at Work:

A Personal
and Public
Invitation to
Open Space

Michael Herman

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Inviting Real Organizations into Open Space:

Collected Conference Invitations


Thanks to Sue Ann Darre, Steve Proudman, Linda Stevenson, Vi Traynor and the convenors of OT-19 for the invitations shared below.

This page starts with the open space conference that started it all, where Open Space Technology was discovered... the Annual Symposium on Organization Transformation, now in its 19th incarnation. This invitation goes out in email, mail and webpage formats.

Following this (rather long) invitation you'll find a variety of other bits and pieces from conference events of all shapes and sizes. The theme of each invitation is highlighted in bold.

Remember, too, that none of the language here is "right," but some of it may be useful.



You're Invited...

JULY 2-6, 2001

You are invited to the 19th Annual International Symposium on Organization Transformation. As usual this conference is not for everybody, especially those who expect or require a tightly structured, carefully controlled event. We will enter into Open Space without prepared agenda or clear-cut knowledge as to where we will end up. We will only know our theme, who is coming, and what they are interested in. Be prepared to be surprised.

Our Theme:

Closings and Openings

Life pulses on. Our beginnings end, and our endings give birth to new beginnings. And every day we run smack into the familiar and the strange, and though we may pride ourselves on our ability to recognize, it's never the same thing twice.

We see the world with hope and dread, a sense of dual anticipation. We travel down the path of our own lives experiencing, at every step, both doubt and certainty. And every step is a choice that closes one door and opens another. Reach for any doorknob and realize that entering any new space means you leave another behind.

Here you are. Here we are. So now what?

Please join friends and colleagues from around the world who seek to understand the journey of transformation. Explore the closings and openings that surround us and envelop us. We do know the world continues in all sorts of shifts, re-frames, and transitions, as do the organizations of which we are a part, and for which we carry so much hope. The experience of these movements is not always pleasant, but it certainly can be exciting, even breathtaking. (Do you carry a parachute, or do you just "go with it"?)

Since there isn't any other game in town ­ at least on this planet ­ we might as well be the ones who pay attention to the transformational journey, and we might as well learn to do it as best we can do it. A few things are certain: all of this requires new ways of thinking, doing and being, and we are free to add a generous dollop of playfulness. For if we ever took ourselves too seriously, there would be trouble.

Do plan to come for this, the 19th annual International Symposium on Organization Transformation, where absolutely everything is of our own making.

If we are on a journey, it is one without maps except as we create them. There are no simple answers, only a lot of questions in the great experiment. This is not to suggest that this symposium will produce neither content nor outcomes, for indeed there will be plenty of both. However, the experience of content and achievement of outcomes will depend on the exercise of individual and collective responsibility ­ all of us together.

  • The agenda will be something we create.
  • The content will be what each person brings.
  • And the outcome will be nothing like anyone has ever seen before.

Don't miss it.

What's Going to Happen?

The honest answer is we just don't know. We will, however, create an Open Space in which good thinking, creating, celebrating and just plain being together can take place. Beyond that we have only the expectations we bring from our several lives and the common tradition of the eighteen previous Symposia on Organizational Transformation. Somehow we will honor the past, acknowledge the present and anticipate the future. None of this can be done, of course, solely in seriousness. So through it all there may very well be a sense of High Play, in which we take the opportunity of the moment to enrich and engage new possibilities, joyfully creating useful forms for an emerging world.


Symposium Design:

The design is simple and open. Given the talent that will be present, the design is intended less to tell folks what to do than to provide a supportive environment in which they can do what needs to get done. Open Space - just what the words imply. A safe time/space for people to pursue the business at hand. Morning Announcements / Five O'clock News - Short periods to bring people up to date on what has been happening and what lies ahead. Celebration- A time to boogie, if that feels good. Closing - Nothing too formal, just a simple time to honor the Spirit we have shared.


Practicalities - Logistics - Facilities:

Full Participation - The symposium will not work with Drop-Ins. So PLEASE come for the whole thing, in order that you may give and receive in full measure.

Pre-Conference Material - About one month before the opening day, each participant will receive a full list of all registered guests so you will know who is coming and where they are coming from. Should you wish to start a little bit early, please feel free to call or write your co-conspirators.


Lodging/Meals Reservations

The serene, historic Hudson Valley adjacent to Pawling, New York, will be the location of OT 19, from Monday evening, July 2, 2001 until Friday noon, July 6. Your host will be Holiday Hills Conference Center, www.holidayhills-ny.com.


For those sleeping on-site, rates are based on double occupancy, per person (single occupancy add $25 per night), which includes all meals beginning with dinner on 7/2 and concluding with lunch on 7/6. Four nights total required.

