Open Space: Take Two

About six months ago, I wrote a commentary regarding an interfaith event on campus: Open-Space. I gave an honest critique of the event and its struggle to gain student involvement. Now, six months later, I am again reflecting on an Open Space event. At the end of this summer members of the DePaul community gave this approach to organizing a “second go.”

Open Space is a method of convening, dialoguing, and planning, but the catch is that the attendees set the agenda; they start the conversation on their own terms. In the context of a University Ministry Leadership retreat, 50 some DePaul students participated in an Open Space. We congregated in a retreat center conference room and students created breakout sessions based on topics they wanted to discuss. Everything from commuter student needs, to an interfaith art exhibit, to post-graduation service opportunities; students gathered to reflect, share, learn and organize. Each session included an individual who wrote down valuable information. Notes taken during sessions were later typed and shared via email with everyone who participated in the event.

The large amount of participants allowed students to experiment and take chances. They more readily used the “law of two feet” and floated between sessions, starting new conversations, and participating at their own desire. In my opinion, this added not only to the diversity of topics, but also opened the door to creative possibilities. Some students even decided to relocate to a local pier for some yoga. What remained consistent (amongst this variety of topics) was the initiative taken independently and collaboratively by students.

The effect of enthusiasm amongst student leaders in conjunction with the support of the University Staff allowed for a prosperous flow of ideas. This exchange was solidified in the group’s ability to document and share information post-Open Space event. An establishment of transparency through this sharing of ideas – and more importantly a commitment to the fulfillment of those ideas – has allowed the energy captivated at the Open Space to carry into the academic year. I hope that future Open Space events, particularly those facilitated by the DePaul Interfaith Scholars, will invite the DePaul Community at large to gather at this forum of possibility. I also hope that we can into serious consideration past pilot programs, such as this second attempt, when organizing future Open Spaces.

Caelin Niehoff – 2013