Circular route to event

August 3, 2007

Are you frustrated by conferences where the coffee breaks turn out to be more stimulating than the formal presentations? Bored by meetings that take all afternoon but never get round to the burning issues?

Do not despair. A new type of event is coming to UK higher education.

"Open space" events, pioneered in the UK by Westminster University last month, have no keynote speakers and no panel sessions. They do not even have formal schedules and, perhaps best of all, no one is in charge. Instead, attendees sit in a circle and spend the first hour deciding how to create their own conference.

"It works so well because no one is running the show. When communication is open to everyone and responsibility is shared equally, you can achieve almost anything," said Kevin Byron, a visiting fellow to the Higher Education Academy who promotes open-space events on campuses.

Last month, Mr Byron held an open space event at Westminster University for 150 staff at three schools of its Harrow campus, instead of the usual annual staff day. He is presenting another meeting at the HEA conference at the end of August at Keele University.

Andy Golding, chair of Westminster's Harrow Campus Teaching and Learning Strategy Group, said the day was "truly inspirational" and that he would use the technique in future.

Mr Byron's favourite rule of the meetings - perhaps explaining their popularity -is "the law of two feet".

"It goes: 'If you find you are not contributing to or learning from a particular session - walk away'," he said.

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