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S04 E04 – Open Impact

Our guest Heather Leson is open advocate and the Digital Innovation Lead at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

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Heather Leson’s sites

Heather’s Favourite Books

  • Global Soul by Pico Iyer
  • Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez 
  • Behave by Robert Sapolsky

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.



Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:23] Welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Doug Belshaw.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:33] And I’m Laura Hilliger. This podcast season is currently partially funded. You can support this podcast and other. We are open projects and products at

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:47] So I guess this week is the inimitable Heather Leson. Can I say inimitable, inimitable, inimitable. Can’t be imitated. There we go. Heather Leson, who will be doing a great job of introducing herself in a moment. But we first met at Mozfest about a decade ago. Heather is the and I’m going to make sure I get this right. Digital Innovation lead at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies who are now going to call IFC. And she was previously their data literacy lead. And we’ll put a link in our show notes to where you can find out more about Heather. Welcome, Heather.

Heather Leson: [00:01:22] Thank you. Really happy to be here with Laura and Doug. It’s been it’s been a while and I’m sure we’ll have a great conversation. I guess just to tidy up on the introduction or add more details. I’ve worked at the intersection of kind of open source technology and social impact for 12 years before that working at technology companies, and I’m very excited to meet people who are bringing change in their world, whether it be in their workplace or in their communities, and just having chats with them and seeing what we can do together. And so instead of talking about maps, code and data, I’d really like to hear what questions you have for me and what else we can talk about that might inspire and engage your audience over.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:04] I love that you said over. I feel like we should we should bring that into the podcast more broadly. Over. Roger. Roger.

Heather Leson: [00:02:11] Yeah, it’s just it’s just from so many calls, you just end up having to, like, make sure that people know you’re done. And so we started to say, over.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:19] Yeah, I love it.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:21] So the first question that we always ask our guests is, what is your favourite book or books if you have a couple? So do you want to tell us a little bit about what what books are jazz and you up right now?

Heather Leson: [00:02:33] Yeah, really. Thank you for the advance warning on this because I had to do some thinking about what would be what would. How do you choose one? Right. I’m like, in which genre would you like me to pick? It’s very hard. So I picked Global Soul by Pico Iyer because I liked the view of the world that it’s not necessarily confined by a nation state view, but that we’re here to explore knowledge, society and how we live and how we interact with the world. And so he really looks at the world like an anthropologist. And so I really love his book, and it’s really kind of set the tone for some of my viewpoints in the world. And I thought that that is not necessarily a usual one that people would get. And the second one is really a little bit more political or more relevant towards my work as Invisible Woman women, which I feel is really important because it talks about how the world is designed, how data decisions get made, which might be gender infused or lack of gender infused, and therefore could change how, for example, toilets are mapped. What are they mapped by gender? Do people feel safe? That’s something we talk about in OpenStreetMap. So just just to say that it’s really interesting to think through what is it we’re actually doing with the data. And so I really thought that book was powerful and it drew some very powerful conversations in my workplace from it over.

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:54] Yeah, I read Invisible Women, too, and I just found it so fascinating. How many things in our world are actual decisions that disempower without without even realising it, You know? And there’s some there’s, you know, the Internet meme culture. There’s plenty of, you know, examples of this that are pretty well known, like, you know, like the whole fact that women don’t have pockets in pants, like they can’t fit things in their pockets. You know, it’s those those little kinds of things that you don’t often think about. But invisible women, really and just all of the different studies that she went through in writing that book, it really learned a lot about how our societies could be designed a little bit differently. That would be better for everyone. Doug, have you read Invisible Women as well?

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:43] I have not, but I’ve noticed actually you’ve linked to the page for these books, and I noticed that I don’t know if this is just an American as opposed to, which is I’m used to, but it has the popular highlights from the Kindle version of the book embedded in the page. And just reading some of it looks definitely like the kind of book that I need to be reading. Like it says, when you’ve been so used as a white man to white and male, going without saying, it’s understandable that you might forget that white and male is an identity too, and that white men only consider identity politics to be when it’s about race and sex rather than the economy or any kind of wider issues as well. So yeah, it looks like something I need to need to read.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:29] Yeah, I mean, you’re definitely like your, your views on Cooperativism or on some of the things that you think about Labour, some of the views that you’ve talked about in the past on, on this podcast. And just to me, you definitely resonate with this book and a lot that happens in it. So great.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:48] I know you wanted to kind of there’s loads of things which we could and want to get on to, but I know that you mentioned OpenStreetMap there, and I know that some people listen to this podcast will know exactly what that is. Maybe they’ve contributed to it before, etcetera, but some people might not know what that is and and why you might have been involved with that. So could you just quickly explain maybe what is and how you contributed to it? And you don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of, you know, gender issues and politics and stuff if you don’t want to, but like, just explain what that is so people know the kind of background you’re coming from.

