Open Knowledge Summit: Working on our blindspots

Last week our internal Open Knowledge Summit took place at Downing College, Cambridge. The summit is a meetup of all Open Knowledge staff, where we put our laptops away and spend time working in groups on different key topics. As a dispersed organisation getting together physically at least once a year is essential to ensure we can function as a united and effective organisation.

Amazing work colleagues is what it's all about!

Amazing work colleagues is what it’s all about!

While the previous two summits I’ve attended (written about here: July 2013, January 2014) have focused on our mission and external face this year we spent 5 days looking at how we work internally. Our sessions were kindly facilitated by Penny Handscomb from Omidyah Network, Fiona Thompson (our interim CEO) and Dirk Slater, founder of Fabriders (who facilitated last year’s retreat).


Open Knowledge is an usual organization, made up of a dispersed team and as such many issues that might not be so significant in other organisations get amplified. We also have to add into the mix that we are a non-profit with a core mission around openness and community building. Key issues for us are: building trust (of our management and of each other); internal communications; clarity around responsibility; rethinking of organisational structure; transparency of processes (including financial) and staff employment contracts.

You little RASCI!

One of the tools that we dedicated considerable time to during the week was RASCI, a form of responsibility alignment matrix. This is a way of ensuring clarity around strategically important decision-making. It can also be used for task implementation. RASCI stands for:

  • Responsible – The person responsible for the decision
  • Accountable – The person ultimately answerable for the quality of the decision (the buck stops here…)
  • Support – Those allocated to help complete the decision making process
  • Consulted – Those consulted about the decision (two-way communication)
  • Informed – Those informed about the decision once made (one-way communication)

In the past quite a lot of confusion in the organisation has resulted from failure to specify a responsible individual and from misunderstanding by staff around who would be consulted.

In the Hopbine pub for a board games night. We liked 'open data man' in the Dweebies card deck!

In the Hopbine pub for a board games night. We liked ‘open data man’ in the Dweebies card deck!

Personal and Organisational Values

We carried out a series of enlightening exercises looking at values (both personal and organizational) and seeing how conflict arises when we feel our values are compromised. Here we had a look at the ladder of inference which leads us to jump to conclusions. During the week there was some great sharing as we started to recognize when this was happening!

Although I won’t share our list or internal organisational values here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the session:


Mistakes are your friends, learn from them

Integrity is to do as you say and say as you do

Pick your battles


I’d be lying if I said that the summit was easy, or even that enjoyable. It was hard work, complicated and at times extremely uncomfortable. In some ways it reminded me of the our Google Hangouts Christmas party – awkward but necessary. Asking difficult questions of yourself, or of your organization, is not a simple task but it can move you to a different, and hopefully better place. So by the end of the summit it felt as if we were all finally on the same page. The plan is now to take what we’ve learnt, sprinkle it with a little goodwill and move forward! Fingers crossed!

Our annual cheese competition. This year I won with a Wookey hole Cheddar!

Our annual cheese competition. This year I won with a Wookey Hole Cheddar!

More images from the summit are available on Flickr