Constellation model in OSBR

September 25, 2008 § 4 Comments

Over the summer, Tonya and I published an article in Singapore’s Social Space journal about the constellation governance model used by the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Environmental Health. This is a way of organizing NGO partnerships in small clusters — or constellations — based around interest, skill and passion. Obviously, some similarities there to how many open source projects work.

The people at the Open Source Business Review picked up on this and asked to republish the article with an open source spin. It’s out today. Here’s the abstract:

The constellation model was developed by and for the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment. The model offers an innovative approach to organizing collaborative efforts in the social mission sector and shares various elements of the open source model. It emphasizes self-organizing and concrete action within a network of partner organizations working on a common issue.

Constellations are self-organizing action teams that operate within the broader strategic vision of a partnership. These constellations are outwardly focused, placing their attention on creating value for those in the external environment rather than on the partnership itself. While serious effort is invested into core partnership governance and management, most of the energy is devoted to the decision making, resources and collaborative effort required to create social value. The constellations drive and define the partnership.

The constellation model emerged from a deep understanding of the power of networks and peer production. Leadership rotates fluidly amongst partners, with each partner having the freedom to head up a constellation and to participate in constellations that carry out activities that are of more peripheral interest. The Internet provided the platform, the partner network enabled the expertise to align itself, and the goal of reducing chemical exposure in children kept the energy flowing.

Building on seven years of experience, this article provides an overview of the constellation model, discusses the results from the CPCHE, and identifies similarities and differences between the constellation and open source models.

This issue of Open Source Business Review is all about the intersection of open source and social innovation. Some interesting stuff, including a piece on the OLPC as educational innovation and something on the McConnell Foundation’s approach to community engagement.

Open Sourcing Cambodia

September 16, 2008 § 5 Comments

I love meeting practical people working hard to implement big dreams. Noy Shoung is one of those people. He’s trying to infuse open source into how Cambodians enter the computing age. And he’s making some headway.

Noy is the Deputy Secretary General (In Charge of Human Capacity Building and Free/Open Source Software) at National ICT Development Authority (NiDA). Cool title to have. And, one that is hard earned. Noy’s built up a team inside NiDA to localize open source desktop apps into Khmer (a language too small to be interesting to Microsoft), build up open source development skills amongst young people (still early days on this one) and train end users on Linux, Open Office and Firefox (20,000 people and counting). He’s also the major champion behind Khmer OS, a localized OpenSuse distribution.

What’s interesting is that Noy’s headway is built on very practical foundations: most Cambodians don’t speak English, especially outside Phnom Penh. KhmerOS and related applications are the fastest route to computer skills for these people. And, these people want computer skills. So, Noy’s small army of 45 public servants is training people up, with most of the training happening in provinces and smaller cities. He’s also offering training to university students — most of whom show up without ever having used a computer — who can’t afford to go to private computer tutoring schools.

Noy’s next step is to localize Ubuntu and update some of the existing apps (there have been some problems with Suse KhmerOS). He also plans expand the developer and sysadmin tech training that he offers jointly with universities. And, he’s in the midst of updating the government’s FOSS Master Plan. If there are any folks out there reading this who have deep tech skills that they want to share to help with this effort, Noy has put out an open ended invite. It’s a fun and important thing to pitch into.

Open Everything Singapore

September 16, 2008 § 2 Comments

Good — but different — Open Everything in Singapore yesterday. We had about half local NGOs, half local social entrepreneurs and a very small smattering of the usual software / open content / open edu crowd.

The speedgeeks seemed like the big highlight for most people. Personally, I really enjoyed listening in on Gary Kwong as he answered questions about how the Mozilla community works and what’s going on with Chrome. Andrew Lowenthal’s wide ranging ‘open source for NGOs‘ talk and Giorgos Cheliotis overview of Creative Commons licensing were also great. These presentations dropped people fast and deep into basic open source thinking, which was what they wanted.

