I did a project many years ago to support a statewide conversation about the 
arts in Washington state. We began with an all-day statewide Open Space, 
followed by 16 3-hour Open Spaces in communities off many different sizes, and 
ended with a second statewide conversation to set priorities.

A brief description of what we did is below. Contact me if you want to know 
more of the details.


P.S. I’m working with a group to embark on a statewide conversation on 
education right now! So I’m reading about what you’re doing and people’s 
thoughts on it with interest!

Washington State Arts Commission’s Strategic Plan:

A Conversation about the Arts


The Governor’s Call for Action

In 1997, recognizing the value of arts to citizens, tourism, business, 
education and communities, Governor Gary Locke launched an initiative to 
strengthen arts funding in Washington State.  He appointed a Blue Ribbon Arts 
Task Force to review State support of the arts and recommend ways “to ensure 
that our cultural life remains strong.”

…After a one-year review Governor Locke’s Arts Task Force called for 
strengthening WSAC’s role and developing a “thoughtful plan for increased 

With strong statewide support for those recommendations, the 1999 Legislature 
approved a $750,000 increase to WSAC’s budget – the first budget increase the 
agency had received in a decade.  The funding increase came with the 
requirement that WSAC submit a strategic plan to Governor Locke and key State 
leaders by June 30,2000. This plan is the result of that charge, and the 
outcome of a planning process that stretched across the state.



Planning on the Arts:  Voices of the People

From the early states of this planning process, WSAC envisioned a statewide 
conversation about the arts that would strengthen the State’s arts resources 
and expand the impact and effectiveness of the arts for all residents of the 
state.   Through two statewide meetings, 18 community meetings, several 
meetings of the Washington State Arts Commission, an online forum and a 
dedicated phone line, WSAC recorded the views, concerns, ideas and dreams from 
people across the State.  More than 1000 people have been involved directly in 
the development of this plan; their testimony, stories, deliberation and 
reflection are the foundation for this strategic plan. 

In the statewide and community meetings, the format used was Open Space 
Technology, a process to enable large groups of people to explore complex 
issues.  Participants at each session recorded the discussion in a summary 
format that could be understood readily by someone who wasn’t there.  True to 
the spirit of Open Space Technology, the discussions were driven by passion for 
the arts and responsibility for the issues and opportunities faced individually 
and collectively.

Excerpt from “Planning On The Arts: Washington State Arts Commission’s 
Strategic Plan”



Reflections on the process

When WSAC first contacted me, their biggest concern with an open, 
“conversational” meeting format was that community divisions would drown out 
any possibility of a cohesive plan.  East vs. west, big organization vs. small 
organization, rural vs. urban; participants would focus on their own agenda and 
fight over a small financial pie.  In fact, just the opposite happened.  People 
came together and focused on their common hopes and aspirations for 
strengthening the arts throughout the state.  The plan became an occasion for 
an unprecedented commitment to inclusion of many perspectives. As a result, 
when sent out for comment, the plan was enthusiastically received; everyone 
found their voice reflected.  Ironically, the fear of conflict was released so 
completely, that the significance of its absence was barely noted.



Behind the scenes: Supporting the meetings

To support the 20+ meetings held by WSAC, a call was issued for skilled Open 
Space practitioners in Washington State.  More than 20 people agreed to 
participate.  They were convened for a train-the-trainer session that 
introduced them to WSAC, the process, engaged them in finalizing the meeting 
design, and provided them the logistical information they needed.

Meetings ranged in size from 5 to 100.  Depending on the anticipated size, some 
practitioners worked in pairs, others alone.  They took their work seriously – 
every commitment to participate was honored by these practitioners. In 
addition, at the train-the-trainer, we agreed to share experiences via e-mail 
as the events took place.  The unanticipated result was a rich conversation 
among practitioners that enabled each meeting to build on the learnings from 
the ones that came before. 


Peggy Holman
Executive Director
Journalism that Matters
15347 SE 49th Place
Bellevue, WA  98006
Twitter: @peggyholman
JTM Twitter: @JTMStream

