Open Space

Description: A self-organising methodology and powerful tool for engaging large groups of people in discussions to explore particular questions or issues. It can be used with groups from anything between 10 and 1,000 people.

Purpose(s): Maximise participation and engagement. Draw out ideas and encourage self-responsibilty from participants

Time: You can allow anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days.

Resources: Flip chart paper or whiteboard (and marker), to write up the schedule for the break out times and places. Four Rules and One Law written up to be posted up for all to see.

Instructions: Open Space has Four Rules and One Law (the Law of Two Feet).

The Four Rules

  1. Whoever come are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
  4. When it’s over, it’s over.

The One Law of Two Feet states that:

"If, during the course of the gathering, any person finds themselves in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they must use their feet and go to some more productive place."

Key to a successful Open Space event is the question – which is usually in the title of the
event – which sets the ground for what is to be under discussion that day. Some examples are:


  • How will [name your town] feed itself beyond the age of cheap oil?
  • How will [name your town] meet its energy needs beyond the age of cheap oil?
  • The economic revival of [name your town] – how can we build a sustainable, equitable and healthy economy in [name your town]?

You may choose to invite specific people, or just leave it open to whoever turns up. Your venue needs to be large enough to take those who attend sitting in a large circle. You need walls on which you can stick things, and you need enough other space for several break-out areas.

When people arrive they take a seat in the circle, and when everyone is gathered the event
begins. In the centre of the circle is a pile of sheets of A4 paper and pens, and on the wall is an empty timetable with break-out spaces listed.


Table by the entrance
Upstairs Lounge
The Verandah seating
Audio Visual Room
Couches in main room
Noon - 1:30



Each of the squares in the table needs to be about the size of an A4 sheet. Explain to people the rules of Open Space and that the only prerequisite for proposing a question is that you will host that discussion and scribe the conversation for the benefit of anyone unable to participate, and write that name on the sheet, and post it on the timetable.

Then say “Go!”. This is the nerve-racking bit: your heart will be in your mouth the first time you do this, worrying that no one will come forward, but then one person does, and the flood-gates open.

What follows is a ten-minute mêlée of people proposing questions and sticking them up. You may well end up with more questions than you have slots available, in which case consolidate some of them together, for example, three or four may be on different aspects of community energy generation and so could be rolled up into one session on that subject. Once your timetable/agenda is full, allow people a few minutes to look at it and work out what they want to go to, and then ring a bell, or something similar, to announce the convening of the first session.

In theory, the rest of the day will organise itself. Each break-out space should have plenty of flip-chart paper and pens. At the end of each session, ring a bell to let people know it is finished, then go round and collect up the note filled sheets, and put them up on the wall in the area you have pre-designated as the ‘Market Place’. You may also choose to have someone typing up the sheets, if you are posting the proceedings live on the web, or even if you just want to get to the end of the whole thing without endless typing to do. A bit like washing up, typing up a pile of flip-chart paper looks far more daunting the next day.

Tell people when each session starts, and remind them about the Law of Two Feet. The event will then, basically, run itself. Leave 30-40 minutes or so at the end for a go-round, for reflections on the event and the process itself, rather than issues raised.

Open Space is surprisingly easy to run, and an amazingly powerful way of exploring issues. What it does is draw out all those who are really passionate about a subject. For your first one you might find it useful to have someone with prior experience of running Open Space to facilitate it, but once you have a successful Open Space under your belt, you’ll marvel at how simple it is!

Video Resources for Open Space

Open Space explained and demonstrated at a Transition Towns meeting:

A young person speaks clearly and passionately about the Open Space process for 10 mins:

Source: Tools for transition in The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins

Resources required: Games Resource List (PDF, 124 KB)