Open space

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Citizen participation (→ overviews )
Open space / open space conference
Goal / function Influence on the public and society
typical topics Collection of ideas and suggestions on various topics
context Questions at local to transnational level, organizational or internal issues
typical clients Administrations, authorities, associations, churches, educational institutions, companies etc.
Duration 1-5 days
Participants (number and selection) 20–2,000 people; Self-selection
important actors, developers, rights holders Harrison Owen
geographical distribution worldwide, v. a. USA , Germany

Source: Nanz / Fritsche, 2012, pp. 86–87

NASA Open Space in March 2010

Open Space (English for "open space") or Open Space Technology is a method used by large group moderation to structure conferences. It is suitable for groups of around 20 to 2000 participants. The openness of the content is characteristic: the participants put their own topics in the plenary and each create a working group. In this, possible projects are worked out. The results are collected at the end. What is important is an infrastructure that organizes the implementation of the project ideas that have arisen, because Open Space can produce a wide variety of concrete measures in a short time.


Open Space Technology was developed in the USA by Harrison Owen around 1985 and is now used worldwide. The open space world map website has entries in 125 countries around the world and hundreds (on a blog) registered Open Space companions. Since then, other similar large group methods have been developed, such as the Barcamp , which is often more organized online and emerged from the Internet community, or the very low - threshold marketplace method .

The founding legend of Open Space, as they Harrison Owen repeatedly told: he had 1,983 long a congress for 250 one year organizational development prepared and carried out. At the end of the conference, everyone involved came to the unanimous conclusion that the “really useful part” of the otherwise successful meeting consisted of the coffee breaks. This “coffee break” anecdote is still shaping the way Open Space sees itself today. In an attempt to systematize this knowledge in order to fathom the basic mechanisms of meetings, Owen recalled a biennial initiation festival in Balamah, Nigeria: “As far as I could tell, there was nothing that in any way compares to a planning committee would have been, neither during the celebrations nor before. Even so, the 500 villagers managed to organize this four-day event in a highly orderly, satisfactory and, I must say, most enjoyable manner. How was that possible? "

Goal, method, rules

The aim is to work with a large number of people on a broader topic in a short time in an innovative and solution-oriented manner and to create (or use) a spirit of optimism. Depending on the objective and implementation variation, at the end of the open space event there can be an action plan in which participants agree to implement ideas from the working groups. This action plan can also be very specific. The result of the open space can e.g. B. be a checklist for immediate implementation.


Open Space creates a stable methodological framework in which many people can work on their concerns in a self-organized and responsible manner. There are no given individual topics. Everyone can promote a cause that is particularly close to their heart. These can be complex and urgent common, but also personal questions and topics. They are only formulated at the beginning of the event. Conflicts can also be processed. This creates a large “topic marketplace” on which the participants come together to form topic groups. The method, if carried out correctly, enables broad participation, generates mutual understanding and energy for the implementation of the jointly developed ideas.


There are four principles in Open Space (actually, more of an observation of how the world appears)

  • Whoever comes, it's the right people - one or 25 doesn't matter, and everyone is important and motivated.
  • Whatever happens, it's the only thing that could have happened - the unplanned and the unexpected is often creative and useful.
  • It starts when the time is right - what matters is energy (not punctuality).
  • Over is over - not over is not over - when the energy runs out, the time is up.

and a law:

  • Law of two feet - as an expression of freedom and personal responsibility: The participant only stays in a group as long as he deems it sensible, i.e. as long as he can learn and / or contribute.
Bumblebees and butterflies

When people apply the law of two feet, they sometimes exhibit behaviors that are metaphorically expressed by the terms “bumblebees” and “butterflies”: “Bumblebees” move from workshop to workshop like bumblebees from flower to flower and fertilize the workshops reciprocally. “Butterflies” attract others.

Sometimes other metaphorical terms are also used in open space conferences, e.g. B. "Law of Attraction", "Comets" and "Meteors": "Comets" move their orbits over several groups and thus connect everyone's thoughts, "Meteors" suddenly appear and leave their ideas like traces of light in the sky.


Open space always has a general theme. Suitable topics have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Urgent - it burns the participants' nails, it affects them / concerns them / touches them, and the solution should have been available yesterday
  • Broadly laid out - space for new ideas and creative solutions
  • Complex - there are many different ideas and ways, it cannot be solved by one person
  • Important - of central importance for the future of the system

Possible topics are, for example: district development, threatened plant closure, problems with product quality, development of an educational program, merger of two companies, project development, concept for large buildings, church development, restructuring, etc.