Enjoy the award winning Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity 

> On Sep 16, 2016, at 11:53 AM, Judy Gast via OSList 
> <> wrote:
>  To chime in here, I agree with Birgitt.  The key to success is insuring that 
> there is a commitment to follow up through an officially sanctioned and 
> supported process and infrastructure.  And as Michael has said an appropriate 
> communications plan so that everyone who wants to come knows the details with 
> appropriate lead time and accessibility,  including how to get involved in 
> the implementation. And the results are linked back to the meeting, and 
> perhaps even the person or persons who initiated the topic.  This is true for 
> any open space, however these type of "public forum" sessions have more 
> propensity to be seen as an opportunity for people to complain and grandstand 
> their issues.
> Look forward to reading more about it!
> Judy
> On Sep 16, 2016, at 12:15 PM, Birgitt Williams via OSList 
> < <>> 
> wrote:
>> Hi Thomas,
>> I see that you are hoping to use OST and yet not totally sure if it will be 
>> your chosen method. I believe that OST is the only method that will be 
>> sufficient for what you want to accomplish. It meets all the criteria for 
>> when OST works best. The most important factor for me though, is the Law of 
>> Two Feet so that people can choose to stay or leave if there is hard 
>> lobbying for particular issues. I trust that with the Law of Two Feet and 
>> how it is explained, all such attempts will have only the effect that there 
>> is energy for...and no more. 
>> Long ago, Larry Peterson, Judy Gast, and myself were the three facilitators 
>> for three different OST meetings in the same big building at the same time. 
>> It is how the sponsors figured we could work well with about 600 people in 
>> meaningful ways around a very conflicted issue in the educational sector, in 
>> a short time. This allowed the reports of all three sessions to be available 
>> simultaneously and there were advantages in this for convergence of themes 
>> and the surprise that surfaced at the similarities and also dissimilarities 
>> of what came from the three separate OST meetings. Despite the conflicted 
>> issue and people picketing outside and us being briefed on the potential for 
>> violence and heave lobbying erupting in our meetings, there was no violence 
>> and the Law of Two Feet took care of the lobbying. I think you get a very 
>> different effect/outcomes if you have three concurrent OST meetings with 
>> three facilitators than you do if you have a sequence of meetings in which 
>> people who really want to get their agenda through go to all of the meetings.
>> The givens are very important in relation to outcomes. When I work in a 
>> political context, I negotiate ahead of time with the political body who 
>> must 1. make decisions, 2. assign budget to future action and 3. be held 
>> accountable by the public including media. There are endless stories about 
>> successful OST meetings in which people feel so good at the end of the 
>> meeting. However, the more important stories are the ones in which after 
>> some months there was significant positive change. It seems that the job is 
>> not only to open space for people to have conversations and reach agreed 
>> upon is more importantly to open space in a rigid 
>> system that is well entrenched, political, and has certain accountability. I 
>> am rather curious about how you have set up for this. 
>> So...when I work in a political context, part of my negotiation is about 
>> whether action items can move forward by anyone in attendance ie: 
>> businesses, other organizations, individuals OR if the action items have to 
>> wait for a decision/vote by a particular political body like  a school 
>> board. My favorite and most impactful experiences have been when the 
>> political body says right up front that any agreed on recommendations that 
>> do not need to access extra budget through the political body can go forward 
>> by anyone who has the passion and resources to do so....without waiting for 
>> some agreement on a bigger plan/budget. I admire political groups who are 
>> willing to open that much space in their communities to take action on 
>> solutions,
>> Best wishes for a fantastic experience!
>> Birgitt
>> On Fri, Sep 16, 2016 at 3:37 AM Thomas Herrmann 
>> < <>> 
>> wrote:
>> Dear friends in Open Space
>> I write to share about an exciting project and to ask to have 
>> feedback/ideas/experiences assisting me to refine/decide on the design I am 
>> working on.
>> The project is in a neighbouring town of about 35 000 inhabitants. They are 
>> inviting everyone living there to explore ways to contribute to enhance the 
>> learning amongst children/youth complementing/supporting what is happening 
>> in the school. The top politician in the town, responsible for 
>> education/schools is my sponsor. During the spring I had a couple of 
>> meetings with the top politicians and managers for the school system. Then 
>> we widened the circles and had some meetings with other interest parties , 
>> to invite more engagement for this idea.
>> We have a plan that includes follow up, to support what is emerging, decide 
>> on next steps and make sure there is report back to what is happening and 
>> not.
>> A couple of  days ago we had our “final” planning meeting getting the theme 
>> etc. Still working on wording but something like “For the future of our 
>> children. How do we create conditions for enhanced learning for pupils in 
>> our community?” Of practical reasons evenings are considered the best 
>> options. Parents, pupils, teachers, business people, public workers etc etc 
>> are all busy daytime and weekends are not considered a good option. 
>> “Everyone” will be invited but it’s hard to say how many will come to each 
>> meeting. I guess between 10-200 J
>> Now the plan is to have three 3-hour meetings in three different parts of 
>> the small community. I have suggested a fourth meeting where all are invited 
>> for convergence/action planning. There are of course several challenges. I 
>> am not even sure I will suggest we use OST even though I’d love to. I think 
>> a 3-hour meeting is the bare minimum for the simplest form of an OST 
>> meeting. On the other hand I see possibilities for this to be looked at like 
>> an OST meeting consisting of three occasions á 3 hours + convergence in a 
>> fourth meeting for another 3 hours… That looks better, ey?
>> There are some opportunities with this:
>> 1.       More time for the divergent process before converging.
>> 2.       People can choose to join several meetings, deepening their thinking
>> 3.       People can get access to more ideas/material from the 3 meetings.
>> 4.       There can be continued conversations online in between meetings and 
>> approaching meeting nbr 4.
>> 5.       There will be opportunities for people to create joint projects 
>> over “boundaries” in the community (meeting nbr 4 and online)
>> There are several challenges with this too.
>> 1.       There will be different people in all of the meetings
>> a.       There needs to be a proper opening each time
>> 2.       3 hours is very short. My plan: Opening/agenda 45 mts. Session 1 
>> (45 mts). Session 2 (45 mts). Individual reflection/personal commitment (15 
>> mts). Closing 30 mts.
>> a.       For the actionplanning meeting (meeting nbr 4) I will probably use 
>> re-opening, after a brief opening and reading reports/reflecting. A couple 
>> of action planning sessions, 1 minute reportback/group and then closing.
>> 3.       How to bind everything together to one whole
>> So far I lean towards this plan but I would love to hear to your ideas, 
>> thoughts, experiences and/or suggestions!
>> All the best
>> Thomas Herrmann
>> Open Space Consulting AB
>> <>
>> You reach us via phone: +46 (0)709 98 97 81 or email: 
>> <>
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>> leaders and organizations as well as local communities to tap into their 
>> full power to achieve their dreams. We bring practical tools and knowhow to 
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>> <>
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