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Open Spaces at the hybris Partner Summit

What is it?
Open Spaces allows everyone to suggest, vote on, present or attend topics using a simple, low-tech technique of topic suggestion and voting. The simple principles guarantee that everyone is in the right place, listening to exactly what they want to hear. Topics are suggested by attendees who want either to hear about them and learn something new, or to share information that they have themselves. Topics are voted on and, based on interest, the top ones are chosen and split into time slots and venues.
All of the sessions will take place in a single room, in a ring of chairs with limited or no presentation media. During the sessions, the “law of two feet” applies. People are free (and strongly encouraged) to move around, walking away from a discussion that bores them and finding something that seems interesting. This guarantees that every attendee gets the information that they want and every discussion is attended by enthusiastic people. This keeps the energy up as well as guaranteeing the right discussion for the right people.
How it works
During the time leading up to the Open Space Sessions, a wiki page, or blank whiteboard) is made available with a list of the discussions that people want to hear, participate in or present. Participants can add or vote on a discussion that they are interested in or vote on an existing topic on the board by using a voting marker (like a post-it note).
Close to the actual start time, the top topics are sorted into the available venues and time slots (we will have 4 venues, spread over 4 time slots). If there are two conflicting, interesting talks with a lot of votes, then they can be moved to different time slots to try and accommodate as many people as possible. Attendees can keep voting (by either writing on the board, or adding a voting post-it, to show interest in a talk.) As the start time approaches, which talks are happening in which venue, and how many people will attend starts to emerge. Similar talks can be combined, talks which have little or no interest can be scrapped, or if the few interested people want to, a new venue can spring up. In Open Spaces, a venue could be 5 chairs in a circle in the corridor or the kitchen.
The session in the venue starts at roughly the suggested time, but finishes when it finishes. That could be 10 minutes if everyone feels they have had enough, or just in time for the next session (if there is one). The session is a discussion. The chairs are arranged in a circle with a single or double row depending on size. No one is in front; If someone wants to show their laptop (on their lap in the circle, or on a projector if there is one available) that can be done, hands-on sessions can be done on laps too, but this is not a lecture and talking over a slide deck is discouraged. USB memory sticks can be passed around to share information. Flip charts can be used for ad hoc scribbles and so on, but the ethos is of a talk, not a presentation.
The law of two feet encourages attendees to walk away from a talk they are not finding interesting. No one is offended by this, and in fact it guarantees an engaged audience or participation group. Remember, 5 people having an interesting discussion is far more valuable than 50 people being bored.
As well as the law of two feet, the four basic principles should be applied:
  • Whoever comes to the session is the right people
  • Whatever is discussed is all that could have been discussed
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it is over, it is over
Attendees of these events very often describe them as the best conferences they have ever attended!