A Guide to Great Events, an Open Albania, Global Hubs, and More: Our 2018 Year in Review & Look Forward to 2019

By Open Gov Hub Director, Nada Zohdy

2018 was a whirlwind year filled with stimulating activities, ideas, and connections across our community here at Open Gov Hub. We experienced continued growth across our membership and programs, helping us reach new heights of connectedness and collective impact.

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A Few Highlights by the Numbers

In 2018, Open Gov Hub:

  • Welcomed 13 new organizations and 111 new individuals as members, growing to a net total of 46 organizations and 300 people in our community

  • Hosted 13,700+ visitors

  • Regularly engaged over 17,000 followers on social media

  • Supported 6 peer learning groups and 6 joint proposals  

  • Organized a total of...(drumroll, please)

    • 164 events! This is a new record for us, with an average of 3.2 activities per week

    • What were these events all about? Good question. We group events and activities into four basic types, depending on their objective:

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Perhaps you weren’t able to make it to all these events? Understandable, of course. But fear not, you can pick up on a wealth of good ideas by checking out our top 3 takeaways from all our public events in these monthly In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) roundups on our blog throughout 2018.

What Exactly Did We Do in 2018?

In addition to maintaining a buzzing, dynamic meeting place that constantly connects ideas, people, and diverse resources, we began some exciting new initiatives this year.

  • DC-Monrovia Staff Swap - We piloted a successful 6-month exchange program between our hub here in DC and our partner hub, the iCampus, in Monrovia, Liberia, with the goal of sharing lessons about how to run a self-sustaining hub to the younger iCampus and connecting our communities  

  • Launched a new and improved website, building off great tips from a few website workshops offered earlier this year by Taoti creative, and completed our rebranding process, hence the new and improved logo and tagline of working together to empower citizens.

  • Won our largest grant ever to fund collaboration programs, which will lead to a rapid expansion of our Global Network of Affiliate Open Gov Hubs in 2019  

  • Established a New Member Council, a 10-person governance body of leading members in our community who are providing strategic guidance to the Hub

  • Published and Disseminated our Crowdsourced Guide to Great Events, in response to popular demand to help set a higher standard for quality, engaging events across the sector. This free resource includes 15 principles that we think all meetings and events should follow to best fulfill their potential, plus a toolkit of 15 different types of events with lots of tips for each. We have been applying these tips to our own events, shared these tips with dozens of session organizers at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit, and are speaking with other conference and event organizers to help share more broadly.  

  • Shared our Hub Model with Many Audiences - In 2018 the Hub Director spoke at World Bank Spring Meetings, George Mason University’s Cross-Sector Partnerships Conference, the Open Government Partnership Global Summit, the Nonprofit Centers Network Sharing Innovation Conference, and more.

  • Launched our Introduction to Open Government Training - after hosting international government delegations for site visits to Open Gov Hub monthly over the last several years, we codified key insights about the successes and challenges of implementing open government reforms into a new training. We piloted this training with a delegation of Albanian Mayors in March 2018, and we are ready to offer it to other international visiting delegations in the new year.

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Some Ongoing Collaborations

In addition to these new initiatives, we supported our members and partners to work together in productive and ongoing ways, through avenues like:

  • A Hub-wide Slack community to encourage more informal information sharing across various channels on this virtual conversation board

  • Monthly peer group for Executive Directors to share tips and advice for one another as leaders of their organizations (affectionately known as the Vegas Collective :)

  • Regular Shared Staffing Support, including at least 6 formal shared staff arrangements, and many more informal recommendations and referrals  

  • Communications Skillshare that supported its members on everything from cross-promoting each other’s content to improving their storytelling techniques

  • Defending Democracy Program that supported Americans concerned about deteriorating US democracy to learn about other countries’ experiences with backsliding democracy and authoritarianism through 7 Democracy Dialogues

  • Our Most Significant Network Analysis to Date, through a summer research consulting engagement, that revealed key trends across our member network. In response to discovering that many Hub members could strengthen their communications and their ability to facilitate learning groups, we launched the Educating and Storytelling for Impact Workshop Series for members.

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Word cloud summarizing top keywords describing Hub members’ work, from our summer network data analysis.

  • Significant average cost savings per member organization - This year, we also calculated that the average Hub member organization saves about $14,000 annually through their membership. This is an important way we fulfill our mission of helping opengov advocates be more efficient and effective in their work. This number is based on cost savings through things like shared or reduced operational expenses (rent, printing, IT support, free conference space access, etc.) but also staff time saved through support on key organizational functions (especially events management, communications, and recruiting) from the Hub team and other colleagues.

  • Finally, it was important for us to continue modeling a truly collaborative culture, where Open Gov Hub is a place that is naturally welcoming, supportive, connected, and collaborative.

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What Did We Learn?

