elyros will be a coding room). Heinz.
2. Whiteboards As an alternative or in addition to flipcharts. Ideally one very large one for the wall. Not available. Use flipcharts. Heinz
3. Markers If using whiteboards get appropriate markers (e.g. not 'permanent' markers) Done: 20 black, 10 blue for post-its and flipcharts Heinz
4. Colour-coding labels c. 500 or more, 3 colours[10] Done Heinz
5. Extension cables For all rooms In process: own + hotel's Heinz
6. Power strips Multi-adaptors (see this page on adapters) Hotel's + own Heinz
7. Half moon trunking To minimise the risk of people tripping over cables Hotel? Heinz
8. Sticking onto walls If you are expecting to stick flipcharts or post-its etc. on walls, check that this is possible and allowed. Ok (with care) and not in all rooms (see above) Heinz
9. The Wall If no suitable walls, can the hotel supply pin walls? Improvise[11] Heinz
10. Print poster below (A3/A2) With theme, 4 principles, one law and 'prepare to be surprised' Done on flipchart[12] Heinz


Prepare one (e.g. on a flipchart) for each room with the principles of Open Spaces Conferences:

Making Java Fun Again
  • Whoever shows up are the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it's over, it's over.
The Law of Two Feet:
"If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing: use your two feet and go someplace else".

Be prepared to be surprised! :-)

Seating arrangements

  • as appropriate (for open space, chairs arranged in a circle without tables)
  • one (or more) area(s) might be set up for coding/doc sprints (etc.) as indicated above.

Working with Management of the Venue

  • Spend quality time with the management of the venue.
  • Educate them about Open Spaces Conferences.
    • Advise that small groups of our participants may work in odd places from time (e.g. by the pool?)
    • Ascertain "no go" areas, and inform participants.
    • Catering: maximum possible flexibility - a variety of options available most of the time (water, tea, coffee, ...).
    • In some ways organisation for them is easier (and can be fun).


  • Are the rooms available at other times? (afternoon, evening).


  • When preparing the rooms, please do not wipe whiteboards or cleanup post-its, etc.
  • Don't take anything out of the rooms except (e.g.) cups, bottles, plates, ....
  • Prefer small plastic bottles of water for each participant (rather than glasses which get left around and lose their owners) (hygiene). (Heinz - done :-)
  • Cell/telephone number of an English speaking contact staff member to deal with anything unforeseen (e.g. air conditioning stops, more water needed, where's the coffee?).


Some points to mention:

Briefly describe Open Spaces Conferences and mention that:

Open spaces are open spaces with no pre-set agendas, tracks, outputs or outcomes. The participants self-organise and

  • every issue of concern to will be raised and discussed to the full extent collectively desired
  • reports will be produced by the participants (preferably on-the-fly) - feel free to record (photo, audio, video), post to wiki (preferred), blog, tweet, etc. (cc-by-sa)
    • the organisers (dis-organisers :-) will help facilitate this happening but the responsibility for doing it lies with each group.
  • Where applicable, spaces may be created for the formation of setting of priorities and developing action plans by those who feel moved to do so.

See notes on Opening for more.

Planning Board/ Space-time Matrix

Space-time days 1 - 3

e.g. see sample Space-time Matrix - but on a few flipcharts or large white board:

Time Place A Place B Place C
0900-0930 <plenary session day 1>

Where will it be? - Bal de Mer (along the wall.)


We'll make it up as we go along.

Day 1:

After the introduction/opening, participants will be invited to post topics (written on clearly written post-its) onto the space-time matrix. Keep a keen eye out for duplication and obvious clustering (merge where appropriate).

Plan the first three days[13]. Day 4 is for overflow (e.g. some groups may need a second session, an action planning session, report-back session, etc.).

10 minutes before lunch those wanting to negotiate continuation (a follow-up session) converge around the matrix with affected convenors. If successful, topics may move.

Days 2 - 3:

The first 10 minutes are for announcements and for people to check where their chosen topics will be.

The last 10 minutes before lunch will be as on Day 1.

Day 4:

As for days 2 - 3 except that the last 10 minutes will be to close the symposium.

Remember to keep at least one slot (in the plenary room) for report-backs just before lunch (e.g. 5 minutes each).

Report-back sessions

Do we need to include a slot specifically for this in the schedule (perhaps each day before lunch)[14]?

  • Pros
    • 5 minutes each
    • Helps participants know what is going on
    • Will help people decide if they have energy for a different space.
  • Cons
    • not everyone wants to attend all the report-backs
      • they may be posted as sessions on day 4 (rather than a plenary)
    • please add

Name Tags

Stickers (for each day) + marker pens.[15]


Suggestion: capture proceedings on-the-fly on the wiki (pre-supposes Internet connectivity in each room).

e.g. participants (or a volunteer session scribe) directly edits a page and (if relevant) uploads photos of flipcharts to the wiki.

Delegate one person to be responsible to check that this gets done and if necessary to take the pictures in each room and upload them, so that it definitely gets done quickly.

No. Title Requirement Status Contact
1. Enable media upload to wiki See Manual:Running MediaWiki on Ubuntu Done Heinz

Notes and References

  1. Owen, Harrison (2008). Open Space Technology: A User's Guide (3rd ed.). Berrett-Koehler. ISBN 978-1576754764.
  2. Update: NB Make it very clear to convenors of sessions that they are responsible to ensure the discussion is captured.
  3. For example, a venue which combines accommodation and suitable conference facilities obviates organising transport for the participants every day.
  4. Remoteness can help in this respect.
  5. It turned out fine. There was a suitable wall. For other events make sure this is the case well in advance (before finalising the venue).
  6. Be precise about this. For this venue and number of participants A6 is about right
  7. We didn't.
  8. For this event these two rooms were set up for coding around a large table with a big TV screen in view
  9. Actually: both (see above).
  10. Useful if the need arises to prioritise issues. The need did not arise during this event (this time around).
  11. As above, there was a suitable wall. In general, make sure of this in advance.
  12. Done on flipchart on the morning of the event. Preferably, do it this way (a good reminder for you the facilitator) rather than printing it - one for each room.
  13. Or just day 1 at a time. Then you will more time at the start of each day.
  14. Update: we didn't, but participants were free to suggest such sessions. No-one did.
  15. Update: pre-printed stickers were distributed each day.