Using Open Space to gather ideas from event participants 

When you're organising an engagement event it's important to pick the right format to deliver the information and impact.

One option is to use is an Open Space approach.

What is Open Space?

Open Space is a face-to-face engagement method designed to encourage event participants to suggest their own ideas to a question.

It can be used for groups from 20 to several hundred people, and enables participants to discuss the issues they think are most important.

Most importantly, an Open Space event can add an additional level of insight, because it may highlight issues that you were not aware of.

Using Open Space with the Scottish Affairs Committee

The Scottish Affairs Committee wanted to hear ideas on what areas it should look into. In particular, they were interested in proposals for work in areas that might otherwise escape their attention. To hear directly from people in Scotland the committee organised two events, one in Selkirk and one in Inverness.

For the committee and participants to get the most from these events, we needed a format that would:

  • Allow participants to share their ideas under a broad theme
  • Give everyone an opportunity to participate
  • Allow participants to speak without interruption and keep them focused on the theme
  • Facilitate constructive conversation between MPs and participants

Open Space was ideal to use for this inquiry. The Open Space would allow participants to suggest ideas one at a time to the group and briefly explain them. Ideas would then be grouped into themes. Then, a deliberative workshop would allow participants to discuss these themes further in smaller groups, with a Member present.

What we gained from the Open Space approach

Participants were able to:

  • Share their ideas without interruption
  • All have a fair chance to speak without any one participant dominating the session
  • Talk to Members
  • Feel their ideas were valued

MPs were able to:

  • Hear a wide range of ideas which the committee could investigate
  • Understand why an issue was important and explain how the committee could work on an issue
  • Speak directly to participants and ask questions about their ideas

Tips for using the Open Space approach

  • It's a good idea to get some ideas from participants in advance. This allows the committee to gain a feeling for which ideas are most popular, and gives a clearer picture of the themes that will need to be grouped at the end of the session.
  • Some attendees will want to talk about issues outside of the committees jurisdiction (in this case, devolved issues which the committee can't investigate). Where issues are out of the scope of the committee, recognise them and point participants towards other sources that can help.
  • Participants won't always be familiar with the format so this should be explained clearly and concisely.

What happened next?

  • The committee used the suggestions and photos from the event to create a Spark Report to promote the inquiry
  • In the coming session the committee will launch inquiries into some of the ideas suggested by the public.



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