Every third Tuesday of the month, OpenOakland’s Steering Committee gets together to make operational and strategic decisions as a group. This month, we invited Code for America to join us in our ongoing discussions of how to structure the hiring of expert training and consulting as we work to shift our culture to one that more intentionally and effectively embodies our values of respect, inclusion, and equity. Extending from that conversation, we also clarified requirements around project transparency and access to ensure greater accountability to each other, our community partners, users, neighbors, and volunteers.

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Discussion: CfA support of equity efforts | Discussion and approval: Project requirements

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

Discussion: Seeking Code for America’s support in our efforts to hire culture and equity expertise

One of the core understandings our Steering Committee hoped to gain clarity on was identifying Code for America’s role in supporting brigade culture and conduct (see previous discussions about the need and approaches, and challenges).

Previous Code of Conduct enforcement at OpenOakland has been inconsistent and, in some important cases, inadequate. As volunteers with mixed and unpredictable skills and experiences, we often feel ill-equipped to handle conflicts on our own, and our existing policy and process needs real improvement. At the encouragement of our two Ombudspeople, this year’s co-leads have tried to reinforce Steering Committee’s role as the center of accountability for setting conduct expectations and enforcing them when situations arise.

OpenOakland is explicitly asking Code for America for financial investment in our equity efforts

Ombuds expressed an expectation that CfA, as paid staff and the conveners of the brigade network, should bear responsibility for doing the enforcement work when brigade volunteers have reached the limits of local capabilities. Our co-leads echoed this.

There were expressions of frustration that OpenOakland was left to fend for ourselves when struggling with conduct issues over the past two years. One example cited was a code of conduct issue from last year that went unresolved, leaving this year’s team to contend with sustained disruption and harassment despite many requests of Code for America for more direct intervention.

Our brigade needs clear expectations and guidelines for process and the tools and training to put them into practice when things happen. This year’s co-leads have observed the following key inflection points when it comes to managing conduct that guidance and resources are critical for:

  • Expectation- and norms-setting prior to incidents
  • Trigger experience (someone experiences or observes something that seems to breach these expectations)
  • Response (roles and responsibilities and documented processes for how to different parties should or could respond)
  • Resolution (identification of potential outcomes, decision-making guidelines, and consequences)

What we heard from Code from America

Our team was excited to welcome Code for America’s Ben Treviño to this month’s discussion. As both Code for America’s staff Brigade Program Director and a volunteer co-lead of Code for Hawaii, Ben has a unique blend of perspectives that he brought to our conversation. We were struck by his openness and personal commitment to allyship, and are genuinely hopeful that Code for America shares his commitment to supporting the safety of brigades at the local level. Among his own personal reflections, Ben shared the following:

  • Code for America sees OpenOakland leading the network in its commitment to dealing with Code of Conduct issues and creating a safe and equitable community culture for its member. As such, CfA is learning from OpenOakland even as our team is asking for CfA’s support and guidance.
  • There is a desire to more clearly understand how OpenOakland feels CfA can provide that support so that the full brigade network might benefit (hopefully, our explanations above provide some clarity there).
  • There was a clear commitment from Ben himself to be present and involved in these conversations.
  • Ben, however, made it clear that he was unsure of exactly what CfA can and is willing to commit to, and that further conversations and brainstorming are needed to carve out more concrete commitments.

Outstanding questions we have that still need to be answered

Some of these are questions only Code for America can answer, while some fall on OpenOakland to address.

  • What does CfA need from OpenOakland in order to make a more specific financial commitment? We’ve priced out initial conflict management training and equity consultation at approximately $4,000-10,000 but this doesn’t account for a long-term solution that scales over time to future leadership teams. How much more detail does CfA need from OpenOakland to commit resources, and what exactly is CfA willing to commit?
  • How might we use this as an opportunity to address issues related to equity and justice both locally and across the brigade network? Would Code for America be willing to commit budget and staff time if OpenOakland were to develop a pilot program that could be adapted for the network at large? If we were to take this path, how do we ensure it stays rooted in local contexts?
  • How can OpenOakland (and other brigades) partner with local communities of color and other underrepresented groups to ensure our efforts are rooted in meaningful anti-racist and decolonization action that embeds itself in our work and culture, rather than surface-level efforts that fail to address our root challenges? How do we this without extracting from these communities? Compensating people for their time and expertise is critical to this but that requires a budget.
  • How empowered by leadership is CfA’s brigade support team to distribute funds to brigades for equity-based initiatives? If Code for America’s executive team won’t empower its brigade support staff to fund and support these efforts across the network, is CfA truly living out its commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion?
  • Is there a point when CfA’s response is determined to be so inadequate that we can’t safely be tied to the organization or expect it to have brigades’ (and their communities’) best interests in mind? This is a soul-searching question that goes to the heart of OpenOakland’s identity and mission.

While the Steering Committee hopes for clarity from Code for America around its commitments to our brigade on these issues, we continue to move forward in our attempt to tackle them with our own existing (though limited) funds. This definitely limits what we can do, but budget can’t be an excuse for inaction. Our team has begun compiling a list of free and low-cost self-paced trainings that might serve as a starting point.

Discussion: Project requirements

The initial pilot of our Project Team Scan was intended to gather critical project details to enable Steering Committee oversight and public access to projects, and to gauge the health of project teams. The results revealed that while most projects make their code and documentation publicly accessible per the open source guidelines described in OpenOakland’s bylaws, Councilmatic currently does not have an up-to-date Github repository or recent documentation available to the public. Councilmatic has also not sent a project rep to Steering Committee meetings since January 2021, despite the bylaws mandating that project teams send a voting representative in an effort to ”give back and actively shape the organization to meet its needs.” September’s discussion focused on how best to address this in a way that enables Councilmatic to become a productive, contributing member of the brigade family of projects.

Clarifying team requirements

One of the questions posed was whether or not project requirements were clear enough for teams to understand what’s expected of them. Through a unanimous vote, the Steering Committee approved a proposal to clarify the bylaws by making project requirements more explicit and measurable:

  • A project rep (as described in Sec. 2) has attended at least 2 of the 3 most recent Steering Committee meetings.
  • Projects are required to host project code on an OpenOakland-owned repository.
  • Project documentation must be kept reasonably up to date with a link from the OpenOakland website.

The Steering Committee agreed that the next step would be to reach out to Councilmatic to ensure the team is aware of these requirements and the need to meet them by October’s Steering Committee meeting. As of this recap, the Steering Committee Chair has done so.

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 October 19.