Clean Space revisited

A fresh look 7 years on
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Presented at The Developing Group 1 August 2009


0. Introduction
1. Clean Space Lite
2. Facilitator choices
3. Responding to ‘the unusual’
4. Add-ons
5. Group Clean Space
6. Using Clean Space with other processes
7. Novel Clean Space sessions
8. References and background reading

0. Introduction

A brief history

David Grove apparently got the idea for Clean Space in 2001 while crossing an ocean on a container ship. As far as we know, the first workshop to explore the embryonic process was held in Auckland in February 2002.

We published our version of Basic Clean Space in 2003.

David continually evolved his ideas and within a few years Clean Space morphed into Emergent Knowledge.

With the benefit of hindsight and seven years of experience and experimenting, we thought it was  time to revisit our first model.

We aimed to review the Basic Clean Space model and:

Produce a simpler Clean Space Lite version that contains only the central elements and can easily be learned by novice facilitators. ‘Lite’ in this sense does not mean fewer calories but (as in computer jargon) refers to a fully-functioning product that is limited to the essential features and aimed at entry-level users. Extra features require an upgrade and more skillful operators.

Identify the main choices available to the facilitator within the Lite version and the factors involved in deciding what to do in the moment

Note some of the ways facilitators have found to respond to the unusual, i.e. when the client does something not obviously covered by the Lite version.

Document some of the common add-ons in the feature-rich versions practiced by experienced facilitators.

Our approach was to:

Raise questions for consideration and give suggestions rather than definitive answers.

Use behavioural examples of what clients and facilitators actually say and do in various circumstances.

Have novice and experienced facilitators test our ideas.

A ‘Lite’ version has several advantages:

It is easy to learn. We have introduced Clean Space Lite to several groups who had never heard of the process. After a brief introduction we demonstrate it, give the participants the handout, and while they are trying it out provide in-the-moment coaching. Although we have presented this material in two hours, half a day is better.

It makes the core features of the model clear. Because the Lite version is uncluttered with fancy bits, its nature becomes apparent to facilitators and, more importantly to clients. Facilitators learn they need only follow the process. Facilitators need to learn to refrain from adding any extra words to either the instructions or the questions, and to refrain from commenting on what’s happening. It can be a real stretch for some facilitators to, as David Grove put it, let their “I-ness appear to cease to exist”.

Using the Lite version will help experienced facilitators be clearer about the choice they are making to bring in a variation or add-on. Because there is so little for them to do facilitators have more capacity to notice and seamlessly incorporate a client’s ‘unusual’ or idiosyncratic behaviour and subtle cues into the process.

The more variation or add-ons that are introduced the more the facilitator needs to keep the core process in mind to guide their decisions. Otherwise it can cease to be a Clean Space process and can morph into something else. (If that is the intention, fine, and the particular value afforded by the nature of Clean Space may be lost.)

Another consideration is that each choice to add in something gives the facilitator’s personal ‘stuff’ a chance to unwittingly enter the process. In it’s Lite form Clean Space is ‘content free’, i.e. the client’s words have next to no influence on what the facilitator does and consequently the facilitator’s model-of-the-world can have minimal influence on the client’s process.

Finally, it is as well to remember that the essence of Clean Space is not in the spaces, it is not in the questions, and it is not in the number of iterations. Clean Space is effective because of what happens in the client’s mind-body system as it interacts with the context created by the process. The joy of Clean Space is that it is so simple and so ‘clean’.

1. Clean Space Lite - The minimal process

Clean Space Lite is a simplified version of the ‘basic process’ published in 2003. To achieve as Lite a version as we could while still retaining the essence of Clean Space we removed some of the choices and less well-used parts of the basic model. These have been incorporated into Section 2: Facilitator Choices.

Summary of changes are:


  • The choice for the client to draw as well as write a statement of their desired outcome.
  • The choice for the client to work with a ‘topic of interest’.
  • Instruction at the end of the process to ‘When you are ready, collect up your paper and post-it notes’.


  • “And where is [new location referenced by client]”.
  • “And is there anything else this space knows (about …)?”.


  • “(t)here” with ‘there’.
  • “And find a space that know something else about [client’s words]” with ‘And find another space’.
  • “And what is this space called” with ‘And Mark this space with this [hand client a post-it note].
  • Referring to “name of space” with a nonverbal ‘[gesture to statement/drawing]’.
  • “Routines” with more formulaic instructions:
    • Repeat until spaces 2-6 have been located
    • Repeat question for a few spaces
    • Repeat until spaces 2-6 have been revisited


  • Made the [statement/drawing] the focal point for establishing the initial network
  • Simplified the Guidelines.

Guidelines for Facilitating ‘Clean Space Lite’

1. Your aim is to facilitate the process so the client experiences an emerging network of spaces (rather than to develop the information contained within each space).

2.  The theory is based on the premise that by physically spatialising the contents of our mind we can move around and examine them a new way. The network holds the information and produces unexpected systemic effects. This results in different perspectives, understandings and motivations — without the need for any other interventions from the facilitator.

3. The general format is:

  • The client starts by representing the subject matter for the activity in words or as a drawing.
  • They place that somewhere and then locate themselves in relation to it. They are now in ‘Space 1’.
  • They are facilitated through the Knowing from a New Space and Locating a New Space procedures to establish five more spaces (six in total).
  • Through the Returning to an Existing Space procedure, interconnections between the spaces are explored.
  • The client finishes the process by returning to Space 1. This is their ‘control position’ from which they can notice any changes that have occurred during the process.

4. Keep the process moving — spend a short time in each space, especially during the early stages. Until the network is established, ask a maximum of three questions per space.

5. Direct each question to a particular space and make your gaze and gestures congruent with the location of the client’s spaces. Reduce eye contact and aim your question to the network, not to the client.

6. Make minimal interventions:

  • Remember you are facilitating the client to self-model. Change occurs as a result of the client’s system self-reorganising — not from your interventions.
  • You do not need to use any of the client’s words in your questions and directions – use can use gestures to refer to spaces instead.
  • Add no words of your own, and especially do not comment in any way on what is happening or what has happened.
  • Only ask one question at a time, and wait until the client has finished talking and processing.
  • Do not prevent the client from doing whatever they want – just incorporate it into the process as best you can.
  • The more psychoactive the network becomes the more it will be your co-facilitator, and the less you will need to do.

Postscript March 2012: James has written a blog, Setting Up Clean Space, which focusses on the artistic (rather than the technology) aspect of Clean Space.

2. Facilitator choices

Even if you facilitate the Lite version of Clean Space exactly, you will still have plenty of choice and will need to constantly make decisions such as:

– How do you know when to ask your next question?
– In which order do you return the client to existing spaces?
– Which spaces do you refer to in the ‘Returning to’ routine?


