Towards a Design for a Virtual Open Source Event

by Philip Boxer

A Virtual Open Source Event (VOSE) aims to hold both sides of the dilemma identified in the previous blog asking what we can learn from going virtual. In the design below, the word ‘matrix’ is used in the Foulkesian sense of “the network of all individual mental processes, the psychological medium in which they meet, communicate and interact”.[1]

The design uses a virtual platform, for example Slack, that can provide synchronous and asynchronous communication among participants over an extended period of weeks. The participants come together because they have direct experience of a problem domain[2] and are wanting to develop new initiatives within it that have the possibility of adding value within that domain. Participants’ direct knowledge of and experience within the problem domain is crucial, whether from the supply-side or the demand-side, because this is necessary to the forms of learning that will arise in the matrices.

The work takes place within four matrices, each with its own moderator and each with its own distinctive focus.[3] Three of these matrices focus on different perspectives on the domain: the Witnessing, Plus-One and Parallel Process matrices. Participants bring these perspectives together in the fourth Development matrix as planned collaborations, in which the focus is to ensure that the spokes of each collaboration’s development wheel can be balanced.

The VOSE ends when a majority of its participants are ready to put their planned collaborations into action.

Plenaries: Two plenaries involve all participants and moderators. The Opening Plenary introduces the event. The Closing Plenary reviews the emergent learning.

Witnessing matrix: Participants form a matrix in which individuals identify and narrate situations in which there is a value deficit and/or injustice that has arisen within the chosen problem domain.  The rule in this matrix is to make no interpretations.

Plus-One matrix: Participants fishbowl around a 3-person plus-one process exploring an individual’s experience of a situation identified in the Witnessing matrix. The individual uses the emergent metaphors to formulate a counter-narrative and underlying dilemma implicit in his or her reading of the situation.

Parallel process matrix: Participants fishbowl around individuals focusing on their understanding of the parallel processes in a situation with its underlying dilemma that has emerged from the Plus-One matrix. The aim is to explore the strategy ceilings constraining the ways in which the dilemma is being responded to.

Development matrix: Participants form collaborations that bring together insights from the other three matrices to form initiatives that can be balanced across all the spokes of the development wheel.

Enaction: The VOSE exists to work through understandings of what is going on in the problem domain and the crises limiting what innovations are possible within the domain. Enaction involves moving to a third moment with its third crisis, getting past which enables new collaborations to be realised.

Moderators: Each matrix has its own moderator supporting its work.[4] Moderators’ meetings are to provide peer support in sustaining the different kinds of relationship between the participants in each matrix. Participants can observe moderators’ meetings in ‘fishbowl’ and contribute issues for consideration.[5]


[1] The quote is from Foulkes, S.H. and Anthony, E.J. (1965) Group Psychotherapy: The Psychoanalytic Approach: Second Edition Karnac Books: London. The role of each matrix becomes apparent through the fishbowl effect created by the relationship of its participants at any one time to the working of a focal individual or group within it. In effect, the fishbowl turns the work of the focal individual or group ‘inside-out‘.

[2] A problem domain defines the ‘north star’ bringing people together because of their shared concern for what is going on within a domain. This is most apparent in the public and not-for-profit sectors, where issues of health, social services, urban economic growth, housing, transportation etc bring people together with the political will to make something happen. Such ‘north stars’ are not so apparent in the private sector because they take any individual organization beyond its definition of itself to have to consider its role within a wider ecosystem. Examples such as energy, digital communications, insurance, farming and recycling etc nevertheless present the same challenges.

[3] The design is thus a further development of the 12-step witnessed plus-one process. It separates out the identifying of narratives (the Witnessing matrix), the situating of a narrator within a larger ecosystem-of-concern (the Parallel Process matrix) and the development of a dilemma formulation from a plus-one process (the Plus-One matrix). This enables there to be a circulation around these matrices by a larger group of participants within the problem domain. To this it adds the Development matrix, in which the development wheel is used to examine critically the planned interventions emerging from participants’ collaborations in terms of both their balance and their leadership dynamics.

[4] Depending on the numbers of participants involved, the VOSE can be run either by a team of 4 moderators or one moderator taking up the different moderating roles in succession. The key is that the contract with the participants is to be working with their transference to the work of the VOSE. This means that the moderator(s) have to be very clear about the different way of working in each matrix, and to be able to hold these differences. This leaves the participants with the challenge of how they put it all together.

[5] The fourth Development matrix is the place where participants bind together what has emerged for them in the other three matrices in ways that have meaning for them. This binding can be thought of as a Borromean knotting. The challenge for the moderators is to enable the essential incommensurabilities between the other three matrices to be held.

2 Replies to “Towards a Design for a Virtual Open Source Event”

  1. Dear Mr.Boxer
    A good design model for unstructured behavioural intervention is emerging out of your intellectual and academic endeavour. This was forwarded to me by my friend Mark Argent from Cambridge. Another GRC practitioner. May I humbly take the liberty to point-out that the extended form of the acronym VOSE has the last word as ‘Even’ instead of ‘Event’. (It was the finger, I guess. ) It gave me head-reels until I discovered that is is event.
    I plan to spend more time with this framework and exchange my humble learning with you. Cheerful homestay and health safety. Best, Satyakki Bhattacharjee

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