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

Reminiscing about the Retreat

mugLast week was a bit special, I got to spend 4 whole days in Cambridge with my work colleagues at our work retreat.

I’ve mentioned before that the Open Knowledge Foundation is probably fairly unique in that it is a truly virtual organization. Our staff sit on 4 different continents and over countless timezones. We communicate primarily using online tools and face-to-face is rare for us.

So to offset our lack of physicalness we have all-staff meetups every six months. [Here’s my post on the summer summit.]

These meetups, or retreats (the current word we are using to describe them) allow us to catch up on group meetings, chat to individuals about work activities and generally get to know each other better.

Hacking the agenda – not that dissimilar to a bank trading room! Video by Sander van der Waal.

Two of the days are usually dedicated to an all-staff session. During these days we are required to put away laptops and ‘be present’ by ensuring our full attention are on the tasks of the day. At last weeks retreat we were lucky enough to have the sessions facilitated by Dirk Slater, founder of Fabriders. Dirk has many years of experience supporting social justice movements, so really got our organisation. Facilitate is a word my community tend to use a lot, it is worth remembering that the true definition is to make (an action or process) easy or easier. Dirk definitely achieved that. He enabled us to be both honest with each other and incredibly productive – not an easy task.

I’m not going to document every minute of the two-days but wanted to pick out a few points just give a flavor of it all.

  • I think what worked well was the swinging from focused tasks to bigger-picture thinking. I’ve been to many ‘away-days’ of this sort and there is always a danger that you will raise expectations and never follow-up on anything. Keeping it both forward thinking and practical made sense.
  • We got to hack the agenda and say what was important to us. There is nothing quite like feeling responsible for your own schedule!
  • There were quite a few sharing moments where we all got to say a few words or offer an idea. People felt included and everyone got to talk.
  • Management worked at our level, they joined in the group activities and participated in the same way we did. There was no hierarchy during the two-days.
  • We had a cheese competition – which was great! People brought cheese from their own country or region and then we got to taste and judge. All part of celebrating our diversity.
  • There was a lot of love in the room. The retreat did make me feel incredibly British – saying awesome pains me and I tend to only hug after I’ve had beer. I also struggled with twinkling (apparently in California you can do a silent clap by doing a twinkle – holding up your hands and wiggling your fingers). However that didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the love. I’d much rather work somewhere where people show emotions that somewhere where they don’t. I can assume the ‘old skeptic role’ safely knowing that others are enthusiastic and inspired and will drag me along with them.
  • Dirk kept reminding us to talk to people we hadn’t spoken to much yet. It’s amazing how keen people are to stick to what and who they know. Talking to colleagues you don’t know so well is important, it gives us new perspectives and stops us feeling isolated.
Cheese competition

Cheese competition

Having F2F events makes all the difference to us as an organisation. They are costly and time-consuming but they are what keeps us focused and united. Big thanks to all those who helped organise the retreat.

A quick plug. On my way back from the retreat I attended the Speakerthon day in London. The event brought together over 30 people to create voice samples from the Radio 4 archive and upload them to Wikipedia. The event was part of the BBC Voice Project initiative and organised in collaboration with Open Knowledge Foundation, Creative Commons UK and the Wikimedia community. I’ve written more about the day on the Open Education Working Group blog.

Data, our world runs on data

It’s Open Education Week #OpenEducationWk and there are lots of great events taking place, online and offline. I’ve been interested in Open Educational Resources (OER) for some time but am getting increasingly excited about open data and possible applications in education. One particularly excellent resource I’ve been using a lot recently is the Open Knowledge Foundation’s School of Data. They have some fantastic courses that will help you find out about many aspects of data from the basics (what is data, finding data, sorting data), analysis of data, story telling with data and to fairly technical areas such as data cleaning. All really interactive with some great images and useful pointers to further resources.

Another really exciting resource/tool is – a simple way to get data out of spreadsheets and make it available for people to use. EasyOpenData has developed by Craig Russell, a Web Developer based at the University of Leicester. Craig has kindly written a brief blog post for us on what he’s hoping to achieve with the tool.

Data, our world runs on data. And most of this data lives in spreadsheets

Craig RussellThe recent admission by JP Morgan, that it’s financial model was run in a series of Excel Spreadsheets was a shock to the those in the tech industry, but unsurprising to those in ‘real business’. Spreadsheets are what normal people use to get the job done. Spreadsheets are what normal people use to store their knowledge.

We keep spreadsheets about our DVD collections, our wedding invitation list, our allotment yields. We use them to plan community events and billion dollar investments alike. Countless millions of man-hours are spent every day putting human knowledge in to spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, comfortable, familiar.

But if spreadsheets are so common, where are they all? Where is all this knowledge?

It is hidden, buried away behind the scenes. Vast submerged stores of publicly useful knowledge buried away on hard drives and shared folders. So much incredibly useful data curated by knowledgeable individuals, but without the skills to make this knowledge public and share it as Open Data.

