Extending Clean Space

Activities to create new processes
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Presented to The Developing Group, 28 Nov 2015


We are writing a book on Clean Space and creativity [published as Insights in Space]. David Grove’s Clean Space is multi-layered. It consists of some general principles, a process, and the practice of asking clean questions and giving clean directions. Using the principles and practices it is possible to create all sorts of novel processes, tailored to particular circumstances (see diagram 1).

We have isolated what we call the ‘essential’ routines which include just six clean questions and six clean directions. However, the fun in life is responding to the unexpected and in Clean Space that means responding to an explorer’s (client’s) idiosyncratic process. While we can’t be prescriptive about what to do, we have produced guidance on how to respond. Since this needs be dependent on what happens in the particular conditions that arise in the moment, we’ve called these supplementary options the ‘conditional’ questions and directions. 

And sometimes, circumstances dictate that the process itself needs to be varied. Because it is so flexible, and dare we say ‘clean’, there is plenty of scope for innovation. We reviewed many of the variations created since 2002 when Clean Space first made an appearance and identified six features – which together with the set of standard Clean Space directions and questions – can be combined to produce an almost limitless number of new processes (see diagram 2).

On the 28th November 2015, members of the Developing Group were guided through a series of activities to experience and create entirely new processes based on Clean Space principles. Whether the twenty participants were trainers, teachers, group facilitators, consultants, coaches or self-developers, our aim was for them to try out some brand new variations and to stimulate them to create processes tailored to their particular circumstances.
Background reading
A number of articles are available at: cleanlanguage.com/category/csem/
Below we describe some of the activities we ran on the day (amended as a result of the feedback we received).

Introductory group activity

Clean Space is based on the idea that spatial relationships can have psychological and symbolic meaning. In the essential directions several physical actions can also be interpreted metaphorically:
  • Place
  • Find
  • Return to
And similarly in the conditional directions:
  • Go to
  • Turn
This gave us an idea. What other actions could be brought into Clean Space?
While there are hundreds of action words (verbs), only a few are neutral enough to be considered ‘clean’ because they do not specify the way they are to be enacted. These include:
  • Move
  • Remove
  • Separate
  • Bring together
  • Raise
  • Lower
  • Rearrange
We started the day by running an introductory group activity, using space as a metaphor for the relationships between people in the group. This is what we said to the group.
Before we begin, a couple of general guidelines:
  • We’ll be asking people to move about as part of the process. If at any time you need to adjust your position (including because of what other people are doing) please feel free to do so.
  • We will be asking you, “And what do you know here?” and “And now what do you know here?” For the most part, please keep your responses to yourself. At each stage of the activity we will ask for two or three people to report on their experience.
  •  We have designated this space for the activity, everywhere else in the room is ‘outside’ this space.

1. Consider your relationship to the group.

2. As a group, arrange yourselves in relation to how well you know each other (for this activity, exclude the facilitators, Marian and James).

3. [When the group stops moving around:]

 Are you in the right space?
And are you facing in the right direction?
And are you at the right angle?
And are you at the right height?
And is that the right distance between you and others?

And what do you know here?

Note your position in the room.

4. And turn in a different direction.

And what do you know in this direction?

[Optionally, repeat the instruction and question in step 4 twice more.]

5. [Give everyone a number from 1 to 5.]

6. All those with a number 1, remove yourself from the space.

[To the whole group] And now what do you know?

And number 1s, return to where you were.

7. And number 2s, raise yourselves.

8. And number 3s, lower yourselves.

[To the whole group] And now what do you know?

Number 2s and 3s, return to where you were.

9. And number 4s, move to between two other people.

[To the whole group] And now what do you know?

And number 4s, return to where you were.

10. And number 5s, rearrange some of the other people.

[To the whole group] And now what do you know?

11. And everyone separate.

And now what do you know here?

12. And come closer together.

And now what do you know here?

13. And return to your original position.

And now what do you know here?

And what difference does knowing all that make?

And what difference does that make?

And what difference does that make?

NOTE: We do not recommend using these directions in conventional Clean Space unless the explorer says or does something that indicates the action will be congruent with his or her network and metaphors. The main reason: these words add complexity and the process works fine without them. Instead we recommend reserving these directional verbs for discovery or creative workshops.

Working with a ready-made system

Conventional Clean Space starts with a blank canvas and builds a network, node by node. However, sometimes the aspects / parts / components/pieces / elements / factors of a topic may already be known. Perhaps the explorer already knows the:
  • Members a family or work team
  • Stages in a project
  • Chapters in a book
  • Aspects of a bind
  • Thoughts on a topic
  • Components of a desired outcome
  • Factors of a problem
  • Levels in a hierarchy
  • Events in a sequence
  • Stakeholders in an organisations
  • Symbols in a metaphor landscape
  • Characters in a story
  • Learnings from a training
  • Words in a sentence

If so, the explorer can start by identifying a space for each element, and when that’s done, to place him or herself in relation to the elements.

A key difference when working with a set of pre-existing parts of a system compared to the conventional Clean Space, is the lack of a single space for the topic. Instead the network of spaces arranged by the explorer is the topic.

When you start in this way it is as though the network comes ready-formed and so more time can be spent on exploring links and network effects. The downside is that the initial emergent creation of spaces is lost.

Even when the explorer has not come with a prepared system you can invite them to write down six aspects of their topic on separate Post-its and to arrange them around the room and then to find a space for him or herself.

Ready-made System Activity

The following is an advanced activity suitable for facilitators familiar with the essential Clean Space process.

1. Start

Identify a Topic you would like to explore (see list above for examples).

Write/draw on separate Post-its what you already know about the Topic (use as many as you need).

Arrange the Post-its on a table or wall and place each Post-it where it needs to be.

Place yourself where you are in relation to these [gesture to post-its].*

And what do you know here?

* [Optional] Use an Extended Clean Start:

Are you/those in the right place?
Are you/those at the right angle / height / distance (apart)?
Are you/those facing in the right direction?

2. Explore the existing network

Invite the client to:

Know here:

And what do you know here about [name/point to one of the Post-its]?

Know there:

And what does [name/point to one of the Post-its] know?

And what does [name/point to one of the Post-its] know about [name/point to one of the other Post-its]?

Update Knowing:

And now what do you know here?

3. Adjust the network

Use a selection of these additional active spatial verbs:


And can any of the [Post-its] be raised/lowered?
And can any other [Post-its] be raised/lowered?
And now what do you know?


And can any of the [Post-its] be further apart / closer?
And can any other [Post-its] be further apart / closer ?
And now what do you know?


And can any of the [Post-its] be moved / removed?

And can any other [Post-its] be moved / removed ?
And now what do you know?


And can any of the [Post-its] be rearranged?
And can any other [Post-its] be rearranged?
And now what do you know?

4.  Extend the network

FIND [Explorer goes to a new space]

And find another space.
And find a space outside of all this [gesture around network].
And what could this space be called?

TURN [said several times in the same space]

And turn and face another direction. 

And what do you know in this direction? 

5. Complete

And where would you like to complete this?
And what difference does knowing all this make?
And what difference does knowing that make?
When you are ready, collect up your paper and Post-it Notes.

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