"Illustration of a voting button in primary colors."

In the absence of elected member representatives, OpenOakland recently held an open vote to determine whether or not membership wanted to empower the existing Steering Committee (currently made up of active project leads) to implement a Lean Ops mode in an effort to restructure OpenOakland to improve participation and more diverse representation.

Eligible voters included anyone in good standing who attended an OpenOakland event or contributed to a project in the past year (with the exception of current Steering Committee members). Fully 100% of eligible voting members voted yes to empower the Steering Committee to enter Lean Ops mode and focus on restructuring the brigade for greater inclusiveness.

Although this vote may seem like a formality, this process helps us maintain accountability, ensure we’re adhering to the spirit of our bylaws, and maintain paths to participation for volunteers interested in reshaping OpenOakland. We’re deeply grateful to be given a chance to make OpenOakland more responsive to and more representative of this town’s unique collection of cultures, experiences, and beliefs.

How much effort does it take to run OpenOakland as it’s currently structured?

There is a surprising amount of labor that goes into running the brigade. Onboarding new volunteers and matching them to appropriate opportunities requires one-on-one attention. Scheduling, structuring, and facilitating meetups every week requires hours of prep before the event even starts. Helping to manage and access accounts, documentation, and subscription services for multiple projects requires organization and communication with different people on different schedules. Communicating out to the public about brigade and project team activities requires hours of writing and publishing. And then there’s the continuous effort of supporting member requests, building relationships with community partners, navigating interpersonal relationships, etc. Most of this is good work that helps us all have more of an impact. But it can be challenging for volunteers to do it all on top of our day jobs and personal lives.

This is compounded by the fact that Project Leads tend to be the ones representing their team on Steering Committee. This means Leads end up playing several roles: managing their project’s vision, team building, and brigade strategy and oversight. That’s a lot to ask of any volunteer. So tasks slip through the cracks and over time, the process and infrastructure that holds the brigade together begins to fray. Larger initiatives like project lifecycle planning, impact measurement, recruiting strategies, and partnerships fall by the wayside. As we’ve seen, the result is exhaustion and volunteer attrition over time. It’s a vicious cycle.

We see Lean Ops as a chance to step back from some of this labor enough to refocus. To give us the space to ask some tough questions about what we’re trying to accomplish as a brigade. To experiment with new approaches and structures. To do the slow, hard work of making sure past mistakes aren’t repeated.

What is “Lean Ops” and how will it help?

Our Lean Ops (lean operations) mode is intended to strip operational tasks down to the very barebones needed to accomplish two core goals:

  1. Maintain official brigade status with Code for America.
  2. Improve the sustainable participation, representation, and decision-making among Oaklanders, particularly those historically underrepresented in tech, through the restructuring of our bylaws, decision-making processes, and community rituals.

To do this, the existing Steering Committee (made up of active project leads) will share responsibility for the following limited activities:

  • Host our regular Steering Committee meeting on the third Tuesday of each month.
  • Schedule special Steering Committee meetings as needed to continue the restructuring work.
  • Participate in Code for America’s ongoing Direct Democracy pilot through a smaller cohort of 3-4 members tasked with bringing learnings and recommendations back to Steering Committee.
  • Host member meetings, workshops, and votes as needed to inform the restructuring process.
  • Post public updates on our progress to the openoakland.org blog and through our email newsletter.
  • Manage expenses for existing project commitments.

What we’re putting on hold

  • Hosting regular meetups for project working groups. Volunteers wanting to get involved with an existing project will need to reach out to the project team directly, preferably via Slack.
  • Providing additional support (financial, technical or operational) to existing projects beyond what we’re already committed to.
  • Launching new projects.
  • Maintaining our social media channels.

How can members and the public get involved?

All Steering Committee meetings are open to the public and are listed on our calendar. Anyone adhering to the Code of Conduct will be given an opportunity to share their input or ask questions. To ensure everyone has a chance to share, commenters may be limited to 3-4 minutes. Comments and questions can also be emailed to steering@openoakland.org at any time or shared in Slack.