Latin American Conference: What Open Space Can Do
Spanish Publications Administrator
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 1, February-March 2005, pp. 12-13.
Imagine a hotel with plenty of green lands where peacocks stroll about. Where the green ends, a beautiful lake begins. Now, imagine this hotel filled to its capacity with La Leche League Leaders and families and supporters, and you have a real Mexican fiesta!
From September 16 to 19, 2004, we held our sixth Latin American Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. Seventy Leaders and Applicants attended, along with 35 husbands and 75 children. We were also very pleased to have visitors from the United States. The new Executive Director for LLLI, Hedy Nuriel, and Maria del Mar Maza, Liaison for the Hispanic Community, came from the office in Schaumburg, Illinois, USA. Other special participants were Dr. Alfredo Lomeli, a long-time friend and collaborator of LLL Mexico, and Christine Whitney-Sanchez, Open Space and Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator.
Our hostesses, an enthusiastic group of women led by Area Coordinator of Leaders, Alicia Leo, did a superb job of organizing everything. They formed a very competent team with Leaders in charge of the logistics, meals, airport transportation, coffee breaks, first aid, and lost and found. A group of four volunteer educators kept the toddlers and young children playing happily and making crafts. The older children played soccer most of the time and also organized a singing contest. Fathers helped care for the children, but they also found time to have a domino tournament.
In the meantime, Leaders were about to discover a new way to have sessions. We had the opportunity to taste a bit of Open Space Technology (OST). Christine Whitney-Sanchez, OST Facilitator, explained to us that OST has been successfully used by many groups around the world. This gives participants the opportunity to develop their own agenda, based on what interests them most.
This is how it works. Sticky notes are placed on the wall, under a determined time and day. Anyone can take a sticky note and write down what session he or she wants to facilitate. The participants then decide which sessions they want to attend. We had four Open Space sessions with 26 different topics, such as handling emotions, home schooling, what’s new in the latest edition of THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, helping working mothers, postpartum depression, and working with Leader Applicants. Some fathers self-organized and had their own sessions on the importance of father’s support for the success of breastfeeding.
Before beginning the session, each hostess or facilitator asks participants to volunteer for these roles: a secretary to take notes and fill in a report form, a guide to make sure everybody is heard, and a reporter to write down the most important aspects of the session to share later with the larger group.
There are a few simple "rules" for OST to be successful. There’s the "law of two feet." You have to use them to stand up for what you believe in, and if you are neither contributing to a session nor learning anything, you must use them to walk to another session. If you walk around sessions, then you become a "bee," and contribute by pollinating the environment. As it turned out, we had no "bees," which suggested that everybody was very interested in the session they chose.
When the four Open Space sessions were over, we had a "convergence." Each group had one minute to report to the whole group the most important aspects of their session. The reporters placed larger sticky notes with their session’s recommendations written in bold letters on the wall. At the end of the convergence, those who wanted to follow up on the actions that would result from the session wrote their names and emails on smaller sticky notes next to the summary of the session. The facilitators then would contact those interested in working on that subject. The report forms for all 26 sessions were collected by the person in charge of writing the Conference memoir.
After the convergence, we had a celebration. We sat in a big circle and participants had the chance to express how they felt about the Open Space sessions. We were eager to share how much we had learned and enjoyed this way of working. Most of the participants said they never imagined they would be facilitating a session at this Conference. We discovered that all of us have many hidden talents and are full of surprises. It was also very productive because important actions will result from these sessions that will benefit many mothers and babies.
An interesting anecdote was that when UNICEF Argentina was asked to fund a local Leader’s travel costs to Mexico, they asked for a copy of the Conference program. She had to tell them that there was no program and explained how we were going to be using Open Space. She asked them to trust LLL and promised to write a full report when she came back. So they said yes and paid her travel expenses.
After Open Space was over, we had a general session on how to prepare messages for the media. This was a different kind of workshop than we usually have at LLL. It was facilitated by Arturo Meoño, producer for Radio Nederland Training Centre, based in Costa Rica. It was very interactive and gave us a chance to discover more pleasant surprises about our fellow Leaders. Some improvised short plays, others mimicked television advertisements, a group made up a song and danced. It was a lot of fun.
We also had a general session where we had the chance to talk about LLL structure, memberships, the LLLI Conference, the International Mastery Symposium, the Community Network, the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, and the Golden Bow.
We chose Paloma Lerma to replace Mimi de Maza as Board Member. We saved the most exciting part for the end. It was a welcoming ceremony for the new Leaders just accredited at the Workshop. It was very touching and emotional, with lots of tears and hugs. The perfect ending for a memorable workshop.
To learn more about Open Space Technology, go to www.openspaceworld.com/users_guide.htm
The Golden Bow
Waleska Porras is the
Spanish Publications Administrator and newly appointed Pamphlets Coordinator
for LLL International Division. She has published a breastfeeding novel
in her native Spanish, En busca del oro liquido and is currently writing
the English version, which will be called The Quest for the Liquid Gold.
Waleska lives in Costa Rica with her husband and two daughters, Lia
(9) and Gina (2).