Shuttleworth Foundation ‘how we work’ club

January 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

On this trip, I’ve started doing my open philanthropy work at the Shuttleworth Foundation. The biggest piece of this is developing the Foundation’s theory of change and an accompanying open philanthropy manifesto (will post on this soon). The other bit is developing a series of ‘how we work’ papers.

The idea with the ‘how we work’ series is to show what open philanthropy means in practice and to encourage other people to rip off / emulate our ideas. Hopefully, the writing process will also help with internal reflection and learning. Maybe we’re on to something with all this ‘open’ stuff, or maybe it’s boohucky. The only way to find out is to look closely at how we are actually working.

In the spirit of transparency and openness (open philanthropy rule #6), I am posting my notes on the ‘how we work’ series below. Please comment, criticize and suggest additional topics.

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Open philanthropy ‘under the hood’
article series

Series of papers that explain how we
work and why. The series both gives us a chance to reflect on our
practices (lunch time chats) and share open philanthropy practices
we’re proud of with others (the papers).


While this is an opt-in activity,
everyone in the Foundation is invited to get involved. Some people
will write these short articles. Others will simply participate in
bookclubesque chats where we reflect on the topic to be covered in an
upcoming article.


Series of 10 – 12 papers on how we do
things. Each paper is written by a staff member or a fellow based on
a team wide lunch time discussion on the topic at hand.

The papers should be lightweight,
practical and easy to read. The target length is 2 – 3 pages. At this
stage, we’re assuming each article will cover five questions:

  • what we do (describe the practice)
  • why do it (connects to open
    philanthropy idea)
  • what’s working
  • what’s hard / broken / ineffective
  • steal this idea (step by step / tips
    / example materials)

Possible topics for the series include:

  • Grant contracts, CC licensing and
    keeping stuff ‘free’ ”(Mark w/Karen)”
  • How our fellowship program works, and
    why ”(Jason and Karien)”
  • Theory of Change, what is and how we
    built it ”(Mark S)”
  • Book club: being serious can be fun
  • Cape Town Declaration as network
    building ”(Mark S)”
  • Freedom Toaster as spin off example,
    warts and all ”(??)”
  • Wikifying your foundation ”(??)”
  • Blogging your foundation inside out
  • Using and promoting open document

Mark Surman will start with
the ‘CC licensing topic’ in February. More topics will probably make
themselves evident as we go along.


One of the open philanthropy principles in our Theory of Change is: listen, learn and evolve, constantly. That’s why we are doing this. Specific goals include:

  • reflect on how we work (lunch chats)
  • use reflection to become more nimble,
    open and effective (better practices)
  • document how we work so others will
    emulate (papers + podiums)
  • spark a conversation on ‘open’ with
    other foundations (parties)
  • get feedback and ideas from other
    foundations to help
    us improve
    (better practices)

There is also a piece in here about ‘share, leverage and share again’ which is another of the principles in our theory of change.


The papers would be released monthly,
probably with some sort of fanfare. We could also do a brief seminar
on each paper. This could in turn be podcast.

PS. Full disclosure: anything thing that prompted the ‘put this stuff up totally openly on my blog’ approach is that I can’t access either of the Foundation wikis right now. However, ‘as public as possible’ is probably the right attitude here, so I think I’ll keep posting stuff like this here.

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