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5. Group Clean Space

Clean Space utilises the apparently innate ability of humans to make use of the metaphors of relative location, perspective and interconnectivity. For a number of years we have used the principles of Clean Space (as devised by David Grove for individuals) in a modified form so that they could be applied to groups. Below are some examples.

Example 1 - Large Group Process

There is a brief description at the end of an article on how Clean Space was used as part of a large group process (80 people) at the Findhorn Spiritual Community in 2003.

Example 2 - A Department Exploring a Topic

The example below took place in 2004. The group consisted of 14 people who worked in one department and came together for a day of reflection and professional development.

The Clean Space activity was the last of the day. The group had previously agreed that the purpose of the activity should be to explore how they could better support each others' work. The central theme was “How to co-inspire each other”. (Of course you could substitute this with any desired outcome.)

We started with a short introduction to the idea of 'co-inspiring' as used by Humberto Maturana and Pille Bunnell. Maturana sees the processes of co-inspiration as follows:

"Co-inspiration arises from the conversations we have with each other that are conducted in mutual respect for the other and it provides for a manner of working together in freedom. Practical vision is the way of finding our life work such that every day is lived in passion, enthusiasm and delight for the Life we have." *

A brief discussion followed on the purpose/frame for the activity.  I wrote ‘co-inspiring’ on a sheet of flip-chart paper and asked the group to “Place it where it needs to be”. After some looking around at each other, one person placed it on the floor in the middle of the room.  Someone else slightly adjusted its position and that seemed ok for the group.

Each participant wrote or drew on a sheet of paper (A4 size) one idea, concept, learning or experience related to co-inspiring. 

I established an 'Observer' space where people could go at any time to reflect on the process and the network of experiences that would be created. Everyone started in the observer space.

One by one participants placed their sheets "in the space where they need to be in relation to the topic and other people's contributions" and standing in that place, read what was on their sheet, adding an explanation and example if they wished.

When everyone had placed their own sheet they were instructed either move to someone else's space where they could add their knowledge, or create a new space for new information, or a connection between two or more existing spaces. When they arrived at their second space they were handed paper to record their input. Those who wished explained what they had written.

This process continued with participants moving and contributing in an ad hoc fashion.

After the initial discussion the activity ran for an hour and a quarter during which time more and more connections, issues, feelings, inspirations were expressed, located and connected into the emergent network (see diagram).

After a break the group sat around the edge of the space which contained the visibly recorded knowledge (on the sheets) and all the unrecorded contributions and interactions.  We reflected on the process and our learning, and captured the issues, desires and actions that resulted from the activity.

The feedback from the participants indicated that the exercise fulfilled its purpose of opening up ways for department members to be more supportive of each other’s work.

One of the key learnings was that Clean Space kept a group of highly individualistic people focussed on the agreed outcome. All other discussions during the day had meandered from topic to topic to topic; whereas for over an hour the entire group self-organized to maintain their contributions and discussions within the context of co-inspiring. Given the individuals involved, that was no mean feat!

To help you visualise the output of the process, see the map of the configuration and names of the spaces (as it stood at the end) of the Clean Space/Co-inspiring process. The space depicted is about 8 x 4 metres:

Humberto and Pille described their philosophy personally to Penny and I at the UKSS Systems Conference in Oxford, September 2004.

The quotation comes from:

See also:

Example 3 - Sharing Team Knowledge

October 2006

Frames for Activity

From a systemic point of view all perceptions, emotions, ideas, etc. are ‘held’ by someone rather than being ‘owned’ by someone.  In other words, that someone is the representative of the perception, emotion, idea within the group.  For as long as the group exists, everyone that is a part of the system has a collective responsibility for all perceptions, emotions, ideas — even ones which we may personally disagree with.

The initial purpose of the activity is to reveal and release individual knowledge and to make it available to the group. Then the purpose becomes to enrich existing knowledge; to find connections, synergies and tensions between knowledge spaces. The complexity of the knowledge network will grow as new items, paces and links are added. Eventually the complexity will become such that a new simplicity will emerge (often in the form of a metaphor).

Part 1:  (Outcome: To get individual knowledge placed - Max. 5 mins /person)
In turn
1.  Each person places their drawing where it needs to be.
2.  Each person places themselves where they are now in relation to their vision metaphor drawing.
3.  Each person is facilitated to describe their ‘B and A’ and mark ‘A’ with a sheet of A4.
4.  When the facilitation is complete each person returns to the group and the next person places their map and themselves in relation to what is already been placed.

Part 2:  (Outcome: To discover reactions, connections/links to other spaces)
As a group
5.  Everyone returns to their position ‘A’.
6.  Each person has 1 minute to answer the question:
And what do you know from here now?
7.  If it seems fruitful, continue with one or more 1-minute rounds.

Part 3:  (Outcome: To get multiple perspectives)
As a group
8.  Each person chooses to
- stay in the same place
- create a new space (mark with a different coloured post-it note)
- go to an existing space (can only add information if you want to disagree or to
mismatch, do that from a new space).
- create a link between existing spaces (could use string to represent a new link .
9.  Each person has 1 minute to answer the question:
And what do you know from here?
And what does this space know?
10.  Repeat steps 8 and 9 for as long as necessary.
Note: Original group space is a ‘process space’ for anyone who wants to make a process

Part 4:  (Outcome: To discover an overview or outside perspective)
11.  Everyone finds a space that knows something about all of this.
Everyone reports on their learning/knowing.
(Could repeat 11 with another outside the outside space which could be a single collective space, e.g. the stairs.)
12.  End by returning to their own Position 1.
And what do you know from here now?
(Can be done as a silent reflection)

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