On Open Space and design thinking

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During an Open Space session initiated by The Learning Lab l was invited to participate as space holder/facilitator. Open Space Technology in short is a way of organizing self-managed meetings. It took place at a school in Roosendaal (NL) which is about to face a huge reorganization. Commitment to change/innovation was high.

All stakeholders of the school (teachers, students, parents, local government, companies) participated in the session which was meant to generate the ‘collective intelligence’ of the group, thereby offering a wide scope at possible innovative solutions for the school and all its stakeholders for a new future.
What made it extra challenging was the fact that the session was meant to look for, what later proved to be unexpected, connections and cross interests of apparently non-related groups. All stakeholders contributed from a sense of urgency towards innovation and gain in a future situation. Opening up to potential partners proved to disclose a whole new set of possibilities and opportunities, unthought of before, for parties to develop and cooperate. In searching for common interests unexpected mutual denominators and agendas were revealed, resulting in surprising opportunities for cooperation and optimalization of processes. It showed once more the increasing interdependency of stakeholders in a society and economy that is becoming ever more interrelated.

Exchanging products or services traditionally was a one-way sender-receiver affair. Now with continuous shifts in people’s interests, and an increasing ‘you are what you share’ expectation of things, organisations need ever more eyes and ears to understand what’s going on in order to generate a focus on new opportunities. In an ‘open economy’ problems and questions related to these new opportunities become more complex, and thus ever better solved by the ‘wisdom of the crowds’. The latter optimized in this case by a combination of Open Space and Design Thinking preventing group think because of taking a mutual agenda for innovation and action as a startingpoint.
It invites organisations to become connected, self-organised, co-creative networks of people, organisations, initiatives, and processes. The role of the individual hereby shifting with new possibilities for connectivity, interactivity and collaboration that emerge. In all causing quite radical changes in the social and economic fabric of society [¹].

In a traditional competitive attitude often solutions are never smarter than the smartest person alone and still provides for one-way traffic. It means a paradigm shift from competing with eachother to competing together for a better, healthier and strongly represented market.  Opening up and exchanging information proves to be a fruitful strategy in creating coalitions with a common agenda, and collaborations that result in renewed relevance and continuity for organisations in dynamic (globalized) markets and thus shifting agendas. Especially at a time when economically budgets are getting tighter in many ways. Furthermore it forces to sharpen self-awareness about core competencies.
A good example remains the issue of sustainability which has changed from a need for energy efficiency and recycling into a fundamental design principle, affecting everything from the scientific research about workplace structures, to mobility, personal health, and leadership. It creates new roles that support the ‘sustainable organisation'[¹] and demands a wide variety of specialists to cooperate and solve multi-faceted issues of often a global concern.

When talking about Design Thinking [²] this method is becoming ever more acknowledged as an effective tool for (multi disciplinary) problem solving. And as stated before it proves to be extra effective in an Open Space setting. Both with the intent to innovate in their DNA, Open Space defines the agenda (and thus the urgencies at hand) and Design Thinking enables an operative/ready-for-action mindset taking unexplored possibilities for collaborations as an outcome and startingpoint.
Design is able to create awareness around real needs and to create content and competitive advantage. In doing so designers have a people oriented way of working supported by a strategical means-goal attitude. In a lot of areas in society what used to work doesn’t seem to work anymore, questions have become more complex often consisting of a mixture of cultural, social and economic elements. The end of a Design Thinking proces is a product, service or proces facilitating new ways of tackling these shifting questions and therefore needs of people and markets.
Or as Roger Martin states when writing about design- and integrative thinking: ‘Designers can solve the most wicked problems through collaborative, integrative thinking (user-centered), using abductive logic, which means the logic of what might be. Conversely, deductive and inductive logic are the logic of what should be or what is.
The non-integrative thinker readily accepts unpleasant trade-offs whilst the integrative thinker instead seeks creative resolution of the tension. Ergo: in the traditional model, it seems that we are selecting among predetermined alternatives. With a design model we would like to think outside the existing data and alternatives and generate new ones.
Bolland and Collopy claim that decision attitude is predominant in contemporary management theory and practice, where it’s about solving existing, stable problems with clearly specified alternatives through the use of analytical decision tools. By contrast a design attitude views each problem as an opportunity for invention that includes questioning basic assumptions and resolve by new/innovative ideas.’

In all it was a very inspiring day in Roosendaal resulting in a large group of problem owners heading home with plans to get started in creating an improved and embedded learning environment. I’d like to end with quoting Goethe when saying, ‘It’s not so much about coming up with something new as it is about looking again at what’s already there.’

[¹]  dr. T. Besselink, Recreating Honours Education, 2010

[²]  Design!Public glossary: Design Thinking Ways of thinking, conceptualizing, imagining, and envisioning solutions to problems that (i) redefine the fundamental challenge or task at hand, (ii) develop multiple possible options and solutions in parallel, and (iii) prioritize and select those which are likely to achieve the greatest benefits in terms of, for example, impact, viability, cost.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business succes.”
— Tim Brown, president and CEO, IDEO, <http://www.ideo.com/about/>


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