And a whole host of nonverbal considerations including:

– Where to position yourself?
– How to deliver your questions and instructions?


These choices are discussed below.

In addition once you are familiar with the Lite version (i.e. you can run it without any reference to the diagram) there are more facilitator choices and variations available. These are divided up according to whether they relate to choices about:

2.1    The Network
2.2    Facilitator Language
2.3    Client Content


Source of facilitator decisions

But before we look at your options, we want you to consider: Where does the motivation for that choice come from?  In general terms there are three places where choices come from. We can metaphorically speak of these as behind, within, and out there (see diagram below). 

We suggest that the more your decisions are based on what is happening for the client ‘out there’ the more you will be tailoring the process to the idiosyncrasies of this particular client at this particular moment in time. To do this requires a high degree of sensory acuity, self-awareness and the ability to ‘park’ your personal reactions.

Of course no one can do this entirely. But as John Grinder says: “The agent of change has a special responsibility to not make an imposition of their perceptions, beliefs or values. This is almost an impossible task. But it’s one worth struggling to achieve.” For the novice facilitator, the best way to achieve this is to stick to the process.


How many spaces to include in the network?
Ways to establish the network
How many spaces to return to?
Which spaces to refer to?
Marking and naming spaces
Placing yourself in relation to the client and their network

How many spaces to include in the network?

The Lite version is particularly aimed at novice facilitators. Our aim for those learning to facilitate Clean Space is to understand the essence of the process without having to take decisions which require experience you do not yet have. Specifying that the initial network should consist of six spaces is one less choice you have to make.

David Grove found it generally takes more than three iterations for a person to go beyond what is obvious to their system. David plumped for six as the number which would have the optimum effect for the minimum number of spaces. For more on this topic see Philip Harland’s forthcoming book The Power of Six and the chapter on “Knowing the Numbers”.

Clean Space requires a number of interconnected spaces for the emergence of a network. It doesn’t have to be six. If you are short of time it could be five, even four might do. With plenty of time and if it seemed relevant to a particular client you may go well beyond six. However more is not necessarily better. At some number the ‘law of diminishing returns’ will likely become a factor.

An experienced facilitator may choose to establish further spaces during the ‘Returning to’ phase if the client indicates that a piece of their puzzle does not yet have a space, or some vital new piece of information has made itself known. Above six spaces there is always a trade off between being more inclusive, the time available, and the added value.

Ways to establish the network

The Lite version establishes a network of six spaces using the instruction:

And find another space.

We recommend this form of words because they are so open they leave the client plenty of room to move to any other location and then discover what they know from there. Other, more directive instructions have been tired. These include using:

a. The statement/drawing as the reference point for each move:

And find a space that knows something else about that [gesture to statement/drawing].

b. The space they are currently occupying as the reference point for the next move:

And find a space that knows something else about this space [gesture to current space].

c. Some of the client’s content:

And find a space that knows something about [some of the client’s content].

d. A combination of the above

If used repeatedly (a) produces a star network, (b) a more linear network, (c & the Lite version) a more random network. Eventually, when the relationships between spaces are explored they all end with a mesh network.

How many spaces to return to?

Clean Space Lite suggests returning to “spaces 2 – 6 (in any order” before finishing in Space 1.

If you are short of time you can be reduce the number of spaces returned to three is a minimum. Any less and there is less chance of the network effect emerging.

The order in which you instruct the client to return to existing spaces is left to your discretion. As discussed above, this should be mostly based on what is happening for the client, where they are in the process and the configuration of the network.

Some strategies for deciding which space to revisit first include:

– Where the client has indicated something has changed.
– The space where the client had the biggest (nonverbal) response.
– ‘The odd man out’.
– The space furthest away.

Our advice is to not have a pre-determined strategy but to make each of your decisions in the moment.

As you become more adept and if time is not an issue you can consider revisiting a space more than once. David Grove realised the value of iteration. We saw him repeatedly return a client to a ‘Sweet Spot’ (a space where there is a lot of new knowing), and often repeatedly return a client to Space 1.

As an aside, it is possible to dispense with the ‘Returning to’ routine entirely. For example, having established the six spaces you move the client straight back to Space 1 and ask the ‘Finishing’ questions. While we have seen many people derive a great deal of benefit from this type of procedure (and it can generally be completed in 20 minutes), it does not have the potential for the richness of Clean Space’s network effect.

Which spaces to refer to?

Once the initial network of six spaces is established you will have a choice of five other spaces to refer to with your question:

And is there anything else you know from there about [gesture to one of the other marked spaces]?

You aim is for the interconnected nature of the network to be brought into the foreground and for the client to notice the effect of considering an experience from several perspectives.

As a general rule, you do not need to ask the client to consider all of the other five spaces each time. Three is reasonable number. You will need to make the choice in the moment based on the client’s responses, the configuration of the network and the time available.

The strategies listed above for choosing which spaces to revisit equally apply to which spaces to refer to. We recommend choosing spaces that seem to have the most effect while making sure no space is left behind. If you find that one space is particularly psychoactive, keep referring to it (see ‘Sweet Spot’ above).

And remember, at any time you can always add in another reference to the original statement/drawing.

Marking and naming spaces

The topic of whether or not to name a space produced the most discussion at The Developing Group. As a result in the Lite version we have opted for the client marking their own space, but not naming it. To achieve this we recommend the facilitator says:

And mark this space with this [hand client a post-it note].

And there are a number of other ways to mark spaces. In our previous Basic version the facilittor asked the client to name the space:

And what could this space be called?

And to write the name on a post-it note and place it where they are.

There are several advantages to naming a space:

To describe an experience in a short phrase, the client has to categorise their experience. To do this they have to review what happened in that space and decide on the core attributes that identify that experience. This in and of itself can be a valuable process.

When the client revisits the space or it is referred to from another space a name can help them remember what they experienced in that space. (In NLP terms it is a ‘verbal anchor’ in addition to the spatial and visual anchors of the post-it note.)

The facilitator can use the name to refer to the space. This is particularly useful when the spaces are widespread or there is no direct line-of-sight between one space and another.

The disadvantages of naming a space are:

The operation of handing a pen and post-it notes to the client each time can sometimes become cumbersome and interrupt the flow of the process.

Clients often end up holding the post-it notes and pen as they move around and this can restrict their use of gestures. (Generally the more their body is involved in the process the better.)

For some clients coming up with a name is considered difficult or a distraction from the topic they have chosen to be the focus of the process.

By the time a client returns to a space, or a space is referred to, something may have changed and the name could be out of date. As one client put it, “Not having a name gave me flexibility and allowed it to evolve.”

Note: If you are asking the client to name their spaces and at any time you cannot remember the exact words written on the post-it note, it is best to refer to the space by gesturing (rather than walking into the client’s network to read their post-it note).

