For the 2012 Great Lakes Bioneers event in Chicago, we provided part of the facilitation team for an open space. We worked with local facilitator Gretchen Neve.
Chicago Bioneers is an affiliate of a longstanding conference, Bioneers based out of Northern California. This first Chicago event pulled in 700 people for a densely packed 3 days of talks and workshops.
As this was an open space within an existing conference with a dense schedule, we didn’t do the usual open space opening and closing. We knew participants were going to come to the open space randomly without staying from start to finish, so we had to provide enough simplicity that anyone walking in could jump right in. We used simple signage to support self-organizing. And we actively engaged with people exploring the space and joined into sessions, helping to take notes or explain the process to small groups.
The Marketplace was highly visible from the entry to the space, which was position next to the main stage of activity sharing a large room with the bookstore. Also, book signings were held in the area, which helped bring visibility to the space. It is so important at an open space within an existing conference that foot traffic brings people serendipitously to the space.
The challenge of running open space for this event, in hindsight, is that so many of the attendees were students eager to hear a speaker or participate in a workshop. The open space format was also new to many of the attendees. We provided a brief open space intro to the conference organizer to present from the main stage. We encouraged speakers and their handlers to invite people to gather for open space for further discussion of issues. A briefing on open space was listed in the conference program. And, we provided basics about open space to the website, so people could understand what to expect before coming in.
We hope that the second year (November 1-3, at Roosevelt University in Chicago), our more experienced participants lead more action groups that use the open space area to convene for forward movement together.
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