Open Space Events

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Clarify the Purpose  

Pay attention early to the reason you are bringing people together. Knowing the purpose of your meeting enables you to consider which participants need to be there and what parameters are important to achieve your purpose.

You should aim to end up with a brief (1 paragraph) but clear piece of writing that says why you’re meeting and what you’ve intending to do at the event, which can be used in the publicity.  This group will also need to ‘walk through’ the event shortly before it happens, so that everyone involved knows what’s happening where, when and how.

‘What do we want people to go away feeling after this gathering – what do we want them to have achieved?’

You should aim to make your event as engaging and enjoyable for the people coming along as possible.
It’s really good at the very beginning to think about other events you’ve been to, and what happened there that worked really well for you, from the programming, to the food, to the kind of welcome you got when you arrived.  Equally, thinking about the bits which you hated or felt disappointed by, can help you avoid making the same mistakes.



Setting out the shape of the day, deciding on the activities that will best achieve your aims, deciding on speakers and/or workshop leaders.

Program example
09.30am Registration – tea and coffee.
10.00am Welcome and scene setting by a member of the local group
10.10am Big circle, go-round: name, why I’m here/what I want from the day
10.40 – 12 noon Workshops with: Workshop leader 1 Subject Format; Workshop leader 2 Subject Format; Workshop leader 3 Subject Format
12 noon L U N C H
1.15pm Speakers (15 min each): Speaker 1 Project name; Speaker 2 Project name; Speaker 3 Project name
2.00 -2.15pm Questions
2.15 – 2.45pm Open Space preparation (brainstorming – map it in the break)
2.45 – 3.15pm Break – leading into…
3.15 – 4.30pm Open Space: What work can we do together?
4.30 – 5.00pm Feedback to whole group and closing

Create a Hospitable Space

Try to pick a place that’s comfortable and welcoming – if it can be an example of the kind of ethos we’re
aiming for with Transition, so much the better.

Hosts around the world emphasize the power and importance of creating a hospitable space—one that feels safe and inviting. When people feel comfortable to be themselves, they do their most creative thinking, speaking, and listening. In particular, consider how your invitation and your physical set-up contribute to creating a welcoming atmosphere.

Finding the right place; booking and paying for it; being the contact person for the owners; co-ordinating setting up the room/s and tidying away at the end. Your Community Hall, Your Town, Your postal code, Travel arrangements. Here are directions to get there.

Find the right shape to arrange the seats for the meeting. You may start with conventional style: stage in front chairs facing the stage for the public; and then after some time change the setting for a circle and ask the people how and if they feel different.

To find the right shape (i.e. circle for example) consider:

  • cultural particularities, social habits of the participants
  • intention of the meeting
  • setting of the meeting
  • technicalities (writing support, comfort)

All these points will help you to find the right shape. For example a teaching where people learn specific stuff, top down – a conventional seating seems appropriate; for a brainstorming – the less formal possible; a community meeting – a circular arrangement so everybody can see everybody else.


Writing up information for inviting people along, and for the press; making sure that information about the event (where and when) is clear, engaging and that it’s easy to find. Thinking about networks and other channels for getting your information to the right people.

How to Create a Café Ambiance

Create an environment that evokes a feeling of both informality and intimacy. When your guests arrive they should know immediately that this is no ordinary meeting.

  • If possible, select a space with natural light and an outdoor view to create a more welcoming atmosphere.
  • Make the space look like an actual Café, with small tables that seat four or five people. Arrange the Cafe tables in a staggered, random fashion.
  • Put one additional Café table in the front of the room for the Host’s and any presenter’s material.
  • Use colorful tablecloths and a small vase of flowers on each table. If the venue allows it add a candle to each table. Place plants or greenery around the room.
  • Play music as people arrive and you welcome them.
  • To honor the tradition of community and hospitality provide beverages and snacks. Co-ordinating food – either making it yourself or finding people to do that.
  • Place at least two large sheets of paper over each tablecloth along with a mug or wineglass filled with colorful markers. Paper and pens encourage scribbling, drawing, and connecting ideas.
  • Add posters/flip charts to the walls

Optional depending on size/purpose of the event:

  • Overhead projector & screen
  • sound system & micros
  • easels and flipcharts
  • post-its in bright colors

Use your imagination! Be creative! 


Checking that everyone who arrives is recorded; taking details from people who’ve not booked; booking kids into childcare if you’ve got it; giving people copies of the program and any other materials they will need including a feedback questionnaire; creating a contact list to circulate afterwards.


