Accountability came up more than once at this month’s Steering Committee meeting on July 20, as we discussed two core action items: hiring professional expertise to support culture change and reviving our former Civic User Testing program to ensure impacted audiences are more directly involved in developing and validating our project work.

Jump to:
Operational Updates | Culture Change | Reviving CUT Group | National Day of Civic Hacking

Green-tinged photo of OpenOakland members seated around tables in City Hall with the words 'Steering Committee' in white.

Operational updates

  • Code for America hiring: The brigade is excited to welcome Ben Treviño as Code for America’s new Brigade Network Director. CfA still has multiple job openings.
  • The elect team continues to work on automating and de-duping attendance records so we can better track and address engagement trends.
  • The elect team has also been focusing on recruiting volunteers, including outreach to organizations like General Assembly and others. We’ll dust off our dormant Facebook and Instagram accounts to support those efforts, and focus on attracting skilled leaders and project managers.
  • John from OpenOUSD reflected on our inaugural Embedding Equity at OpenOakland discussion group held on the third Thursday of each month. He recommended bringing the positionality exercise the group explored to the whole brigade as a way of reflecting on how the similarities and differences in our personal identities might influence how we view and approach our work.
  • Our Ombudspeople report no new incoming reports or queries. No other Steering Committee members have received any incoming reports, either.

Discussion: hiring professional expertise to support culture change

We’ve generally leaned on consensus decision-making as a brigade, which sometimes feels like slow progress or even talking in circles. But reaching real consensus, where everyone can live with a group decision, requires taking the time to hear each other out, weigh different perspectives, and manage dissent and discussion. We haven’t always been good at this. In fact, we’ve done it quite badly at times and some of our members have suffered for it. So, we practice getting better. That’s why this month’s main agenda item was discussing what kind of external cultural support to hire for.

Why hire outside help

There are plenty of important reasons OpenOakland’s all-volunteer team might consider hiring professional support to address culture change. Elects shared the following:

  • Member feedback has surfaced repeated requests for external support.
  • We don’t feel fully equipped to manage this process ourselves, both from an expertise and time perspective.
  • If we believe that focusing on culture and equity are critical to our success, we should invest resources in it.
  • Training our governing body to be more effective benefits our work and supports greater impact.

Types of services we could engage

The elect team shared a short overview of the different types of services and engagements we might hire for.

Screenshot of presentation slide with five teal boxes describing five types of service engagements

  • Mediation/conflict resolution
    Direct mediation of conflict resolution is aimed at resolving past and existing conflict and/or harm among members. This can be done between individual members who are interested in participating, or in a small group setting. Having this process guided by an objective third party may help members feel safer in a more controlled, neutral environment.

  • Meeting facilitation and/or conflict resolution skills training
    Equipping brigade and project leads with the skills needed to address issues as they arise.

  • Custom consulting on diversity, equity, inclusion
    This might involve bringing someone in to evaluate our challenges, practices, and habits specifically related to equity, make recommendations, and potentially guide us through developing solutions.

  • Custom consulting on organizational structure and decision-making
    These factors directly impact DEIA in our group, as well as our ability to effectively execute on our mission. This type of consulting would bring someone in help us reflect on and revise our bylaws, leadership roles, Code of Conduct, and related processes.

What we’re looking for in a vendor-partner

  • Local to Bay Area
  • Offers the formats we’re interested in
  • Has BIPOC representation in leadership & staff
  • Works with nonprofits/coops/collectives/alt structures
  • Can work with smaller budgets

Open questions

A number of questions were raised and will need further discussion.

  • Do we need to address existing open or past conflicts in order to successfully do the broader skills training work?
  • How do we address those who are not interested in participating in training? Do we make it a requirement for being in a lead role? We’ve traditionally been afraid to require things of volunteers but this has at times led to a lack of accountability and collaboration.
  • How do we ensure work done with today’s team empowers and equips those who join the group later, including future leadership teams?
  • How do we balance it all with our limited volunteer time and resources?

Takeaways and next steps

In general, the group seemed to agree that conflict resolution and meeting facilitation skills training are a priority. Having these skills in place will help us navigate the larger worker of long-term culture change and the organizational structure and decision-making that shapes culture.

Elects will get together to narrow the vendor list and get cost estimates. We’ll bring this to August’s SC for a potential vote.

Discussion: Reviving the Civic User Testing Group

Individual project teams have an ongoing need for more user research and testing support. Ronald and Jess shared some history and context from previous iterations.

Original Chicago CUT Group logo on a red background

What needs are we trying to meet?

  • Reflecting community voices and needs in project work
  • Increased accountability to the community
  • Improving project performance and impact
  • Prioritizing project development

What resources, infrastructure, and processes are required to support it?

  • Participant management (data management, onboarding, consent management, incentive payments, etc)
  • Testing platforms and prototyping tools
  • Procedures and training

Other questions

  • Can we scaffold the program so there’s a DIY/self-management element for projects in addition to wider brigade/programmatic support?
  • How to ensure results and insights actually are reflected in project decision-making?

Next steps: All are invited to continue the conversation in ##project-cut-group on Slack (access Slack). If you’re interested in participating in any way, email (

Discussion: National Day of Civic Hacking

National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) is coming in September. Code for America has selected Reimagining 911 as the national theme. In general, Steering Committee acknowledges having little expertise about the subject and recognizes that there are a lot of people and organizations already working on this issue across the City. The primary question we’re trying to answer right now is: does it make sense for OpenOakland to participate in NDoCH within this theme and if so, how?

National Day of Civic Hacking logo

Potential approaches explored

  • Identify who is working in this space locally and do advance outreach to understand their work and if NDoCH may be of use to them in some way. Jess has identified a handful of organizations (Oakland’s Dept. of Violence Prevention/Oakland Unite, Restorative Justice for Youth, Urban Peace Movement, Coalition for Police Accountability, Bay Area Freedom Collective, Anti-police Terror Project), but there are surely others. Some of these folks may have differing approaches and alignments that may need to be better understood and considered.

  • Use NDoCH as an educational exercise/platform. We could potentially invite folks in to share their work with us so we can develop a better understanding of the space and the issues. Leveraging the national NDoCH platform to expand this to the broader Oakland public could also expose folks to a wider variety of positions and approaches. Again, the question remains: is OpenOakland the right group to convene a conversation or presentation like this?

  • Use NDoCH as a way of working on brigade-specific improvements, with a focus on some of the culture change, accountability, skill development, and other challenges we’ve been focusing on. Is NDoCH the right platform for this sort of work, given that it’s meant to be a way to engage many hands to produce actionable outcomes in the broader civic tech space?

  • Not participate in NDoCH at all. We could opt out completely, or focus our energy on strengthening brigade work as described previously.

Next steps: All are invited to continue the discussion in #oo-event-planning on Slack (access Slack).

Steering Committee meets the Third Tuesday of each month and is open to all OpenOakland members. Read more about how Steering Committee works and how to participate. Our next meeting is August 16.