At first glance the Open Space method appears to be ideally, or at least the most, suited to this particular application, and certainly of a completely different quality and character from the other methods with which it was grouped by Bunker and Alban. I think a great disservice has been done to the Open Space methodology in an attempt to make it palatable to organizational leadership, because Open Space is a vast and powerful methodology that offers important praxis for much of the theory that I find behind my own dialogical practice.

However, in spite of the apparent utility for this application, I believe this feeling of obviousness belies a very important difficulty. There is an obvious similarity between the existing structural organization of the community as affinity groups plus allied individuals and the method’s engagement in self-determined topical groups. Therein, I believe, is the difficulty, because the structural similarity between the way things are already in the community and the method of engagement does not offer enough of a distinction between the ordinary and the special space in which the process is to take place. There is too much similarity to create a necessary mental space for transformation. Even if it were true that once engaged in the process the method would prove to be distinct, it may not be apparent enough that the activity will be distinct such that the participants are willing to take the time to find that out, taking the process as just more of the same as what already exists and leaving it unexperienced, unimplemented.

The existing affinity groups, based as they are on self-organized groups which may or may not bring in allied individuals and dissolve in a way that mirrors Open Space’s principle of “two feet”, are in some ways already enacting the principles of the Open Space method, so an application of the method would be at least nominally redundant.

Essentially the primary benefit of Open Space of encouraging and surfacing group interaction is not that far from the benefit of the community’s own process, but the trouble of translating Open Space into actionable decisions is also present in the existing community process. The existing community process possesses many of the same advantages and disadvantages of the Open Space method. In many ways, the structure of the community is already Open Space like. Thus, while the method fits well with the community, and of these methods it is the one with which I personally have the most practical experience, it is far from clear that implementing the method would result in any benefit that the existing process would not be fully capable of producing.

In fact, it might be argued that the existing community offers a functioning model of consensus leadership leading divergent group process toward decision making that appears to be less developed in the Open Space method. As I have experienced it, the consensus model in the Reclaiming community helps move from planning and design to decision and action in an overall environment that offers a safe place in which people can challenge themselves to explore their own edges as practitioners and members of the community.

Posted by John Bell on June 8, 2006
Tags: Putting Community In

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