Monday, May 20th, 2013
Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of two or three hours to facilitate a meaningful conversation.
Sometimes you don’t even have an hour. Once, I had half an hour to foster a meaningful experience to 80 busy preschool parents who were meeting together for the first time. Mind you, these are parents sitting on those pint-sized chairs that look so cute when occupied by three year olds, but jam adult-sized knees dangerously skyward towards vulnerable chins!
So, I decided to host a 30 Minute Open Space.
This goes pretty much against everything I was taught about the method: You need at least 2-3 hours, it’s ideal to have a few days, etc. But the parents didn’t know that’s what was required, and they certainly didn’t have that kind of time to spare. They needed to get back to their kids and jobs and everything else they were abandoning to come to this meeting, which also had to cover several other agenda items, as well. So, I facilitated a 30 Minute Open Space. That’s 30 minutes to introduce the process, invite parents to offer topics, form groups, and report back.
This is how I did it:
So… how were the 30 minutes used? Here’s a rough breakdown:
Minutes 1-4: I explained the process.
Minutes 5-8: At least ten topics were generated.
Minutes 9-11: Groups found meeting spaces in multiple classrooms and hall and even the adjoining sidewalk.
Minutes 12-24: Parent actively engaged with one another, sharing resources, telling stories, building community.
Minutes 25-28: Folks returned to the full group, faces flushed with the excitement of newly developed connections, and shared key takeaways.
Minutes 29-30: The school’s director assured the community that there was time and resources to continue the pursue the topics they were exploring at a later time.
And it worked!
In half an hour we had strengthened a community, shared meaningful information, and developed a roadmap of topics to be explored in the future. My approach was a little more directive than how Open Space is often facilitated, but not overly so. I held space and helped people find the groups they wanted to join. I used a chime to help people know when it was time to regroup.
As facilitators what can we learn from this experience?
The processes live for us to use and tweak and adapt. We don’t live to use the processes.
Many months later, I’m still getting comments from parents that it was one of the best school meetings they’ve ever been to and that it helped foster a collaborative community culture.