What did our Advisory Committee members have to say about Open Licensing?

Our third post in a series on Working Openly at Vancouver Foundation

Welcome to our third blog post in a series designed to share our highlights (and some of our challenges) as we move closer to defining our Open Licensing Policy, due to launch in January 2017.

Vancouver Foundation asked our Advisory Committee members to help us take a ‘big picture’ look at our grant making work  to determine if we could see any major opportunities or risks ahead of us when asking grantees to openly license their work – a requirement due to launch in January 2017. Click here to read more about our project progress to date.

At Vancouver Foundation, our Advisory Committee members decide which projects get funding, after reviewing multiple applications that have undergone extensive review and validation by our grant managers. Advisors debate the merits of these applications, and apply their real-world expertise to evaluating which projects represent the best use of a limited pool of funds.

Our Advisors are experts in their fields, and are (some of) the best suited to challenge our assumptions, so it was with bated breath that we began our stakeholder sessions with them.

What did we ask them?

We began by asking our Advisors what kinds of content they believed grantees should be able to license openly. We didn’t limit the request to represent only the work they have seen so far, or the work they believed would be most valuable to release, but encouraged them to think about what types of content a foundation should require to be open.

The breadth and scope of content types our Advisors mentioned was surprising to us – we hadn’t anticipated that there would be such demand for materials to support grant making and knowledge sharing among peer organizations.  Right from the start, Vancouver Foundation was placed into the same spotlight as our grantees as a knowledge product creator.

We were also somewhat surprised to see the wide scope of materials suggested – from the more obvious toolkits and research articles most organizations might think of first when we think of ‘grantee knowledge products’, and expanding beyond those to best practices, partnership models, jargon lists, campaign ideas, budgets and more.

The content question was left wide open on purpose, so that we could move to the second stage of our dialogue and examine more closely what the risks and opportunities of releasing these content types might be – for Vancouver Foundation, for Advisors, and for grantees alike.

Taking a Deeper Dive

Here the ‘deeper dive’ on Risks and Opportunities tended to strongly align with many of the concepts we have heard about often in this project – that ‘duplicate’ efforts among grantee applications would be reduced, that the quality of applications would rise, and that there would be new opportunities to expand upon previously shared projects – and that might ideally align with our Develop Test Grow approach to funding for Field of Interest Projects.

On the other hand, Advisors picked out high level sensitivities such as the impact of open licensing on coalition development, or that grantees might become *less* creative when trying to align more closely to what is funded by us by virtue of seeing exactly what ‘works’.

Our Advisors also highlighted the care with which they see their grantees as important players in social innovation space, and considered the impact on their career development and their potential concerns about credit and success, for example, if their works are appropriated by others who have fewer scruples in applying attribution to these great ideas. Some fields, such as medical research, already place very specific limitations on what grantees may or may not do to achieve distribution of their works, and some grantees may face issues with economic opportunities lost and project sustainability impacted, if we did not consider those aspects of their projects.

And what if something goes wrong?

As uniquely situated advocates for both Vancouver Foundation AND grantee interests, we also asked our Advisors what they thought the risks were for our organization in adopting this policy.

Overwhelmingly, our Advisors had a positive outlook on our plans, suggesting that it would be exciting for Vancouver Foundation to step into this leadership role and use this initiative as a mechanism for improving all project outcomes, for changing how the system works, for achieving our strategic objectives in becoming ‘philanthropists of knowledge’ and even potentially boosting our fundraising opportunities.

These concepts far outweighed the concern over potential issues such as holding the ultimate responsibility for privacy related issues, raising the bar ‘too high’ for other organizations to catch up to, or accidentally hurting economic and career opportunities for grantees in BC.

Our Advisors left us with a useful set of suggestions to consider as we get closer to defining our Licensing requirements. You can read these on page 5 of our Advisory Committee Open Licensing Dialogue Notes. [PDF]

Advisory Committee wordcloud, content types” by Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

What did we learn?

  • Advisors had a strong interest in supporting our peer organizations as well as developing a better understanding of our own work
  • Advisors had strong support for this initiative – and encouraged us to go ‘all in’ in order to set a standard that could act as a benchmark for other organizations in our field
  • Advisors warned us to uncover and explore as many  unintended outcomes as possible and prepare for them with thorough policy, legal and technical support
  • And they advised us to make a place at the table for everyone to contribute to our process.

We have provided our complete list of Advisors with an opportunity to continue to contribute to our process through Surveys and future opportunities to connect.

Next steps include a Staff Lunch & Learn centered on unearthing those unintended consequences, and our first Grantee Stakeholder Session.

We’ll keep you posted!

Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.


This adaptation of “What did our Advisory Committee members have to say about Open Licensing?” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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