Reflecting on Twenty Months of the OpenGov Hub

Monday, March 31st, 2014

By Nathaniel Heller

Anyone foolish enough to follow me on Twitter knows this has been a crazy few weeks breaking down and moving the inaugural OpenGov Hub from its founding location behind the World Bank to a new, 50% larger, custom-built location just north of McPherson Square in downtown Washington, DC. It’s been an incredible team effort, something we’ll celebrate more formally once we’re settled into the new space. Our amazing hub manager, Christina Crawley, deserves mountains of credit for keeping the hundreds of trains running on time. We’re scheduled to open the doors to all 140 (!) tenants on Tuesday April 1.

If there were ever a natural time to do a bit of navel gazing and reflect on the successes and challenges of the OpenGov Hub concept, this would be it. To whit, some random thoughts on where we’ve been and where we might be headed as a community.

Being together is awfully fun and fulfilling. We all like technology (I think). But it turns out that working physically alongside other smart people that care about similar issues is a huge plus when it comes to one’s professional quality of life. Skype, video conferencing, and email fall vastly short of replicating that effect. I’m also happy that so far the hub has reflected Global Integrity’s own internal “no jerks” policy when it comes to who we (as the hub) invite to work alongside us in the community. 

The infrastructure wins and cost savings are real. I am fairly certain that virtually every tenant organization working in the hub is paying less rent than before and gaining access to vastly superior infrastructure (events space, conference rooms, high-end video conferencing technology) than they could have ever afforded on their own. Even though it seems to be in vogue to be down on co-working spaces, the economics are irrefutable: it just works better than a traditional one-org, one-office formula. 

The programmatic linkages are emerging…organically. I’ve been very public since the beginning of the hub experiment that I didn’t want to force “synergies” on the community unless there was genuine interest between tenant groups in lashing up and working together on something. So far, the birth of Feedback Labs from the hub is a good example of an experiment born out of genuine interest and need, not a top-down mandate to “work together, dammit!”  But arguably more important have been the soft connections made between groups and individuals working in the hub that create the space for asking for help in reviewing website wireframes, ideas for sourcing candidates for new positions, or recommendations for vendors and service providers. That “soft tissue” effect is extremely real and extremely valuable, it turns out. 

The next frontier: common resources. One under-explored area thus far in the OpenGov Hub experiment has been the idea of sharing common resources, particularly human capital. Could small groups band together to pay for and benefit from a common professional communications team, accountants, fundraisers, software developers, or HR specialists? This can get tricky, but there’s some emerging interest in trying this out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw something along these lines emerging within the hub this year.

Keep an eye on the hub blog and Twitter for details of an official celebration in the coming months, and in the meantime don’t hesitate to swing by to check out our new digs!

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