There was also a nice open philanthropy thread of sorts. Rich Fuchs talked about social hacking the internal knowledge management systems at IDRC. With his work on ‘rolling PCR’s‘, Rich helped IDRC move from a traditional ‘fill in this form’ internal learning processes to an approach that is much more oriented to conversation and interaction (with podcasts and cool unconferency events rolled in for good measure). I also peppered in a few of the simple things we tried at and Shuttleworth, including replacing most internal reporting with public blogging.

All in all, an interesting event. Very useful in terms of a bridge from ‘open everything’ thinking into the mainstream NGO and social entreprenuership world. We need more of that. Thanks to Caroline, Sharifah and everyone the Lien Centre for making it all happen. And three cheers to Heidi at Ford Foundation who may just starting blogging about her grantmaking. May the force be with you.

Open Hollyhocked: Hearts, Minds and Snowballs

September 9, 2008 § 1 Comment

Almost in Phnom Penh, and Open Everything Hollyhock is world away. But a wonderful world it was. Thirty five passionate, generous and smart people gathered amidst the trees and mountains of British Columbia to rap about the art, science and spirit of ‘open’. It was a great week of sparks and insights, building enough momentum that the Open Everything snowball may now be slowly rolling downhill.

Like the Web of Change events that inspired it, the Open Everything retreat was a real mix of head and heart. On the head side, we took a number of runs at asking ‘what’s open?’ and mapping different open domains (lots of good docs about this on the wiki). We also did the now-traditional speedgeek showcasing open projects in areas as diverse as software, education, philanthropy and sustainable housing (videos coming soon). On the heart side, we had an open leadership session (find your inner purpose and follow it) led by Jeff Balin and p2p coaching session under the banner ‘personal board of directors’.

This head / heart mix led to some pretty deep people connections. As Zak said: people didn’t have their game face on, and that meant you could go further than at a traditional conference. This was especially impressive given the diversity of participants. Old open source hands. Serious social change grantmakers looking to loop open into their practice. Open standards activists. People inventing the new domain of open eduction. Change agents trying to promote open collaborative practices in big institutions. Idea hackers and social innovators. Despite the diversity, it felt like a room filled with kindred spirits.

My deepest personal light bulb was around ‘what is open?’. Listening to people talk, it was clear that there are a couple of rough clusters that we’re talking about — values (sharing, transparency, the commons), things (software, songs, textbooks) and processes (creation, management, learning). We trow ‘open’ at all of these things. Yet, what open means is likely a bit different for each, especially if you want to ‘test’ whether something is open or not. I am going to go through the wiki notes and post something bigger on this in the next week or so.

Thanks (again!) to everyone who made this amazing event happen! There certainly will be a next time. A number of people including Danese, Duane, Erika, Helen, Jeff and Zaheda have already expressed interest in shaping future events — the annual retreat (I will stay involved), local events (I’ll likely do fewer of these in future) and possibly something specific on open leadership (a new idea that emerged at Hollyhock). If there are others that want to help drive events or evolve the wiki content, jump in and let everyone know. Let’s see if we can get this open everything snowball rolling.

Under the Hood: Open Source @

August 25, 2008 § 2 Comments

As he wrapped up, Aslam Raffee reflected: “We’ve done very well in terms of setting policy, but very poorly at implementation. We’ve got to fix that.” Aslam is one of three people leading to roll out of South Africa’s government-wide commitment to open source. And he’s willing to admit: making it work ain’t easy.


At Open Everything Cape Town, Aslam spent an hour talking with Matt Buckland and Steve Song about how the open source policy roll out is going. The policy basically states that all systems used to run the Government of South Africa must be based on open standards and should use open source software wherever possible. As you can hear the podcast below, he was at once honest about the challenges of making this idea real and optimistic about the future …


Aslam Raffee – mouseover for audio

On the upside, the Government of South Africa seems to be ‘making the market’ by insisting that all departments have open document format (ODF) capability by the end of the year. Microsoft — which had previously given a ‘no way’ — is now on a fast track to integrating to ODF into Word. It seems there are alot of Word users in South Africa who still want to be able to do business with government. Also, there has been good traction on things like open standards and avoiding lock-in with big tenders in areas like government document management. The result is that these systems are most likely to be open source.

