Optimal organizational adaptation after an Open Space Technology event

Marcelle F. Bastianello (1999)

In the 13 years since its development by Harrison Owen, Open Space Technology has demonstrated remarkable success. Open Space is an unstructured meeting process in which 5-1500+ participants self-organize a one to three-day meeting around a critical theme. At the end of the meeting, participants find themselves empowered, energized, and sharing common expectations that change will occur. This largely consistent success at the conclusion of Open Space does not hold across intact organizations in the long term. While some find Open Space shifting the organizational culture to a new level of efficacy and community, others fail to thrive, and eventually may cease to exist. The emerging science of complexity provides a body of knowledge suitable for use in building a theoretical foundation for Open Space. Complexity is beginning to explain what constitutes an optimal adaptive process essential for sustaining the life of organisms, organizations, and societies. Complexity considers deeper internal models and processes of individuals and organizations. It considers observable behaviors and patterns as well. The science provides an integration across the internal and external worlds of both the individual and the social collective. The role of the facilitator, resting on the facilitator's ongoing personal and spiritual development, is different in Open Space than for other group facilitation processes. A full theory of Open Space must make sense of and incorporate this difference. One goal of this project is to build theory as a foundation for Open Space and as a justification for this project. In addition to providing answers that may account for the immediate success of Open Space, the concepts of complexity may account for longer-term variability of results after Open Space. In terms described by complexity, the adaptive process is more or less optimal in organizations. Observation suggests that the less optimal the adaptive process, the less likely the organization is to reap the benefits of Open Space in the long term. The intention of this dissertation is to design an innovative organizational consultation and to propose a planned implementation plan and a post-implementation evaluation of that design. The design is based on the theoretical foundation of Open Space that draws on the science of complexity. Furthermore, the design is built on the premise that, if the organization shifts from less-than-optimal to more optimal adaptation processes, it will be more likely to reap the benefits of Open Space in the long term. Finally, the design respects the organization's capacity to create its own evolution through a process of reflection and accommodative learning.