Heather Leson: [00:06:19] Sure. And thanks for the question, because it actually does relate back to Invisible Women. And so I promise to pull the thread from there. Openstreetmap is kind of like the Wikipedia of maps. It’s a free and open map of the world created by the global community. There’s millions of people involved. I have been involved in OpenStreetMap since 2010. My joining of OpenStreetMap was specifically because of the earthquake in Haiti. I got involved with something called which became an organisation called Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, which tries to contribute to the map, whether it be data points or information or or residual products that can help people interact with the information in their world. And so humanitarian OpenStreetMap and OpenStreetMap is about data in terms of power and inclusion. And it’s really kind of important to think about who puts data on the map and then what happens with the map data. Now, OpenStreetMap is again a global community humanitarian. Openstreetmap is a global community, part of OpenStreetMap community. They’re part of the larger family of open source. But let’s just let’s just check how big OpenStreetMap is. It is used in many of the products online that you can see where OpenStreetMap maps and the data that’s been collected by communities in the versions of the world by local communities is consumed by it. And so that’s really exciting to see OpenStreetMap maps around the world. So when you are looking at your news website or you are looking at a product to be able to find out how to navigate it, you know, TripAdvisor or what have you, just look and see who created the map and that’s an open community. Now, an open street map just to kind of pull it back to women in data. It’s it’s been really contentious as to who leads the working groups and how we organise ourselves. Right. And this is this is important because when we’re talking about communities, we want to be as inclusive, diverse and as equal as possible. And so I am one of the first women involved in humanitarian OpenStreetMap board. There are now many women involved, especially women, from what I like to call the majority world. But when when I joined, I was one of the first women who was also on the board of OpenStreetMap Foundation. And so it’s really important that women get involved and all genders, for that matter. But it’s also really important to say that when you’re making decisions about what goes on the map or what data is or what the model is or what what’s reflected about. Communities that all communities are involved in that conversation so that it’s not. I’m from northern Canada, so it’s not a girl from northern Canada making decisions about what should be on the map in Vietnam. It should be the community in Vietnam saying this is what is wrong in our community or this is what needs to be fixed, or here’s where here’s where the street intersects. And so that’s the power of global communities. To go back to Pico Iyer, is that you never know how your community interacts. And so we have this kind of mesh network like any other open community, where we have a global community, we have a local community, they have decisions about how they interact. There’s policies, procedures, codes of conduct, etiquette guidelines, moderation guidelines. And so how do we make it a healthy space and how do we make sure that the data that’s reflected on this open map reflects the values of the community and the decisions of the community. And so humanitarian OpenStreetMap works very hard on that in terms of having local communities and their local the open mapping hubs, they drive decision making for that. And so while they work with local partners and they work with global satellite imagery providers and then the corporate social responsibility, it’s more about community centre and maps. And so there’s a lot to unpack there, I’m sure. But I just wanted to say that OpenStreetMap is more than the product or the map. It’s the community around it. And that’s what that’s what got me involved. And so what’s my role? I do governance, I do documentation. I’m interested in making sure that it’s a safe and healthy community. So I’ve been promoting that for many years and and very excited that we’re going to be at state of the map soon talking about what does it mean to be a leader in our communities and we’re inviting people to come and share. What does that mean? Because leader can be a small L, large l or what have you, but it comes back down to who is the community.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:46] That’s awesome. And I realise I kind of asked that question before you got to your third book. So that’s just make sure that we get that in. But just on the OpenStreetMap thing, um, you’ve gone really deep and you’ve done a great job of governance and getting everyone involved and things. And I, I think I’ve done this maybe once or twice, but you can download like an Android app. I don’t know if you can get for iOS and like go wandering in your own local neighbourhood and fix things which are on the map, which is such an empowering thing to do. Um, and I think my local area is actually not because of me, but my local area is actually better represented on OpenStreetMap than it is on Google Maps. Yes, which is amazing if you think about it, given the resources that big tech have at their disposal.

Heather Leson: [00:11:30] Yeah. And Big Tech’s involved. Let’s be clear. Right? Big tech is is they are involved in mapping and working with mapping, whether it be rapid ID, which is which is Facebook or other groups. They’re working with local communities to have data reflected. But if I was to shout out for one app, since it’s coming up to spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s an app called Komoot and it uses OpenStreetMap and helps you plan your walks, your hikes, your bicycle rides. And I think this is a this is important to kind of reflect and use OpenStreetMap to to enjoy your city, much like you just mentioned. So you can edit or you can just enjoy the power of local communities deciding where you should go walking. I’ll drop the link for you guys later.

