Open Space events – ‘What can Dartington be?’

What was Open Space?

Open Space was a series of four events which took place from November 2015 – January 2016.

An open invitation was issued to all those interested in the future of Dartington to join CEO Rhodri Samuel in beginning to answer the question: ‘What Can Dartington Be?’. Following a review of the myriad issues raised in the first three sessions, the fourth session was dedicted to answering the question: ‘How can Dartington be?’

The sessions were facilitated by Kaleider, and were led by Seth Honnor, an experienced Open Space facilitator. You can find our more about the Open Space concept here (external website link).

What happened next?


Everything that was said at the Open Space sessions was recorded and analysed by The Dartington Hall Trust in order to feed into the wider process of instigating major change at Dartington. To read the summary of the sessions drawn up by the Engage Team please click here.

Amanda Bellamy

What was discussed at the sessions?

You can see what attendees discussed at all four Open Space events in our easy-to-use News Rooms. Look for the ‘how-to’ guides on the left-hand panel.

What happened next?

Everything that was said at the Open Space sessions was recorded and analysed by The Dartington Hall Trust in order to feed into the wider process of instigating major change at Dartington.

Many of the ideas raised are being directly acted upon and are being bought to life across the estate.

A letter from Rhodri Samuel: How can Dartington be?

Please note: this open letter was published before the fourth and final Open Space event.

Happy New Year to you all.

First, a very warm thank you to everyone who contributed to our Open Space events in November and December last year to help answer the question ‘What Can Dartington Be?’ and to those who are registered to attend the final event on 14 January this year (which is now full). I am also grateful to those of you who were unable to make any of the four events but who took the trouble to write to me with your thoughts and ideas.

Looking back over the three Open Space sessions to date, I am moved by the depth of emotion and connection that so many of you feel towards Dartington, whether that was expressed as love, anger, frustration or appreciation. I am also inspired and excited by the groundswell of imagination, creativity and progressive thinking expressed at all three events, which I found hugely encouraging. The events left me feeling that if we can only find more meaningful and collaborative ways to engage the passion and aspiration we all have for this place and its potential, with our collective knowledge, inventiveness, skills and connections, then remarkable things could happen. I am not underestimating the significant financial challenges and constraints we currently face at the Trust, nor the need to turn things around quickly, but I still firmly believe that without a clear sense of purpose and direction and without the trust, emotional and intellectual buy-in and active engagement of the many people who deeply care about this place, then our efforts to move forward are unlikely to succeed.

If you haven’t seen the notes of the three Open Space workshops to date, they are all available online using the buttons above this piece.  A few participants have rolled their eyes or expressed concern to me about the scale and variety of thoughts and ideas expressed over the three days. I confess to having experienced ‘that sinking feeling’ myself when faced with reading it all in December. I suspect that many of my team (whom I mercilessly subjected to the same fate) were also daunted by this task. However, having read everything and then spent a full morning together as a team focusing on what we heard, I’m pleased (and relieved) to say that some very clear themes and messages are emerging. These are summarised briefly on the attached pages.

When I wrote to you last October, I promised to confirm the arrangements for the final Open Space event on 14 January. It hasn’t been possible to do that before now as we needed to experience the first three events and the content they generated in order to work out what form the last event should take. However, having now held our internal team workshop and having conferred with Seth Honnor, our Open Space facilitator, I am now in a position to confirm that the next Open Space event will focus on the question  ‘How Can Dartington Be?’

The attempt of this document (click here to download, .pdf) to summarise the key themes and messages from the past three Open Space Events is exactly that –  an attempt. There will be things that we’ve missed and things we’ve overstated in our minds and the process of finding our way will continue. But, if it is our best attempt right now at answering ‘What can Dartington be?’ then the next question seems to be: then how? The past events have certainly given me sufficient food for thought to begin to prepare a vision, purpose and future direction for the Trustees at their next meeting on 22 January. While the door is obviously still open to new ideas on 14 January, it would be of great help to me if the main focus could now shift from the ‘What’ to the ‘How’ in terms of how we move forward from this point, how we continue to keep the ‘open space’ achieved during November and December genuinely open in the future, how we approach and plan for the opportunities and challenges we have talked or dreamed about in our previous sessions, how we bring together our collective energy and resources to make remarkable things actually happen in a way that is realistic and sustainable (learning to walk before we run), how we address the financial challenge ahead… How can Dartington be?

If you’ve never been to an Open Space Event before, it is an inclusive way of organising people interested in helping to answer a complex question effectively. If you’re booked in to the event on 14, fantastic. It might be worth reading the summary of the previous Open Space notes ‘What we heard’, and/or you can find full notes by clicking on the’news room links above’.

Then on the 14th we will try to answer the question ‘How can Dartington be?’. I trust it will be a very interesting and worthwhile day and very much look forward to seeing some of you there.

Best wishes