“Open leaves too many questions”

required stock photo of a frustrated office worker. Image by Peter A. Hess
required stock photo of a frustrated office worker. Image by Peter A. Hess

In our team meeting today (notes here), we talked about some feedback that we’ve received from people within Greenpeace. Some of our friends have commented that they don’t feel our updates have been relevant to them. That we aren’t really explaining how to get involved. That we are sharing too early.

Bear with us! Such confusion is generally common at the beginning of complex projects. We are in the middle of bootstrapping the overall project plan and defining the first phase activities. We believe that once this will be solidified, it will be easier for people understand the big picture and see where they can best contribute. We plan to create a graphic that explains what each step is and where we are on the journey.

In today’s post we wanted to take some time to reflect on the difficulties of being open. Some people feel that working openly may be confusing, uncomfortable or not really result-oriented.

We are aware that an open culture and new ways of working bring both challenges and opportunities. The scope and complexity of a big project such as Planet4 makes it hard for some people to gain context. We have to be intentional about designing for participation. As we move towards a more open community, we strain our traditional culture and systems. This new approach is embedded in the Greenpeace 7 shifts, and we are confident it is the right way to go.

Working open can be messy and difficult. It is uncomfortable for people who are not used to seeing the organic process of someone else’s project. Traditionally, we at Greenpeace form small groups who release their work when it is finished. We tend to hold things close and establish our ownership over them. We’re not doing that with this project. We are releasing half-baked, not done, messy notes and ideas. We are asking you to take ownership with us because Greenpeace.org isn’t about the core team, it’s about all of us. We’re speaking to each other and to all of you with our own voices. We will make mistakes, and then we will learn from them and move on.

Working in the open carries risks and it takes courage. Sometimes individuals’ blog posts are mis-reported or misunderstood. Sometimes early prototypes get treated as product releases or set-in-stone ideas. We have to explain, in no uncertain terms, that we don’t have all the answers yet. We need to explain “iteration”.

Part of working openly is sharing unfinished work to give others a chance to input on something before all the decisions are made. There’s a balance between sharing too early and sharing once something is completely finished. If you share too early, people have a hard time giving feedback because they might not see the big picture. If you wait until things are perfect and polished, people cannot give feedback because it’s too perfect. In Planet 4, we’re learning as we go to navigate that tension.

Working openly has its own set of trials, but I continue to believe that the benefits of working openly far outweigh the potential problems*. However, it’s important to understand what openness can lead to.

A negative press article from 10 years ago entered into the conversation. Openness may be seen as the perfect opportunity for some people to put Greenpeace on a negative light, we believe this is another place where courage comes into the picture. There is nothing wrong in admitting our mistakes or failures, there will always be critics, but there will also be constructive feedback and inputs, and the latter are the ones who will drive us towards the engagement platform Planet4 will be.

We hope that you stick with us through this project. We are all testing the waters of radical openness and want to hear what we can do better. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

(* see this How to Work Open article and/or read the Open Organization)

Special thanks to Luca and Remy for contributing to this post

“Open leaves too many questions”

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