What To Do After Open Space

Open Space gets people – and ideas – moving. It’s not uncommon to generate 100+ pages of notes from one meeting. But then what? How to process and work with all of that information? And all of the NEXT info and ideas sparked by what’s in the document itself? How to keep going the learning, working, and spirit high?

First, let’s notice that three kinds of issues typically come out of an Open Space meeting or summit event, particularly those that are long enough to allow for the production of a decent set of notes and some action planning/prioritization time at the end:

  • Things that got Done, often these don’t show up in the notes.  They just happened, everybody saw it, knows it, and they’ve moved on.  This includes tacit agreements and alignments that surfaced or got created. 
  • Things that got Started, these are most obvious as Next Steps, where the foundation has been laid and the conversation is moving into actions that are generally pretty clear to everyone.
  • Things that are still “clear as mud,” not well known or not agreed.  These are going to take more conversation.  Maybe a whole new, focused, open space meeting.  The good news is that now everyone knows how to do it.  New gatherings or just new breakouts can be called by anyone, on any issue, with learning, contribution, notetaking and reporting done in the spirit of the original gathering. 

Perhaps counterintuitively, the things that get done are often hard to track.  The effects are small, many and widely distributed.  They just happen.  The second group can be identified, managed, tracked and are more likely to be noticed when they move to “Done.”  To make progress on the last group (and beyond) requires some attention to sustained practice(s). 

Here’s a quick sketch of the sort of process and practice(s) that can keep the most important conversations going and the work advancing from murky to done:

  1. Put all the issues back on the wall, on individual sticky notes.
  2. Sort them, if it makes sense, into clusters or constellations, which might be overlapping
  3. Scan this document for any major themes that might run through many issues but haven’t been surfaced as a specific, issue.
  4. Read this document, as a team, in order of issue priority.  Read for actions, large and small.  Refine each issue into a set of possible actions.
  5. Begin sorting the actions into the themes, clusters or a canvas (e.g. Enterprise Scrum canvas, Business Model Canvas).
  6. Keep reading, refining and sorting, in priority order – restating or even restarting your overall framework as needed to continue to make sense of what you’re surfacing – until you get EVERYTHING that matters on the wall (even if they’re BIG things).
  7. Prioritize within groupings.  Pay attention to synergies and dependencies.
  8. Notice obstacles to be overcome.  Add those as additional actions.
  9. Choose a cadence (e.g. bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly cycles) and break actions down into pieces that can (1) deliver some real value and (2) are small enough to be completed in not more than about half of your chosen cycle length.
  10. Start each cycle with identification and commitment to a set of actions that can reasonably be accomplished in just that one cycle.  Adjust the commitment, cycle after cycle, until you hit your cycle goal dependably.
  11. After each cycle, review, update and improve the organization of everything on your “board” or wall.  Celebrate “done.”  Target blockers.  Refine large pieces of work into small.  Prioritize and re-prioritize based on real value.
  12. Somewhere along the way, consider some strategic coaching, to help refine essential practices, roles and artifacts.  Because, simple as these things sound, really easy is often quite difficult, especially across multiple teams or new events.