The sum of our parts

Open Organisations

Photo by Jonas Svidras on Unsplash

The “open” sector, encompassing organisations working on transparency, civic participation, and open data, has grown fast in many countries in the past decade, aided by political champions and a generous funding environment. Today, there is a sense of waning political interest amongst previous high-level advocates and an expected reduction in core funding to come. At the same time, there are an emergent set of data-related issues connected to privacy, rights, automation and more, that merit new thinking and approaches. In this context, we, the CEOs of seven international open organisations — mySociety, the Sunlight Foundation, the Open Data Institute (ODI), the Open Data Charter (ODC), the Web Foundation, Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) and the GovLab- got together to consider how to manage these shifts.

We see an opportunity to achieve more impact by combining our efforts in the face of shared challenges. We share a commitment to scale and deepen the impact of our work and to communicate more clearly who we are and how we differ. Ultimately, we are looking for opportunities to become more than the sum of our parts.

As such, we undertook a process, supported by Oxford Insights and funded by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative donor collaborative, to review our current strategies and work streams. This included analysing each of our organization’s role and comparative advantages to identify areas for collaboration, and propose actions to make such collaboration a reality. What we mapped out and what we learned are cape captured in this report.

We identified several areas ripe for enhanced collaboration. We categorized these under policy, advocacy, and campaigning; learning, training, and skills development; consultancy; technology and infrastructure; network and coordination; communications; and operations. Going forward, we will explore in-depth how to best collaborate on these fronts. For a guiding framework, OKF, ODI, and ODC will lead a process of defining an overarching Theory of Change for openness that articulates our strategic alignment.

Finally, we also intend to collaborate more closely on joint opportunity development in both philanthropic and commercial funding, with a specific focus on how to develop joint projects with a sector-based approach. Sectors under consideration for aligned development include climate change, health and education. Funders can help here, too, by facilitating links to other funders and organizations in those fields.

So far, we are already making progress on some of report’s proposed recommendations. We’ve largely identified which organizations and people will lead on each proposed action item and created a spreadsheet to introduce those responsible for key areas to each other. We now have a WhatsApp group to more informally and easily share information. Work is underway by OKF and ODI on the overarching Theory of Change. Finally, our organizations are also beginning to engage each other in our strategy development process, including scheduling review sessions. While there is still much work to do, we are making some early progress.

We believe strongly that this collaboration will benefit not only our own organizations but also the broader open field.

We invite other open organizations to reach out to us on any of the avenues of collaboration outlined above and join our efforts. We hope funders will take advantage of our group, too — engage us in thinking through data implications in other thematic programming. Protecting and further mainstreaming the open agenda will require many hands.