As promised, here come some of my insights from the Transition Open Space festival I attended in July.
The event was conceived and designed by a small group of friends with different skills and predilections. Their intention was to invite a collective, co-created, experiential inquiry into ‘transition’ (deliberately left rather vaguely defined, but basically inspired by the transition towns response to peak oil and climate change).
This group then began working with another group – people living and/or working together at Kasteel Nieuwenhoven, an old abbey/stately home set in 20 hectares of land with natural water features (ponds and streams), woodland, meadow (with alpaca and horses) and a permaculture garden which is hosting a community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme for the surrounding district. The place offered itself as the location of the gathering and a core team formed to explore what might happen at such an event.
The pattern of the ‘core team’ is appearing in many different places. A small group of people follow their passion and take responsibility for starting an inquiry around a question that calls to them deeply from some invisible realm of potential outside space and time. Their role is not necessarily to make things happen, but could simply be to hold the perimeter of the ‘field of inquiry’, to allow new potential to manifest around their question.
Containers for self-organising and diversity
The whole gathering was held within a very light structure, using Open Space Technology, World Café and similar processes, which are intentionally designed to allow for maximum emergence and self-organisation.
Some 60 people showed up over all, in a number of waves, each new wave being integrated into the community without any need for intervention by the organisers. There were many generations present: grandparents, parents, children – elders, young adults, toddlers and babies. There were people from all backgrounds and educational levels, from urban and rural contexts. And yet, the culture was rather cohesive, because all those present spoke Dutch – so folk from the Netherlands and Flanders, mostly. The children brought in as much depth and learning as the elders, and were treated with equal respect.
At the same time, there was a great deal of diversity, partly because of the inter-generational nature of the gathering, and partly because the whole spiral of human development was present. Although the theme of development was not explicitly introduced in the proceedings, the hosts were very aware of the dynamics and challenges of all the developmental differences at play, and chose to allow all of this to be held in the container of the processes and simple principles that set the stage for Open Space self-organisation:
- Nothing needs to be fixed or solved – opinions and tensions are aired, witnessed and allowed to be present in the space and transform in their own way, in their own time.
- Individuals are invited to take responsibility for their own expectations and experiences, and to take what action they deem appropriate, without waiting to be told what to do by the ‘organisers’.
- The law of two feet – all those present were invited to follow this principle: if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, let your two feet take you somewhere else where you can.
Coming next: Alternative currencies and learning to live from the land…