The Egyptian revolution started literally with an open space: at the Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo. Here it was where many Egyptians for the first time in their lives made the experience of freely talking about politics in public. Since January 2011, many young Egyptians are trying to keep up this “Tahrir experience” by experimenting with new forms of political debate and civic education in Egypt.
It was this spirit that resulted in the idea of introducing the Open Space Technology (OST) as a new format of civic education in Egypt.
In March 2011 the authors of this article, both working in Egypt for many years, organized the first Open Space in the country. This event encouraged many other national and international institutions and initiatives to adopt and further develop OST in Egypt and other Arab countries. The unexpected popularity of OST in revolutionary Egypt proved that it is in fact the right methodology at the right time in the right context and the right place. OST is a meeting format that fosters dialogue and exchange in a democratic way. It is easy to organize and non-costly. It invites for sharing opinions, discovering common ground, discussing and tackling differences. It helps generating ideas and reflecting about their implementation. This article argues that Open Space (OS), therefore, is a format that perfectly fits the transforming political environment and the socio-cultural setting of Egypt and – most probably – other Arab transformation-states. Egyptians are trying to keep up this “Tahrir experience” by experimenting with new forms of political debate and civic education in Egypt.
The idea of open space
What is Open Space about? Open Space is a simple form of group facilitation originated in the US in the 1980s by Harrison Owen1. After having organized a conference over a period of months, the evaluation of this event revealed that the participants appreciated most the part he did not plan at all: the really interesting talks took place during the coffee breaks. So why not creating an event out of the coffee break and drop anything else? Owen called his idea Open Space since his main concern was about literally creating open space in which movement and action are possible and in which topics can be defined without constraints, issues can be talked over and solutions can be developed.
Open Space is a simple method to run productive meetings in any kind of group and organization, in every day practice and ongoing change. It enables self-organizing groups of 5 to 2000 people to deal with hugely complex issues in a very short period of time. What does not exist in Open Space are speakers, group facilitators, defined talking times and predefined topics for conversation. Only a proper introduction by a facilitator who opens the space, and practical support by a core team are important. (…)
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