A third option we have trialed successfully is for the facilitator to place a post-it note where the client was standing just after they vacated the space and while they are moving to find the next space.

This allows the process to flow without interruption or interaction between client and facilitator.

The drawback comes when some clients do not like where the facilitator has placed their post-it note – sometimes even an inch or two can matter. If this happens, immediately revert to the method suggested in the Lite version of having the client place their own post-it notes.

A variation on this method is for the facilitator to number the post-it notes 1 to 6 and to place them in order. This helps keep track of where the client is in the process and allows the facilitator to refer to a space by its number. The disadvantage is that it emphasises the order in which the post-it notes were placed which may reduce the client’s sense of the web-like nature of the network.

To conclude the debate about naming or not, we recommend having a go at running the Lite process without naming to see how it works. Having tried out both methods for a range of clients  our default is to request a name for each space, have the client write it down and use that to mark the space.

Placing yourself in relation to the client and their network

An important choice you will need to be considering throughout the Clean Space process is, where do you place yourself in relation to the client and their emerging network? The options are to:

Stay in one place throughout.

Wait until they have settled in a space and then move next to or near them.

Follow the client around (not recommended unless you want to end up looking like Bo-peep).

After the client has placed them self in Space 1, ask them where they would like you to be. But remember, as soon as the client moves from Space 1 you may no longer be in the ‘right’ place and you will be faced with the decision about where to put yourself.

Your choice will naturally depend on the environmental conditions: how much space is available and how easy/hard it is to hear. But it must also depend on the client’s (nonverbal) reactions – be prepared to move (or be moved) at any moment.

In whatever way you do it, you need to be respectful of the client’s space and their perspective. This usually means keeping outside of the network as much as possible, and moving about as little as possible. If you are inside of the network and near the client we recommend remaining slightly behind them and out of their lines-of-sight.

There is no need for the facilitator to match the client’s body since it may well be counter-productive. In Clean Space we are more interested in the client having a relationship with the network and their own perceptions than with the facilitator. To aid this you should orientate your body to the network rather than to the client.


Role of instructions and questions
Delivery and timing
Preserving perspective – use of ‘there’ and ‘here’
Who knows – ‘you’ or ‘the space’?

In choosing what to leave in the Lite version we were mindful of two factors: for the client to do a minimum of processing to make sense of the question or instruction; and to encourage the client to report from the space they are currently occupying. The key to achieving this is to ask your questions and give your instructions from the client’s perspective.

Role of instructions and questions

Instructions and questions play a different and complimentary role. It is important not to mix them up. You can make life easier for clients new to Clean Space by making sure your instructions are clear, and not questions disguising an instruction. Notice the difference between:

And find another space.

And (not recommended):

Could you find another space?
Is there another space you could go to?
Would you mind finding another space?

‘And find another space’ gives a clear directive. The client’s choice is focussed on the location of the space. In the other examples the client might start considering whether they can find a space or not. This is an added and unnecessary ‘load’ on the client. And how would you respond if they answer ‘no’? Of course there are ways to handle such a response (see ‘Responding to the Unusual’ below) but you do not want to encourage them!

The instructions in Clean Space are ‘clean’ because they are simple, straightforward and only contain spatial presuppositions. There are no client-content presuppositions and no references to the facilitator (as in ‘I was wondering, can you find another space?’).

An important concept in devising a Clean Space instruction or question is, to use Wendy Sullivan’s term, the ‘load’ it places on the client. The load depends on the amount of mental gymnastics required to make sense of a question or instruction. It is also a function of the kind of choice the client has to consider in order to make a decision. Choosing the load is a balancing act because if your question/instruction is too specified, or it is too open it can increase the load. Consider the following:

a. Return to [gesture to one of the marked spaces].

b. Return to another space.

c. Which space would you like to return to?

d. Is there a space that would like you to return to it?

We suspect that for most clients the processing load increases from (a) to (d).

a. Requires no decision by the client

b. Instructs the client to pick a space to go to.

c. Asks the client to decide and only implies they should go to it.

d. Requires the client to consider if they should return to any of the spaces, and if so they would need to decide which one, and then to go to it.

In the design of the Lite version we have also taken into account the load on the facilitator.

Delivery and Timing

There are some choices you cannot avoid – and most of them relate to how you deliver your questions and instructions. This in turn will have a major impact on the timing of your interventions and the overall flow of the process. For example:

– How quick/slow to say the words?
– Which words do you emphasise?
– How much gesturing do you do?
– Where do you place your gaze?

And you will need to consider:

– How do you know when the client has finished talking/processing?
– How long to pause after they have finished talking/processing?
– How many questions to ask in each space?
– How much talking/process do you ‘allow’?
– When is the client ready to move on?

Overall, you can expect the process to take a minimum of 30 minutes (40-50 is more common) depending on:

– How much client says.
– How many spaces are revisited.
– How many other spaces are referred to from each space.

Preserving Perspective – Use of ‘there’ and ‘here’

Clean Space questions help to orientate the client by making frequent use of “from there”, e.g.:

And what do you know from there?
And is there anything else you know from there?

It is also acceptable to use “from here” instead as long as the client is clear that ‘here’ refers to where they are and not where you are:

And what do you know from here?’

Whether you use ‘there’ or ‘here’ when referring to the space currently occupied by the client is likely to be a function of your location relative to the client:

When you are standing at a distance, it will usually be easier for the client to make sense of ‘from there’  

Whereas when you are close to the client, it will be more congruent with the client’s perspective to say ‘from here’

Having said that, even when you are far from the client it is possible to use your voice tone and gestures to say ‘What do you know from here?’ in such a way that the client knows your ‘here’ is ‘there’, where they are.

If a client needs extra support to keep the spatial nature of the process in the foreground (rather than, say, the content of their story) you can incrementally increase the spatial references in your question as follows:

… from there                     … from here
… from that space              … from this space
… from that space there      … from this space here

Who knows – ‘you’ or ‘the space’?

Both the Lite and the Basic processes contain ‘And what do you know?’. In the Basic version an additional question is available:

And what does this space know?

We have restricted the Lite version to first question for three reasons: To keep the process simple; To lessen the load on the facilitator in having to decide which to use when; and because ‘And what does this space know?’ can sometimes seem a strange question to clients going through Clean Space for the first time.

When you are comfortable with facilitating the Lite version ‘as is’ we encourage you to experiment with asking ‘And what does this space know?’ because some people answer this question with different information to ‘And what do you know?’.

This question creates a dilemma for the facilitator similar to the ‘there’ and ‘here’ choice discussed above. Do you ask:

And what does this space know?
And what does that space know’?

