One of the great comments on my BCEdOnline2006 Unkeynote Debriefing included a link to a wiki page by Chris Corrigan on Open Space Technology - a set of ideas, practices and guidelines for conducting "open space" meetings. Very cool stuff, and it resonated quite well with what we got to do as part of Northern Voice 2006 - specifically the Social Software Salon and the Edublogger Hootenanny. I finally had a chance to go through the linked wiki page, and it's chock full of goodness. I don't think it has to go as far down the kumbaya spectrum as Chris describes - even just the arrangement of the chairs sends a powerful message and sets expectations.
When they work, open space meetings are incredible. Dynamic, interesting, engaging.
When they don't work, they sort of devolve into what appears to be chaos. It isn't chaos for everyone, but you have to dig to see the good stuff.
One of the strikes against us at the BCEdOnline Unkeynote was the design of the room, and the layout of the chairs. With all chairs neatly arranged in rows, pointing to the front, it's harder to engage individuals. We jokingly suggested that we should have turned the standing microphones around so you had to face the audience to speak, but I think even that small gesture would have helped. I'm not convinced that the number of attendees was too high, in and of itself. With proper layout and organization of the physical space, this open meeting concept should scale. There must be a way to experiment with that...