Friday 19 September 2014

Not Quite Open Space

I helped to run a large workshop this week for the Medical Education people at Cardiff University. We wanted to run a very inclusive event, so as well as the academics, clinicians and administrators involved, we invited students and patients' representatives.  So it was a large group, with over a hundred participants.

The agenda, in broad terms, was to agree how to build on the significant improvements already made to medical education, which has seen Cardiff making rapid progress according to almost all the relevant measures.

We also wanted to demonstrate from the word go that it was only through the engagement of all that further progress will be sustained.

So given those considerations, we decided against any formal presentations. Instead, we sent people a small amount of background information in advance, for context. Then we invited them to decide what it would be most valuable to talk about.

This was not quite an Open Space event: we did not solicit their ideas for the topics to discuss on the day. Instead, we had generated some ideas in advance, and circulated them, asking for additional suggestions.  That meant that on the day, we were able to present a list of possible topics, which participants signed up to. We were also able to prepare a briefing note for each topic, suggesting some questions to explore, and stressing the need for action ideas.

Then, after a brief intro and a fun icebreaker, to warm people up, we threw it over to the participants: they chose which topics they wanted to discuss, discussed them, and then reported back in plenary. We then did the same again, and concluded by checking that we all knew who was going to type up the notes for each of the groups that had met and, crucially, who was going to take responsibility for taking the action ideas forward.

The event generated a lot of energy, a lot of discussion and learning, and many significant ideas to move the agenda forward. It also fostered a real team spirit, and along with that a real commitment to implement the ideas.

It was interesting and fun for me to build on the work I have been doing using an Open Space approach, in a different context where a full Open Space event might not have been appropriate. And once again, I am grateful to a client for allowing me to experiment with something slightly different from anything I have done before.  We all learned a lot!

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