The following is a post by Becky Hogge, a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.
On behalf of the OKF Board of Directors, today I’ve published summary minutes of OKF Board meetings dating back to May 2009.
Minutes from some of the previous meetings, including the Board’s two most important ones, have been online for some time. However, publishing minutes from all recent meetings and conference calls, though long-intended, has been somewhat delayed due to all the other calls on the Board’s time as open knowledge has moved swiftly up the national and international agenda.
This set of minutes document, if only from one rather dry perspective, the growth and development of an organisation and community that has achieved rather a lot in the last 18 months. It’s a story worth telling.
In May 2009, the OKF Board met face to face in the Cambridgeshire countryside for a day-long brainstorming session about how best it could contribute to the network’s future.
Here, we outlined a shared vision for the organisation as one that supports autonomous projects loosely joined by their endorsement and promotion of open knowledge (as set out in the Open Knowledge Definition). We looked in detail at compliance issues, sketched out projected outgoings, and discussed three promising-looking income streams: grants, fundraising from the network, and consultancy projects that meet the OKF’s goal of promoting open knowledge.
That meeting defined much of the work that was to come. That Summer, while Jordan Hatcher put in a lot of pro bono time cementing compliance processes, I produced a selection of potential financial plans, and Paula le Dieu worked up a more detailed reflection of the OKF vision that would eventually be put out for consultation with the community.
In the meantime, the OKF began working with the Cabinet Office, 4IP and others (such as farmsubsidy.org and aidinfo.org), contributing legal and technical expertise to realise various projects, including data.gov.uk and Where Does My Money Go? Rufus Pollock maintained an overview of this work, reporting financial and legal issues to the Board at monthly conference call meetings, while Martin Keegan, with the Foundation’s accountant, helped prepare the year-end accounts.
The following August, when the Board met again for an away day in Cambridgeshire, the organisation it was discussing was in radically different shape. Thanks to a number of ongoing projects the profile of the organisation had increased dramatically.
Rufus Pollock was on the verge of accepting a year-long fellowship at the Shuttleworth Foundation to continue driving forward the open data agenda. The number of potential consultancy- and grant-funded projects had multiplied, and now included significant EU grant funding on the horizon.
It was all good news, but it did present the Board with a number of new challenges. Firstly, the proliferation of projects combined with his new role at Shuttleworth made it clear that Rufus could no longer act as liaison between the day-to-day operations of the various arms of the OKF, and the Board.
So we resolved to recruit for a new role – that of Project Coordinator. Seen as a compliment to the excellent work conducted by Jonathan Gray as Community Coordinator, the Project Coordinator would keep an eye on all projects, and especially funded ones, and report back to the Board so that we could continue our legal and finacial oversight role.
The second challenge was how best to manage any accumulated surplus to secure the future of the OKF in the long term. As an organisation that may well need to “run on empty” again in the future, what proportion of this surplus should we retain as a financial cushion, what proportion could we distribute back to the community, and how might we go about doing that? Our attempts to respond to this challenge remain ongoing, but at the August meeting we resolved to take an incremental, experimental approach.
The third challenge is very much linked to the second, and is also in some sense the driving force behind this blog post. Since that meeting in May 2009 we have been acutely aware of the qualities that set OKF apart from other organisations, and of our duty as a Board to maintain those qualities.
The Foundation is first and foremost a community, and thus the Board’s role in shaping OKF’s future should be limited to maintaining the financial and legal viability of the organisation that supports that community. The Board has consciously avoided appointing anyone as its Executive Director. We feel that the strategic direction in which the organisation travels should be defined as far as possible by active members of the OKF community.
As well as resolving to publish the minutes as soon as they have been officially approved and adopted, and moving towards publishing quarterly account statements, this year the Board will be focussing on more ways to get the community involved in strategic decision-making at OKF. We’re already speaking with members of other collaborative organisations about models that we could adapt or adopt, and we look forward to taking this discussion forward with the community.