October 25, 2016 Workshop

Meeting conducted from 12:00 p.m. to 05:00 p.m. at Red Hat in Raleigh, North Carolina. See photos from Laura Hilliger.


This document outlines a proposed working session of the Open Organization Ambassadors at Opensource.com. The session will occur as a pre-conference seminar prior to the annual All Things Open event, to be held this coming October in Raleigh, North Carolina.

More specifically, the pre-conference session brings together interested members of the Open Organization community in order to discuss:

  • the purpose of our ambassador community and articulate a shared vision for it (why we exist, what we aim to do, how we move forward, etc.)
  • the possibility of creating a new series of resources the community might produce for various potential movement-building applications (publication of relevant ideas and debates about the “translation” of open source thinking to other domains, tools/frameworks for management consulting efforts related to open organizational design, materials for open-related training, etc.)
  • the organization and alignment of our community, with specific attention to infrastructural considerations (location of future resources, branding issues, technical constraints, etc.)

Background (from Brook Manville)

Recent writing on “open organizations” tends not only to be fractured and disparate, but also focuses heavily on technology companies based in the United States. The movement could certainly benefit from more intentional and concerted collection of open organization cases, a coordinated conceptual framework, and a common lexicon, so open organizational thinking can find wider appeal and broader purchase in new industries. Open organization thinking stands to make significant contributions to existing industries and domains; however, lexical and conceptual barriers currently inhibit it.

This working session of the Open Organization Ambassadors at Opensource.com will convene several members of the open organization community for conversation about the practicality (and appeal) of several new community resources and initiatives, including:

  • A case example database or knowledge library, a repository of stories about companies and organizations that appear to be operating as “open” (or believe they are)
  • An open organization conceptual framework, something that abstracts from specific cases the fundamental components and/or phases of an open source project or process and serves as a model (or set of instructions) for opening any project, product, or process
  • An open organization lexicon, a living, electronic document that translates open source jargon for non-technical readers and practitioners attempting to make sense of the theory’s inescapable roots in open source software communities
  • An open organization interview protocol, a series of questions ambassadors and other community members can use to interview contacts who are working to work and lead more openly (answers the protocol generates across multiple interviews should aid development of the framework, below)

Proposed agenda

11:30: Meet in lobby of Red Hat Tower
11:45: Lunch (provided)
13:00: Introductions and community visioning
13:45: Issue analysis and materials review
14:45: Break, convene for meeting with Jim Whitehurst
15:00: Meeting with Jim Whitehurst
16:00: Reassemble in workshop location
16:15: Debrief and future planning
17:30: Workshop end, break for dinner preparation
18:00: Dinner with open source community

Detailed agenda (and guiding questions)

Introductions and community visioning (Laura + Bryan to lead)

  • What is our vision for the Open Organization Ambassadors? Our mission? Our purpose?

  • What do we want to do today?

  • What do you want this community to help you with?

  • What can you help the community with?

  • What outcomes of the group’s activities would we each deem most valuable and beneficial?

  • What is the purpose of this meeting? What do we hope to accomplish today? What does a successful workshop session look like?

Issue analysis and exploration (Brooke + Bryan to lead)

  • What questions drive our work?
  • What principles are most pertinent and endemic to the “open organization” concept?
  • What issues or problems continue to trouble, vex, or compel us to write and explore?
  • Can you group and/or thematize our questions and focal points into broader topic areas?
  • How can we iterate on already-existing resources to make them more useful (or: What do we need to abandon or rethink?)
  • What gaps or spaces in our existing offerings can we fill with valuable resources that will help explore these issues?

Meeting with Jim Whitehurst

  • What would we like to ask Jim about the challenges/questions he faced in the past year?
  • We will have about five minutes to brief Jim on our discussion(s)

Debrief and future planning

  • What key insights/takeaways have we gleaned from our time with Jim?
  • What are our collective goals moving forward?
  • What projects need our immediate attention?
  • Do any of the existing resources, or the new resources outlined above (from Brook) sound appealing and/or valuable?
  • What goals/deliverables should we aim to produce, and according to what timeline?
  • What are our respective roles in these projects?
  • What are our next steps?


(Let’s populate this section with our prompts, notes, talking points, and suggestions for discussion. Please consider placing your name at the beginning of each bullet so we can trace the source of each suggestion.)

