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Chris Grady: WOSonOS and Crop Circles – two opportunities to be “surprised”

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I've just signed up to take three days out of my life to learn more about, share in, and cheer on WOSonOS - which is a rather wonderful acronym for World Open Space on Open Space (www.wosonos2012.com).

For those unaware of this global phenomenon, Open Space was created 20 years ago as a technique for creating meaningful conversations and full engagement with a process or issue, instead of attending yet another summit/conference and finding yourself silent; or only contributing in discussion over coffee.

From 11 October - 14 October, 20th annual gathering of Open Spacers will occur, hosted by our own, our very own Improbable Theatre, and welcoming Harrison Owen, the creator of this process; which has been used for everything from peace and reconciliation, to software development, and even directing a Broadway musical.

For those unaware of another global phenomenon, then I recommend that you have a look online where you will find that, already this year, there have been 52 crop circles explored in England, and we are now mid crop circle season. They are phenomenal and no, I don't know how or even quite why they occur. (www.cropcircleconnector.com/2012).

Now what's the link? Well, three things at least. The first is that two of the governing principals of Open Space are also true for Crop Circles - "Prepare to be Surprised" "Whoever Come Are the Right People." If you've never been to an Open Space or a crop circle then maybe it's time you chose to be surprised.

The second similarity is the extraordinary power of the circle. Open Space begins with a circle of people: no leader, no chair, no top table, and usually no nametags. Each place in the circle is taken by someone who has an interest/passion for the topic of debate, and they can choose to participate in any way that they wish, and take away from the experience whatever is right for them at the time of the event.

The crop circle is just there. It appears at dawn in a field in Wiltshire (or wherever else it likes). It welcomes visitors to come and make of it what they wish, and to leave taking away whatever they have discovered about themselves or the circle. Each process starts as an encounter with a blank agenda and leaves you, the person in the circle, to create the discussions and explorations on a theme that are right for you.

And the third similarity is that they've both been around a long time, have changed many lives, and yet they are truly unknown by so many of the population. Drop into Avebury and ask where the nearest crop circle is and a local will point you the route with as little fuss as they might direct you to a phone box. They are part of the life of Wiltshire.

They are some of the most beautiful things I've ever seen; and yet very few people visit.

I was honoured to be asked by the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group last month to run an Open Space for their conference helping them to set the agenda for the "Patient Revolution" which is coming to every health practitioner and patient across England in the next few months.

I worked with 220 doctors, nurses, patients, local authority leaders, health administrators to create an agenda for the day, and we held 20 agenda discussion groups in one morning. Only two of the 220 appeared ever to have come across Open Space before, despite its 20-year pedigree.

I intend to use Open Space more and more in the future, and I hope to be invited by the widest variety of organisations to work with them on using these powerful tools for effective meetings.

So on 11 October in London, there will be a global Conference of practitioners of Open Space: whoever come will be the right people, whatever happens will be the only thing that could have, and I, for one, will be prepared to be surprised.

If you have ever been to Improbable Theatre's "Devoted and Disgruntled", the annual three-day Open Space on the state and future of the theatre in the UK, or ever worked in Open Space in any way; why not join me?


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