EuroComm18 Interviews: Ian Andersen brings Open Space back to Copenhagen

“Open Space Technology is a powerful method for engaging an entire conference in conversations that matter – that will generate tangible, actionable outcomes,” says Ian Andersen, the European Commission’s Participatory Leadership Adviser, about EuroComms18’s Open Space on day two.

While much of the attention around EuroComm18 has focused on the day one speakers list, the second day puts participation in the heart of the action with Open Space – a participant-generated “unconference” that has no slides or pre-set presenters, and where the speaking will be done by the participants themselves.

To learn more about Open Space and what we have in store for Day 2, we are talking with Ian Andersen, who has been hosting Open Space events for more than a decade and will be orchestrating the Open Space event at EuroComm. To attend EuroComm18, which will be held on the 9-10th of April at Copenhagen University, you can purchase your tickets here.

Ian, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I’m Danish, from Copenhagen, so this EuroComm is a bit of a homecoming for me. I’ve been based in Brussels, working for the European Commission for most of my professional life.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to study communications. However, I got sidetracked into Chinese and Politics. With that as a basis, adding conference interpreting, I started working at the Commission in 1986. I quickly got into training matters there, and in 2000 I started to rotate back to my initial direction of Communications: until 2016, I ran internal and external and internal communications for the Interpreting Service at the European Commission. From 2017, I focused exclusively on participatory approaches to collaboration and decision-making at the Commission. Open Space Technology is just one of the methods we apply inside the general framework of the Art of Hosting or Participatory Leadership.

What do you like the most about the Open Space method?

Open Space is the place in the event when real action and creativity happens – which is what until now only happened in coffee breaks at a standard conference.

This method is universal, and can be used in any group to create conversation and participation amongst everyone involved, to engage all the minds present to bring valuable insights and to create conversations with actionable outcomes.

You can use this method to involve your leaders, stakeholders, employees, policy makers. If all concerned parties are involved in formulating the solutions, implementation becomes very easy. “Not about us without us”, as many adherents to Open Space put it.

Could you give an example from your practice?

When I was first trained ten years ago, one of the colleagues had been tasked with developing a diplomatic school for the European External Action Service which was in the process of being set up. She simply presented this topic at our first ever Open Space Session and asked: “How do I do this?”

And guess what – with the people present, she got exactly what she was missing. Until the conversation started, she had no idea that all the knowledge she needed was available in the room: there were university lecturers, curriculum development specialists, diplomats with experience of a range of training systems, adult education specialists… What is fascinating is that some people may drop in for 10 minutes of the session, but they can make that one comment that may be the key to solving your problem.

What are the ingredients of a good Open Space topic?

Have a situation that is sufficiently complex – e.g. “How are we moving furniture from Joe’s office?” doesn’t require open space discussion. Some characteristics of lively situations are that they are:
Contradictory – where no obvious answer presents itself and you are faced with a level of complexity where solutions no longer exhibit visible causalities.

Diverse – the more different viewpoints you can bring to the issues, the more robust the solutions will be.
Conflict potential – ensuring that people feel passionately about it. Something is at stake for people that urges them to get it resolved.

Urgency – not focusing on a 10-year plan, rather on what we do today that should have been done last week.

If you would like one thing for attendees of Open space to hear, what would it be?

To be active, host the discussion and share your insights in a constructive conversation. Your energetic presence is the key – when you’re engaged in the conversation where your passion lies, you have a different outcome. When you are in a conversation that is important to you or that you feel passionate about, you are not a passive participant. That makes a real difference.

See you at EuroComm18!

Interviewed by Vija Valentukonyte

Posted in EuroComm conference.