Here are just a few lessons we learned from reflecting on on all our 2018 activities.

  • Function-based collaboration groups are sometimes more successful than issue-based ones. Although we have facilitated many different peer learning groups on topics from open data to communications and more, the groups that have been most successful and self-sustaining are those that focus on a shared functional area of work (ex: communications, operations, executive director leadership) rather than on an issue area. Although people found it very interesting to meet with others who were working on similar issues, it wasn’t always immediately clear how different groups could practically work together. On the other hand, there always seems to be value in regularly bringing together whose jobs share a similar function, because there are always practical lessons to share with each other (and often, an added moral support that comes with people who really understand what your day-to-day job is like).  For example, in the monthly Operations Skillshare group, members regularly helped each other by sharing tools and templates for budgeting processes, staff hiring and feedback, website redevelopments, recommendations of other vendors or consultants to work with, etc.

  • Innovation hubs can bring great value in many different ways, and even in vastly different countries hubs share more in common than not. This was one of the key lessons from our staff swap with our partner Hub in Liberia. We were amazed at just how similar both our successes and challenges were, and thus how helpful it was to facilitate an ongoing partnership for two-way learning. Earlier this year we also took stock of different types of hubs and determined how we fit in: offering a new way to think about hubs, incubators, coworking spaces, social impact hubs, and other ‘cousins’ of each other.

  • The coworking industry continues to boom, and it’s sometimes been tempting to feel the need to replicate the growth strategy of our commercial coworking neighbors (i.e. open more shared workspaces). But instead, we’ve realized how important it is to double down on our mission and let our core values truly lead our own growth strategy. By doing this, and leveraging our existing partnerships and intangible assets, we’ve paved the way to scale Open Gov Hub’s impact to reach new global levels in 2019.

Snapshot of Impact

2018 was the first time we supported one country in particular - Albania - to increase its open government engagement, through a variety of Hub programs throughout the year (thanks in large part to the great work of our Atlas Corps year-long fellow Edison Frangu!)

  • We trained 12 mayors from across Albania in our first-ever Introduction to Open Government (OpenGov 101) Training and Study Visit. Each mayor developed an action plan, and several of them immediately changed their public messaging upon returning home (e.g. their websites began emphasizing transparency and encouraging feedback from their constituents). This study visit was also the first time ever that Albanian mayors directly met with the US State Department, encouraging more diplomatic engagements at the local government level, not just national.

  • We encouraged the Albanian Justice Minister to participate in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit, to share lessons from Albania’s ongoing justice reform efforts and learn from other countries’ experiences.

  • We supported the Mayor of Tirana’s application to join the OGP Local Program.

  • We hosted Albania’s First Lady, who is also head of a leading opposition party, to discuss integrating opengov reforms in their party platform and hear about Albanian American diaspora priorities. This meeting was covered by over a dozen Albanian media outlets.

We learned that zooming in on one country can be very helpful to have deeper impact. But at the same time, we are a meeting place at our core and support a global network, so we will always take a broad approach.


What to Look Forward to in 2019

There are many reasons to get excited about 2019 at Open Gov Hub.

  1. Rapidly Expanding our Global Network of Affiliate Open Gov Hubs This year we will share our model globally more than ever before! We will soon grow our network of affiliate Open Gov Hubs in other countries around the world from 3 to 8 affiliate hubs or more. And we’ll run a series of different activities to facilitate partnerships and mutual learning -  sharing what we’ve learned about how to run a successful hub, and learning from other civic community builders in different cities - from Brussels to Tirana, Tunis to Bamako, Kathmandu to Monrovia, and more!

  2. Growing our team! In response to our continued growth, we’re taking a brief pause to restructure and grow our team, to better fulfill our mission and expanded programs, and best support our community.

  3. Launching a StoryCorps Audio Collection In December, we partnered with the renowned StoryCorps to facilitate 15 authentic conversations between peers working together in the field of open government and social change. The goal is to uncover what really motivates people to do the work they do, and to produce an online library of audio clips to inspire each other, which anyone working in this field will be able to contribute to via the StoryCorps app.

  4. Piloting a new Recording Studio and OpenGov Podcast Inspired by our partners in Liberia and building off our StoryCorps engagement, we’ll experiment with setting up a recording studio that can be used by members and the public here at the Hub. And we’ll develop content to pilot an opengov-themed podcast.

  5. Refreshing 4 Strategic Themes In 2019, you can expect a series of events and other collaboration activities particularly focused on four topics, which elaborate upon the three core pillars of open government (transparency, accountability, and civic participation).

    1. Promoting the impact of open data initiatives

    2. Defending democracy and protecting civic space (free speech, assembly, and association)

    3. Strengthening local opengov service delivery

    4. Exploring Innovations in anti-corruption work

Please join us as we further our journey of working together to empower citizens and open up governments around the world in 2019!  

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