June 14, 2009

Looking back at Open Space

Last weekend I helped organize the Dutch Open Space Code Day. This wasn’t the first open space event I’ve been to but it was the first one where I was involved in the organization. Kees Dijk and me got the idea from the UK Open Space Code days that are organized by Alan Dean. And with some help from Imtech ICT, who kindly provided space, coffee and lunch, we got going.

So what did we do all day?

After a short introduction we started the planning phase. This is typical of open space, there are no scheduled speakers, all the scheduling is done at the start of the first day. Attendees propose sessions themselves, IMG_1761everyone votes to see what sessions are most popular. Then sessions are shuffled around to fit the available time and space. The schedule stays fluid for the rest of the event but most of the planning is done right at the start.

I can imagine this is a nervous moment for most open space organizers. What if no-one wants to propose a session? We had nothing to worry about in this respect. Many of the attendees were accomplished speakers on other conferences and I was confident they would also step up here. I wasn’t disappointed. On the right is what the schedule looked like after a couple of minutes proposing sessions.

After the sessions were voted on, combined and thinned out a bit we got going. Subjects ranged from Silverlight to DDD and design by contract, all interesting stuff. The first round of sessions started a bit late. So after only an hour it was already lunch time.

Most people just ate lunch while continuing the morning sessions. We had plenty of time planned for lunch so after about an hour people started coming back to the main room to get some coffee and get ready for another round of sessions. The afternoon round of sessions went by just as fast as the morning sessions.

On the whole I can say the day was a success. I had some worries that there were too many high-profile speakers attending and that this would kill the interactive nature of open-space but this just didn’t seem to be a problem. A couple of things could go better. People didn’t really seem inclined to move from session to session. Normally this is a mechanism in open space that ensures attendees get the most out of the sessions and sessions that are less interesting die out. In this case the quality of content in all the sessions was very high so there wasn’t much need for people to move between sessions.

The focus of Open Space Code is supposed to be on coding. This never got off the ground. Most people had laptops and some code examples were shown but at the end of the day no code was checked in to the Google Code repository that was provided for this day. This probably had to do with the fact that people had to specifically ask to get access to the repository. Next time we’ll try to streamline this process by providing access to a version control system beforehand. This way people can prepare code samples before the event.

I also got some suggestions to make the sessions a bit shorter next year. This time we had two sessions of two hours each to give people enough time to actually do some coding. Next time we’ll probably do three 1,5 sessions instead. This might fit in better with lunch too.

All in all the day was a big success. I’m really looking forward to my next open space event.

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