Open Space

Have you ever been at a conference with excellent presentations, knowledgeable and entertaining speakers but what benefited you most happened in the breaks, at the conference dinner, or in the hallways? You had surprising conversations, learned new things, even about topics you are an expert on. You learned about things you weren’t aware of that you now use daily, you developed ideas which are still with you, you networked and got to know new people?

If you know this experience, wouldn’t it be great to have more of this? Maximise the serendipity and the pleasant surprises of breaks and hallway conversations?

This is where the Open Space conference format comes into play. Open Space is a method for facilitating meetings and conferences. It provides the principles and the structure to have an event entirely consisting of hallway conversations. There are no invited speakers and curated sessions, there are only participants creating the conference collaboratively. The program emerges from the group itself, with topics for discussion created by the attendees.

To accomplish this, you only need a few things. A theme, an interested and committed group, a time and place (and a guide). In addition to this, an Open Space has a common structure and follows four principles and one law enabling a collaborative and self-organized learning environment.

The Principles

The Open Space format follows four principles:

They are accompanied by the Law of Mobility.

Whoever comes are the right people

The people who choose to participate in a session are the people who care. They are the ones with whom you can collaboratively move forward. This can mean a room full of people, but also just one or two participants, or maybe you even stay alone. It can mean you are surrounded by experts, or only by people who also want to know more.

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

Everything which happens is okay. You might have looked for an expert to explain something but ended up being the most knowledgeable person explaining it to the other participants. You might collaboratively collect and combine your knowledge. If you are alone, you might use the time to think about or research the topic. Or, wander off and join another session.

The session might stay on topic or the topic might change. Or it might take some time until you arrive at the topic.

Whenever it starts is the right time

Not everyone might be there at the official starting time. The real discussion might only get going after some time. People might join later for various reasons. All of this is okay.

When it’s over, it’s over

You might not need the whole time slot for the session or the session might be in full swing when the time is up. Both cases are perfectly fine. In the first case just close the session when it feels like it. In the second case, feel free to continue; you just might need to look for a different location if there is a another session planned for the same place.

The Law of Mobility

The Law of Mobility is simply the following: “If you find yourself in a situation where you are not contributing or learning, move somewhere where you can.”

Related to the principles this gives you the explicit permission to leave (or join) any session at any time. The leaving and joining is encouraged and not considered disrespectful.


The Law of Mobility creates two roles commonly observed during an Open Space event: Bumblebees and Butterflies.

Bumblebees fly from group to group cross-pollinating the discussions, while Butterflies may sit around and relax - interesting discussions emerge around them as people find them and pause to chat.

Much like how Bumblebees and Butterflies contribute to the ecosystem in nature, these roles help to foster a dynamic and organic flow of ideas and discussions.


The following elements are often used within an Open Space event. They are sometimes adapted to the context of the event.

Opening or Morning News

Generally, the event, as well as every day, is started with an opening. This serves to explain the setting, communicate and clarify organizational items, share news, and provide a brief summary of the developments since the last official “element”.

The Marketplace

The Marketplace is where the agenda for the day is created. It starts with an empty timetable. This schedule is collectively filled or created by the participants. All participants can propose one or more sessions. A session proposal should consist of a session title, and the “name” of the proposers, both usually noted on a large sticky note. These proposals are presented in a short pitch before the group. The pitch should really be just a few sentences explaining the session. Afterwards, the proposers can choose a time and a place where the session will take place.

A place is very loosely defined, a session can be held at the couches, as a walk-and-talk, at various places outside, or any describable location.

The Sessions

Sessions can be many things. They can be anything from a presentation, a request for help, a hands-on “workshop”, a discussion - you name it.

Closing or Evening News

The closing session is similar to the opening a frame for the whole event. It is used to share news and organizational issues. Participants can share their key takeaways from the day. Additionally, the closing offers the opportunity to pitch some evening or early morning bonus sessions.