Keeping an eye on the whole process of the day; making sure that any problems are spotted and dealt with as soon as possible; being aware of what’s coming up next and making sure everything’s lined up ready for it to happen.

Walking it through
It should be done close to when your event happens – a few days before is best, so that if you discover you need anything you hadn’t thought of, you’ve still got time to get it.  The whole team who’re going to be helping out on the day should be there.  Go through each stage of your program.

Keeping a record

Taking fotos or filming the event; making sure that all bits of writing are recorded and put on line or typed up; creating a report of the event.


Organising childcare; checking childcare room and materials; possibly gathering toys and games for the kids;
creating a clear booking-in process for families; getting disclosure sorted; making sure childcare workers know where to go and have what they need.

Car sharing

If your venue is at all difficult to get to, it can really be worth flagging up car sharing for people coming along


Greeting people; showing them to registration; showing them to teas and coffees/where ever they’re waiting
for the event to begin; making sure latecomers know what’s happening.


This can really help if you ever run another event, and may be required if your event is funded.  It’s probably
easiest to do this with a short questionnaire, and you’re most likely to get responses in if you give people 5 minutes to it in at the end of the day.

Welcome Letter

We’re really looking forward to spending the day with you, and hope that you will leave feeling inspired and re-fueled by spending time with some fantastic people, hearing about some great projects and of course eating beautifully prepared local food! This email should contain all you need to know about the day, but it you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact xxxx or xxxx.

The Event

Guidelines for the open space


it’s important to clarify the intention we all have at the beginning of the event. intentions can be to get initiated to a particular world, vocabulary; the different concepts pertaining to the theme, … to life a common or community experience… to foster sharing and learning… to open a conversation on the theme…

The diamond of open spaces

diamant of participation

Its more appropriate to start an open space with a powerful question than with a statement(s) – they invite people to think and participate; they do not have an answer (if you have the answer to a question, share your answer). the question can be modified during the divergence and groan zone.

Explore Questions that Matter

« If you have 1 hour to solve a problem;
take 55 minutes to find the right question
and 5 minutes to answer them »

Closed question = « Should we invest more in youth organizations? »
Open questions = « Why would we invest in youth organizations? »

Finding and framing questions that matter to those who are participating in your meeting is an area where thought and attention can produce profound results. Your meeting may only explore a single question, or several questions may be developed to support a logical progression of discovery throughout several rounds of dialogue. In many cases, meeting conversations are as much about discovering and exploring powerful questions as they are about finding effective solutions.

« If you have an answer to your question – don’t ask a question;
ask only the questions which have no answers »

The questions(s) you choose or that participants discover during a Café conversation are critical to its success. Your Café may explore a single question or several questions may be developed to support a logical progression of discovery throughout several rounds of dialogue.

« A powerful question brings us back to the intention »

Well-crafted questions attract energy and focus our attention to what really counts. Experienced Café hosts recommend posing open-ended questions—the kind that don’t have yes or no answers. Good questions need not imply immediate action steps or problem solving. They should invite inquiry and discovery vs. advocacy and advantage. You’ll know you have a good question when it continues to surface new ideas and possibilities. Bounce possible questions off of key people who will be participating to see if they sustain
interest and energy.

Encourage Everyone’s Contribution
As leaders we are increasingly aware of the importance of participation, but most people don’t only want to participate, they want to actively contribute to making a difference. It is important to encourage everyone in your meeting to contribute their ideas and perspectives, while also allowing anyone who wants to participate by simply listening to do so.

How to « discuss »: after someone has shared, continue by saying: « Yes, what i love about your idea is … – and we could then …. » this trick empowers the other and builds quickly on the process.

Connect Diverse Perspectives
The opportunity to move between tables, meet new people, actively contribute your thinking, and link the essence of your discoveries to ever-widening circles of thought is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the meeting. As participants carry key ideas or themes to new tables, they exchange perspectives, greatly enriching the possibility for surprising new insights.

Listen for Insights and Share Discoveries
Through practicing shared listening and paying attention to themes, patterns and insights, we begin to sense a connection to the larger whole. After several rounds of conversation, it is helpful to engage in a whole group conversation. This offers the entire group an opportunity to connect the overall themes or questions that are now present.

