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Under The Hood: How OpenMedia Operates (Also what the heck is OpenMedia?)

In the fourth installment of our 'Under the Hood' series, Steve and Alexa provide an inside look at just how we do what we do

When we bump into community members or collaborators IRL we often get quizzical remarks regarding OpenMedia’s operations. Most of the questions are basically: how does the sausage get made? Or, more specifically: Where does the flurry of engagement activity come from?

What the heck is OpenMedia?

In this edition of our Under The Hood blog series, Alexa and I will do our best to address these questions by sharing the key components of OpenMedia’s mode of operation.  

Those who want to take a deeper dive on this topic can reference the How we Operate page on our website.  We welcome your input and questions in the comments section, via email, Facebook, Twitter, or even in this open Google Doc.

You can also check out this blog we wrote when we initially began to share our mode of operation online several years ago.

Here’s a key point from the foundational blog we want to bring in here: “What confuses policy-makers is that we’re not on an easy-to-identify “side” of an issue. We’re not a “consumer group” in the traditional sense, because we’re focused on engaging people as citizens. We assume that people want to and deserve to actively participate in key decisions about our digital future, and we think policy-making should be a citizen-driven process since it affects us all.”

Not only are we not a consumer group, we’re also not a human rights, civil liberties, think tank, advocacy group, or watchdog organization. These organizations play a valuable role in our world but we have found OpenMedia operates at its best when we take what we find useful from each model and mix it together to achieve our mission. It’s understandable that people would look for established molds to put us into but in reality OpenMedia is a civic engagement platform that empowers the Internet community to shape the rules that govern the Internet and technology.

That doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue 😊 Then again many recent web-enabled phenomenons are not easily defined because there just isn’t established language for it yet. Just look at the complexity of defining the ‘sharing economy’ vs ‘collaborative economy’. Better yet, how do you describe Pokemon Go?  In short, as the previous blog in this series articulates at length, at OpenMedia we spend our time facilitating mass civic engagement and crowdsourcing digital policy change.


How do we get things done?

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Internally we’ve decided that there is no recipe for creating the new containers needed to facilitate effective work, rather it is a process of creating a unique mix of structure, practices, and processes that will complement and work within our specific organization. This should be an ongoing, collaborative process with our team, Board, and community.  

While we aim to minimize hierarchy, OpenMedia’s operations are carried out by distributed and overlapping internal teams that are guided by clear roles, Team Agreements, Operating Principles, principles for crowdsourced engagement as well as our Vision, Mission, and Pillars of focus.

Under this rubric, we collaborate using participatory processes such as the “advice process” of decision-making and in some cases rough consensus decision-making.

In practice this looks like a whack of ever-evolving interactive “living documents”, informal meetings, huddles, and project management through software called Teamwork. All meetings are open to the full team, and planning documents are open and searchable — sometimes someone on a completely different team will have a piece of input that completely shifts a project.

The details of our work culture might require another blog but in short there’s a lot of fun internal memes but we also pay attention to continually growing the team’s capabilities to communicate honestly, effectively, empathetically, and constructively. Yup, this means A LOT of powerful conversations. Even when they feel hard.

We’re always looking to improve how we work together, but I think this open and collaborative mode of operation that enables solutions to emerge across a vast network of stakeholders is a big part of why many of our projects have been successful.


Who backs OpenMedia?

I’m glad you asked. You do? Well hopefully you do. Okay, here are some more details.

OpenMedia is a networked organization. This means that we collaborate with a fluid and broad-ranging network of organizations and people. Network contributors include non-profit organizations, foundations and philanthropic organizations, small businesses, web service providers, and small startup Internet service providers.

We do not view business or governments as the “enemy.” We imagine customer-centric collaborative entities taking the place of hierarchical government and business bureaucracies.

We want to model participatory processes and encourage all entities to evolve from the industrial era. The whole relationship between businesses and governments and those impacted by their decisions is being reimagined everyday. Seeing governments/businesses and people as opposing sides rather than collaborating partners seems passé. It’s just not the world we live in anymore and we’re happy to work with entities that support our mission.

OpenMedia is a crowdsourced and crowdfunded organization. We do not take on projects that are funded solely by any one organization or set of organizations – grassroots support is a must for our work. While the majority of our financial support comes from grassroots individual donations, we are also proud of the uniquely diverse and decentralized mix of aligned organizations that make voluntary contributions to OpenMedia.

We have policies to ensure OpenMedia remains community driven

For OpenMedia to truly be able to put forward effective crowdsourced policy recommendations it is critical we remain independent of undue influence.

We have two core policies that ensure we maintain our independence and are driven by our supporter community of Internet users:

1. Crowdsourcing

As mentioned above, OpenMedia is a civic engagement platform for the Internet community. For us, civic engagement means crowdsourcing our internal and public-facing work based on our operating principles, the ‘advice process’ of Teal organizations, and principles for effective crowdsourced engagement.

Why? We do it because it builds trust, shows people the power they have, and provides evidence that we can cooperate and work together to overcome challenges. The open Internet and its values of open collaboration and sharing can only be maintained if we reimagine our democracy and our economy.

This is why we develop our policy positions through consultation and crowdsourcing projects involving hundreds of thousands of Internet users. By modeling participatory processes and empowering the voices of everyday Internet users, we can show the way toward a more connected brighter future for us all. Some examples are our crowdsourced action plans for Access, Free Expression and Privacy, and our Internet Voice Tools on EU copyright policy and U.S. net neutrality.  We even crowdsource what we should say during meetings with government ministers!

2. Grassroots and Diversified Funding

We have always been a crowdfunded organization. We know our strength and power comes from the individuals and organizations that make up our community. It is important to us that our revenue sources reflect who we serve. At OpenMedia we maintain our independence and integrity by ensuring that a majority of our operations are supported by small grassroots donors.

We are proud to draw the majority of our funding from small donations from private citizens so as to maintain accountability to the communities we serve. In our 2014 audited financial statements, over 57% of our revenues came from small contributions from individuals averaging 9$/month and $24 one-time.

Aside from our focus on grassroots donations, we adhere to a number of specific values to maintain our independence:

  • We aim to have no non-grassroots category of financial support account for more than 20% of revenue overall.

  • We aim to ensure that no single source of funding comprises more than 15% of our revenue in a given financial year.

  • Members of our board are not permitted to account for more than 5% of overall funding to OpenMedia.

These core policies and values ensure that no single organization or set of aligned funders are permitted to unduly influence our work. These values apply to organizations, foundations, philanthropies, businesses, and government entities.


Meet our Supporters

*Chart data based on OpenMedia 2014 audited financial statements.

We would be remiss if we failed to recognize the all-important in-kind support we receive from other individuals and organizations. They are far too numerous for this web page but you can see some of the many organizations, experts, and individuals we collaborate with in our networked coalitions here, here, here, here, here, and here.

For more about OpenMedia’s supporters check out this webpage dedicated to contribution transparency. You can also find our OpenMedia’s 2015 Audited Financial Statements here.

What does OpenMedia do with community contributions?

We knew you’d ask this next...

In short we try to engage as many people as possible in the most pressing issues impacting the open Internet. That’s how we operate.

Input and questions are very much welcomed in the comments section, via email, Facebook, Twitter or even in this open Google Doc. Your engagement improves our work.

Check out our other blogs in this series:

This article was written jointly by our founder and Senior Strategist Steve Anderson, and by our former Interim ED Alexa Pitoulis.


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