Guest contributor Edward Erfurt is a member of CNU's NextGen. He blogs at Restless Urbanist and can be followed on Twitter. This blog entry contains two posts from his website and is published here with his permission.

This blog post is dedicated to introducing you to Open Source so you will be inspired to bring a topic to Madison. CNU 19 is hosting an en masse Open Source Congress. Bring your thoughts and topics to discuss with other urbanists from across the globe.

The concept is simple; share a topic or idea during the Thursday morning Plenary, find like-minded participants, and host a discussion on your topic. The Open Source Congress will bring together small groups of enthusiastic people to work with you to tackle your challenge. This is an opportunity to use the broad resources of the Congress attendees. Use the day to develop these ideas.

These topics could be simple in nature, or you could prepare a more elaborate presentation to share. Several topics have been developed during previous Congresses such as Light Imprint UrbanismSprawl Retrofit, and Tactical Urbanism. These topics started with small groups and have expanded in a national discourse and publications. 

The annual Congress has always had intelligent and challenging presentations from some of the best minds in the business, but the schedule is tight and not every topic has the opportunity to have a plenary session. At the same time, the Congress is full of smart, talented, committed urbanists. Open Source is the opportunity to discuss and explore additional topics and for all of us to interact and engage. Best of all, what happens during Open Space is entirely up to you.

I will be sharing several blog posts over the next few days explaining the simplicity of the process and the CNU venue, which I assure you takes longer to write then it does to explain. Now is the time to start sharing your ideas. Begin putting together your thoughts, and share on the CNU webpage, various list-serves, Facebook accounts or blogs. 


Open Source Format

What is the simplest way to share an idea: Open Source. The Congress for the New Urbanism’s National Conference is hosting a venue for Open Source. Open Source has been a growing trend during the Congress, and this year the first day of the Congress has been dedicated to the ideas of the broad membership.

For those of you new to Open Source or to the annual Congress gathering, I wanted to share with you the process. I was able to get a preview of Jennifer Hurley’s notes, so she deserves all the credit for this. I will be sharing the history of Open Source at CNU in an upcoming post. There are no surprises to Open Source -- it is really simple. 

Technique: To help the participants at the Congress in Madison engage with each other, a full day has been dedicated a technique called “Open Space Technology”.  It’s been used for more than 20 years, all over the world, with groups as small as 5 people and as large as 2000.  It was created by a guy named Harrison Owen who wanted to combine the interaction and energy that happens in a good coffee break, with the substance and content of traditional conference sessions. 

Mechanics: The first step in the process is for anyone in the audience who wants to come to the front of the room, write a topic you care about and your name on a piece of paper, and read out your topic and name to the group.  You will then choose a time slot and location for your discussion by selecting one of the sticky notes.

A main wall in the Ballroom becomes our community bulletin board with the schedule of the “insta-Congress”.  Once everyone has named their topics, we will open up the “village marketplace” so that people can find which sessions they want to join. Sessions and presentations may inspire additional topics, which can be added to the marketplace throughout the Congress. 

There is one session Thursday morning in the main ballroom room, and then there are sessions concurrent with other breakout sessions throughout the Congress.  Topic leaders choose when and where your discussion takes place. 

Passion & Responsibility: Open Space Technology is based on the twin pair of passion and responsibility.  Things only get done when someone takes responsibility for it, and people really only take responsibility for the things they are passionate about.

When you put your topic and name down, you are taking responsibility for (1) showing up at the appointed time and place, (2) getting the conversation started, and (3) finding someone in your group to take notes. 

OST works based on 4 principles, and 1 law.

  •  4 principles:
    •  Whoever comes are the right people
    •  Whatever happens is the only thing that could
    •  Whenever it starts is the right time
    •  When it’s over, it’s over
  •  The Law of Two Feet:
    • If you find yourself neither learning nor contributing, it’s your responsibility to take yourself somewhere else.
    • Your experience here today is entirely up to you.

Setting the Agenda: The agenda is simple. You are invited write your topic and name on a paper, and read out the topic and your name to the group.  As stated before, Open Space Technology is based on Passion and Responsibility. You do not have to hold onto your passions until you walk into the Convention Center in Madison. Take advantage of social networking to start posting your ideas and find other like minded individuals before the Congress.

Opening the Marketplace: Once all of the topics are placed at the Village Market Place, you will see the full schedule of topics. You are free to go to any session that interests you. If you want to go to two sessions at the same time, you can try to convince one of the conveners to change their time slot, or you can bounce between the two sessions.  If you think two sessions ought to merge, talk to the conveners.  As soon as you’ve decided which session you want to join, please go and get started.  The marketplace is now open.

During the sessions, you have 4 principles, and 1 law. Some of you will be pollinators. You may take advantage of the law of two feet and move between groups. During this process you may share ideas from one group and pass them onto another.

The other exciting part of Open Source is that when it is over, it is over. In previous Congresses, I have participated in sessions that moved onto dinner, and even late into the night. I am not sure if I can attest to the best note taking as the night went on, but I built some of the best friendships during these sessions. 


The closing has a couple of purposes. First, it is an opportunity to share the notes from your session with other participants. Secondly, it is an opportunity to share with the entire group your thoughts of the event. The entire group will return and join in a big circle for the closing. As we go around the circle, you are invited you to share any reflection you wish about your experience. This is simply a time for sharing, not for dialogue. 

If you are a first time attendee to the Congress for the New Urbanism, this is the best way to make 500 new friends on the first day.


Strong Towns will be at CNU 19. Over the coming weeks we will be previewing Congress events and activities. If you have something you would like to share here relating to CNU 19, please contact Charles Marohn at We thank Edward Erfurt for sharing his material here today and encourage everyone to follow his blog, Restless Urbanist.