Learnings from Our Lab

Playing with Open Space Methodology

Can a city be your Open Space venue?

How far can you stretch an open space methodology? For the facilitator in me, there is nothing like a good ol’ open space to nimbly pass the power and responsability of an event over to the participants. People can forget that I am in the room as the life of self-organization flows. The process leads to new found clarity, ideas, connections that can help unstick thinking, open a field, prepare a decision etc, but the output I appreciate the most is the flip that happens inside people. The “Oh, things can be that simple and real”. And the “Oh, if there is something I care about strongly, that means it’s me who should be doing something about it.” This is great stuff and I have found myself playing with it in ways that are surprising me.

City as open space

Recently, we co-organized a three day event in Montreal on the theme of the commons for 75 participants [Art of Commoning] with three international experts: David Bollier (USA), Silke Helfrich (Germany) and Frédérique Sultan (France). The first two days of the event took place at the natural science museum, Space for Life.


Art of Commoning at the Rio Tinto Planetarium, Montreal

We knew that the venue was not available for the third day and we had made a deliberate decision to NOT rent another venue and try out a wild idea.

What if for day three we trusted the group to self-organise their day in different locations around the city?

This super wide open space had some risks given the time of year was November and the number of people involved,  but the team was up for the experimentation.

I must say it was helpful that the event was pushing self-organization in multiple ways. Lunch for day two was a 75 person potluck  with light instructions to run it efficiently. All dishes, sweet and savoury, were laid out in the centre of a long dining table. With 4 starting points, everyone moved along the table serving themselves. Only once everyone was served did we sit down.


75 person potluck

At the end of day two, we announced that the whole next day was dedicated to working on our projects together in any way we wanted. 15 people stepped up with a project. Each person shared how much time they wanted to work on their project – 3 hours being the most popular. We invited everyone to self organise, where and when they would meet the next day and with whom. There was a period of semi-chaos with lots of noise and some concern that the facilitators should have done more, and then, magically, the dust settled. Everyone knew where things were going to take place the next day, at someone’s home, at a coworking, a fablab. The full schedule was emailed to all later that evening with details of locations, times, project leaders, contact numbers and a one stop emergency number. We all shared a collective online space (framapad) for documentation. Finally, we all agreed to meet up at the end of the day for dinner and celebrations (some people took up the “dinner for 75 challenge”).

The experience was true to open space spirit. The work was engaging, deep, dynamic. Most people attended two sessions, some in different locations.

commons patterns3

Art of Commoning day 3, work session at EchoFab, Montréal

Over the course of the day the projects leapfrogged to their next step. A school of commoning moved to the next level, a community land trust initiative got unstuck, a group contributed to an international initiative of patterns of the commons, a business transitioned and a some projects of  living spaces as commons gathered momentum and much more.


Session on Patterns of commoning with Silke Helfrich

At the evening meeting point, at ECTO co-working cooperative we were all a-buzz, sharing our experiences and projects over a home cooked meal, with a bit of play and  video harvesting and then some good ol’ dancing.


andyDuring the evening  a time bank was set up and those who wanted to made further commitments to the projects of the day. The mutual support that had begun that day was able to continue on.

And so, the light frame that holds the freedom of an open space can extend out even across a city and coming back together  helps the collective field to continue to grow.

Guide to City Wide Open Space

Day Before

  • Invite in a culture of helping each other and a way of working for wiser action.
  • Allow  specific time and space whereby those who hold the projects and those who are keen to help out work out when and where they would like to meet by themselves. Trust that they will be able to figure out what is best to do.
  • Share digitally, web/email the open space market place, with contact info and maps

The day of

  • Allow the magic to happen
  • Share through social media, an online collective writing space (ex. frampad)
  • Come together to see a collective harvest and generally celebrate!
  • Set up a time bank to facilitate continued collaboration.



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