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These notes were first presented at The Developing Group 1 August 2009 

Clean Space Revisited

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley


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.

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – first registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. James has also written (with Marian Way) the first book dedicated to Clean Space: Insights in Space. Between them Penny and James have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
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