On Invitation: Whoever Comes… Is the Right People

Appreciating this conversation that unfolded on the Open Space Technology email list about invitation and who comes.

Lisa Heft writes:

I am passionate about invitation. True invitation. Not just ‘everyone is welcome’ but what it takes for the host team’s reflection, tasks, strategy, actions to truly really welcome people into the room who are not like themselves, or the other participants – who represent different thinking on the issue, different parts of the system of an issue or opportunity, different experiences, different filters, different lives, different lenses, and so on. The richer the difference, the richer the learning / exploration / ideas (and so on).

I am not a ‘whoever (just) comes’ / ‘whatever (just) happens’ person. Whoever comes is informed by who and how they were invited, and how they were supported, or informed, or how resources were shared with them, or how they were responded to… So they might be able to walk into that room just like everyone else there could. What did it / might it take. What action, relationship, resource, piece of information… What are the barriers to inclusion and how to reduce them.

Does it mean offering a language buddy? A ride? A differently-constructed outreach message? A home-stay? Directions to a location, when it is assumed that others do that research for themselves? A conversation with a person as a first connection, instead of a link to text on a site? … and so on and so on.

I learn so much from Lisa about invitation and what it really takes for people to be able to participate. To pay attention to the barriers to inclusion. This is everything from time, location, dates, who is sponsoring, who is on the core team, language and tone of the invitation, and more.

She mentions “I am not a ‘whoever (just) comes’ / ‘whatever (just) happens’ person”. She is referring to one of the principles of Open Space Technology is “whoever comes is the right people.” Sometimes the use of this principle can feel flippant, or even exclusionary.

Paul Levy added to the conversation, offering an important perspective on this principle:

So, when introducing the principle “whoever comes are the right people”, it is important not to present this as “we are the good guys who came, and the bad guys didn’t so they are irrelevant to our work here” or as “they ain’t here, now shut up and get over it”. This principle is not there to stifle either regret or reflection. It is there to affirm the value of being in the present, and with committing to who and what we have right now. It is no accident that the people who are here are here. They responded to the invitation in freedom. Yet we can also “involve” those outside the circle by filling the empty chairs with creativity and care. “What would John have said had he been able to be here?” “Is there anyway we can get Steve in for the afternoon session?”

This applies to more than Open Space events. Many times I offer this principle of “whoever comes are the right people” to help a core team lean into the possibility of the people who have registered, who are there, instead of getting caught up focussing on who isn’t there.

Michael Pannwitz describes this further:

The point of this “principle” (in German “Tatsache des Lebens” or “fact of life”), is simply to focus on who is at the event and to not start, as many meetings do, with enumerating all the folks that should have been there but did not come.
That stance just distracts from the possibilities manifest in those who are present, the ones with passion and responsibility (if they are there voluntarily, it helps). By the way, I like the original wording of this “principle” with “is the right people” rather than “are the right people” because “is” implies people in the sense of a group/body/tribe/nation…

I usually offer the principle as “whoever comes are the right people”, and I appreciate the nuance that Michael offers here. “Whoever comes is the right people” shifts it away from the individual (you and you and you are the right people), to the collective: together we are the right people.

Marvellous.

Opening Space