On the downside, there is simply a huge amount of ignorance and entropy. Asked if he could give an example of where they’re struggling to get people to ‘be open’, Aslam cited the Independent Election Comission’s brand new web site. When you go to the site in Firefox (I just did), you get this message:

Welcome to the IEC web site! Our server detected that you are using a Browser or Operating System (e.g. Netscape, Mozilla Firefox, etc) which is currently incompatible with our site.This web site is designed for Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 4 and above on Microsoft Windows. The IEC is currently in the process of enhancing the web site so that it will also cater for other browsers. We apologize for the inconvenience caused. Please click on the image below to download the latest version of Internet Explorer.

Even more notably, the ‘currently in the process of enhancing’ language didn’t even exist until a bunch of people blogged about this on Friday. It’s tough to be proud of your government’s commitment to open standards — and equal access to all citizens — with stuff like this.

The other big barrier to implementation is skills.The number of skilled open source developers and support people needed to roll out the government’s plan just don’t exist. Fixing this is partly a waiting game, as it depends on what the education system does … and what’s taught in classrooms is exempt from the open source policy as it isn’t about ‘government administration systems’.

Thanks to Aslam, Matt, Steve and everyone at Open Everything for making this conversation real. I learned a great deal.

The podcast above just includes Aslam’s main talk and the interview by Steve and Matt. You can hear a longer version including another 20 mins of audience questions here (bad audio in some parts).

Cape Town: Rebooting the Open Everything Intro

August 25, 2008 § 2 Comments

The vibe and ideas at Friday’s Open Everything Cape Town were super sparky. A nice mix of well known open source projects (South African gov’t open source policy) and novel new ideas (Free Culture House). A good balance of techie and non-techie, with a bias of creative media and open education types. And amazing food, service and atmosphere from Bird’s Cafe. Fun and learning all around.


One of the weaknesses of the Toronto event was the set up. People said they wanted a bit more of ‘what’s open really mean?’ and ‘why is it interesting?’ to set the stage. Philipp and I took at this by introing the Cape Town event with this slide show …

It’s not a bad way to spend 20 mins if you want to get the basic idea of what these events focus on. However, it still doesn’t have the zing it needs. Anriette suggested ‘dig more into the values side of things’. I agree. Also, I just think it needs to be shorter. And, I need to talk slower. Comments very much welcomed.

Of course, the real juice of the event wasn’t Philipp and I — it was all the speedgeekers and the open source in government talk by Aslam Rafee. I’ll be posting on this stuff over the coming days.

PS. Tino Kreutzer has posted some great photos to Flickr, including the one of the Freedom Toaster speedgeek that I included above.

Open Everything Cape Town this Friday!

August 18, 2008 § 2 Comments

I met with The Amazing Philipp Schmidt over the weekend to prep for Open Everything Cape Town. The event is happening this Friday at Bird’s Boutique Cafe. It’s an amazing venue. High ceilings and tons of light. And scrumptious homemade everything.


We spent about an hour going over the agenda. Philipp and Helen (also co-organizing) have done amazing job getting people to present at the event. The speedgeek list looks like this:

Couchsurfing by Mandy Messina
27 Dinners by Dave Duarte
UWC’s Rip. Mix. Learn. by someone from UWC
Mail and Guardian Thought Leader by Matthew Buckland
Siyavula / FHSST by Sarah Blyth
QuirkE Marketing by Rob Stokes
Dabba / Village Telco by Steve Song
Ultimate Holiday Planner by Terence Lapidus
Missing Link by Rich Mulholland
Creative R&D by Steve Kromberg

Also, we’re likely to have an insider view on how the South African Government’s open source adoption project happened … and how it’s rolling out. I promise to podcast if it happens.

If you’re in Cape Town and interested, make sure to sign up on the wiki ASAP. It feels like there is alot of buzz around this event. And space is limited.