Opening remarks

  • Bryan: When we launched the ambassadors program in July 2015, we had precisely 0 ambassadors in the program. And we wrote this description of and vision for the program: “The Open Organization Ambassadors Program identifies and spotlights management thought-leaders and members of the Opensource.com community who are exceptionally engaged in discussions regarding the management and leadership philosophy Jim Whitehurst outlines in his book, The Open Organization. […] Ambassadors will form a community of like-minded thinkers and practitioners who explore ways open source principles apply to (and ultimately reshape) management and leadership practices.” Is this still appropriate? How can we refine it?

Issue analysis and exploration

  • Chad: Is it too early to start talking about an appraisal or certification program for open organizations? We’ve got the ODF as a starting point. I’m thinking of CMMI and B Corps as examples in nearby domains, as well as the Center for Open Science’s TOP guidelines. This would not be a binary “are you open, yes/no,” but rather a scale of openness on which organizations can decide for themselves where they want to be. The end game is using this in decision making, “We only accept bids from companies at or above openness level 4.” DoD does this with CMMI.

Materials overview

  • Bryan: Companion volumes (community-produced, and from Jim)
  • Bryan: Twitter chats (monthly)
  • Bryan: Discussion guide PDFs and other downloadables
  • Bryan: Webcasts (periodically)
  • Bryan: I will pull together relevant data on our materials and provide an overview of how/why we track various assets.
  • Chad: How can we (the Ambassadors group, OpenSource.com generally) be more open? Can we talk about a “default open” policy? Why aren’t all GSuite docs public by default? Why aren’t all decisions made publicly on GitHub (or wherever)?

Working session

  • Laura: One outcome might be an “Open Organization Ambassadors Roadmap”

Meeting with Jim Whitehurst

  • Bryan: This portion of the agenda will be held in the Red Hat Boardroom on the 18th floor of Red Hat Tower.
    • Introductions to the communities
    • Opening comments/remarks from Jim
    • Updates from the Opensource.com community moderators
    • Updates from the Open Organization ambassadors
    • Open Q&A with Jim

Rummaging through some old files, I discovered a report of this event that I sent the community a few days after it had concluded. For posterity, I’ll reproduce it below.

Hi everyone,

I’m writing with a small report on the productive, inspiring, and energizing meetings the ambassadors held in Raleigh during last week’s All Things Open conference. The ambassadors were all over the conference—Laura, Rebecca, and Jono were on a panel together; Chad gave a lightning talk; Jono emceed like the pro that he is; and Laura offered a dynamite session for attendees—but I’ll let them all share their experiences successes here. I’d specifically like to offer a recap of our joint workshops devoted to our ambassador community.

The ambassadors met for a multi-hour session on Tuesday, October 25. Many folks in attendance were in fact instrumental in crafting the agenda for that session, which began at 1 p.m. with some introductions and a few opening remarks about the nature of the ambassador community. Laura Hilliger facilitated a lovely activity that involved all of us generating ideas about our collective mission and vision (thanks, Laura!), and then Brook Manville walked us through an exercise that helped us imagine steps we might take to grow our community, evolve our mission, and enhance the contributions we’re making to the broader conversation concerning the future of work, management, and leadership from an open perspective (thanks, Brook!). As part of this effort, I presented a brief overview of 1) the goals/metrics we track at Opensource.com, and 2) the materials our community has produced so far (as well as metrics indicating community uptake of those materials).

We then joined the Opensource.com community moderators for a joint meeting with Jim Whitehurst, and the ambassadors “reported out” to Jim on some of our community’s victories, as well as on some of the challenges that confront us as we move forward and grow. Jim was extremely receptive and offered valuable context for both the Open Organization book and the movement as a whole, much of which (we were pleased to see!) mirrored our own thinking and discussion from earlier in the day.

After that session, the ambassadors reconvened to digest the conversation together, and to ruminate a bit further on future plans, paths, and directions. You can read Chad’s summary of the day on GitHub at this link.

Several critical takeaways emerged from our meeting, and I will do my best to rearticulate them here (relying, of course, on attendees to chime in, keep me honest, and add their perspectives). In general, the community expressed a desire for the following:

  • Increased editorial focus on “case studies.” Several ambassadors and advisers suggested that we need to “broaden the aperture,” so to speak, onto new types of stories at Opensource.com—stories about non-Red Hat, non-tech organizations that are successfully utilizing open principles in creative, exciting, and innovative ways. This is especially important for demonstrating the innovative potential open principles portend for organizations of varying sizes and with varying missions.

