Larry Peterson on Hosting Large Open Space Meetings

a. Do you have any ‘top tips’ on special needs for a group of this size?
As Lisa says, the wall is really important and I leave it chaotic with post-its on one side and room for the folks at the wall on the other.

b. Any special suggestions for how to create the circle/s? (I am considering three concentric circles: one of cushions, one of benches, and then one of chairs. But we could also possibly build risers. How much space will we need for this circle/these circles? Do you suggest three concentric circles or more?

With 600 I go with more concentric circles. I find that when the centre circle is at or over 150 people, then the connection with the sponsor and the opening is less. I prefer a centre circle of between 100 and 150. A small platform, one step up at the most, in the centre of the circle might help but it must be easily gotten on and off of. I would not build fixed seating in risers.

c. How much extra time will be needed for the agenda setting, given the size of the group?
I have not experienced that a lot of extra time is needed – say .5hr.

d. How many sessions should I expect from 600 people? (In a highly motivated group of 100 people, I would usually provide breakout spaces for about 50 sessions. But my guess is that this ratio should go down as the numbers increase. Also, we expect a lot of people who are too shy, reserved, or not sufficiently motivated — this time — to post a session. So I am guessing that I’ll need about 150 breakout slots.

I plan for .7 times the number, say about 42 per round and then have extras available, so that is similar to your number for 100. I’ve never had need for 150 breakout slots in a given round of OST discussions with 600. You know your people better than I and the theme for this event. The amount of passion evoked by the theme question shapes the number at any given round. You are talking between 3-4 rounds of discussion.

e. Any advice on the schedule? The day is limited to 8.30 – 16.30. Some people might be able to stay later, but we can’t plan on this. I normally don’t schedule tea breaks, but in this case, it might be necessary to give people time to find their way around the venue. Here are three versions:
I would go with the simplest agenda and 1.5 hour session. With this number, there will be more time for folks to move between sessions so allowing 1.5 hours for each will give them the freedom to self-manage that time – which for me is the genius of OST. Building in breaks makes it seem like any other conference and reduces the “whenever its over, its over” injunction.


Hosting Large Open Space Meetings

Many of my colleagues and I are being asked to scale up our work, both in purpose and in the number of people participating. Recently there was a discussion on the OS listserve about tips for hosting OS in groups of 600. Everything from room setup to expected number of groups to adjustments in time needed, etc. Very helpful. With thanks to my OS colleagues.

From Lisa Heft, an excellent post from her experience of hosting with the Girl Scouts.

From Larry Peterson, a practitioner based in Toronto, Ontario, another excellent post.

From Chris Corrigan, this: “Oh…one thing I did in my 600 person OS that really helped was to have someone writing up the agenda for the first session as it was being produced and once the agenda setting session was over we projected it on large screens. THat just saved traffic piling up at the wall and 600 people all trying to read one person’s handwriting. Subsequent sessions were projected as the day went on.”

And this, “emphasize the 1.5 hour part. 600 is a lot of people. Don’t rush them.”

From Harrison Owen, this on moving people along: “But you do have to keep the folks moving with a large group. I set the stage for this by saying as we start on announcing sessions that this is not the time for a speech. Just announce your title and state your name – and move on. One secret is that I ALWAYS hang on to the mike. I act just like a sticky microphone stand. If somebody starts on a speech (something more than title and name) I let them go for a very little bit and then intervene to say “No Speeches.” Some times you have to do this twice, but I have never had to do it a third time. Net effect is that even with very large groups (2108 German Psychiatrists) announcing 236 sessions took a little less that ½ an hour.”

And this, “I have always found that it is much easier to work with a group this size and larger. Everything works just the way it always does, even down to the amount of time it takes to get started – an hour an a half – and any thought that you might be able to control the situation is simply unthinkable.”

Just the Right Moment

An image too good to pass up, sent from friends Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin with the following message:

“The winter image we send is of a plant holding its fruits into the next season and the incredible mystery of why and when is just the right moment to drop them into possibility.”