Open Space Technology

It’s a fancier term than it needs to be. It even has its own Wikipedia page. I’m not convinced it’s a “technology” exactly but I’m quite excited to be using it to organize the 2019 Twin Oaks Communities Conference.

The communes of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities are home grown. We figure things out as we go. There’s no authority or guide book that tells us how to build a perfect community. We make mistakes a lot. But, we’ve also accomplished a great deal, and we’ve done so with an organizing style that’s pretty unique. We’re trying to bring a bit of the spirit of that style to this years Communities Conference.

At their best, these communes are places where anyone can show up with an idea, and with energy and enthusiasm, and bring that idea to the group and be treated with respect. It might be a bad idea, but probably not much worse than others that we’ve tried. Maybe it’s secretly great. We can’t know unless we treat it seriously, right?

A self organizing murmuration of starlings

Here’s how we’re going to be using Open Space Technology at this years Communities Conference:

In the morning of the first day, all participants will be given the opportunity to propose a workshop (or a conversation, or an activity) which they would be exited about leading. We’ll have a very big board where workshop descriptions and schedules will get visually organized by the group, in real time. There will be more workshop ideas than time slots, which means we get to practice our group decision making. What fun! (It’s like we have to do this every day or something.) Workshops with strong interest will get added to the official schedule, while proposals with less excitement will get passed over.

Our hope, in organizing more of the conference in this way, is to try to bring a little bit more “Egalitarianism” into the way that we organize our community events. We’re often trying to figure out just what exactly the E in FEC means. (There are quite a lot of opinions on the matter, and in some ways, that’s sortof the point.) In the context of this Communities Conference what I’d like for it to mean is that by participating, each human in the group gets the same opportunity to make the conference what it is. In this way, what the conference becomes will be strongly shaped by who shows up, and what they bring to the table – much the same way that Twin Oaks and the other communes in our network developed.  

When I think back to past conferences I’ve been at, usually the most memorable times haven’t been part of the official program. What I’ve appreciated most are those unscripted moments when I find myself in a conversation I didn’t expect, or connect with someone I never would have met otherwise. We’re trying to see if we can cultivate more of those moments by giving this conference more ability to organize itself.

We’re still going to have scheduled workshops and events. There will be plenty of opportunity to learn from experts. But this is community, and so, in some sense, we’re all experts. Or at least we all deserve the opportunity to be treated like one sometimes.  

So come to the conference prepared to do some creative organizing. Have a strange idea you’ve always wanted to try with 10 charismatic strangers in the woods? Great! Now is your chance. Let’s make this conference great, together.

– Maximus

Maximus Thaler lives at East Brook Community Farm, thinks farming and endosymbiosis are similar and pretty cool, and makes videos for Commune Life (find us on facebook and youtube).