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:15] I’m a big Komoot user. I use it to plan my gravel bike rounds. And I think it’s it’s probably the most popular mapping app or I guess, um, yeah. Like I would say Google Maps is probably more ubiquitous, but Germans don’t like Google all that much. Komoot is one of those apps that literally everybody has because there’s just so many great places to go. And it’s, you know, you know that the that, you know that it’s the community telling you what’s nice and what’s not. It’s not like, you know, it’s not like some corporate decision about what to promote. Rather, the local people in my community are telling me what you know, nice places to go which is and they’re usually right.

Heather Leson: [00:12:59] Yeah well Google’s been a really good citizen of open source too, so I mean, everyone should choose whatever product or service serves their needs and their values. And I think it’s important that, as you said, you know, if it’s run by the community and designed by the community, they’ll tell you when the roads closed. Right. Or at least they’ll try, Right. They’ll tell you they’ll tell you that that that that walk is not safe. And for me, this is really important because how women navigate the world, for example, you need to know where where things are and where they’re not. Right. So if it’s later at night, can you plan your route? This is why commute and all the other products that are out there. Awesome. And anything like that that you want to use. I think I’ve got 4 or 5 of them downloaded on my on my phone. Um, but yeah, it’s good to it’s good to test them out and I’m glad that OpenStreetMap is, is helping you in your neighbourhood, Doug.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:50] Very nice. Very nice. So the third book was on the on the Amazon page. It says, It’s no exaggeration to say that this book is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. And this is The Wall Street Journal Science Book of the Year and all that kind of stuff. So what is this book and what drew you to it?

Heather Leson: [00:14:08] Yeah, so it’s called Behave and it’s by Robert Sapolsky, and it actually comes from it’s a little bit of a story how I ended up to this book. And I think it’s important because I think we all do journeys about how we use technology or how technology shapes our work. And so we’ve just been talking about how an app can help us with our navigation in the world. I was really interested in in how I could do better software and better products and services. You know, I’ve been working in technology for over 25 years, but there’s no point that there’s no point in your career that you ever stop learning or do new things. And so I got to this point where I thought, well, okay, I need to understand what is the change that we want in the world? And with technology, can we can we have an impact on behaviour change and how can we understand behaviour science and its impact on technology? So I took a course by, by a gentleman named Brian Kugelman. I’m going to mispronounce his name and it’s called behaviour Applied Behaviour Design. And so it was a nine week course. Looking at the positive psychology behind software and the negative dark patterns, it goes from the whole, the whole gamut. And he highly recommended this book. And so I loved the course. I drank all of the articles that he read. He signed us and I thought it was really important because in my particular work, I’m a humanitarian by trade in my job and we’re thinking about capacity building, we’re thinking about behaviour change. And so for me, I think even more so, it’s our responsibility to think about what are the negative implications of, of digital or technology interventions in our work, What are the positive ones? And then coming back down to my health care friends who who I work with, they’ve been very inspirational to me in thinking about what is the change we want in terms of skills. And so I’ll tell you a little bit more about how that had an impact in terms of our product I’ve worked on. But the gist of it is, is that we need to respect and honour and give dignity in everything that we create and really kind of listen to the communities and drive what we create with those communities. And so when we think about change, it’s it’s about owning that, but also understanding human behaviour. If we think people are going to take mental leaps or do a bunch of hoops or a bunch of extra steps to get engaged in something that we’re super passionate about, we haven’t really thought through how people interact with software. So it’s a little bit of neuroscience, a little bit of emotional psychology, a little bit of behaviour design, a little bit of interactive design. And so that’s how I ended up at the book Behave, and I’m not done reading it, full disclosure, but I feel that because it’s pretty hefty, right? But I feel that the conversational ness of it and the approach, it almost feels like a science anthropology approach. It’s important that we’re not so stuck in our like, I’m a computer scientist, which I’m not, by the way, or that I believe in technology and haven’t thought about anthropology. I believe in technology and I haven’t thought about psychology. I think we need to start be really owning hybrid behaviour. And that’s what I think the book really nails, is that we can’t just think about change without thinking about the context and the complex systems that we work within. So long answer, But I hope it helps because I think it drives up some lots of questions.

Doug Belshaw: [00:17:32] And also it’s a, it’s a lovely segway into some work that you two have been doing together recently, um, around the open organisation. And there’s a particular publication that we’ve got a link to in the show notes called Opening up social impact focussed Organisations, which when did this come out? Was it a couple of months ago?