Participants, duration

At Open Space there is no right or wrong participant. Everyone is welcome who feels directly affected and motivated to want to change something. As different people as possible should be invited (professional groups, areas of responsibility, age, but also customers, neighbors, etc.), including the main opinion makers and multipliers.

An “Open Space Technology Meeting” lasts two to three days, the “classic form” two and a half days. Depending on the topic, a shortened version of just one day can also be successful. If an open space lasts several days, the last half day is used for evaluation and, if necessary, for planning action. Working groups for implementation are often put together at the conference and the first steps agreed.

Steering committee and moderation

The steering committee is responsible for the formulation of goals and the overall topic, for inviting the participants, for the organization (rooms, materials, food, documentation). The moderation takes over the overall moderation of the event.

The steering committee consists of the responsible initiator, the most important decision-makers and the moderator. He is supported by an organizational team. The initiator and steering committee support the participants in the implementation of their projects.


Despite the (usually) three-day duration, there are:

  • not a typical agenda
  • no predetermined speakers
  • no set tasks

There is a constantly accessible break buffet with finger food (nuts, fruit, vegetables and dips, coffee, tea, water and juice), which turns into a lunch buffet at lunchtime in order to ensure the greatest possible flexibility for the participants in their day-to-day planning.

Procedure step by step

  1. At the beginning all participants sit in a circle. The organizer welcomes the participants and explains goals, limits and resources in the implementation.
  2. The companion introduces the topic and procedure and “opens the room”. He walks around in the inner circle and is present and visible for everyone.
  3. The content and organization result from the concerns of the participants. Everyone can raise a concern. Concerns are topics that are “burning under the nails” and for which someone wants to take responsibility.
  4. The concerns are assigned to the times and available workspaces on a large wrapping paper wall ("concern wall").
  5. In the market phase, negotiation takes place about starting times and rooms, and everyone enters the topics that interest them.
  6. Group work phase: During this time, the participants work in a self-organized manner, guided by the law of two feet and the principles of the procedure. The “invitees” of the working groups are asked to document the results of the group work so that they can also be made available to the other participants.
  7. The results from the group work phases are posted on the documentation wall for everyone to see.
  8. Evening and morning news
  9. Evaluation and planning of the implementation
  10. Final round (often with the talking stick -Ritual)
  11. the "close room"

In the shortened implementation variation of just one day, the evening and morning news are omitted.

Evaluation and implementation

With the final round, the core of an open space is basically over. Depending on the level of organization and interdependence of the participants, different possibilities have emerged in the past to make the results visible to others or even to develop further project steps together. This is not necessary for open spaces on private topics, for example on questions of raising children, which were basically just about exchanging experiences. Otherwise, the conveners record the most important points of their results. The support team posts the protocols on the documentation wall. This enables all participants to get an overview of the interim results at any time. The minutes are made available to each participant as copies or as an electronic document.

The last half day is used to evaluate and plan the implementation.

  • Each participant receives the conference documentation with copies of all reports from the working groups the evening before.
  • The results are combined into thematic blocks and prioritized by the participants according to their importance (see moderation ).
  • The top topics are taken up again and specified in terms of appointments or action plans.
  • In the final round, each participant reports what has particularly impressed them over the past few days.

The success of an open space conference stands and falls with the implementation of the ideas that have emerged. Often the participants are so strongly motivated afterwards that the most diverse activities arise of their own accord. However, implementation must always be supported and accompanied. The steering committee is responsible for this. We regularly check which projects need which support. In companies, management must provide the resources required for implementation (working hours, money, room for maneuver, etc.). For more complex topics, permanent project teams must be formed or groups must be further divided.

Success, strengths and dangers

Success - prerequisites, conditions
  • There is a detailed preparation process in which representatives from all relevant stakeholder groups took part.
  • The participants represent the system of those who are affected and can contribute to the solution.
  • The topic is relevant to the participants.
  • The solution is urgently needed and is not yet known.
  • The topic has many facets and it therefore makes sense to include as many perspectives as possible when working on it.
  • The participants trust that after the Open Space, the will and resources will be available to implement the project.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • Complex topics are dealt with comprehensively by many people in a very short time.
  • Many people are ready to commit themselves sustainably to a cause .
  • Promotes lots of ideas for measures and motivates groups to implement them.
  • Always has a community-building effect - you get to know each other anew and better than was previously possible in everyday work.
  • Finally, a documentation of all the processed topics is available for all participants, as a basis for further cooperation.
  • If the organization cannot provide the necessary resources to implement the results, an open space event is harmful - regardless of the quality of the results at the meeting. Motivation turns into frustration.
  • Groups may not address sensitive topics at all or not openly if the participants doubt the will of the inviting party to keep appointments or implement results.
  • The topic of the Open Space does not hit the “nerve” of the participants.
  • If participation is forced, there is a risk that the working groups will not work constructively.