Again, your choice will probably be a function of your location relative to the client. Also ‘What does that space know?’ can encourage the client to separate themselves from the space they are occupying. If that is your purpose you are more likely to achieve that in two steps:

And find another space that knows something else about this space.
[client moves]
And what do you know from here about that space there?


Repeating back
Using client content as process cues
Keeping spaces to separate kinds of experience

In Clean Space Lite we have removed all references to the client’s content. This has two consequences. It enables the facilitator to get to know the essence of the process without the complication or distraction of the client’s content. And it minimises the possibility of the facilitator’s personal preferences influencing the client’s process. As soon as client content can be referenced, the facilitator has dozens if not hundreds of choices to make. Each extra choice increases the chance of the facilitator’s stuff creeping in.

One of the by-products of not referencing client content is that you will have very little to remember and there is no need to take notes. This frees you to concentrate more on the client’s nonverbal responses. These will indicate when a client is ready for the next question, when they are ready to move to another space, where they have ‘hot spots’ (emotionally-charged spaces), and where their ‘sweet spots’ are (spaces which generate numerous insights).

We strongly recommend that before using the client’s content you facilitate the Lite version several times without using any client words. You will find that you have a different role to play than in traditional content-based facilitating. And you will likely discover just how much the client can do on their own.

More experienced facilitators may choose to make use of the client’s content. Below we give some guidance on how to do that in way that support and potentially enhance the Lite version.

Repeating back

Some facilitators like to repeat back the client’s words to build rapport. Our words sound different when said by someone else and this may encourage the client to reflect on what they have just said in a new way. However, repeating the client’s words not only slows down the process, it also means the facilitator has to decide:

Which words to repeat: all, some, only the last ones?


When to repeat: after each pause, before each question/instruction, just before leaving a space?

Furthermore the Clean Space facilitator does not require the same kind of rapport as is common in traditional counselling or coaching. The rapport comes from timing your instructions and questions to the rhythm of the client and directing their attention in relation to the configuration of the network. In this respect the process could be said to be ‘network-centred’ rather than ‘client-centred’. (See ‘Delivery & Timing’ and ‘Placing Yourself’ above.)

Using client content as process cues

To help you decide when to incorporate client content we have devised some guidelines which aim to retain the essence of Clean Space and keep it as free as possible from your personal preferences.

As a facilitator your options are to:

a. Give an instruction which includes client content
b. Ask a question about client content outside the current space.
c. Ask a question about client content within the current space.

Chances are (a) will retain more of the essence of Clean Space than (b), which in turn will retain more than (c). Therefore we recommend you primarily stick to (a) and (b) and we give examples below.

Using client content within the current space makes the process more akin to a Clean Language process. This can be used to good effect but it requires the facilitator to really keep their wits about them when managing the process, see Joining Up the Work of David Grove for some examples.

In Clean Space you want to make use of client content in a different way to how it is used in, say, Clean Language. Instead of modelling the client’s story and internal process we recommend you scan their words for what we call “process cues”. That is, verbal clues that can guide the direction of the process and inform you what to do next.

(a) Giving an instruction which includes client content

When the client’s content includes a reference to a space that has yet to be located we recommend you utilise it with one of the following formats:

And find a space that’s [client’s spatial reference].


And go to [client’s spatial reference].

Three examples:

C:    I need to be closer to my goal.

F:    And find a space that’s ‘closer to your goal’.

C:     I need to be elsewhere.

F:     And go to ‘elsewhere’

A client wanted to be “as far away from everything and everyone as possible.” And so James gave the instruction:

And go to ‘as far away from everything and everyone as possible’.

They moved out of the room, down a corridor and to the far end of the bathroom. James then cupped his hands around his mouth and spoke in a voice that suggested he was very far away; as if attempting to throw his voice across a large space:

And … what … do … you … know … from … t – h – e – r – r – e – e – e?


Removal of ‘And where is’ option

In the “Locating a New Space” routine in our 2003 model one option was to ask:

And where is [new location referenced by client]?

It was used when a client said something that indicated the existence of another space that has not yet been located. In the following example the clue to the existence of another space is in the client’s words “not here”:  

C:    There’s a part of me that’s not here.
F:    And where is that ‘part that’s not here’?
C:    Outside of all this.
F:    And where is ‘outside of all this‘?
C:    [Client looks around] Over there. [Client moves]

Now we think it easier just to say:

And go to that ‘part that’s not here’.

Or use a less direct instruction:

And find a space that knows something else about that ‘part that’s not here’.

(b) Asking a question about client content outside the current space

Some of the most important content to notice is when a client refers to a group of spaces. It is important because it indicates that the client has ‘moved up a level’ from knowing about individual spaces to knowing about the configuration of the network. Almost every reference to a configuration will be a metaphor. Common examples to listen out for are:

line, arc, circle, square, triangle, link, connection, edge, boundary, gap, etc.

Later we describe how you can develop the form of these metaphors with Clean Language, but for now we will concentrate on using them only with Clean Space instructions.

Once these configuration metaphors appear you should immediately reference them to acknowledge their existence;

And is there anything else you know about that [configuration metaphor] from there?

And keep directing the client to attend to these metaphors as they move around the network:

And what do you know about that [configuration metaphor] from here?

For example: TO BE ADDED





Occasionally the whole network of interconnections can coalesce into a single metaphor, as happened in the following case:

C:    I think there’s a centre to this whole thing.

F:    Go to that ‘centre’.

C:    [Slowly turning to view the whole network of about 15 spaces] It’s like I’m at the centre of a dome or a sphere with thousands of lights. [Long pause while they continue slowly turning, eyes closed, head pointing upwards.] I … I … This is it … This is … everything there is … I’m inside a giant universe of … [client finally comes to a halt]

F:    And is there anything else you know from here about that ‘giant universe’?

C:    [Looking around] Nope.

F:    And return to [gestures to Space 1].

C:    [Moves to Space 1.]

F:    And after all that, what do you know from here now?

C:    [Looks at their original outcome statement and bursts out laughing.]

Keeping spaces to separate kinds of experience

In the initial stages of establishing the network your aim is to keep the information in each space fairly self contained. This is one of the main reasons why you only ask two (and at the most three) questions in each space. The longer the client stays in a space the more they will likely access a whole range of information, and eventually end up with what David Grove called “an undifferentiated information mass”. This is contrary to the whole purpose of the initial phase of Clean Space – to differentiate information.

Clients who find differentiating information a challenge can benefit mightily from Clean Space. If a client starts to bring in different kinds of information, respectfully instruct them to describe their latest perception in another space:

And find a space that knows about [newly introduced client content].

For example,

F:    And what do you know from here?

C:    I really want that goal.

F:    And is there anything else you know about [gesture to statement/drawing]?