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:50] February, March.

Heather Leson: [00:17:54] We’re in line. March.

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:57] I think we our original deadline for ourselves was February. But then we.

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:01] You know, well, why don’t why don’t you tell our listeners, both of you, about about this this publication where it came about, what its aims are because very much in the area of which you’ve already been talking about, Heather about how do people work, how can you work better, what are the outcomes that we want, that kind of thing. So I’ll let you take it from here.

Heather Leson: [00:18:19] Laura?

Laura Hilliger: [00:18:21] Well, as Heather said in her introduction, she spent the majority of her career working between open technologies and the humanitarian space. And I’ve spent the most of the majority of my career working between nonprofits and open technologies. We both have a background before, before that of being at tech companies and building products and doing design or conceptualisation of products and we have known each other for over a decade now. We’ve always been interested in communities and back when we met the very first time that we met, we said to each other we should write a book together. And then it took us 12 years to, you know, because we just both of us did our we did our things and we were, you know, fighting the good fight for all of these years. And then in I think it was in November or so, Heather, that Heather was like, right now is the time we’re doing this. Let’s, let’s go. And it just so happened that I was like, Yeah, why haven’t we done this yet? And, and so we decided to collaborate on it’s called an Open Perspective. It’s a short book about 30 or 40 pages, I guess, and which is really a perspective on how open advocates can work within the social impact focussed space. So within nonprofits, within non-governmental organisations, within humanitarian organisations. And what we wanted to do is we wanted to take all of this, all of our years of working in that in-between space in between tech and social impact, and see if we could come up with some really practical top tips tricks, advice, you know, like frameworks we’ve used, activities we’ve used, and pull it together in something that both explains the. The the mindset and the behaviour and like the deep heart that you need for that work and also gives practical advice on how to, how to maintain the momentum, how to build communities and coalitions. Um, yeah. So that’s, that’s, that’s how it came about. I don’t know. Heather What did I miss in my ramble there?

Heather Leson: [00:20:48] Yeah. No, I don’t think it was a ramble. I think it was spot on. Um, first of all, it was a pleasure to write this with you, Laura, and to work with the Red Hat team and the Open Organisation team. I’m really thankful for, for the opportunity to kind of go through their editing process. And I think it also helps to, if you’ve been working for a number of years on something, whatever the topic is, and this is more for the audience, you know, don’t feel like you don’t have a lot to offer because I think you really do. And, and, you know, find, find, find a way to write down your lessons learned and explore that because it really kind of does open up new doors in terms of your mental models, but also in terms of just giving thanks to all the people that you’ve been able to collaborate with over your career. And so that to me, I feel as somebody who believes in open principles, open practices, open source, open data, there’s a sliding scale in in our industries, right? So whether it be businesses trying to create open source program offices or companies just trying to work on open source or have those conversations about how can we be more transparent or accountable? I think that applying those open principles to your work is really hard and heavy lifting and deep work, as Laura mentioned. And you know, we had some hard, hard, hard lived lessons that we’ve learned about trying to talk through that scale of building it into an organisation, respecting and honouring the organisation and the culture and the behaviour, but at the same time trying to do that transformation with them and say, listen, you know, it really is aligned open and here’s how it’s aligned and building the scaffolding within the community and the network and supporting your allies, whether it’s in your, in your company or organisation or your non-profit or Ingo or it’s in your in your work, I think it’s really valuable to say, what am I doing to make things open today and am I listening? I think that what really struck me about writing this the most was that we, both of us in our respective organisations spent a lot of time listening to what the problem set is and understanding what the culture was and then trying to align how we thought open would adjust. And so, you know, lots of people like to say open washing, but I would ask them to pause for a second and think about how hard it is to to affect change and think about behaviour change. When you think about how much adults change in their mindset, how hard it is to change bureaucracy, what the change management in terms of processes are required. We really did dig into like, you know, farewell, but also know that there’s allies both in your organisation, which we shared some tactics but also outside the organisation. Laura And I’ve never worked in the same organisation, but as we started to talk through and work through our kind of problem set and challenges or opportunities, there was a lot of like, Oh gosh, we should have probably talked about this a long time ago. And I think that I think that if anything, it’s a real gift to meet somebody else who cares about trying to bring open in a listening way inside an organisation and really respect what the existing institution needs and what the society’s kind of context is. But then again, try and do some culture hacking and be brave, you know, and just be ready, ready for the friction. Right. But, but, but own it and do it.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:59] Yeah, that’s something you just said there. I think that’s that’s the really big thing is that there is no one size fits all for bringing openness to an organisation or for opening up a team or a set of processes or whatever. It is so highly contextually based on the people in the room. And you know, this is something that we see in our work all of the time. It’s the same with, you know, education, for example. It has to do with the with the person on the other side. And you have to understand first, listen first before you can find a method or a tactic or activity or whatever, that’s really going to work for that person or that group of people. And I think that it’s as you said, it is very hard to apply some of the mental models that surround openness and open principles. It’s like there’s lots of words there and it’s hard to apply that stuff. And so I’m you know, I’m I’m very interested in in like I also very much enjoyed working with you, Heather, And in writing this piece, it was so grounding to find that you and I had similar frustrations in this work that we, you know, that we found that some of the things that were so hard about this work were really they were not unique to the organisations, but rather maybe a reflection of society as a whole. And I think I think that’s the thing about, you know, people who who are working within systems change is that they experience this lesson and it can be it’s easy to feel alone in it. It’s easy to feel like, you know, people don’t really understand how hard it is. So there is a real solidarity piece that that made me very happy. And that’s, you know, basically my favourite thing about advocacy work at all is the solidarity that you build when you’re building communities.