Yin-ing and yang-ing open everything

June 14, 2008 Comments Off on Yin-ing and yang-ing open everything

Writing up Open Everything Toronto debrief notes, I realized that striking the right yin-yang between impressive and surprising examples of ‘open’ will be one of the most critical factors for future events.


Open now has it’s fair share of large scale success. Linux. Apache. Wikipedia. 70 million CC photos on Flickr. While increasingly commonplace and obvious, these examples are unquestionably impressive. They show that open works.

On the flip side, we are seeing values and tactics commonly associated with open source trickle out into all sorts of new places. Embroidery. Tinkering. Office space. Teaching. Salad. These examples are surprising, and intriguing. They show that open is spreading.

Many people came to Open Everything expecting to talk about one or the other of these things. Our aim was to give them was a mashup of both. We succeeded most in the speedgeek sessions. At two ends of the impressive vs. surprising spectrum:

Marcus Bornfreund gave a super compelling but very basic talk on how Creative Commons licensing works. Surprising? Not really. However, Creative Commons is an impressive, established part of the open world we are building. It illustrates some basic principles (remixing) and tactics (hacking the law rather than waiting to rewrite it), ideas that were new to many people at the Toronto event.

Mark Kuznicki talked about ‘unconferencing public policy’. Mark and his fellow Metronauts are basically applying the BarCamp model to get people involved in redesigning the Greater Toronto Area’s transportation network. Impressive? Yes, but still small scale. Surprising? Absolutely, and also pushing the envelope. With the Mentronauts TransitCamps, we see open culture and tactics stretching not only beyond digital goods into real world processes (this is BarCamp’s claim to fame) … but also beyond tech into public policy.

The thing is: the impressive examples on their own can be boring. Most of us have heard them all before. The surprising examples alone are intriguing, but unproven and sometimes even trivial in the global scheme of things. Yet, when you look at large scale examples like Wikipedia side-by-side with the huge diversity of emerging experiments, open everything comes to life. Something huge and multidimensional is going on here. A playful yin yang dance between impressive and surprising helps to explain this. It makes it real, and understandable.

The Toronto dance wasn’t perfect. The speedgeek was good, but we could have used more of the ‘surprising’ in other parts of the event. It was a bit too tech. Having called the question, I don think this will be hard to improve on in future events. Of course, new examples on the surprising side are always welcome. If you’ve got ’em, post ’em.

Open everything. Right here. Right now.

June 4, 2008 Comments Off on Open everything. Right here. Right now.

Today, Toronto kicks off Open Everything: a global series of six (or more?) events about the art, science and spirit of open. We’ve got 60 amazing people registered who come from computer programming, community development and everywhere in between. It’s gonna rock.

If you are wondering what we’re going to talk about, check out the Open Everything Toronto wiki or the list of speedgeeks. Also, you may be interested in my hastily compiled welcome notes:

Welcome. It is amazing to be in a room with 60 people willing to take an afternoon off to talk about the art, science and spirit of open. Really, this is something I could have only dreamed of a year ago. What’s even better is that this is the first of six Open Everythings. Similar conversations are already planned for Berlin, Cape Town, London, Singapore and Cortes Island in Bristish Columbia. We are onto something very big and very important.

Let’s start our conversation with a couple of questions. How many people here use Linux? How many have heard of Linux? How many have heard of Wikipedia? In the end, almost everyone. Linux and Wikipedia exemplify what we are hear to talk about today: the idea of openness. And, along with it, principles like transparency, participation, creativity, remixability, community.

The fact that these two very different things – an operating system and an encyclopedia – both embody these principles is not an accident. In the early 1980s, Richard Stallman and others started talking about something called ‘free software’. Stallman wrote a definition that outlines four principles: the right to run, study, distribute and improve any piece of free software.

Famously these principles inspired projects like Linux and Wikipedia. They have also helped shape the open source software movement and, really, the Internet as a whole. But what isn’t so famous is huge explosion of other endeavors built on open principles like these.

