Opening Space for ideas and dialogue at PM Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit


February 9th, 2008

This week, Australia’s Prime Minister announced a 2020 Summit

AS Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis said yesterday, it is all too rare for Australians from a vast range of areas to come together to think about the future. Kevin Rudd’s planned summit, titled Australia 2020, which has drawn bipartisan support from Brendan Nelson, is a welcome opportunity to unleash the creativity and energy of some of the nation’s best and brightest minds. At the summit, they will be invited to put forward ideas on 10 long-term issues facing the nation. Working in 10 groups of 100, the thousand people to be invited to Parliament House over the weekend of April 19-20 will tackle such issues as the economy, economic infrastructure and the digital economy, sustainability, rural industry, health, social inclusion, indigenous people and services, the arts, governance and national security. As the Prime Minister said, the summit is a chance to “shake the tree” and see what ideas fall to the ground.

What a fabulous opportunity. But we Aussies are a cynical bunch. In today’s Age newspaper, Warwick McFadyen, posed questions about the process of the Summit. He writes:

So that’s 100 people to a group, talking, debating, arguing, agreeing and disagreeing in 48 hours…(take some time out for eating, sleeping etc)…Now if each person in a group is allowed to speak, and fair’s fair if they’ve travelled from all around Australia to be there everyone should get a turn, that works out at 1200 minutes divided by 100 people, which equals 12 minutes each. Plenty of time. Most Australians can tell you what’s crook and how to make it better in five minutes, which leaves time for debate. Of course if everyone talks at once…

I’m no journalist (well, that’s not actually true – I was once) but I do know a thing or two about process. And there are lots of processes that would enable 100 people – let alone 1000 people – to have fantastic, robust, productive conversations. Search Conference, Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe and my personal favourite Open Space Technology.

Is anyone out there listening? It’s called OPEN SPACE and has been used around the world to bring together people with quite different views and experiences – even hostility towards each other – to explore their passions. It’s quite an extraordinary process really – works with just a handful of people or even thousands. There’s examples of street kids in South America; electors in the US; companies and communities across the globe meeting in Open Space and achieving extraordinary results.

If only…

*Ring..ring*

Me: Hello, it’s Viv speaking.

PM Kevin Rudd: Hello, Viv, this is Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia. I believe you have some ideas about how we could get the best out of the 2020 Summit.

*swallows – and fans self with anything that comes to hand*

(Now if I was from North America I’d probably say “Yes, Sir! How can I help.” I’m not though – I’m Australian, so I’d probably say…)

Me: Hi Kev, glad you called. Did you read my blog?

PM Kevin Rudd: Urm, yes – you wrote something about open spaces I think.

Me: OPEN SPACE – it’s called OPEN SPACE and it would be just BRILLIANT. BRILLIANT!

PM Kevin Rudd: There’s no need to yell, I can hear you quite well…

*keeps breathing*

How DO you explain a process like Open Space Technology to someone who’s used to the political process? How do you explain a (Open Space Technology) process that doesn’t make sense in the telling but makes perfect sense when you experience it? A process that can deliver dozens, if not hundreds of productive conversations, ideas, commitments and the complete proceedings of every discussion and decision before people depart the summit on Sunday afternoon? How do you explain the energy and synergy, and the passion and the responsibility, the use of free will, self-organising systems, Law of Two Feet, and transformation? How do you explain that Open Space Technology promises, and does, deliver all of these?

2 Comments so far

  1. Aboriginal Activist on February 9, 2008 11:17 pm

    I’m with you, the political process is so backwards. So is the general resource management process, as Aboriginies have little say in resource managment plans and processes. Open Space Technology would be perfect for this type of planning process as well, allowing aboriginal voices to be included in the decision making process along with everyone else. Not too hard, but since it is different no one wants to be the first to try it.

  2. Viv McWaters on February 10, 2008 7:45 am

    Yes indeed – and following the long-awaited apology to Aboriginal people for the stolen generations (which is at long last happening in parliament next week), an inclusive process like Open Space would go some way to support the reconciliation process by enabling everyone’s voices to be heard.

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