Doug Belshaw: [00:25:53] And so I read this when I was on holiday last month, and I think there were three things that I really enjoyed about it. Working in the same area was the first was kind of. The conceptualising of things, which can be quite intuitive. Sometimes you just do things without necessarily thinking about it because you’ve got prior experience, but you kind of named those things, which was really helpful because then once they’re named, you can refer to them and then you did the opposite of that. You kind of took things which were named but potentially scary or unclear to people and gave practical examples of what that meant. And then you were just very honest throughout about how it can be stressful and tiring and frustrating, but that actually sharing that frustration and stress and whatever openly itself helps you find allies and other organisations like you have. So I found it just quite a refreshing and and motivating read and would encourage other people to read it too.

Heather Leson: [00:26:54] Wow. Thanks, Doug. Yeah, no, I think funny. Yeah. I think.

Heather Leson: [00:26:59] I’d like I’d like to see more people reach out in the open family, if you will, and, you know, and really, really connect. And so while we’re on all these events, I think or online, I think many of us have found those allies. But there are a lot of people out there that are working on open things that haven’t found the network or the community that that helps them thrive. And, you know, I belong to a number of different networks, whether it be open heroines, which is a bunch of people who identify as women who who work on governance, open source products and services. And they’re an incredible network. And they’ve been my allies. Then there’s the OpenStreetMap network, then there’s Open organisation Network. And so it’s a lot of work to networking. I understand that. But I would say that if you are on the journey to bring open to your organisation, do, do seek out people who’ve been doing it already or people within whatever your favourite topic in the open family is. You know, there’s a whole group called Inner Source Commons, which I really have a lot of respect for, for trying to bring open principles and open practices into large corporate actions. And they’re doing it, you know, behind closed doors. But it’s the tactics around it. And so there’s there’s no shortage of networks out there. And I think that that’s important is to take the step that you are not alone in doing that. And also just to have the joy of discovering what other people did and see if it would work in your organisation and then have those conversations and do the work, but have fun while you do it though too. Over.

Doug Belshaw: [00:28:30] Hm. I remember there was an image which Brian Mathers, our colleague Brian Mathers, drew to kind of go along with something we were writing. And it was years ago and it was like a lift. And it was like levels of openness. And one of the levels was not yet. And just how. Soul destroying not yet can be for people advocating for openness because it’s not a no. People are very unlikely to say no to like the organisation being more open and less. It’s like a very controlled area or organisation or whatever. Um, and how dispiriting it can be thinking that you’ve failed by other people just going on like going on a go slow with you. So finding other people is really important. And it might be just to be clear, and I definitely got this from your work, it might be that other people aren’t self-identifying in the same way that you are. There might be not using the word open or might not even be in exactly the same industry as you. But allies can come in all different shapes and sizes.

