Open Space Technology—Early Days
The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association began its first-ever Assembly-wide use of Open Space Technology (OST) this morning, In the orientation meeting, attendees considered their feelings on this year's topic: In today's complex world, what is our mission as a faith community?
Following the orientation, the participants divided into ten large breakout groups, or domains, as they are referred to in OST. Each domain was encouraged to generate up to ten topics relevant to the general theme which could be discussed, refined, and shaped into collective goals in workshops scheduled over the next few days. Those goal statements will ultimately set the plenary agenda and inform the future work of the Association.
Thursday morning's domain meetings generated a list of one hundred seventeen initiatives for further exploration and discussion. These topics addressed a variety of issues and concerns of importance to attendees at this general assembly, including spiritual deepening and discernment, polity and governance, serving age or identity based needs (for example: youth retention), intergenerational community building, raising the profile of Unitarian Universalism, and specific justice initiatives including peace making, prison reform, sustainability, and healing racial wounds.
In Open Space Technology, it is assumed that:
- Whoever comes is the right group of people to do this work
- Whenever the work starts is the right time
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, and
- When it's over, it's over.
These principles were put into practice on Thursday afternoon in the first two of six sessions devoted to the topic list. Participants in the groups engaged in a self directed and organic process, recognizing that as the process is engaged, consensus will emerge. Since each person is expected to determine where they need to go and what they need to do, one topic group had no participants while others had as many as fifty or as few as four. The convener of each group had no particular set of requirements, other than his or her support for the topic under discussion, but they did have one explicit goal: to distill the topic into a key understanding and develop a short (within a specified number of words) recommendation to the Unitarian Universalist Board of Trustees. Each group (visited by this writer) engaged each other and the topic in their own distinctive way. In some groups personal stories were shared while, in others, problems were identified. In some groups problem solving was most important to the group; in others, broader philosophical issues of inclusion were lifted up and, in still others, pre-printed talking points were read by a member of an organized constituency.
The participants had equally varied responses to the process. Some were asking, "Will this actually work? Others said they were "just really glad that we're talking about these things," Some stated that they were willing to "see what happens." By the end of this historic General Assembly experiment, we should all get that wish met!
Reported by Rebecca Kelly-Morgan; edited by Bill Lewis.