Cottage Row $85.00 per person per night, plus meals, four nights required
The Inn $87.00 " " " "
Donaldson Center $96.00 " " " "

For commuters and campers, the Conference Center charges a daily participant fee of $48.00 per person, which includes all meals beginning with dinner on 7/2 and concluding with lunch on 7/6. Four days total required.

Camping is available in the area, but not available on the conference site. Try James Baird State Park: 845-452-1489.

Please print this last part and mail with your conference registration...

Conference Registration Form
OT19 / July 2-6, 2001, Pawling, NY

*** please send this in addition to making lodging/meals reservations ***





Telephone.................................. Email.............................................................

Admin Fee ($30 non-refundable) (___)

SEND TO: John Adams / 1360 Fourth Avenue, San Francisco / CA 94122 / USA
Make check payable to Eartheart Enterprises in US dollars, drawn on any US Bank.

Phone 415-753-6668 Fax 415-753-6669 Email [email protected]

Pass this invitation along to friends and colleagues whom you believe will enjoy and contribute to OT-19. As always, whoever comes will be the right people, and for sure your guests will be the right people. Details at www.openspaceworld.org/OT19

See you in Pawling!

OT-19 Co-Sponsors

John Adams, Rhoda Nussbaum, Michael Herman, Tom Thiss, Peter Thiss, Ralph Copleman, Cindy Schlager, Wendy Potter, Ann and Fred Thompson, Diana Ramsey, Roger Cooper, Mike Bell, Peter and Alayne Rabow, Brenda Dettman,
Leah Dettman Steinberg, Mark Hunziker



This blurb from an annual association meeting. The first two days were divided into all kinds of formal sessions organized in a traditional agenda. The entire last day of the three-day conference was offered and described as simply as this...

Networking to the Nth Degree: This is the working and networking session you've been asking for (for years) -- a time to go deeper into the most important issues raised on Thursday and Friday, and to raise any new issues not addressed in the formal program schedule. The method we'll use is called Open Space. It's been used extensively and successfully by a number of associations and chapters worldwide, and it's wide open. Get ready to raise those issues and opportunities on which you want to focus the experience and insight of your peers -- for the benefit of yourself, your local unit and the association nationally. Expect to work together, have some fun and be surprised by this unique opportunity.



This went out as a simple, large postcard, with bold two-color graphics. What follows here is the entire text of the invitation...


(front side)

Calling all entrepreneurs. You are not alone.


Join other daring minds in an open-hearted forum
Saturday, November 22nd.

(flip side, with space for mailing address)

Come spend the day with some of Colorado's best and brightest entrepreneurs.

Business for Social Responsibility's Entrepreneurial Roundtable presents an all-day symposium on creating the entrepreneurial community of your dreams. It's a chance for you to come together with a worthy group of socially and environmentally responsible peers to share your visions, ideas, and passions. This is a rare opportunity to connect heart to heart with like-minded business owners. Don't miss it.

Saturday, November 22nd - 9:30am to 6:00pm - Boulder, Colorado
Cost $79 (lunch included)

For more information, or to register, please call...



This is most of the text from a conference that made a full day of open space the core of the event, with business meetings scheduled before and some breakout sessions to follow the main, open space event day. Having the whole open space event take place WITHIN the vendors exhibition hall made for one giant, very successful marketplace. This invite went out by traditional, US Postal Service, mass-mailing.


Wisconsin Medical Group Management Association
Winter Conference Event - February 12-13, 1998

Come with an open mind and transform your organization

Opening Space for Healthcare Professionals... The WMGMA Winter Conference has scheduled a wide variety of topics and session that appeal to all clinic adminstrators and managers.

Join us on February 12-13 in the Madison area. You'll work with other healthcare professionals to address the most important issues and opportunities for healing in our work, our organizations and our communities. It's all about mutual support, organization learning, and patient care.

Conference at a Glance: (who, what, when, where...)


Wednesday (evening)... Pre-registration, committee meetings, welcome reception

Thursday (all day)... General Session
Taking Care of the Healing Business: Issues and opportunities for healthy work, healthy organizations, and healthy communities

How do you integrate the business of healthcare with the practice of healthcare? Are you looking to revitalize your work, your organization and your community as the business of healthcare moves at breakneck speed into the 21st century? Well, you don't have to do it alone!

We'll open a space where you'll work with other professionals to identify and address the most important issues in your work, your organization and your community. Come prepared with your own burning questions and pressing needs... and be ready to address them in a dynamic, high-learning environment.

You'll determine your own agenda for the day, with total flexibility to choose the small, issue-oriented working groups that serve your own immediate needs and interests. And the whole event will take place within the marketplace of our vendors exhibit hall, so you'll be able to meet with dozens of visiting experts and pull them into the conversation whenever you need them.

