Exploring, Discovering and Sharing Open Spaces
By: Shelley Fashan, Community Impact Coordinator
It’s a beautiful morning, the sun is peeking through the patio while I’m sipping on my first cup of coffee, listening to the morning doves singing their haunting coos. What is foremost in my mind is the NSN4SC’s latest virtual session and reflecting on our first Open Space event.
While the concept of Open Space has been around for some time, it was completely new to me. I had no idea what it looked like or how to facilitate an event with no agenda and where the participants chose the topics, which sounded a little loosey goosey to me. I was very apprehensive and uncomfortable. This was totally beyond my comfort zone, I thought — what if folks don’t engage or what if they go into some unknown space? This was a time I realized I had to have faith in the process and in my team, close my eyes and dive in.
Fortunately, I have a great team to work with! Mo Drescher has a lot of experience hosting Open Space and has even started hosting sessions virtually as well. They assured me all was going to be just fine. Also, my partner in crime, Jenna Andrews was at the helm of all the technical pieces to make sure that all ran smoothly online. I tried to set aside my reservations and moved forward to challenge my own assumptions about how events are “supposed to be run.” I thought, I may be able to build new skills and expand on my existing cookie cutter tried and true workshop style by integrating this open space concept into what we are already doing. Trying and learning new things is what the Nova Scotia Network for Social Change is all about…even for those of us working on building the Network!
Now was the time to decide what the question would be for us to call people together to talk about. Earlier this year, we hosted two sessions: “Loss and Grief during the Time of Covid” and “The Power of Connections Across the Generations.” We heard that there was not enough time to explore the topics deeply in the short time we had together, so we thought we could hold a space that started with these topics. But as what happens with Open Space, the participants set the agenda and, to our surprise, these topics weren’t what participants wanted to talk about.
Before I go any further, I must mention the special opening with our special guest, Guyleigh Johnson. She is an African Nova Scotian woman from the North End of Dartmouth. She is a published author, artist and community advocate. She is a published poet as well. She set the tone for our gathering with two beautiful poems. As our team member, Angela Britton said, “she takes pain and turns it into beauty.” Indeed, she is a gifted spoken word artist, and we were so honoured to have her with us.
Maybe some of you reading this aren’t sure what Open Space Technology is, like I wasn’t. Well let me explain a little about how it went for us. After we set the topic and send the invitations, we spend time in the session with the whole group to collaboratively set the agenda. Participants posed questions or conversation topics that they would like to host. We used a shared Google doc to create the agenda and for participants to capture notes as well! Once we had the whole agenda set, we broke out into smaller groups to explore those conversations.
What we discovered in creating the agenda is that folks wanted to talk about different topics than the ones we had explored before. There were many different ideas that were important to the participants that were raised! One conversation raised the issue of trauma and its impact and there was another on sustainable jobs for Seniors. Other conversations took place on volunteerism — how do we get more people invested in their communities? The affordable housing crisis that is at the forefront of many minds was also brought forward. Anyone was able to join the small group topics that interested them! Zoom has even created a pretty easy way for people to select for themselves what break room they would like to go to. Folks were also able to move between groups if more than one topic sparked interest — and for those who needed help, Jenna was there to get everyone to the room we wanted to be in.
As you can see from Mo’s graphic recording above, we covered a lot of ground and were able to engage in many different conversations. Folks were so creative, totally immersed in active conversations, sparking new ideas and the opportunity to open the agenda to everyone was really empowering. I can honestly say I am glad that I moved beyond my comfort zone. It just goes to show that the possibilities are endless!!!!
Please join us for our next learning session or Open Space! We welcome anyone interested in aging issues and social change. Follow our Facebook page and join our Member Space to stay up to date on what we are up to.