Heather Leson: [00:29:35] Yeah, and I would plus one that on Doug. You know, I work in innovation and yesterday I was on the call with people who work and live in the Americas region. And we decided that for something that we’re doing, we won’t necessarily call it innovation. We’ll call it, you know, change or or networking or people like we wanted to take away the words that might be too loaded or confusing and find ways to make it as safe and healthy place. And I think Laura and I really talked through this when we were working on the article is that how do you like I would have meetings or do things that I wouldn’t necessarily say the word open source or open data. I’d be like, Tell me more about how you work. Tell me how you share information. Tell me what would make it better. And those questions like putting and really framing the question to again and deeply listening, like not not expecting people. The not yet is such a huge opportunity, right? Like like it’s such a huge opportunity. And people, very brave people within my organisation spent years with that not yet tinkering away at it. And there’s like lots of insights and examples. And so I’m one of many people who’ve been tinkering away at bringing open into the Red Cross Red Crescent in different ways, whether it’s products, services, methodologies and that corpus we build on each other’s shoulders with the insights and examples. And I think this is this is a thing, I think not yet. Don’t be don’t be afraid. There’s many people who started with. Not yet. Um, it’s exciting, actually. Daunting for sure. But again, that’s where you need allies Over.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:07] And zooming out to the kind of because we’ve mentioned Red Hat to mention the open organisation and I know we’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but people might only be listening to this episode or might have missed that context. Um, people might not know who Red Hat are. They might not know what the open organisation is. So maybe one of you could just give a bit more context around this because they’ve obviously supported your work and allowed you to come together and collaborate and publish and all that kind of stuff.

Laura Hilliger: [00:31:34] Yeah. So the, the open organisation is an upstream community that is now supported by Red Hat through their Open source program office. But originally it was a group of people, open advocates and the the only sort of support that they, that they had, they formed around this idea of open principles. There was a book that the, the CEO of Red Hat at the time. He’s no longer the CEO, Jim Whitehurst. He wrote a book about his experience bringing open or like getting into the world of open. It was called the Open Organisation, but that book did not have the open principles. It was it was his personal experience and the community that formed around this book said they saw something within his story, realising that there was a lot of alignment with their own experiences, these open advocates. And so a small community was formed and it’s it’s an open source community, but it’s slightly it’s, it’s slightly different than like a typical code community because really what we’re interacting around is ideas and concepts. And so this community a number of years ago really said, okay, what are the mindsets and the behaviours around a healthy open source community? How do they actually work? How what’s the interaction like? And came up with these open principles. And the whole time we were given a platform to to publish our thoughts and our ideas on, which is a site that is also sponsored by Red Hat. And, and so this community of people over the past, I think six years or so and we kind of we’re all quote unquote experts in open and we sort of found each other and, um, yeah. And began to have this intellectual conversation about sort of the humanity of open, for lack of a better word. And so now through the Open Source Project program office at Red Hat, the community is supported, lightly supported with like editing, help compilation help. We have our infrastructure, like our community forum is hosted by the Open Source Program Office. Um, and we all, we all work in different organisations and we do slightly different things. But what we have in common is like this belief of the open principles and a desire to contribute to the intellectual landscape of what open means outside of open source code.

Heather Leson: [00:34:12] Thanks, Laura. Yeah. So I would say, you know, open source communities or people who are working on open, they can only be healthy if they have those kind of outer circles of good governance, of community engagement, of listening, of analysis. I love chaos for for their work. On terms of how do you measure a healthy community, right? I love what they’re doing. I love what Open Collective does to try and help people be sustainable. I mean, there are lots of pieces around code that make open healthy. But this particular organisation, I think, you know, I’m sure if you’re really passionate about writing around open and really kind of getting to think, I really, I really feel like I am inspired to learn from them and well, I don’t have hours in the day to always write more. I feel really proud that we were able to kind of nail down something that we thought really needed to kind of go to the corpus with Laura over and Brian, who was our editor at the time. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:35:11] I feel like, we always have to explain. That open is a contested term and that people who have a technological bent, as you’ve already mentioned, tend to automatically associate with open source. And we find that a lot. Our co-op is called We Are Open. So, you know, we have constant discussions about should everything we use be open source. And then we think, well, no, because open opens wider than just using open source. And there’s a there’s an article which I think are both aware of, which I’m going to put in the show notes called 50 Shades of Open, which I just really enjoy sharing with people if they get a chance to read it because it is an academic article, but it’s quite nicely written about different what we mean by openness. And I feel like what you two have been discussing there actually covers all of the different definitions of what is meant by Open in this particular article. And that’s so refreshing because often openness is very tightly defined as being technology or access or data or whatever it is. So yeah, it’s good stuff. It’s a big tent. Yeah.