C:    It could change my life. Funny, that reminds me of when I was five …

F:    [Interrupting] And find another space that knows about five.

Also, if a client seems to be talking from a different space than the one they are occupying, you can move them to that space with:

C:    Here I am really confident. Over there [points to a previous space] I’m full of doubts [pause]. I’m beginning to wonder if I am really that confident?

F:    Here you are confident. Return to ‘over there’ [points to a ‘full of doubts’ space].

[Client moves]

F:    And what do you know from here about ‘if you are really that confident’ there [gestures to ‘really confident’]?

3. Responding to 'the unusual'

Human beings seem designed to do out-of-the-ordinary things, which by their very nature cannot be covered in our model or guidelines. David Grove was an expert in noticing when a client engaged in idiosyncratic behaviour, and adept at using the process to bring this to their attention. This usually resulted in the space becoming instantly psychoactive – and that’s exactly what you are looking for.

We have found a couple of frames useful in becoming adept at noticing and finding ways to incorporate the unusual. One is to: “Have no expectations, but great expectancy – and give up the need to know why things happen as they do.” (Caroline Myss) This attitude can result in a heightened appreciation of unexpected client behaviour – from the blatantly obvious to the very, very subtle (which is when size certainly doesn’t matter!).

Another frame we have adopted – from Milton Erickson – is that of ‘utilise, utilise, utilise’. In other words, make use of what’s there and what happens in the moment. The “no-waiting signs” story in our original Clean Space article is a lovely example. Another example of utilisation occurred during a Clean Space group process (see Section 5) where James was facilitating:

A female participant, M, was asked “And what do you know from there?”. She rushed across the room to another female participant, Q, who was sitting quietly in another space. When M arrived she put her arms around Q. M’s momentum resulted in Q lying on her back, with M sitting on top of her saying “I love you”. Q looked both surprised and far from enjoying herself.

To say I was taken aback would be a typical British understatement. I took a deep breath and said to Q, “And is there a space where you would like to be right now?”. She extricated herself and moved some distance away, focussing on M who was by now lying on the floor. “And what do you know from here?” I asked Q. She replied “That was totally inappropriate.” Using the same question I facilitated a short dialogue between the two women before returning to the agreed group theme.

Below we list a sample of client behaviours which do not fit neatly into the model. These are categorised into three groups:

3.1 Client doesn’t go to a new space
3.2 Client does something spontaneous
3.3 Other behaviours

Rather than attempt to memorise what to do in each case we recommend you review the examples and look for a pattern in the way of responding to the unexpected – then you’ll have a good idea what to do – whatever happens.

3.1 Client doesn’t go to a new space

Can’t physically get to a space

Once you have facilitated a number of clients through Clean Space it will not be too long before one of them says they want to go to a space that they cannot physically get to. It might be because the space is “on the ceiling” or “underground” or “On top of that building” or “Outer Mongolia” or “cloud coo-coo land”  “inside my body”.

If David Grove couldn’t arrange it so the client can physically occupy the space – ladders and a bit of ingenuity worked wonders – he used a neat trick he called a proxy space:

And find a space (you can go to) that can stand for (or represent) that space.

You then have to choose whether to continue as usual:

And what do you know from here?

Or preserve the perspective of the original space, e.g. a space on the ceiling:

 And what do you know from up there?’

David Grove employed a different tactic when, on a cold and wet winter’s day, a client said the space they needed to go to was on the other side of the street. They received the instruction:

Go to that space, find out what you know from there, what the space knows, and anything else you know from there about these spaces here [points to the existing spaces in the room], and report back.

Can’t find another space

If while wandering around a client says they can’t find another space to go to, just wait until they stop moving, then ask:

And what do you know from here?

or alternatively instruct them to:

And return to one of the other spaces.

Doesn’t want to go to a space

I (James) remember one client replying to “Return to there [gesture to a previous space]” with “I don’t want to go there again.” My response was:

And find a space that knows something else about ‘not wanting to go there again’.

This approach employs three clean concepts: utilisation; working in the here-and-now; and adjacency.

This instruction accepts the client’s intention to not go to that space again, and it invites them to find out something about their in-the-moment reaction to that space. In so doing the client’s attention is directed to an experience ‘next to’ the one they do not want to go to.

Alternatively, simply accept their statement and invite them to:

And return to another space.

If it seems appropriate later in the process you might use an early Clean Language question to test their willingness to go to that space:

And would you be interested in going to that space [gesture to it]?

Under no circumstances should you pressurise or even imply the client should go to a space they do not want to visit – even if you think it would be in their best interest to do so.

In Section 7, Example 2 is a mini-case study of a client who didn’t want to (or couldn’t) go to a particular space in their network.

In rare cases a client doesn’t want to return to Space 1. You must accept that and find some other way to complete the process. Given that the client has expressed a preference (to not go to a space) you could hand the choice over to the client:

And find a space where you would like to finish.

Then ask the ‘Finishing’ questions from there.

Doesn’t move when asked to

What do you do when you invite a client to ‘find another space’ or ‘return to …’ and they do not move? If you are surethey have heard your instruction, depending on the circumstance you can:

Wait (until they say or do something, and then respond to that)

or ask:

And is there a space you would like to return to?

If neither of these seem fruitful, it might be time to use a Clean Language question:

And what would you like to have happen next?


And what’s happening right now?

3.2 Client does something spontaneous

Moves on their own Just wait until they stop and continue with the process. Apparently steps out of the space they are occupying Ask:

And what does this space know?


And what’s the difference between this space and that space?

Moves a post-it note or their statement/drawing Ask:

And what do you know now?


And what’s the difference between there [gesture to old location] and there [gesture to new location]?

A special case would be if the client moves the Space 1 post-it note. As the process requires you to return them to Space 1 to finish, we recommend you stick with the process and when it is time to do the ‘Finishing’ routine, revisit the new Space 1 first, and the original Space 1 last. Removes one or more post-it notes You can still refer to the now empty space from another space:

And what do you know from here about [gesture to the empty space]?

If the space has lost it’s psychoactivity or meaning for the client then it can be ignored for the rest of the session. If it remains an active part of the network, continue to involve it in the usual way. Also, you still have the option to invite them to:

And go to that space [gesture to empty space].


And now what do you know from here?

Keeps moving (and doesn’t stop in one place) Wait, wait, wait. However, if they start saying what they know while continuing to move, try something like:

C:    As I move around what comes to mind is … F:    And is there anything else you know ‘as you move around’?


F:    And is there anything else you know ‘as you move around’ about [gesture to an existing space]?


F:    And return to [gesture to an existing space].


F:    And what do you know from here about ‘move around’ [gesture to where they moved around].

Amends content of drawing/statement Ask:

And return to [gesture to Space 1].


And now what do you know from here?

