Open Space For Strategic Development

The Invitation

‘We want to run a rehearsal process for our EQUIS assessment, and a strategy development day for about 180 people simultaneously. Are we being too ambitious? Can you help us?’


The Challenge

Appreciating Change had run the annual ‘team day’ for this business school community of academics and administrators for the past two years. The first year we introduced Appreciative Inquiry to help bolster their creativity and innovation, the second year was focused on the student experience. This was the most ambitious objective yet. Throughout the day teams of people would be disappearing to table discussions in a simulation of a forthcoming, very important, assessment process. At the same time the body as a whole was to engage with three strands of strategic thinking around: the student experience, the balance of teaching and learning and research, and the integration of services.


Meeting The Challenge

The challenge was to create a design for the event that would facilitate the people involved in the simulation to leave and rejoin at specified times; and that also allowed three themes of discussion. Working with the planning team, Appreciating Change designed a day based on Open Space Technology that would allow the rehearsal assessment panels to run concurrently with a strategy development conversation. In addition we worked with the technology department to create ‘video tweets’ of the different discussions, and a ‘voting’ process at the close of the day to help identify the most important ideas and suggestions from the various discussions.


The Outcome

The day was deemed a great success, working with the complexity of the system in a way that generated productive and useful conversation while supporting the primary purpose of assessment rehearsal and preparation. During the day there were 24 discussions around strategic questions identified by the group such as ‘How can we improve the cultural differences with students?’ and ‘How do we improve contact via technology?’ All discussions produced a record of strengths, opportunities, aspirations and potential results in the area under discussion.

 One participant was moved to write to the organisers to say:

 ‘A quick note to say how impressed I was by the process Sarah used last week at our away day. To get 180 people to work collaboratively across 18 parallel work groups, discussing meaty issues and feeding back results during a full day without being bossy was quite remarkable! Please thank her for me.’

 The senior team came away with a clear idea of the co-identified priorities for the school moving forward in these difficult times for academia, and with some concrete suggestions for next steps.

In addition the individuals present:

  • Forged new relationships
  • Discovered shared areas of aspiration
  • Were energised to help the school adapt to the changing context and environment.

The assessment participants also got extensive feedback about their performance in the simulated assessment.


More on these and related topics can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more articles from the Knowledge Warehouse on this topic here.


Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at Our Approach to change, or more specifically at how we use Open Space in interventions.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715