Heather Leson: [00:36:20] I like to say, I like to say people before data, people before code, none of this stuff would be open is never going to win if we don’t figure out how to work within all the different contexts and respect and honour the fact that what open means in northern Canada or in Switzerland where I live, versus my friends in Malaysia who are working on Open, or my friends in India who are working on open, they have they they might take the open principles, but they might have a different way of applying it and approaching it and talking about it. And so respecting those local communities and their version of open is is a very hard topic to have conversation to have. There are some very rigid views on open which, you know, while Valiant are not inclusive. Right. And so in humanitarian OpenStreetMap, we’ve had a large debate around what is community, what is interaction, what is activities, what is contributions. And we did a bunch of writing around that in terms of making sure that things were more inclusive. And that comes from really listening and understanding that my version of Open and my little tried question that five of us really care about might not necessarily help the other 100,000 people be involved in open. So I think Open has to do a little bit of a little bit more listening, if you will. And I think there’s lots of open communities that are doing it, but there are some that are still really closed. And Kate Kate Chapman from Humanitarian Open Street, but she’s the chair of the board right now. And myself, we did a presentation for State of the Map, which is the large OpenStreetMap event a couple of years ago. And I took the open principles and I said, okay, well, let’s think about how open OpenStreetMap is. And so I said some pretty controversial things about like how we work within the community, who leads the working groups. And so anybody who’s able to join the working groups, but maybe their meetings are at different times and there’s been a lot of changes since that time. But, you know, who decides the rules and regulations around how an open community works actually has a huge impact on who’s part of that community. So yeah, it’s about power and decision. So yeah, I’m glad to hear that. We’re also widening the circle around who’s open. And my answer is everyone’s open. Let’s just talk about how we get there together, right. And how we listen more.

Laura Hilliger: [00:38:37] Yeah, and I love talking about the, the continuum of open. You know, it’s it’s not a binary. It’s not open or closed. It’s a continuum. So, Heather, I know you have a hard stop soon, and I wanted to make sure that we had a little bit of time to hear about your upcoming launch. I would love for you to tell us about what you’ve been working on and yeah, just whatever you want to say about it, tell the audience what is what is about to be live on the Internet.

Heather Leson: [00:39:07] Sure, Sure. So it’s already live technically. So we I’ve been working for the last five and a half years on something called the I Oversee data playbook. And so the data playbook is a Creative Commons license. We did a beta version which launched in 2018 and it’s the beta version had 60 games scenarios, checklists and and slides to help people on their data journey everywhere across the life cycle. And it was created by IFC and some of our partners at volunteers staff the Centre for Humanitarian Data, other people who came to our workshops and something which we created called the Data Literacy Consortium. I believe that data learning needs to be open and it needs to be collaborative and that people should take a social learning approach. There’s lots of tools and software out there, but what we aren’t doing is having an inclusive conversation. So the premise of the playbook is really about network centred resources, which Dirk Slater from Fab Riders has been such a champion and a co-editor of The Playbook with me as well as Melissa Helms. The new Playbook, the version one we have 120 exercises, games, scenarios. It’s coming out in the next few weeks. It has been. We had 270km from around the world, so getting 270 people excited about doing documentation, lots of heavy lifting. And so we did. You know, not a lot of people documentation is the last thing that people care about sometimes and it’s the most important. And so we’re very excited about the playbook for a couple of reasons. It wasn’t just a product. We actually made it a community effort and we had skillshares, we had over 50 events along to build it and co-create it. We had editing rounds. We were thinking about transforming how people facilitate events and how they facilitate conversations to be more inclusive and supportive of people’s kind of diverse, as you said, the sliding scale of data skills, sliding scales of skills. And we use some of the open principles and we used a lot of participatory design and we did it in a way that we feel is our gift back and the fact that it was created for and by the version one was created for and by the Red Cross, Red Crescent and some partners, but it was majority Red Cross, Red Crescent people. But we are making it Creative Commons. We are going to put it on GitHub. Well, it is Creative Commons license CC by NC 40I think is the license, but we’re putting it out there because previously with our beta, many humanitarian organisations and development organisations and, and for example the Canadian government used used the playbook and so we feel that skills should be open and training should be open to be able to help people remix it, add their own local examples and their own scenarios and be a living, breathing document. And so I’m excited to have it out in the universe and see what people do with it. But let’s roll it up a bit. If we start thinking about how we talk about digital transformation or if we talk about how how we talk about any of our work, if it’s co-created and owned by the community, whatever it is, a product or service, a methodology, you know, a change. If you already have owners and users before you even launch, that’s a better way to go. And so yes, we did a beta before we did the the launch of the V1 version one. I think that that we’ve learned a lot about what not to do with product development and we learned a lot about what we can do. You got to be honest, right? Like it’s a lot of learning, right? And so we’re going to publish all of our methodology and some of our lessons. But the thing I’m most proud about is that I get notes from some of these contributors that they said, you know, I got to meet people from around the world and really, you know, feel like I can take this back to my community. And it’s something that we created for ourselves. So, yes, there’s lots of consultants out there and lots of tech companies that you can hire. But if your community can create something for you that might actually benefit themselves. But other people, like we had a very narrow use case, like people who do data and digital work around the Red Cross, Red Crescent. That was our audience. However, we were super surprised when people other people wanted to use it. And I think this is the gift of open is if you do the bravery and you negotiate with your legal department, Hello, That was fun. And you negotiate with your technical departments. No, but if you just say, listen, this is this is this is this is this this belongs. And my my back donor was very happy to have it open. So, you know, you got to do the negotiation. But giving something to the world to let people create with it and use it, I think this is the whole point of of of doing it. And so while I’ve just spent five and a half years trying to build out an open product and an open methodology, I think that anybody can can figure out what you’re working on and figure out how to bring open in delicate ways and respect and honour your culture. But just just drive. Drive that way if you can over.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:00] Mm hm. And you never know who’s. We always have a view of who’s listening to us and paying attention to us as individuals and organisations and stuff, but we’re often quite wrong about that. Sometimes the people who we think are paying most attention on paying that much attention and sometimes people we’ve never heard of and organisations we don’t know about are paying attention. And I’ve certainly found that in in my work. I’ve been connected with people who are just doing stuff that I had an inkling it might be nice if we did something like this and they’ve already done all of the work of it and you can imagine completely replicating that had you not been aware of it. So yeah, bringing people in, sharing all the stuff is a really, really valuable thing to do. So thank you for bringing that into the world. Heather Is there a link right now? You said it’s kind of already launched or do we need to wait until the formal launch?