  • Increased editorial emphasis in the “business value” of open organizational principles. Ambassadors recognized that leaders in organizations won’t respond to “open for open’s sake”—that openness in and of itself isn’t the “draw” to make large-scale changes. Instead, we (as a community) need to find new ways to stress the concrete benefits of “going open,” however they appear in our research.

  • Greater discussion of and specificity around the concrete qualities of open organizations themselves. What are the characteristics these organizations share? What do they have in common? What are the core values that one “must see” in order to consider an organization an open organization? How does “the open organization” relate to other, similar concepts in the increasingly crowded field of “new management” approaches (holocracy, etc.)? And how do we define these for interested parties? This is part and parcel of a wider attempt to crystallize some conceptualization of open organization that we share and can use for definitional purposes—not necessarily to exclude, per se (though this is an inevitable outcome of making distinctions and crafting definitions) but really to better structure discussions about what organizations can do to become more open (what they can begin practicing).

  • Fresh emphasis on materials for practitioners. While organizational leaders benefit from case studies that help them envision the benefits of going open, practitioners in departments and teams at all levels of an organization need more materials to help them enact those benefits. The ambassador community can be on the lookout for opportunities to offer such materials to organizations with whom they’re connected, and report back to the community when they perceive specific needs we might, as a community, come together to address (e.g., by creating tools, assessments, guides, handouts, etc.).

  • Additional insight into the publishing process at Opensource.com. Ambassadors indicated they’d simply like to know more about how we make editorial decisions at Opensource.com, how we schedule stories for publication, what’s “on deck” in the queue, and, in general, how we can make our own community more open.

In response to these emerging themes, several action items appeared:

  • Community members agreed to begin leveraging their personal networks to uncover “case studies” and begin bringing them to Opensource.com. We can use a collective document to perhaps list and maintain a register of such organizations. Additionally, and to aid this effort, we discussed the benefit of generating a shared “interview protocol,” a bank of general questions we can use when approaching people for interviews (something to catalyze a conversation!). We’d really like to see this come to fruition.

  • Community members began discussing ways we could begin inflecting our writing with more emphasis on “business value”—de-emphasizing, perhaps, stories about more abstract principles and toward concrete cases and their outcomes (good or bad!).

  • Community members will collaborate on a “definition” of open organizations, a shared set of characteristics (or, in Jim’s words, “necessary and sufficient conditions”) we like to see when considering something an open organization. This emerged as another high-priority project.

  • Community members will collaborate on building future materials for would-be practitioners in open organizations, folks who request guidance on implementing the principles they’re now convinced can help them innovate. The Opensource.com team has ideas on the form(s) these may take.

  • The Opensource.com editorial team is working on various initiatives to bring greater transparency and participation to the publishing process.

  • The ambassadors in attendance stressed the need for another in-person meeting to continue the conversation and reconvene to review the work we accomplish post-ATO.

On Wednesday, October 26, several ambassadors met with Red Hat CMO Jackie Yeaney to relay these discoveries and to gauge her opinion of them. Jackie’s initial response to the directions we’d like to take was enthusiastic and supportive.

So this is perhaps becoming more than a “small report,” but I would like to end with several questions I believe we face more immediately:

  • Is the above account/description inclusive of the items we discussed at the meeting? Is anything missing? If so, what?

  • How can those of us on-hand for the meeting help explain and clarify our discussion and/or intentions to those who weren’t?

  • Where should we begin (in light of that fact that overwhelming consensus at All Things Open seemed to be that we begin taking action to bring about demonstrable results)? How would you prioritize the work?

After we’ve discussed, I’ll volunteer to develop a work plan that outlines our priorities, goals, timelines, etc., for the coming months.

In sum, friends, it was a dynamite session, and we’re very grateful to everyone who not only participated but also invested their time and energy into shaping and executing the event itself. I came away from our meeting with a head swirling full of ideas, directions, and opportunities. I hope other attendees will chime in here to correct anything I’ve mischaracterized, to add anything I’ve missed—and to simply keep the excellent conversation going.