A few months ago, I looked on Google and Wikipedia for places where people were using the concept of ‘open’. In 30 minutes I found about 15 examples. Obviously, some of these examples used ‘open’ was being well before the idea migrated from software: open systems; open societies; open standards; open space meetings. There are also fields that are taking their inspiration much more directly from things like Linux and Wikipedia: open education; open content; open innovation; open policy making; open design; open media; open philanthropy. And, then, there were a few surprises: open ethics; open religion; open fitness.

Some of this is fluff and fashion, of course. However, there are increasing examples of people very seriously and effectively applying open source thinking – intentionally and unintentionally – beyond software and encyclopedias. Here are three examples: The Open Architecture Network, an online community that shares building designs with the aim of creating low cost, innovative housing solutions for the world’s poor. The MIT Open Courseware initiative and the Shuttleworth Foundation’s own Siyavula project, which are using open source techniques to develop and share learning materials. And BarCamp, which is like an open source conference model for techies, making it easy for people to design events on the fly and for the model to be replicated in different cities around the world. You will hear about many more examples as a part of today’s Open Everything event.

I asked someone why they wanted to come to open everything. The response: “I don’t know, but I am violently intrigued.” That’s a nice way of putting it. There is no question that the explosive growth of open source thinking is violently intriguing. So much so that I can’t stop thinking about it.

However, I think we are ready for more than just intrigue. While still revelling in the playfulness of open, it’s also time to admit that this is serious business. It is serious business that is genuinely (and quietly) reconfiguring economics, knowledge and power everywhere on the planet.

When I first started thinking and writing about this stuff less than 10 years ago, both Linux and Wikipedia were fringe phenomena. They were just for geeks. Now, Linux – a piece of software created by a loosely coordinated group of people spread around the world and working for single company – is edging into the mainstream. It not only powers a huge percentage of the computers that run the Internet, but it also serves a simple, low clutter operating system for mass market, low cost laptops now being introduced by companies Asus and HP. Even more clearly a mass success, Wikipedia is now in more than 250 languages with 2.3 million articles in English alone. This huge public asset was produced with money or the market. It was produced almost completely by volunteers driven by passion … and a healthy dose of ego. The crazy open ideas of 10 years ago are the mainstream of today.

More important for today’s conversation: we are not only seeing a growth in the number of areas where people are applying open source thinking, but we are also seeing some of these new experiments gain real traction. My favourite example is what open has done to photography. On Flickr alone, there are now almost 70 million photos under a Creative Commons license. Much of this is just pictures of my kids (literally, my kids). However, it also includes a ton of useful stuff that people can use for presentations, mash up into new media products or just put up on their wall. In terms of Education, MIT has not only put all it’s curriculum up online, but that curriculum is being widely used and event adapted. OOPS in Taiwan is actively translating large quantities of MIT Open Courseware into Chinese. And, in meatspace, BarCamp, an intentionally amateurish and self organizing idea, has spread to every part of the world, from Azerbaijan to Malaysia to Slovakia. I looked at the BarCamp wiki today, and there are camp-like events already planned in over 90 cities for the second half of 2008. Just like Linux and Wikipedia, these Open Everythings are going mainstream.

As someone who thinks this is a good thing, I have two big questions: How will we know an Open Everything when we see one? and How can we do this better?

It’s easy to pull out things like the Free Software Definition or the Open Source Definition to test if a piece of software is open. However, we can’t just apply the same tests to a piece of architecture, or curriculum or public policy. We can’t just say am I free to ‘run’ this law or this building. We need a set of principles broadly define the essence of open, and that we can apply much more broadly to the world. Having thought about it a bit, my guess is that the essence of open probably includes things like transparency, participation and remixability. But there are probably more and better words needed here.

Similarly, the best practices of running an open source community are becoming increasingly clear and well documented. Modular ownership. Good infrastructure for reporting bugs and submitting patches. Open and constant communication. All of these things are essential. And, only some of them work well when you port them over to areas of endeavour like education. From the business process perspective, we need to start asking what are some of the core techniques that work across different domains and what things are specific. We also need to look at ways to cross pollinate. My guess is that people skilled at facilitating open public policy process and open events have just as much to teach to open source communities as the other way around.

