Cook up fresh ideas using #OpenSpace

Not sure what to make of the invite to the Open Space session coming up at World Conference? It can be hard to imagine what it might be like if you haven’t been to one before. If you haven’t ‘tasted the format so to speak.

Well, to that end, here’s ‘one we prepared earlier’. It is a term you might be familiar with if you’ve ever watched a cooking show, but it’ll hopefully work here too. We’ll look at both the recipe for a good Open Space event, and what can come out of one. 

The recipe (in its simplest form)

You’ll need:

  • People
  • An open space
  • Some paper and some markers
  • A few basic ground rules

For a closer look at this in action – and more about the ground rules (which may be very different than you expect) see this brief thread):

Cook up fresh ideas using Open Space

Let’s take a practical look at what can come out of an Open Space session – by looking at one we prepared earlier.

Specifically one of the many conversations that took place during the Open Space at #Eurocomm18, organised by the IABC EMENA Region – and expertly convened by Ian Andersen and Mike Klein.   

From the panoply of topics to choose from, a subset of the attendees opted for a focused conversation exploring:

How to make conferences more ‘Talk With than Talk At

What follows are from the shared notes from participants Mette, Lee, Jo, Mirjam, Maria, Jesper, Alistair + (hosts Martin, and me, Michael) – big thanks to all who contributed: 

What did we learn through the discussion?

  • What makes a great (and participative) conference.
  • Barriers and how to overcome them.

[These insights are summarised and listed further down].

We also set out an action plan will help us make more conferences Talk-With rather than Talk-At. And we discussed who else might get involved over time, beyond the Open Space discussion: those who participate in – or plan conferences.

We also agreed some next steps and a call to action

  • This is a Creative-Commons based project based on sharing insights to achieve change – including through this article. This means others can reuse/remix the output.
  • If you find it useful, share it. If you have a different topic that you’re passionate about – turn up at the Open Space at World Conference and explore it with others! Or build on this one… be sure to let us know.

How did the group arrive at the above?

We used a format called Focused Conversation (or ORID amongst friends) to help the conversation flow – asking Objective, then Reflective, then Interpretive and finally Decisional questions. Et enabled us to cover a lot of territory in a very short time.

To warm up we shared experiences of conferences we’d been to, including critical elements that had help drive participation.

2018 #Eurocomm18 Open Space Discussion - Making conference more Talk With than Talk At
Table: Some of the examples from the #Eurocomm18 Open Space Discussion – Making conference more Talk With than Talk At.

We then dug deeper – discussion both opportunities and barriers to participation in more detail.

Conference experiences – what’s good for participation / what is difficult?


  • Active listening
  • The use of multiple dynamics / approaches
  • Marketplaces for ideas / concepts allowing movement – and immersion
  • Technology (Slido and Mentimeter can work well)


  • Panels sometimes = sequential monologues
  • Too heavily stacked programmes
  • Conferences driven by status rather than exchange
  • Technology (death by PowerPoint and assorted tech SNAFUs)

Having mapped that out we started discussing what might be done…

Practical ideas for people who want to make conferences more Talk With than Talk At

We shared lots of ideas, here are the ones most relevant to those attending #IABC18 – ideas you can run with for your own conference or event.

For now though you can show your support of Talk With approaches by RTing/liking – because we want to make this post interactive too.

1) Provocation can work well – looking at a topic in new way – fires up the crowd for the break, sparking new conversations

A good keynote does that. Look out for these.

Ask an open ended question in advance

Survey the audience in advance

Give participants home work / advance work

Foster cross-pollination / benign collision

Participate in the Open Space session – and don’t forget to sign up for Dine Around!

And whilst it is not officially on the World Conference programme, you could pick up on this idea from Jesper Andersen. All you need are the group of new friends you’ll meet in Montréal:

Host a #FAIL celebration

“At MeasureCamp in Copenhagen in 2017, we had a session called “Analytics Therapy”. In it, we sat in a circle and everyone had a beer (if they wanted one). We then went around the room and every person had to say something analytics-related they struggled with (maybe a client or a technical issue. If others shared that pain, they had to raise their beer and toast the speaker.

It was a lot of fun because it was very visible to everyone that the problems each of us thought we were alone with were actually very common problems – and that led to talk about how to fix them. Plus, we got to drink a lot of beer at the end of a long conference day :-)” – @startsnakken

Now you’ve seen what can happen when a group of people get together in an impromtu way. And had some fun too! Others from the group will undoubtedly share more of the ideas in the future through more articles and blogs, but for now: do you have a topic you’d like to explore? Come along to the Open Space session at #IABC18!

It is hosted by Michael Nord and Mike Klein. You’ll be in good hands.

I wish I could be there. Be sure to let me know how you get on. I’m @michaelambjorn – and I am grateful to Mette, Lee, Jo, Mirjam, Maria, Jesper, Alistair and Martin without whom this article could not have been written.

A slightly edited version of this article first appeared – and the cover image is courtesy of the #Eurocomm18 team.