By Philippa Branson
Do you want to run truly successful Professional Development experiences? Nothing has promised so much yet wasted so many hours than PD workshops that do not inspire real change in the classroom. We have all been there!! Those PD days that provided only some small promise of innovation. Some momentary glimmer of hope – for a few at least but not for all.
But how can a PD cater for the needs of every attendee? What if we flipped the conventional PD forum? What if the attendees picked the topics to be discussed? Could this work?
This is the basis for the Open Space Technology (OST) or the unconference conference – a professional development experience that sees the participants as central to the creation of the agenda for the day. This new technology has great promise for staff meetings and in school workshops. It can be used as a powerful tool for change, to enact a shared vision, or devise an authentic strategy to foster community relationships.
Why should you use Open Space Technology?
- OST is an exciting new way of facilitating workshops and meetings that ensures every voice is valued.
- OST is an empowering process that encourages the exploration of a shared and preferred future for all those involved.
- OST promotes ownership and accountability to participants as it breaks down hierarchical structures of knowledge and leadership.
- OST builds a community because it fosters authentic relationships where people can learn from each other and work together to build a shared vision for the future.
- OST promotes ideals of cooperation, accountability and generosity and works effectively to solve complex and wicked issues as it generates new ways forward, new ways of thinking, and new ideas to nurture.
- OST cultivates equity and inclusion because all experiences, all knowledge, and all expertise are shared, valued and explored with genuine interest.
So what is Open Space Technology?
Open Space Technology employs a democratic process for establishing a self-organizing agenda during a professional development session. Organizers of the session decide on a theme but leave the setting of the agenda to those in attendance via a collaborative process. In this way everyone, regardless of their background, can learn from each other. It works on the basis of breaking down the invisible barriers between the presenter and participants. No one person can claim to have all the answers. Instead OST offers a new, open and transparent way for surfacing cooperative and creative knowledge when faced with complex and wicked problems. As such, when using OST at a PD day, a staff meeting, or a conference, the session becomes participant driven and ultimately empowers everyone to be actively involved.
How does it work?
To ensure the session is effective, it’s important to have a well-defined objective when using OST. There are some clear guidelines but mostly OST operates on the ideals of choice and flexibility. Facilitators begin the session with a blank agenda wall but with the session times clearly visible. Participants choose what they would like to discuss and add this on a post-it note to the agenda wall. Post it notes are placed in certain session times. This is a very organic process. To achieve success, a climate of relaxed trust and safety is paramount.
Once the post it notes are on the wall, participants choose to take charge of particular sessions relating to the post it notes that are on the wall. Participants will run the session, take notes and follow up on actions. There might be 20 people attending a session, or only one, or none at all. It doesn’t matter. This just indicates the energy behind the topic, and allows participants to sit and reflect on the topic, or join another session.
Following this organisation of who’s running what and at what time and where, the Marketplace begins. This Marketplace is based on four guiding principles:
Whoever comes are the right people
Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen
When it starts it’s the right time
When it’s over, it’s over
The Law of Mobility supports this:
If you aren’t in the place where you are learning and contributing, go somewhere where you can.
What this means is that participants can move from session to session as they please. Hence, there can be “bumblebees” or “butterflies”. A Bumblebee buzzes from group to group cross-pollinating ideas and stinging with some tough questions. Whereas a butterfly takes a while to settle into sessions to float and flitter amongst and through the conversation before finally settling into one of them – but this is okay! Don’t forget the ideals of choice and flexibility.
What makes it effective?
OST will work if all communication is transparent and engaging before, during and after the event.
Before the session/event engage participants by creating a poster that includes ideas, topics and, most certainly, the theme. Alternatively, communicate using web 2.0 tools such as a wiki, Weebly or by using social media sites such as Twitter. If you are using Twitter then it is important to create a hash tag and display this on the posters that are created.
During the session/event the provision of ongoing communication through a white board or blank wall helps, and this is something that the venue must be able to provide when choosing a place to host an OST event. Also, Twitter can be helpful in creating an engaging continuous conversation about the ideas being discussed. Here, creating a back channel or a tweet wall would encourage some wider discussion, statements and questions amongst the participants.
After the event the use of storify to capture these innovative ideas would ensure that the momentum is not lost amongst your participants.
So give it a go in your work place and see what possibilities can come from empowering your participants in your next staff meeting, workshop or conference. Unlearn what you know about PD and unconference your next event!
Brisbane Catholic Education staff can contact ResourceLink to find out more about this exciting new way to organise successful PD.