Those in possession of publicly useful knowledge and those with the skills to make knowledge publicly accessible need to find one another and make open data love.

It is for this reason that I built, which enables you to publish custom-formatted XML feeds using data from your Google spreadsheets. Open Data feeds are publicly listed on your profile and automatically updated with the spreadsheet.

This means that data owners can continue to use spreadsheets to store their knowledge, while opening up this valuable information to the world.

They say that data is the new oil, if this is true, then spreadsheets are the reservoirs and we are all prospectors.

No Longer Badgeless!

Yay! Almost 3 months completing my Introduction to Openess in Education MOOC I have now received my badge!! David Wiley sent me a link to the IOE12 badges earned page where I am now listed as having completed my OpenEd Overview badge.

To claim my badge I had to log in to the Mozilla Open Badge Backpack through Mozilla Persona (Mozilla’s ‘identity system for the Web’). I then clicked on my claim badges link – but unfortunately there was an error. Luckily David Wiley managed to fix it fairly quickly (apparently he just re-confirmed the cryptography!?).

After that it was just a simple case of adding the badge to my open badge back pack.

Accepting my badge

The badge could then be added to a group and opened up for the public to see.

I’m still not entirely sure how I add the badge to a page, I’m guessing they’ll be a widget for WordPress…but that’s something for another day. For now I’m just very proud to have my badge!

My profile

Badgeless after IOE12…

The Open University have recently released a report on Innovating Pedagogy exploring “new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world“. The report quite rightly contains sections on MOOCs and Badges to accredit learning. Badges are seen as having potentially high impact in the next 2-5 year.

Badges appear to offer a natural match to Open Educational Resources. These currently lack the context and drivers of accredited material. If they are used for self-study then assessment is optional and the learner chooses which topic to follow next. Badges can return some of the structure and reward that is needed to keep learners on track.

Badges have great potential – I touched on this in my Badge On: Open Assessment post.

Unfortunately for me, despite all my work on the Introduction to Openess in Education MOOC I haven’t received a badge. 😦 It’s not that I haven’t earnt it; I’ve written posts on all the modules and have met all the criteria for the OpenEd Overview course badge. I am not aware of a time restriction on the course either. It’s more a case of nobody has awarded me the badge yet and I don’t quite know what to do about it. The system seems some what flawed. 😦

There hasn’t been a lot of interaction taking place during the MOOC, something I was surprised by, but I have had some contact with fellow student Jeroen Breman (@jeroen69). He was awarded a badge earlier on in the year and so I sent him a tweet to ask how he’d managed it.

@jeroen69 how did you get you #ioe12 badge?  - I've finished  but no badge!

His response was:

At some point,when David had experimented with the necessary code,he awarded a few earned up to that date.Not (m)any more later.

earned one more myself: … and would finish one more, but lack of response makes me less motivated.

Jeroen had been emailing David Wiley too.

did also email him personally, with no response. That happens more often. Don't really want to know what his inbox looks like.

Thanks - looks like he's done with the course and I won't get a badge - shame as it's not what I want to say in the summary :-(

This was important feedback. Jeroen finished by saying:

I will likely run into him at AECT in November and will make sure to get some of these types of feedback across,
His response tweets have left me unsure of what to do. I’ve emailed David Wiley and posted and tagged my intention to be awarded a badge – where do I go from here?

I promised to write about my experience of taking the course, so here goes. I want to be fair and open in my comments – it seems the only approach to take given the nature of the course…

Course Content

The course content was, on the whole, interesting; though it was very US and Wiley focussed. It would have benefitted from more video content (but possibly shorter videos – nobody has the time to watch 2 hour videos, though they could manage 10 minutes – occasionally participants were instructed to “watch the first 20 minutes”). Maybe the course could also have offered a more rounded view by suggesting links to resources that give an opposing opinion. There also was no introduction to each of the resources, no ‘map’ of how they fit together and no questions to consider. Following up on all the suggested links was very time consuming. Some of the recommended reading was 50+ page documents and it was difficult to justify the time to read them. The whole coures took a lot longer to plough through than I initially thought it would. A little more guidance wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Course Managment

What can I say? Things started out well, the site looked well organised and my name was swiftly added to the participant list. Although interaction was encouraged (by commenting on blog posts) it wasn’t facilitated in anyway and I ended up concentrating on the resources rather than reading other people’s posts. By the end of the course the majority of people had dropped out so there weren’t even many posts to read! It all seemed like a good idea in theory but…

Not receiving my badge hasn’t helped. I would really have liked to have practical experience of receiving a badge and embedding it in a site. As Jeroen says, you lose your motivation to carry on.

Barriers to MOOCs

Phil Hill has written a recent post listing Four Barriers That MOOCs Must Overcome To Build a Sustainable Model. His barriers are:

  1. Developing revenue models to make the concept self-sustaining;
  2. Delivering valuable signifiers of completion such as credentials, badges or acceptance into accredited programs;
  3. Providing an experience and perceived value that enables higher course completion rates (most today have less than 10% of registered students actually completing the course);
  4. Authenticating students in a manner to satisfy accrediting institutions or hiring companies that the student identify is actually known.