Friday (half-day)... three rounds of traditionally organized, one-hour long, concurrent breakout sessions, including a session on how to introduce open space into organization.

(lodging, directions, and other logistical niceties...)



This is an excerpt from the 1995 AEE Conference Invitation, for a short pre-conference event organized by good friend and master educator, Steve Proudman. This page was passed out as people arrived and registered at the conference site, as well, which helped late-comers get into the flow even after missing the opening briefing. This was my very first glimpse of Open Space in action. Needless to say, it worked. <grin>


Open Space '95
Association for Experiential Education
23rd International Conference
EBTD Pre-Conference Event


Thursday, November 9, 1995 * 12:45 p.m. - 5:15 p.m.

12:45 - 1:45 Community Assembly and Process Initiation
2:00 - 3:30 First Session
3:45 - 5:15 Second Session

In the spirit of building community through experiential learning, an open space event is the workshop planned for Thursday afternoon. Open Space is a large meeting technology that will provide the opportunity for all conference participants to engage in the question: "What are the issues and opportunities to plant, harvest or be a seed for change?" The content of this event will be what each individual brings to the session - the outcomes will be what we collectively co-create. This is an opportunity to bring your "real work" issues, burning theory questions, networking needs, hopes and dreams, etc. into a self-directed forum with other conferees who share mutual interests. It is the host committee's hope that Open Space '95 will allow us to experience new ways of growing together at AEE's International Conference.

Open Space is a new, but tested, approach used to enhance learning in a large group. First developed in 1984 by Harrison Owen, Open Space Technology is being used world-wide with community groups, government agencies, educational institutions and corporations. It is effective when many people desire to address complex issues, common interests and expanding networks, with high levels of innovation, ownership and synergy, over a short periods of time. Open Space is a learning environment that fosters shared visions, empowered participants and self-managed groups. It is a meeting of minds charged with excitement, flashes of inspiration, and profound satisfaction.

Open Space '95 will be facilitated by members of the Experience-Based Training & Development Professional Group (EBTD). Initially, all participants will meet together in the same room. In this first phase, facilitators will explain the process by which subgroup meetings will be developed and the self-organized afternoon sessions will be established. Participants themselves create different session topics. You do not need to have a polished presentation to convene a session - you need only to show up and invite people to engage themselves in the topic. Once individuals have selected their learning areas of interest, the first sessions begin. You can change your selection, or join a new session at any time. Every session is open to all.

These are only a few principles of Open Space '95:

  • Those who attend a session are the right people.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  • When it starts, it's the right time.
  • When it's over...it's over (i.e., when the energy is gone, it is time to move on.)

In addition to these principles, the "Law of Personal Mobility" will be in effect. If you find you are in the wrong session (for any reason at all) get up and relocate. Don't waste time. But be prepared to be surprised!

So, what is really going to happen? The honest answer is that we really don't know. We only know that there will be an incredible breadth and depth of talent that will be in attendance. We trust that the process will work, because you will make it work. We look forward to having you join us for some risk-supportive learning in our wonderful community of friends.



This piece actually invited people to come learn ABOUT open space technology, but it had so much good language in it, I modified it a bit and included it here as if the invitation was to gather IN open space...


The Capital Quality Initiative
Business Networking Organization
Lansing, Michigan, USA

Your most powerful resource is the creative potential of every person who shares your passion to live in a quality community. Yet passion is just the first of two requirements to co-create the community or organization of your dreams. The other is taking responsibility.

There is a process called Open Space Technology, in which organization emerges around those two criteria: passion and responsibility. Open Space creates incredibly spirited performance with simple, but highly effective, facilitation, in times of chaotic change.

The process serves as an appropriate organizational model for the millennium because it is harmonious with life's natural tendency to self-organize. Open Space brings into reality what Meg Wheatley theorizes as 'a simpler way' of being in organization. The process starts with a broad question such as:


The the magic begins: leadership belongs to no one and everyone, visions emerge spontaneously, teamwork appears without training, community is heart-felt, and participants self-manage their work for optimal results. We can go to places beyond our expectations, if we're willing to trust the process, remember its simple principles, and let go of control (which was only an illusion anyway!).

If you're curious about what we can create in Open Space, please join us for this important event....

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Evolution at Work: A Personal Journey and Public Invitation to Open Space, by Michael Herman (www.michaelherman.com)
© Copyright 1998-2002 Michael Herman. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reprint or distribute without permission and full attribution, including web address and copyright notice. Permission will be granted gladly if you'll just say what you'd like to copy and where you'd like to share it. [email protected]