Self-organization and facilitation : Non-hierarchical governance part III

Facilitative processes have varying degrees to which they try to keep people on topic.

There are two processes – Open Space Technology (OST) facilitation and Dynamic Facilitation (DF) which allow people more freedom in expression. What it special about these social architectures is that this freedom of expression not only doesn’t disrupt the flow of the dialogue, but it is important in allowing for the collective intelligence to emerge. These architectures allow for a non-linear coupling of what is expressed to synthesize.

Open Space Technology (OST) does this by allowing people to self-organize to form groups around topics that they themselves propose. People flow from group to group to cross-fertilize the different discussions so they become connected. Dynamic Facilitation does this by allowing people to express what they want to, and then placing what people they are saying into the categories of Problem, Solution, Concerns, and Data. When all these thoughts are expressed in this way, the different points being made can connect with each other, and a larger creative understanding of the situation self-organizes into being, sometimes in a seemingly magical way.

If a facilitated process is going to allow any topic to be discussed then to avoid a kind of anarchic conflict-laden free-for-all mess a new space, a new dimension needs to be opened up where all the things being expressed can co-exist, and where the ideas can interact in a way that leads to emergence. The different columns in DF creates a conceptual geometric space that allows the different ideas being expressed (including those coming from the id) to orient themselves to each other. The small groups within the larger groups structure of OST creates a different type of conceptual geometric space, one based in physical architecture and movement of people, which allows the different ideas to express, whether they be from the superego, ego, or id.

Facilitation processes can also open up the space for emotions to be safely expressed. When the ‘space’ is too small negative emotions lead to a snowballing feedback loop which triggers more negative emotions. DF opens up a space where negative emotions can be more freely expressed, and in a way that leads to positive progress towards a solution because they get channeled into problems and concerns. Once the emotions lands in those spaces, they become useful energies to guide the conversation further. OST provides an interesting way for emotions to be released by allowing objections and concerns to be channeled into topical small groups. Whilst within groups OST there is sometimes not as much as emotionally intelligence as they could be, within the larger OST matrix of groups there is a collective emotional intelligence because different emotions gets to be expressed in different groups/pockets and thus released; and the emotions are released in a manner such that those who don’t want to hear it can move to another group.

In the panoply of facilitative processes out there, OST and DF are probably amongst the ones that tap most into the freedom of self-expression within the collective. And because they also have an architecture that allows for synergy to emerge from the disparate elements, an architecture that is so subtle that it seems almost naive in its simplicity to the untrained eye, these facilitative processes tap into self-organizational properties more than most.


DF is more successful in mapping how the disparate topics synergize, and to have more empathic communication. OST is more successful at letting large groups self-organize, and at being more efficient in the sense that many people can be discussing things at the same time, so more gets done.

If we have a larger group that wants to govern itself non-hierarchically an integration of OST and DF can work. By adding the domain-based (meaning there are different columns/domains ideas can be put into) conceptual space that DF opens up with the topic-based, physically oriented conceptual space that OST opens up we have an extra dimension for things being expressed to reorganize themselves in. The power of having this extra space for ideas to move in, is analogous to the extra freedom for physical objects to move in that is gotten in going from a two dimensional space and a three dimensional space.

The presence of these conceptual spaces is one of the variables that moves self-governance processes from being a chaotic anarchy to a divine, self-organizing emergent anarchy.

Lets look at the example of a hundred people coming together to clean up a creek, with the intention to govern themselves in a non-hiearchical manner. The project can begin with a DF process where the main problems, solutions, concerns, data are brought up. Then the group can transition into OST to look more in depth into some of the topics that are brought up e.g. how much of the creek to work on, who works where, how is debris transported away, safety rules, how to feed everyone who is working etc… There maybe some areas of conflict, e.g. one person wants to everyone to use gloves for safety, another person wants their autonomy in choosing whether to wear gloves or not. These conflicts can be one of the OST topics, and within that subgroup people can use DF to further work out the way to solve that conflict.

So in this example, we start out with DF in the large group, then break into small groups using OST, with many of the small groups using DF within the group.

Dynamic Facilitation Manual
Dynamic Facilitation website

Article on integrating OST & DF


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