The Open Volcano event was put together in less than 48 hours, when several agile luminaries found themselves stranded in the UK due to volcanic ash induced flight cancellations. Attendees were impressed by how well it turned out. Open Volcano isn't unique, Agile Open Space events are springing up all over the place.
They're often low-budget events centered on a specific agile theme, such as:
- CITCON is about continuous integration and testing,
- Agile Coach Camp / Gathering explores coaching agile teams,
- SDTconf delves into simple design and test.
You see Open Space Technology is the perfect match for Agile values. Participants work together to create their own conference schedule just-in-time during the event and set up a great environment for peer-learning. We pay attention to feedback and reflections from participants and adapt the schedule as we go.
I love the buzz and energy at these events as people move like bumblebees from one conversation to another. We start with the warning "Be prepared to be surprised!" and by the end of the day people often are pleasantly surprised how well Open Space works.
So here are some useful tips for when you organize an Agile Open Space event. Some tips I jotted down at Agile Central Europe conference in an open space session convened by Pierluigi Pugliese and others are based on my experience of organizing Retrospective Facilitators Gathering and Agile Coaches Gathering plus facilitating Open Space at many agile conferences such as XPDay, Scrum Gathering, etc.
Start by finding a suitable venue. You need one large room with sufficient space for all participants to stand in a circle with some break out rooms for sessions. Check whether you can stick paper on the walls. You don't need a projector in every room but you will need a lot of flipcharts. Natural light is important and it's even better if there's a garden that you can spill out into. We had memorable sessions at Agile Coaches Gathering out on the lawn at Bletchley Park and at XP2009 we even had some open space sessions by the pool and on the beach!
For an energizing open space, you need enthusiastic participants. However, if entry is free or cheap then people often sign up to reserve a space and plan to decide later whether they will actually attend. The organizers of Agile Coach Camp ask each person to sign-up on a wiki and write a position statement. This statement is a small public commitment showing who plans attend which also helps others get a view of who will be there and their different motivations---especially useful when there's no program of topics to be covered available in advance. You can also create a Topic Incubator wiki page for people toss around ideas for sessions. These topics don't get pre-allocated into the schedule, they're simply there to get the conversation started.
Your next challenge will be putting a budget together so you don't lose money in organizing the event. List all your costs: venue, stationery, food/drink, etc. Offset those with a pessimistic prediction of revenue from registration plus sponsorship. Sponsors come in all shapes and sizes; some are local companies looking to recruit agile developers, others are tool vendors, and you can also get sponsorship from agile community groups like Agile Alliance, Scrum Alliance, and tie-up with your local user group.
If you can avoid charging people to attend then you don't have to worry about bank accounts and setting up a non-profit organization. Many open space events split bills and arrange for their sponsors to pay direct to the venue so as organizers they don't need to handle any money!
Now all that remains is to advertize your event. Social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook can be very effective. News of Open Volcano flashed around the twitterverse and was sold out in less than 48 hours. For events with a longer lead time, keep a waiting list because people often drop out and you need a buffer to fill any vacancies that open up.
Finally, do you need an Open Space facilitator? An experienced person can help create a focus and make it easy for participants to propose sessions. However, I'd say for a community based event, you will probably find someone will do this in return for free registration. If you can't find someone then Harrison Owen's book 'Open Space Technology: A User's Guide' explains what you need to do in plain language. You only need basic materials like sticky notes, markers, and tape. Here's a snap from Open Volcano that shows our schedule drawn out on a white board and populated with super-sticky notes.
Do you have some tips to share about how to organize a successful Agile Open Space? Please add them as comments on this post.