Heather Leson: [00:44:52] What I mean by it is that we launch in 2018 the beta, but our new version will be coming out in a couple of weeks. I can’t give you the new version because it’s not live. I’ll give you the previous version and then I’ll give you all the blog posts. Because what we did is we told our story along the way. But Doug, I think your point around doing the research and observing and listening, don’t look inside your own organisation. There might be other practices that you can build upon, right? And I think that’s really important and you never know who’s using your work. I absolutely agree, but you never know how you might have an impact on someone else’s life to make to make a difference. So be thankful if you actually do. But I think the biggest change that happened to me for the playbook was that it changed how I work, which I’m glad for. I had to change often as somebody who is leading something. And I think that’s important that if you’re thinking about change and behaviour change or open, you have to be super hyper flexible that your version of who you are and your place in that and your place in the community and how you respect and honour the fact that they might need something different. That’s part of the beautiful journey, right? And I’m just glad that you know, we can build on each other’s work wherever we are and whatever we’re doing over.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:08] This has been a great conversation. I feel like I’ve come to know you even better during the last 40 minutes or so. Um, if people want to kind of follow your work and find out more about you and your organisation, where’s the best place? Is there a single URL they can go to? Where’s the best place to point people?

Heather Leson: [00:46:25] Yeah, and so I’m about to say that I heavily use social media because that’s where people are. So I do use Facebook, but I use that for family and friends. So I’d rather say Twitter or LinkedIn. I’m always sharing articles and also championing people who are doing behaviour change innovation and that I feel like there’s just these beautiful communities out there that are doing good work. So basically Twitter or LinkedIn is the best place right now.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:50] Cool. So on LinkedIn, you’re Heather Leson, Leson and on Twitter it’s H Leson h l e s o n for people who want to follow.

Heather Leson: [00:46:59] It’s no, it’s my it’s my full name. Yeah. I have a I have a fake. There’s a fake Heather. Oh, my world is safe now.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:06] Fake Heather.

Heather Leson: [00:47:07] Yes, finally. I didn’t I didn’t get the blue check mark. So therefore I get the fake Heather. I’m so delighted.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:14] There is a fake Doug Belshaw. And they were trolling me for a bit ten years ago, But that’s. That’s fun.

Heather Leson: [00:47:19] Congratulations. We can. We should do another example about, like, how not how to how to work in the open and expect trolls because I’ve been trolled too so it’s good you know what have at it. I’m busy doing good work, doing my best. So whatever people need to do to make their day better, I wish them well.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:37] Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:39] Okay. Well, apologies for getting that wrong. Heather Leeson on Twitter and on LinkedIn. Thank you so much for for being on our podcast. Any final words, Laura?

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:47] No, just thank you. I’m always super smiley after I talk to you. It is such a pleasure to be anywhere in your sphere. Your passion is infectious and big love to you and to everything you do for the world of open.

Heather Leson: [00:48:00] Thanks, Laura. Thanks, Doug, and good luck on your open journeys, everyone!

Heather Leson: [00:48:04] Bye!

Laura Hilliger: [00:48:06] Bye for now!