Continue establishing a network or return to spaces as appropriate.

3.3 Other behaviours

Asks you a question

Whenever possible answer with as few words as possible and in such a way that you affirm their question and do not decide on behalf of the client, e.g.

C:    Do you mean that space?
F:    Yes.


C:    Do you mean that space or that space?
F:    Either.


C:    Can I go to a different space?
F:    OK.

Can’t answer

If a client says something like “I can’t answer that question” or “I’m stuck here”. An obvious response might be: “Find a space were you can answer” or “Find a space where you are not stuck” but these are not clean because (i) they do not honour the client’s “can’t” or their “stuck”; and (ii) they probably come with an intention for the client to change. Cleaner responses would be something like:

And is there anything else you know when you can’t answer that question?


And find a space that knows something else about ‘being stuck’.

‘Know’ doesn’t work for the client

Very occasionally a client will have an unproductive response to the word ‘know’. They might say “The word ‘know’ doesn’t work for me” or “There’s something about ‘know’ that’s not quite right.” Just accept that and ask them what word would “work” or is “right”. Sometimes it will be ‘believe’, ‘think’ or ‘feel’. Whatever it is, use that in place of ‘know’.

Takes the whole thing completely literally

Penny and I have only ever seen this once. If it does happen you really don’t have much option but to stick with the process. First, you never know what’s happening unconsciously. And second, you can never know when the space might suddenly become psychoactive, e.g. the client starts to use metaphor or sees the symbolism in the configuration. Whatever the shift might be and however small, utilise it and build on that – slowly, slowly, slowly.

You run out of time

It doesn’t matter how far you have got through the process, always leave yourself enough time to return the client to Space 1 and to go through the ‘Finishing’ routine. If something unexpected means you need bring the session to a close, simply have the client return to Space 1 with the instruction “And notice what’s different.”

4. Add-on's

4.1 Other ways to start
4.2 Making use of other spaces
4.3 Turning

4.1 Other ways to start

Clean Start

While devising his Emergent Knowledge processes David Grove experimented with encouraging the space between the client and their statement/drawing to become psychoactive from the outset. He did this through a series of questions which required the client to closely attend to the attributes of the space created by their placements – the location, distance, height, direction or angle:

Once the client has positioned themselves in relation to their statement/drawing you can ask a number of the following questions in any order until the client is sure the spaces are right:

Are you in the right place?

Is that [statement/drawing] in the right place?

Are you at the right height?

Is that [statement/drawing] at the right height?

Are you facing the right direction?

Is that [statement/drawing] facing the right direction?

Are you at the right angle?

Is that [statement/drawing] at the right angle?

Are you at the right distance?

Is that [statement/drawing] at the right distance?

Is the distance between [client and statement/drawing] right?

If the client changes any of the variables – they move themselves or their statement/drawing – ask your question again just to check. You need a couple of congruent ‘yes’ replies before you know that they know that everything is just right. Then you can continue with the Lite process:

And what do you know from there?

For examples of Clean Starts in action see:

David and Carol Wilson’s description of a Clean Start in their article Emergent Knowledge and Clean Coaching

Philip Harland and Matthew Hudson’s article ‘A Clean Start to the Power of Six’ available by registering at their web site:

The chapter on ‘Creating the Network’ in Philip Harland’s forthcoming book, The Power of Six.

Starting with something other than with a statement or drawing

Written statements or drawings are the most common seed for starting Clean Space. However, since you are not going to refer to the content of a client’s statement or drawing, anything that has significance for them can be used as a starting point – be that an object, a sculpting, or a perception (imagined or remembered).

To illustrate this, Example 1 in Section 7 has a transcript of a session that starts with an imagined self.

If a client doesn’t know what to write or draw, and has not suggested any other starting point, we recommend reverting to the old Clean Language favourite:

And what would you like to have happen?

Whatever the client responds, you can simply say:

Put that down on paper and place it where it needs to be.

4.2 Making use of other spaces

In more free-format versions of Clean Space there are several ways to extend the network from the initial six spaces to include:

Spaces between The statement/drawing space A meta space Outside the network

Spaces between When a client has indicated that the space between two spaces has significance for them you can establish the ‘between space’ in one of two ways: Directly

And go to there [gesture to between the two spaces].


And find a space that knows about between there [gesture] and there [gesture].

Or, if they have given the between space a name (such a ‘link’, ‘dilemma’ or ‘relationship’) you can use their word(s):

And find a space that knows about [their word(s)].

The statement/drawing space It is worth remembering that the client’s statement or drawing is a node in the network just like any other space. Therefore you are entitled to invite them to go there:

And go to that space [gesture to statement/drawing].

A meta space Once a network has been established and some of its interconnections explored, you can consider inviting the client to ‘go meta’ to their current knowing with:

And find a space that knows about all of this [sweeping gesture to all existing spaces].


And what do you know from here about all of that?

Note: The shift from ‘this’ to ‘that’ is deliberate. Outside the network Similar to a meta space, yet subtlety different is the instruction:

And find a space outside of all this [sweeping gesture to all existing spaces].


And what do you know from here about all of that?

For some clients inviting them to find a space ‘that knows about all of this’ and ‘outside of all this’ would produce the same effect; for others their meta perspective might be ‘inside’ the network but at a higher-level of organisation; while their ‘outside’ might be the perspective of an independent observer external to the system. Or plenty of other variations. Fortunately you don’t need to know how the client will process the invitation, just use either one of them and respond to whatever happens.

4.3 Turning

Soon after he came up with the idea for Clean Space, David Grove started to experiment with the effect on a client of facing in different directions. The simplest way to offer a client the opportunity to experience this kind of effect is to have them turn and face in a different direction and notice what happens. As far as we know, David Grove did not settle on one way to invite a client to turn, so here are a few options:

Turn in either direction. Turn in another direction. Turn to face another direction.

And Philip Harland likes:

Turn slowly until you know something else.

Whatever way you initiate the routine, each time the client stops ask:

And what do you know from there?

And continue to turn the client until they return to their original position. Then ask:

And now what do you know?

You then have the possibility of turning them in the opposite direction and repeating the process. You may be wondering when is it appropriate to ask a client to turn. This has to be an intuitive judgement in the moment informed by cues from the client. The kind of cues you might look for are if the client:

Spontaneously turns their body a little. You can take this as the start of a turning routine and continue turning them in that direction. Mentions: turn, around, revolve, rotate, spin, roll, twirl, swivel, pivot, circle, wheel, arc, angle, etc. Appears fixed or transfixed, e.g.

