At the OpenGov Hub's Festivus/holiday bash yesterday, members of the tenant organizations got together as a community to relax, eat, drink (too much) and share goofy gifts. It was wonderfully informal, and for me a proud moment to witness the coming together — over sugary treats and beer — of a community of like-minded friends and colleagues.
The OpenGov Hub is gelling as a community. We're not over thinking things too much, and it's working. We have a lunch gathering every week or two to discuss things we're working on (or to meet with external friends and partners), we share tips around the water cooler (literally), and we make introductions for one another to potential new colleagues, funders, and partners. We play Duck Hunt, write jokes on the walls, attend meetings while exercising on a treadmill, and scribble software design notes on the windows. It's incredibly low-tech, high-return, and beautifully simple.
We are proud of what we are not: a "community of practice." A few of us here at the hub were recently lamenting the current infatuation in the social sector with communities of practice: a sort of mythical unicorn where organizations come together under the banner of a shared work agenda, sharing knowledge, skills, and experiences to better themselves. Communities of practice (especially donor-funded or donor-driven CoPs, to use the awful acronym) rarely live up to their hype, in my view. If you pay for people to come to a retreat, they will come. If you promise them money to work together on projects, they will come up with joint project ideas. But once you take the money away, the energy quickly dissipates.
What we're doing at the OpenGov Hub is different: no one subsidizes rent at the hub, and no one is putting up a pot of money to encourage us to work together on open government issues. We're choosing to do it on our own. And that's what makes the hub so different, I feel, from Potemkin village communities of practice: we're practicing being a community first, then figuring out the rest. Maybe others could give it a try, too.
— Nathaniel Heller