I’d have to agree that points 2 & 3 have been real issues for me.

In response to the post Stephen Downes says “What I read from this is that in order to be successful, MOOCs need to be like traditional learning. But what if they don’t? What if it’s traditional learning that needs to change“. He says that we need:

  • to get past certificates or degrees (data-mining a person’s record tells us everything we need to know),
  • to get past completion anxiety (go in, get what you need, get out; programs are for computers, courses are for horses)

OK – so it now seems to be my problem…but actually I’m fairly tech savvy, I work in a remote environment, I am familiar with online learning, I was motivated to do the course…. So if I feel a little short-changed then god knows what everyone else must be feeling.

To Conclude

It seems to me that open education is a move in the right direction, but it still has a lot to work out. Traditional models of learning don’t always work, but they are tried and tested and people know what they are getting. With open education there are times when you might not be getting what you expected, but then an argument could be made that you are still getting a free and open education. However education requires effort by both the learner and the ‘teacher/facilitator’ so it’s never totally free! People don’t want to put the effort in and then find they haven’t learnt what they’d hoped to learn and have nothing to show for it. It’s like children at the dentists, the odd few don’t care but the majority feel a lot happier after they get their well done sticker. It helps motivate them to come back next time.

I am really glad I completed the #ioe12 MOOC, I feel a little wiser about quite a few things. However I think we still have a lot more learning to do before we get there…

IOE12 Badge Time?

In January this year I spotted a tweet by a colleague who had decided to try out the Introduction to Openness in Education (#ioe12) MOOC (Massively Open Online Course). The course content sounded interesting and it provided me with a free and easy way to try online learning, so I decided to give it a go.

It’s taken me 6 months to write a post about every module (with a couple of observational posts thrown in):

To get the OpenEd Overview course badge I need to link to all my posts (which I’ve done) and announce my intent to have completed the badge. Which I’m doing now! I’ve also emailed David Wiley – just to be double sure!

Once I get my badge I’ll finish with a summing up post telling you about all the things I’ve learned.

Open Policy: the Opposite of Open is Broken

The opening resource for the Open Policy #ioe12 module is a video of Cable Green, Director of Global Learning; Creative Commons, giving the keynote at ALN 2011. Cable is “interested in questioning current policy and seeing if we can do a little better”. Cable makes the argument that everyone in world can obtain the education they require but to do so we need to be open with our education through OER and sharing. He starts with the allegory of a ‘learning machine’ that we could quite easily turn on but we need to break the ‘iron triangle’ of access (the assumption that quality, exclusivity, and expense necessarily go together). During the talk he name checks all of the other open areas discussed in the Introduction to Openness in Education MOOC and talks of their importance.

Cable explains that the biggest issue is that we have in the openness agenda is policy. Those that make decisions on policy do not understand the tools used (such as the Internet) and that they are only making decisions within the framework of the business models that they understand. He suggests we focus on policy because it is ‘where the money is’.

Cable believes that the publicly funded resources should be open resources and we need to move towards a public policy. He goes on to highlight areas of best practice (e.g Holland and the Wikiwijs project). He concludes that only one thing really matters – efficient use of public funds. Policy makers goal is to have the highest return on investments, Creative Common’s goal is that open policy embraced by all.

The talk was inspiring, but Cable’s concerns that the open community still has a long way to go ring true.

Only last week the Daily Mail published an article entitled ‘Open access’ move puts thousands of UK jobs at risk. I probably don’t need to explain the detail here as the title gives it away but the Daily Mail is arguing that by providing much of Britain’s academic output online for nothing the £1billion publishing industry that employs 10,000 people here and in its overseas operations could go under. Not only that but researchers in China and elsewhere in the Far East will have access to our research. [In his talk Cable actually states that we need to move away from “not invented here” to “proudly borrowed from there”].The article lacks any exploration of possible business models (discussed in the open business module or by various journals and academics around the Web) or understanding that a mixed model is the one most likely to happen. There is a response from SPARC that makes effort to correct the inaccuracies. SPARC Europe is an alliance of European academic and research libraries, national libraries, library organisations and research institutions. It does feel like we are banging our head against a brick wall a little…

OK, so back to open policy. Most of the other resources are actual open access policies such as National Institute of Health (NIH) Access Policy and the Federal Research Public Access Act and records of country and policy support of open educational resources (OER).

I think it is worth mentioning here current open data policy – in the US the and in the UK

So to end with some words from Cable Green: “The opposite of open is not closed, the opposite of open is broken.

So that’s it!! I’ve finished the Introduction to Openness MOOC! It’s taken me 6 months and a big pocket of determination. My next post using the ioe12 tag will be a sum up of what I’ve learned (about openness in education and about taking a MOOC). Time for a celebratory coffee! 😉