Open Rules

  1. It starts when it starts
  2. The people present are the right people
  3. Rule of the two feet: if your feet want to go to another cirlce, follow them
  4. You can be a bee (foraging from one flower to another) or a butterfly (goes anywhere)

Conversations at a Glance

  • os3Seat four or five people at small Café-style tables or in conversation clusters.
  • Set up progressive (usually three) rounds of conversation of approximately 20-30 minutes each.
  • Questions or issues that genuinely matter to your life, work or community are engaged while other small groups explore similar questions at nearby tables.
  • Encourage both table hosts and members to write, doodle and draw key ideas on their tablecloths or to note key ideas on large index cards or placemats in the center of the group.
  • Upon completing the initial round of conversation, ask one person to remain at the table as the “host” while the others serve as travelers or “ambassadors of meaning.” The travelers carry key ideas, themes and questions into their new conversations.
  • Ask the table host to welcome the new guests and briefly share the main ideas, themes and questions of the initial conversation. Encourage guests to link and connect ideas coming from their previous table conversations—listening carefully and building on each other’s contributions.
  • By providing opportunities for people to move in several rounds of conversation, ideas, questions, and themes begin to link and connect. At the end of the second round, all of the tables or conversation clusters in the room will be cross-pollinated with insights from prior conversations.
  • In the third round of conversation, people can return to their home (original) tables to synthesize their discoveries, or they may continue traveling to new tables, leaving the same or a new host at the table. Sometimes a new question that helps deepen the exploration is posed for the third round of conversation.
  • After several rounds of conversation, initiate a period of sharing discoveries and insights in a whole group conversation. It is in these town meeting-style conversations that patterns can be identified, collective knowledge grows, and possibilities for action emerge.

Once you know what you want to achieve and the amount of time you have to work with, you can decide
the appropriate number and length of conversation rounds, the most effective use of questions and the
most interesting ways to connect and cross-pollinate ideas.


5 Ways to make collective knowledge visible

Use a graphic recorder
In some café events the whole group vonvestation is captured by a graphic recorder who draws the groups ideas on flip charts or oa wall mural using test and graphics to illustrate the patterns of the conversation.

Take a gallery tour
at times, people will place the paper from their tables ion the wall so members can take a tour of the group’s ideas during a break.

Post your insights
participants can place large Post-its into « affinity clusters » so that realted ideas are visible and available for planning the group’s next steps.

Make a story
some cafés create a newspaper or stroybook to bring the results of their work to larger audiences after the vent. A visual recorder can create apeicture book along with text as documentation.

I’m the Café Host, what do I do?

  • Work with the planning team to determine the purpose of the Café and decide who should be invited to the gathering. 
  • Name your Café in a way appropriate to its purpose, for example: Leadership Café; Knowledge Café; Strategy Café; Discovery Café, etc. 
  • Help frame the invitation. 
  • Work with others to create a comfortable Café environment. 
  • Welcome the participants as they enter. 
  • Explain the purpose of the gathering. 
  • Pose the question or themes for rounds of conversation and make sure that the question is visible to everyone on an overhead, flip chart or on cards at each table. 
  • Explain the Café guidelines and Café Etiquette and post them on an overhead, an easel sheet
    or on cards at each table.
    The job of the Café Host is to see that the six guidelines for dialogue and engagement are put into action. It is not the specific form, but living the spirit of the guidelines that counts. Hosting a Café requires thoughtfulness, artistry and care. The Café Host can make the difference between an interesting conversation
  • Explain how the logistics of the Café will work, including the role of the Table Host (the person who will volunteer to remain at the end of the first round and welcome newcomers to their table). 
  • During the conversation, move among the tables. 
  • Encourage everyone to participate. 
  • Remind people to note key ideas, doodle and draw. 
  • Let people know in a gentle way when it’s time to move and begin a new round of conversation. 
  • Make sure key insights are recorded visually or are gathered and posted if possible. 
  • Be creative in adapting the six Café guidelines to meet the unique needs of your situation.

 I’m a Table Host, what do I do?

  • Remind people at your table to jot down key connections, ideas, discoveries, and deeper questions as they emerge.
  • Remain at the table when others leave and welcome travelers from other tables.
  • Briefly share key insights from the prior conversation so others can link and build using ideas from their respective tables.

Stay in Touch! Like the Café process itself, this Guide is evolving. As you experiment with hosting your own Café conversations, we’d love to hear from you, both about your Café experiences and the ways we can make this Guide more useful. Contact with ideas and feedback. And for further detailed background information, including Café stories, additional hosting tips, supporting articles, and links to related Café and dialogue initiatives, please visit the World Café Website