“One client went to a space right in the corner of the room and stood facing into the corner. Asking the standard ‘Knowing from a new space’ questions produced short, whispered responses that the facilitator could not hear. The facilitator asked the client to turn and then what they knew in that direction. After four turns the client was back facing into the corner. “And what do you know now?” elicited “I’d be mad to stay facing this way”. The client spontaneously turned through 180 degrees declaring “I’d never have believed it could be so easy to get out of that bloody corner.”

5. Group Clean Space

Clean Space utilises the apparently innate ability of humans to make use of the metaphors of relative location, perspective and interconnectivity. For a number of years we have used the principles of Clean Space (as devised by David Grove for individuals) in a modified form so that they could be applied to groups. Below are some examples.

Example 1 - Large Group Process

There is a brief description at the end of an article on how Clean Space was used as part of a large group process (80 people) at the Findhorn Spiritual Community in 2003.

Example 2 - A Department Exploring a Topic

The example below took place in 2004. The group consisted of 14 people who worked in one department and came together for a day of reflection and professional development.

The Clean Space activity was the last of the day. The group had previously agreed that the purpose of the activity should be to explore how they could better support each others’ work. The central theme was “How to co-inspire each other”. (Of course you could substitute this with any desired outcome.)

We started with a short introduction to the idea of ‘co-inspiring’ as used by Humberto Maturana and Pille Bunnell. Maturana sees the processes of co-inspiration as follows:

“Co-inspiration arises from the conversations we have with each other that are conducted in mutual respect for the other and it provides for a manner of working together in freedom. Practical vision is the way of finding our life work such that every day is lived in passion, enthusiasm and delight for the Life we have.” *

A brief discussion followed on the purpose/frame for the activity.  I wrote ‘co-inspiring’ on a sheet of flip-chart paper and asked the group to “Place it where it needs to be”. After some looking around at each other, one person placed it on the floor in the middle of the room.  Someone else slightly adjusted its position and that seemed ok for the group.

Each participant wrote or drew on a sheet of paper (A4 size) one idea, concept, learning or experience related to co-inspiring. 

I established an ‘Observer’ space where people could go at any time to reflect on the process and the network of experiences that would be created. Everyone started in the observer space.

One by one participants placed their sheets “in the space where they need to be in relation to the topic and other people’s contributions” and standing in that place, read what was on their sheet, adding an explanation and example if they wished.

When everyone had placed their own sheet they were instructed either move to someone else’s space where they could add their knowledge, or create a new space for new information, or a connection between two or more existing spaces. When they arrived at their second space they were handed paper to record their input. Those who wished explained what they had written.

This process continued with participants moving and contributing in an ad hoc fashion.

After the initial discussion the activity ran for an hour and a quarter during which time more and more connections, issues, feelings, inspirations were expressed, located and connected into the emergent network (see diagram).

After a break the group sat around the edge of the space which contained the visibly recorded knowledge (on the sheets) and all the unrecorded contributions and interactions.  We reflected on the process and our learning, and captured the issues, desires and actions that resulted from the activity.

The feedback from the participants indicated that the exercise fulfilled its purpose of opening up ways for department members to be more supportive of each other’s work.

One of the key learnings was that Clean Space kept a group of highly individualistic people focussed on the agreed outcome. All other discussions during the day had meandered from topic to topic to topic; whereas for over an hour the entire group self-organized to maintain their contributions and discussions within the context of co-inspiring. Given the individuals involved, that was no mean feat!

To help you visualise the output of the process, see the map of the configuration and names of the spaces (as it stood at the end) of the Clean Space/Co-inspiring process. The space depicted is about 8 x 4 metres:


Humberto and Pille described their philosophy personally to Penny and I at the UKSS Systems Conference in Oxford, September 2004.

* The quotation comes from: The Transformative Learning Centre,
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto Gathering – One Earth Community – April 20-22, 2007.

See also: Blue Sky Way:How to Be a Practical Visionary and Live and Work in Co-inspiration by Kathleen Forsythe with Pille Bunnell.

6. Using Clean Space with other processes

6.1 Clean Language
6.2 Powers of Six
6.3 Other process

6.1 Clean Language

Outside the currently occupied space
Within the currently occupied space
Incorporating Clean Language questions into Clean Space instructions

Clean Language outside the currently occupied space

Clients indicate a higher-level knowing when they name a group of spaces, a relationship between spaces, or a metaphor for a configuration of spaces (e.g. line, shape, angle, edge, boundary, etc.).

In Section 2.3 we described how client content about the configuration of the network could be incorporated into Clean Space questions. In Section 4 we showed how the words clients use to describe the relationship between spaces could be used in a Clean Space instruction. Below we offer you a third option – to use a few Clean Language questions to develop the form and attributes of the emergent metaphors clients use to describe parts of their network of spaces.  Use the client’s exact word(s) for the grouping of spaces. For example:

… a bee hive [more to be added]

The key is to ask only a few Clean Language questions before returning to the Clean Space format. In this way you will preserve the spatiality of Clean Space without the client getting too deeply involved in their metaphor landscape.

Clean Language within the currently occupied space

If you are experienced at using both Clean Space and Clean Language you can briefly develop the form of a client’s metaphors – and especially resource metaphors – within a space.  Do remember not dwell too long within a space – keep the process moving by inviting the client to find new spaces or to revisit existing spaces.

Incorporating Clean Language questions into Clean Space instructions

An experienced facilitator can, when an appropriate context appears incorporate some of the standard Clean Language questions into a standard Clean Space instruction.

Find a space that knows …

… what you would like to have happen (now).
… what needs to happen for [client’s desired outcome].
… then what happens/what happens next.
… what happens just before [X]
… where [X] comes from.
… the relationship between [X] and [Y]? (or What’s between X and Y?)

For more on using Clean Language within Clean Space – and vice versa – see the article that accompanied the 4 October 2008 Developing Group where we explored how to ‘Join Up’ Clean Language and Clean Space.

6.2 Powers of Six

The same article explains how to ‘Join Up’ Clean Space and Powers of Six.

For an in-depth description of Emergent Knowledge processes incorporating the Powers of Six and Clean Space see Philip Harland’s forthcoming book The Power of Six, and Philip’s and Matthew Hudson’s web site

6.3 Other process


There are many NLP techniques that are based on spatially sorting states and perceptions. Many of these were devised by Roberts Dilts. While there are similarities between these processes and Clean Space, there are also differences:

NLP processes are more top down because the spaces are pre-defined categories, e.g. SCORE (Symptom, Cause, Outcome, Resource, Effect), Perceptual Positions (First, Second, Third), etc.

Clean Space is restricted to a small ‘clean’ question/instruction set.

NLP processes follow a pre-determined procedure. In this respect Clean Space Lite is closer to an NLP technique. However, the full Clean Space uses a set of routines that are applied in relation to how the client responds in the moment.

The idea, instructions and questions of Clean Space can easily be incorporated into many NLP techniques.