Virtual collaboration

Teams of projects that want to continue working on the basis of the open space philosophy over greater distances can organize OpenSpace-Online (r) Internet conferences .


Barcamps , a form of large group moderation , have similarities with Open Space, but are more loosely organized - in lectures and discussion rounds, in so-called grids (timetables), coordinated by the participants themselves. All participants are asked to give or organize a lecture themselves.

The BarCamp is ... a subsidiary of Open Space, there are many similarities, but some important differences.

The principle of the BarCamp: give and take. Every participant is requested to bring a "gift" in the form of a contribution (presentation, lecture, example) to the event.

The principle of Open Space: getting better together or planning actions together. Every person is invited to raise concerns and burning questions as part of the main topic (focus) of the event. If desired, the documented discussion results can be weighted within the framework of the so-called convergence process in the final phase of the Open Space and put into an action plan. "

- Erich Kolenaty


Frank Baumann, Malte Detlefsen

  • Open space - or: coffee breaks in urban and regional development. In: RaumPlanung 123/2005, pp. 249–253

Otto Hauser

  • The open space conference . In: VerwArch . Vol. 91, 2000, pp. 438-451.

Erich Kolenaty, Susanne Weber

  • Open Space and Organization , Journal for Organizational Development 02/03

Ulrich M. Drescher

  • Large forms of moderation. In: Sabine Bolender (ed.): Management trainer. Addresses, references, fees , Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1998

Carole Maleh

  • Open space in practice. Experience examples: interesting highlights, limits and possibilities. Beltz, Weinheim 2002. ISBN 3-407-36384-2
  • Open space: working with large groups, a manual for users, decision-makers and consultants. Beltz, Weinheim 2000. ISBN 3-407-36363-X

Harrison Owen

  • Open Space Technology , German: Open Space Technology - A guide for practice. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2001. ISBN 3-608-94011-1
  • Expanding our Now , German: The expansion of the possible - The discovery of Open Space. Klett-Cotta: Stuttgart 2001. ISBN 3-608-94012-X
  • The power of spirit. Berrett Koehler Publ .: San Francisco 2000. ISBN 1-57675-090-6

Klaus I. Rogge

  • Open space conference. In: Lexicon of Political Education , ed. by Georg Weißeno, Vol. 3 Methods and Working Techniques, ed. by Hans-Werner Kuhn / Peter Massing, Schwalbach / Ts. 2000, pp. 119-121

Udo Witthaus, Wolfgang Wittwer (Eds.)

  • Open Space - A method for self-control of learning processes in large groups. W. Bertelsmann Verlag, Bielefeld 2000. ISBN 3-7639-0145-0

Web links

Gabriela Ender

Florian Grolman

Michael M Pannwitz

Individual evidence

  1. Patrizia Nanz , Miriam Fritsche: Handbook Citizen Participation: Procedures and Actors, Opportunities and Limits , bpb (vol. 1200), 2012 (PDF 1.37 MB) →  to order the printed edition at
  2. Michael M Pannwitz: Open Space World Map
  3. Open-Space: How the coffee break became a conference. Retrieved November 19, 2019 .
  4. ^ Harrison Owen: Open Space Technology , German: Open Space Technology - A guide for practice. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2001. p. 19 ff.
  5. The law of two feet
  6. Openspace: Presentation of the method
  7. For the movement of the participants "as comets and meteors through the cosmos of the conference" see the website of the Cologne Future Workshop
  8. (en) OpenSpace-Online® - What is that? / OpenSpace-Online® - What is it? , OpenSpace-Online GmbH / Gabriela Ender, on her web Florian Grolman
  9. a b Erich Kolenaty: Similarities and differences between BarCamp and Open Space , in: Digitale Moderation / Moderation 2.0 ( Xing group / topic), October 31, 2013, on
  10. a b Erich Kolenaty: Similarities and differences between BarCamp and Open Space , Vienna (undated), on