For me, these are two critical things to be thinking about: the essence and practice of open. We need to look for examples, identify patterns and share our approaches. As we go, we need to wikify, videotape and blog about what we’re concluding. And, literally or figuratively, we probably need to write a book that explains the essence of open.

Our job here today – and my invitation to all of you – is to do exactly this: to help write the book on open everything. My promise and the promise of the people running other Open Everythings is to collect, share and steward the ideas that come up in these conversations. We want to take these ideas somewhere useful and inspiring, to loop back to you and to keep you involved. As a part of the bargain, your job is simple: think hard about Open Everything for the next few hours, and make some new friends while you are doing it.

We’ve got an amazing squad of bloggers and documenters for the event. Watch their progress on the Toronto wiki and on Flickr. I will also post highlights (plus a hypertexted version of the above) tomorrow. Should be fun. Spread the word.

Of snowballs and speedgeeks

April 25, 2008 § 2 Comments

I love watching snowballs roll downhill. The whole unconference meme is certainly one such snowball. In many ways, geeks have taken open space meetings further and wider in the last three years than mainstream facilitators have in the last 20. Which, as someone who has tented in both camps, has been amazing to watch.

Of course, rolling snowballs rarely leave time to reflect on questions like: why is this snowball rolling? and how can we make it roll faster? The result for unconferences: few people have moved beyond the basic open space tool set. Which is okay. Open is groovy on its own. But it gets even better when you spike the punch some additional catalytic ingredients. Oh, and a pinch of flattened power dynamics also helps. Very important.

What does this mean in practice? Unconferences need to layer in a bigger diversity of engaging, catalytic, people-connecting session formats. World Cafes. Spectrograms. Fishbowls. And even (gasp!) games. Like the web itself, formats like these focus unstructured space in ways that help us make new friends, spark new ideas and run with them really fast.

I’ve put stuff like this in my events for years, as have people my like friend and co-conspirator Allen Gunn. However, most events that call themselves unconferences haven’t evolved past pure open space. Which is why I was so happy see Sarah Milstein‘s post on speed Q+A’s at O’Reilly Web2Open:

We ran small speed Q&As with the experts: we set up five tables,
one each for programmers, designers/UI specialists, marketing/community
experts, businesspeople and undeclared, and then we had five experts–Clay Shirky, Kara Swisher, Matt Cutts, Saar Gur and Tim O’Reilly–each
hold a nine-minute informal Q&A at a table. Every nine minutes, the
experts switched tables until they’d hit them all. The whole thing took
50 minutes, plus lots of lingering afterward. It had great energy, and
people were smiling the entire time.

This is akin to the speedgeek format that Gunner started using in 2004: ten presentations great presentations in an hour, with everyone roving around the room.

What excited me most about Sarah’s post was not that she was using a session format I like (which I do). Rather, I was happy to see someone reflecting out loud about ways to innovate and improve unconferences. We need more of this. And, I suspect, there is more of it going on than we know about.

Which makes me wonder: is there a simple way to capture, synthesize and share techniques people are using to make unconferences better? There is the Aspiration wiki, but that deals quite specifically with how Aspiration runs events (full disclosure: I am board member). And, there is OpenSpaceWorld, but it is religiously just about open space. I am thinking about something like a ‘making-the-unconference-snowball-roll-faster’ collective wiki of techniques.

Would this be useful? A waste of time? Does something (good) like this already exist? Should we just use wikipedia (which already has some useful entries)? I’d be interested to hear what people have to think.

A small feedback note for Sarah about the speed Q+A format: Most of the responses to your ‘what could we do differently?’ question suggest adding more time for each presentation. Having facilitated dozens of speedgeeks everywhere from CopyCamp to the iSummit to Web of Change, I would suggest the opposite. Make them shorter, and do more of them.The idea is to spark ideas and to help you radar people to talk to later. It’s hypertext. Take note of who you liked, and find them in the hallway track. Also, get beyond the ‘expert’ idea. It makes the whole experience more like television and less like the web.

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