Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Law of 2 Feet. What Do You Think?

“Think of the last time you were in a totally boring gathering and ask yourself: ‘Where was your heart and mind?’ Typical answer: Not present. Could be out on the beach, gone fishing, thinking of the next project -- but definitely not there. Only an uncomfortable body remains stuck in a chair -- maybe even snoring.” -Harrison Owen, creator of Open Space Tech (OST) and author of Open Space Technology: A Users Guide
Owen asks an interesting question for innovative educators to consider. While we would like to believe every meeting, presentation, or breakout workshop was meaningful, relevant, and engaging, the truth is sometimes they aren’t.


Owen, whose simple approach was developed more than 30 years ago to help people be more productive, follows up with this question: “How much better for all if you just went and did something useful!?”  


OST employs The Law of Two Feet. It is something we all do, albeit sometimes covertly as in the example above when our body is present, but our brain is not. The Law of Two Feet allows you to use your feet to bring your brain to a place where it would be of better use. If you’ve been to an EdCamp, Unconference, Unplugged, or other progressive, learner-directed event, you are familiar with the law of two feet. If you are unfamiliar, the concept may seem offensive or disrespectful. Read on to understand how this model may be useful to provide a worthwhile experience for those who attend your event, meeting, conference, symposium, summit, or retreat.


Typically, if someone is bored at a meeting or event, they may be seen as rude. But what if we acknowledged and even embraced those who were bored and flipped the situation on it’s head. Maybe the problem is not that someone is bored. Instead, perhaps the meeting or event could be more effective, more engaging, or maybe the person who is bored should not be there in the first place. Perhaps their time could be better spent elsewhere but they weren't given an option.


The Law of Two Feet, takes these considerations into account.  The law says this:


The purpose is this:
All participants are given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution, which the Law assumes only they, themselves, can ultimately judge and control. When participants lose interest and get bored, or accomplish and share all that they can, the charge is to move on. The "polite" thing to do is not to waste your time or anyone else’s. The polite thing is going off to do something else. This might be another session, going out into the sunshine, or dealing with a pressing work or personal matter.


In practical terms the Law of Two Feet says: Don't waste anyone’s time.


When this law is put into practice the result is that people have agency over their time. Inspiring side effects that are regularly noted are laughter, hard work which feels like play, surprising outcomes and fascinating new questions.


Here’s how it can be put into practice.

  1. Participants select topics.
  2. Participants choose a room, time, and explain their topic to the others, with the aim of drawing the right people to their session.


These two items can be done at or shortly before the event.  I do it by using a Facebook to start a conversation and a poll to gather topics folks want to address. I use a Google sheet to indicate the room, time, and description. Once topics are selected, others can vote on what they also find interesting using the Facebook poll.


One of the most profound impacts of the law is that it makes it exquisitely clear precisely who is responsible for the quality of a participant’s learning. If any situation is not learning rich, it is incumbent upon the individual participant to make it so. Responsibility resides with the individual.

This is goes hand in hand with the shift to the term professional learning rather than professional development in many circles. The new term signals the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous development and requires educators to take ownership for their learning.


This is a shift away from traditional top-down educational practices that are often done to others. With this model, learning is optional rather than mandatory. Individuals, rather than “authorities,” decide what is important. Learning is participatory rather than top down. Learning looks more like ownership rather than compliance. Bored or disengaged participants are embraced and inform the event rather than being blamed and labeled.  When the law of two feet is enacted and professional learning embraced a value is placed on active engagement, learner voice, creation, collaboration, inquiry, and reflection.


So what do you think? What would happen if the law of two feet was put in place where you work? What would be different? What would be better? Worse? If you teach, could you see implementing the Law of Two Feet in your classroom? Professional development? Meetings? Could you respect someone's decision to leave an event or opportunity you were leading? If they did how could you learn from that? Do you think this could be a good idea? A bad idea? What might get in the way?  
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