Important key ingredients of a successful workshop or network meeting are time and space for participants to engage, connect, share and get inspired. How can I convince workshop organisers to leave workshop space open?

It’s harvesting time. These chillies are hot. I love the garden metaphor for knowledge management. Gardening offers lots of strong images that speak for themselves to explain what I am doing in knowledge management. There is the soil and the compost, the tools and the pots, the seeds and the watering; and there is harvesting…

A hot chilli I observe is the input- and content-driven workshop and meeting planning.

It bothers me when I see overfilled workshop agendas announcing expert inputs, PowerPoint presentations followed by Q&A, short breaks, and too many topics populating the programme.

To many meeting and conference organisers it seems rather challenging to leave meeting space and time open and allow the attendees to participate in the agenda setting. I am convinced it is not bad intention to go for interesting content first. Behind this content bustle I see the fear for open space: It’s either the fear that nothing would happen and that it would be boring; or the fear of chaos and of losing control; that something completely else would happen than what is supposed to happen.

So my personal hot question at the moment is this one: How can I convince meeting and workshop organisers to go for the open space?

The garden metaphor is indeed of some help to express what I am caring about as advisor for knowledge management and institutional learning. 

Plants need time to grow…

so do people participating in a workshop. They want to meet interesting people; and get inspired by useful ideas. These are the most common reasons why people join, aren’t they? This needs time and space. Offering sufficient ‘free’ time allowing participants to engage in conversations with each other makes workshops, meetings, conferences memorable.

…and space

With the time comes the space.In my garden metaphor this means outlining the conference garden; preparing a welcoming entry, open up some trails and crossroads to meet. We prepare the flower and vegetable beds. As organisers and facilitators we assign the space; with these patches we give the meeting the shape and structure needed and set the thematic focus. We programme the day in a sensible way encouraging the participants to meet and talk. If we overfill the discussion patches with too much predefined inputs and questions we might limit the participants contribution and even prevent them bringing in their experiences and challenges. So we rather focus to prepare the space and make the soil fertile.

What are your arguments to create open space for participants?