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This article is for facilitators holding space and organizers of Open Space events that moved–or want to move–online.

This article assumes you know what Open Space Technology is and participated in a physical one.

The focus of the article is to share my experience with the “law of two feet” in an online space and I reflect on preparation of online open spaces.

In a physical open space you probably experienced getting up and walking to another session when you felt you were not contributing or you were not getting anything out of it.

“Briefly stated, this law says that every individual has two feet, and must be prepared to use them. Responsibility for a successful outcome in any Open Space Event resides with exactly one person—each participant. Individuals can make a difference and must make a difference. If that is not true in a given situation, they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two feet, and move to a new place where they can make a difference.” - https://annualexchange.com/2018/06/30/the-law-of-two-feet/

How does “law of two feet” translate when you are in an open space event that moved online? By the way I am not sure if we should still call it Open Space but that’s for another article.

Responsibility for a successful outcome in any Open Space Event resides with exactly one person—each participant

they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two feet, and move to a new place where they can make a difference

Works in a physical open space. We all know how to go from point A to point B. But what about online? Does all my audience know where to click how to navigate to other rooms?

I am so stuck

Do you know how to get to another session?

My first time as a session host in open space online, after welcoming the group I asked “do you know how to get to another session?”. I think that’s of paramount importance but…

as an openspace organizer I can’t expect all session hosts to do that. Some might not think about that, some might have a million other things happening as they’re hosting and some might simply cling to their audience.

As an openspace organizer I must prepare the space to account for the “the law of clicks”. I first heard that name from Gerardo De Luzenberger from the italian chapter of IAF. It means moving to another session with just a couple of mouse clicks.

The law of two clicks

Gerardo and IAF run for a few weeks an open space #FACILITA2020 event with about 100 people and used QiQo chat. Qiqo chat seaminglessly assigns Zoom rooms to your open space sessions and it reduces risk for the audience to make mistakes.

You still have to account for individuals that might not see Zoom messages and having technical difficulties. I don’t think there is a one size fits all technical solution.

I could have an online spreadsheet–or slide or text document–with a list of Zoom room URLs (or Google Meet or Jitsi ot whatever).

Is my audience able to add and navigate those without messing up other meeting IDs? What’s my contigency if Jack accidentally deletes Luke’s meeting URL? A backchannel? Is everybody aware/invited?

I could let the session organizers self-organize and pick their remote video call tool.

Will the audience be familiar with those tools? And willing to perhaps install a new one? The online agile coach camp coming up in August addressed that by asking all participant to bring their personal (free) Zoom Account to (I assume) have sessions hosts create personal meetings.

Regardless of the video call tool, there must be a clear way for the participants to view current sessions and navigate between rooms and to communicate with me (the organizer) when they have technical difficulties.

every individual is X clicks away from another room, and must be prepared to click. Responsibility for a successful outcome resides with exactly one person—each participant. Individuals can make a difference and must make a difference. If that is not true in a given situation, they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two clicks, and move to a new place where they can make a difference or ask for help.

How many clicks does my audience need to get to another room?

The click bus experiment

An experiement I conducted to assess how the law of two feet translated online was the click bus.

I was in an open space with over 80 people and I hosted a session called the “click bus” virtually moving around the online open space sessions.

The click bus’ purpose was to help folks stuck in open space online rooms to navigate and move to other rooms.

The click bus group met in a Zoom call where we assigned a head and tail member. The bus head would tell the click bus participants what was the next stop, make sure we all understood then be the first to leave. The tail would wait for all members to be out of the current room, and be the last to leave for the next room. Both head and tail were tech savvy.

The click bus had a dedicated backchannel (we used a free online chat called http://www.e-chat.co) so we wouldn’t disturb the conversation or chat of the rooms we visited.

Once in the new room the bus head would silently announce to the session participants that the click bus arrived. That was done either in the chat or via videocamera post-it. The announce would include an invite for people that wanted to leave with a link to the backchannel chat.

Everyone (beside the head and tail volunteers) were free to leave and stay in the visited room–or go anwhere else–at any time.

Clickbus could be run before the space opens as a technical pre-check activity or offered as a service to bring some of the human contact you get walking around in a physical open space.

Conclusions

With about 20 years of software development and product management I really don’t have a problem moving around but COVID made me realise even more how many folks are having technical trouble out there.

“As an open space organizer we must provide support mechanisms to avoid folks feeling stupid for not “getting it”, which could be the case if we said “whatever happens is the only thing that could happen. If we support the audience there is a better chance they will contribute and enjoy it”.

Also, people might be calling from tablets, Windows, OSX so as organizers we need to be ready / aware to deal with technical difficulties on different systems. Do we ask the audience to run a speed test before the event? What do we do if out of 300 people 150 have dialup? Do we change our setup accordingly? How do we support people with slower connections?

I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution, but I think we need to do better and prepare for our audience. What are you doing to make it better for your participants?

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Enrico Teotti

agile coach, facilitator with an 18 years background in development and product management across Europe, Australia and the US.

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