Radical transparency: guys, it doesn’t work retroactively.

June 8, 2009 – 10:47 pm

In the middle of the discussion on opening up a discussion on the Philippines, I got a bit impatient with all the conversations about “the core team” (which I’d been invited to, whereupon I immediately asked “what does that mean?”).

Here’s the crux of it: are we the core team, period – or are we the core team so far? (If it’s the former, then I’d consider myself to not be on the “core team” yet, since I don’t understand the expectations that entails.) Arbitrarily delineating “insiders” and “outsiders” with no criteria as to how you progress from one to the other eventually becomes an artificial cap on community growth.

I then proceeded to state that, to put my money where my mouth was, I would forward all the conversations to the public mailing list if there were no objections within 4 days. Boy, did discussions ensue. Then, in a bit under two hours, we went from this:

While I think it’s a great idea to have an open meeting… I believe it is important for us (core members) to hold a closed meeting first…

To this:

Community growth and ownership has an inseparable link. It took this email thread, a quick chat… and kim chi, to see that our success really lies in our community. So lets go for this open meeting!

So today I kept my promise and forwarded all those conversations to the list, with context. (Yeah, it took a while; I think I’ve learned to do it faster for next time.) It was interesting, trying to strike the right balance between presenting a summary of existing ideas (which I’d only heard myself a few days prior) and leaving things open for suggestions, as well as how to tactfully nudge people in the start doing things! ask forgiveness, not permission! direction.

A number of us interested in open-source educational technology in the Philippines have decided to get together online to share the respective projects we’re working on and the roles we’re starting to find ourselves playing in the hopes that we’ll be able to find a better way to move forward together… So far, the discussion leading up to this meeting has been on private email, and the meeting was also supposed to be private. After some conversations, we realized that this was counterproductive to community-building, and that we should open both the meeting and the planning for it to anybody who is interested.

This was done with the understanding that since we’re all individual volunteers, people are free to do what they want to do – this means that you can work on what you’re interested in without having to ask permission, but you also shouldn’t expect your suggestions to be followed unless you pick up the work and do it yourself. This email thread is, in part, me following my own suggestion to open up the meeting…

This was one of the most awkward emails I’ve sent in a while. And the context-filling-in emails are still incomplete and choppy, because even with cleanup, threaded forwards are just messy. It remains to be seen whether this made any difference.

On the up side, I get to point to this thread and say “See? If we’d had this conversation on a public mailing list from the beginning, how much easier would life be right now?” And I think it was The Right Thing To Do. Because we fixed it now, we don’t have to go back and fix it later (for an even later value of later) when it would be even harder.

Cultural adjustments are the hardest kind to make – I’ve been incredibly impressed with how willing everyone involved was to discuss and try out new (and potentially unfamiliar) ideas. I mean, the culture in the Philippines is not generally… open-source-ish. But hey! We’re learning and adjusting – in both directions. Having grown up as a Chinese-Filipino in the US, I’m coming to understand, at a more-than-intellectual level, that getting open source into the Philippines means that the culture has to be an open-source one… but it also has to be a Filipino one.

I’m not yet sure how you get there. We’re all flying by feel. But I think we’ve gotten the radical transparency lesson down, at the very least. (And a shout-out to Planet Fedora – reading other people’s posts there over the last few weeks has given me a way better idea of how to explain this sort of thing to others. Thanks!)

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  1. 2 Responses to “Radical transparency: guys, it doesn’t work retroactively.”

  2. great to see mel back posting again…was going to send out a search party :)

    By Kevin Mark on Jun 9, 2009

  3. I’m all for open source in the Philippines! Shout out if you need other heads for the discussions. I could probably interest a couple of people more.

    By herson on Jun 9, 2009

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