And some NLP processes can be incorporated into Clean Space. For example,

we worked with a person who had to make an urgent and important decision regarding his family. After the initial setup and him finding a number of spaces where he knew something about the situation, we used the NLP concept of ‘second position’ (see Perspectives to model by) in the framing of our instruction and questions:

Find a space that represents what [a family member’s name] knows about all this.

Followed by:

And what does [family member’s name] know from here?

And is there anything else […] knows about [one of the other space]?

We repeated this for each family member.

After revisiting some of the spaces we instructed him to:

Find a space outside all of this. [See 4.2 ‘Outside the Network’]

And finally:

Find a space that knows what you need to do.

From where he said he could “stand up and honestly speak my truth”.


There are also ways Clean Space that can be incorporated into many other processes – and vice versa. The group work of Arny Mindell (Worldwork) and Bert Hellinger (Constellations) immdiately spring to mind.

7. Novel Clean Space sessions

Example 1

The following transcript has been reconstructed from notes taken during a client session. We have left out most of the client’s responses to make it easier to see the way the Clean Space process has been used.

The transcript starts half way through the session. The client has arrived “shaking, feeling crushed and physically weak. I’m desperate. I feel like running away. I’m afraid of not succeeding”. Not surprisingly in that state the client found it difficult to define and access a desired outcome. As the session meanders from topic to topic the client again raises their fear of not succeeding in their chosen profession. The client then says “There are things I could be doing that I’m not doing”. She is asked “And what could you be doing that you are not doing?” To which she gives a number of ideas, followed by a quiet contemplation which appears to involved extensive internal processing and is accompanied by a clear shift in physiology. The session continues:

J:  What just happened?

C:  [Sitting at 1 in the Diagram] I came out of myself [gestures to a place in front and to the left, #2 in Diagram].
I took a look at myself.
I’m now in a better place.

J:  And when you came out of yourself, and looked at yourself, where did you look at yourself from?</p

C:  Over there [points to 2]

J:  How did you do that?
[gestures between client at 1 and space 2].

C:  I come out of myself and go to over there.

J:  Do that

C:  [gets up, moves to 2].
I look at myself [points to 1].
I hear more positive things.
I take them back [returns to sitting]. I feel better.

J:  Go there again [points to 2].

C:  [moves to 2].

J:  And what do you know from here?

C:   ….

J:  And is there anything else you know from here about [points to 1]?

C:  ….

J:  Find another space that knows about both of these [gestures between spaces 1 and 2].

C:  [moves to 3]

J:  And what do you know from here?
J:  And is there anything else you know from here about [points to 1]?
J:  And is there anything else you know from here about [points to 2]?
J:  And is there anything else you know from here about the relationship between those two [points to 1 & 2]?

J:  And find another space that knows about all three [gestures between 1, 2 and 3].

C:  [moves to 4]

J:  And what do you know from here?
J:  And is there anything else you know from here about [gestures to 1], or [gestures to 2], or [gestures to 3]?

J:  And is there anything else you know from here about the relationship between those three [gestures between 1, 2, 3]?

J:  Find another space that knows about all of this [gestures between 1, 2, 3 and 4].

C:  [moves to 5]

J:   And what do you know from here?

C:  A huge depth of love … [This statement is developed into a metaphor using the ‘State to a Metaphor’ Clean Language vector.] An undeniable light, really gentle,
yet passionate, and compassionate, and pure, whiter than white. Almost sacred.
Closer to the divine.

J:  And with this [recap attributes of symbol] what do you now know about [gestures to 1, 2, 3, 4]?

J:  And anything else from here?

J:  And here [points to space of 5] is closer to the divine. And is there another space?

C:  [Moves to 6, closes eyes and accesses what looks like a deeply pleasant state]

J:  [After a period of silence] Take all of this back via [points in order to spaces 5, 4, 3, 2] to [points to 1]

C:  [Moves – stopping in each space for a moment – back to 1]

J:  And now what do you know?

J:    And what difference does it make to know that?

The client gave a long explanation amongst which were  a couple of desired outcome statements. When she had finished Penny recapped the desired outcomes and we continued with a Symbolic Modelling session.

Example 2

During Clean Space a client was reflecting on the layout of their spaces when they said:

“These four spaces form corners of a square.”

This was interesting because the client was pointing to the space they occupied, two other spaces and a not-yet-visited space on the opposite ‘corner’ of the ‘square’. Naturally I (James) invited them to go to the as-yet-unvisited ‘corner’ with:

“Go to that space [point across the square].”

They set off walking along the right hand side of the ‘square’, got about half way and turned back. Then they set off down the left hand side of the ‘square’, got about half way and came back again. [I had not moved from standing next to the original ‘corner’.] After a few moments of twitching the client said “No.” Now what to do? I had lots of options:

  • Simply ask: “And what do you know now?”
  • Invite them to go to either of the turn-back points on the left and right-hand sides of the square.
  • Suggest they ‘go meta’ with: “Find a space that knows something else about this square.”
  • Use adjacency as in the example above.

I went for the “And what do you know now?” option.

To my surprise the client burst into tears. When they had finished sobbing I asked them to:

“Return to that space [point to the right-hand ‘corner’ of the square].”

They walked all the way down the right-hand side of the square to that corner without a hesitation at the previous turn-back point.

“And now what do you know from here?”

When they had answered, my next instruction was:

“Return to that space [point to opposite corner to where they now are, i.e. the left-hand corner to where they had been].”

They marched straight across the diagonal and when they got to that corner I asked:

“And now what do you know from here?”.

I was lost for what to do next. I felt I had given enough directions and it was time for them to take charge of their own process:

“And where do you need to go next?”

Again to my surprise they went and got a chair, took it to the unvisited corner of the square and sat down. This space turned out to be what David Grove called a “sweet spot” and the client went on to have a transformative experience.

8. References and background reading

These notes have been extensively revised as a result of the feedback from The Developing Group — mucho gracias.

David Grove:

Clean Space: The first Workshop

David Grove with Carol Wilson:

Six Degrees of Freedom: Intuitive problem solving with Emergent Knowledge.

Emergent Knowledge ΣK™ and Clean Coaching

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley:

Clean Space: Modelling Human Perception through Emergence.

When ‘Where’ Matters: How psychoactive space is created and utilised.

Proximity and Meaning: A clean approach to adjacency.

Joining Up the Work of David Grove.

Iteration, Iteration, Iteration

Thinking Networks II

The Neurobiology of Space.

Self-Organising Complex-Adaptive Systems: A Large Group Metaphor Process (at the Findhorn Community)

Philip Harland, The Power of Six (to be published September 2009).

Philip Harland and Matthew Hudson’s web site:

The Clean Forum’s thread on Clean Space:

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