Open Space and polycentric climate governance in Heerlen

One of the best ways to start the spring is to go to a well-organised Spring School.

As one of the last activities within INOGOV project, Open University of the Netherlands organised a four-day Spring School for PhD students with title ”Governing Climate Change: Polycentricity in Action?”. The course started with a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), and continued with lectures, workshops and other activities in the city of Heerlen.

The Spring School was a great experience. MOOC was well designed and contained many good exercises. Polycentricity was an interesting new concept for me, and the course offered also good methodological workshops. Needless to say, networking was an important part of the course. However, maybe the most interesting experience was an Open Space Technology session, in which the participants of the Spring School hosted improvised sessions over the topics that were of interest to them.

Harrison Owen developed the idea of the Open Space Technology based on the notion that coffee breaks tend to be too short considering the amount of interesting and productive conversations people have during them. Therefore, the rules of the Open Space aim to create an environment that imitates the coffee breaks of a conference.

Although there is one person starting each group with a specific theme, the groups should work open minded: if at some point the conversation moves to another topic that feels more interesting to the participants, there is no need to force the conversation back to the original topic. Also, the participants are free to change the group they are participating: if you are not learning or contributing, you should leave to some other group. This applies even to the person who proposed the theme of the group.  

When we started the Open Space session, I have to admit that I was somewhat sceptical. However, it quickly turned out that my fellow students had plenty of interesting topics in their minds, and the most difficult part was to decide in which conversation to participate!

For example, some wanted to discuss if we can reach the goals of Paris agreement without changing the capitalist paradigm, while others wanted to talk about how to construct a conceptual framework for a PhD project. A third group discussed the possibilities to use fiction to present science to larger audience. And some decided to dedicate some time to have a walk in which you can talk about anything you want as long as you do not mention certain words, like “PhD”, “research” or “university”. (This is maybe not that surprising idea considering the topics we had talked about for last few days.)

Now I hope I will have a chance to experience the Open Space again with a more heterogeneous group of researchers and students in the Earth System Governance Conference 2018. With PD, Dr. Angela Oels and Judith Floor, we applied a session and the broad-minded conference team accepted the application. So if you are coming to ESG 2018, hope to see you there!

The Spring School and the MOOC were both based on a book that will be published soon by Cambridge University Press. The book has the same title as the course, ”Governing Climate Change: Polycentricity in Action?”, and the electronic version will be available with open access. The MOOC-part of the course will also be available as an open access course organised by the Open University of the Netherlands. I warmly recommend both to anyone interested in climate change governance.