A few days back I was reading Bruce Eckels blog on Open Spaces. Open Spaces seems to a very broad (open) ended concept, but it can be a very interesting and powerful concept if the participants are mature enough to make proper use of it. Here is the broad outline of my understanding of Open Spaces:
Open Spaces are conferences propelled by a concept or question. The driving concept could be anything from "How do we make our neighborhood cleaner" to "What is the best way to utilize web services". These are not preplanned conferences. The person or organization who wishes to explore a concept/problem will send out invitations in the community. People/companies who have similar interests will accept the invitation to attend. An invitation fee is usually charged to compensate for food, equipment, and conference room costs. The conference is a self organizing conference, which means there isn’t any pre-planned agenda. However the duration of the conference and time slot placeholders are pre-determined. The time slots are later filled with a concrete agenda. On the day of the conference the initiator gives a keynote presentation on the main issue, after which participants volunteer topics that they would like to explore under the main umbrella. Each participant who volunteers a discussion fills up a time slot and place. Those with similar interests also sign up. Note that all time slots and spaces may not be signed up for. More topics may emerge after the discussions start.
Once the self organizing agenda has been determined participants group up in various corners or wherever they want to and discuss the issue they signed up for. Participants may move around from one group to another or may stay with a group for the planned duration. The person who initiated a particular topic is responsible for maintaining the transcripts and documenting any interesting findings or observations. On the last day all conversations are consolidated by the lead participants (participants who initiated discussion topics) by briefly telling everyone what was discussed and any interesting findings that may have emerged. Important findings and insights are noted and may be published on a website or a technical journal for later reference.