Open by Default is a Self-Governing Commons

So Open by Default is a Self-Governing Commons. What does that mean, exactly?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Steve Adler of IBM about Open by Default, the successor organization to the InfoGov community. Steve, IBM’s data strategist, founded InfoGov.  I asked him how he planned to take a great success like InfoGov and make it even better.

The short answer is he gave me was

You try something new, different, and empowering, like Open by Default.

This new community, also founded by Steve, will turn InfoGov into something more “of the people, and by the people.” Forget InfoGov 2.0. Open by Default is exploring new ways of engaging with colleagues and customers, following the model of the self-governing commons.


Steve gave me a quick review of how we arrived at Open by Default.

IBM has traditionally communicated with its constituency in a broadcast mode, and then engaged in 1:1 client meetings. The process wasn’t bi-directional, and it wasn’t open. The InfoGov community was launched in 2010 as a step in creating a more open and public dialog. At inception, the whole direction of the community was information governance. The organizational dynamics were designed for me to lead it. This meant that I picked the topics, scheduled events, and organized meetings. People in the community who wanted to try new ideas felt they should wait for feedback and permission from me. By 2013, I realized I had imprinted on the site, and others didn’t feel as though they could contribute freely.

New Ideas

Steve wants to change the velocity of activity on the community site and empower the community’s participants. When development partner Chaordix offered to use their new platform for a new website, the result was Open by Default, a new community with a new leadership ethic. In Open by Default, anyone can be a leader. Steve observed,

I’m not aware of any IBM competitor doing this. Others are fielding marketing sites rather than leadership sites.

To seed the new site with an initial direction, Steve launched four discussion areas, called “councils.” In 2010, InfoGov began as a US-based council with a formal membership process. As InfoGov grew in other countries, their organizations had no membership requirement, yet these were still called councils. In Open by Default, each discussion area is still called a council.

Four initial Open by Default councils

open by default is a self-governing commonsHere are the four initial councils that represent ongoing initiatives from InfoGov.

  • Information Governance Council – This is the large existing community that we all knew as InfoGov. Its many artifacts, including the Information Governance Maturity Model and the Poor Data Quality – Negative Business Outcomes survey all reside on the old site. An early and important council effort will likely involve an asset migration and value add as the artifacts re-emerge in Open By Default.
  • Systems Thinking Council – This council will further the work Steve began on System Dynamics (SD). SD involves modeling how large complex systems work and explores the effects of policy change on those systems. In the past year , InfoGov hosted 10 different presentations in this discussion area. Over 6,000 individuals participated in associated webinars. The aim of the Systems Thinking Council is to continue and expand this dialog.
  • Open Data Council – Steve is co-Chairing the open data standard for W3C. This is all about building a common standard for web data that should simplify technology interoperability and reduce the need for custom coding. Read more about the Open Data standard here.  It is part of the W3C Data Activity – “Building the Web of Data.
  • Information Product Management Council – Steve is also co-chairing the “Information as a Product” strategy council. The vision is to bring new rigor and discipline to packaging of information products.

What Happens Next?

Steve plans for his role to evolve from steward to mentor, helping to light the way.

The velocity change in the site will increase if the site serves our participant’s interests…today we are used to engaging in online groups, so it should be a natural transition process.


open by default is a self-governing commons It may require a lot of engagement from Steve to get things going, as he becomes the cheerleader and celebrator of community ideas. As the transition works, it should open the doors to others becoming council leaders.

One sign of growing empowerment would be community members organizing their own meet-ups. With Open by Default meet-ups, a group can organize a local event with like-minded peers. This can be a webinar, teleconference, or face-to-face get-together. To facilitate engaging in meet-ups, Steve will also fulfill a networking role.

Yes, some people may abuse the openness, and there may be some initial need for Steve’s oversight, but in time the community should grow to police itself as a “self-governing commons. “

An Open-Beta Challenge

Do you remember those old public safety announcements on the radio that said, “This is only a test… in a real emergency, you would be told where to go, and what to do”? Well, this new open community is a test, and Steve will provide some guidance on where to go and what to do.

He offered the following insight.

The new site is a kind of open-beta. The question of merit is ‘How should the content we have created and will create be represented here in our new site?’ This is a basic information governance challenge for the community.

An early experiment in information self-governance will be the migration of the information governance artifacts from the site to Open by Default. A critical open question for this process is how to bring over assets with a clear value add, rather than in a rip and replace scenario.

Doing More with More

Steve knows there is much more to this new site than migrating old content. He told me,

We’ll be going beyond what we did in the past. This is a framework where people will begin to persuade others to their point of view. Some have identified opportunities to create new assets that the community can leverage. For example, certain participants want to enhance the Information Governance Maturity Model, but the council will have to determine how [the enhancements] would be represented. As another example, when Cal Braunstein and Stu Selip created the Poor Data Quality – Negative Business Outcomes survey, Chaordix provided a technologist to link it to Survey Monkey. I would like to have people do surveys without external help.

The Year Ahead

It is going to be challenging to create a SourceForge-style model for collaborating on intellectual property. Participants should be integrating their ideas without needing professional help. Council members will be collaborating online to create assets that deliver value to the community.

Steve opined,

There will be some energy expended getting a critical mass – We are taking something people know and replace with a form that they don’t know. Will others perceive this as better?  In the beginning, it will not be so. However, over time, the site’s content must grow and become better. It may take the better part of a year to get things moving. One open question is how to attract more people to contribute more material.  I will still organize events and make things happen , providing a role model leadership for a year or so.

In the past, Steve arbitrated the list of topics to cover. However, he admits he is “not infallible,” and wants to let participants lead with topics about which they are passionate.

When I asked Steve what he would like to see in one year’s time, he told me,

I would love to be an attendee at an event led by someone else in the community. I would love it if others would teach the group new things. The reason the InfoGov community lasted as long as it did was that there were fabulous people who really contributed. Now we will provide a new platform where even more contribution can happen. Just showing up isn’t enough. It is time to be a leader and get peers to respond and contribute in return. Here, we have the platform where leaders can do it. We won’t keep the contributions of our participants a secret. IBM will use its twitter accounts to promote what is going on in our community.

I want to thank Steve Adler for having taken the time to discuss Open by Default with me for this post. It is clear that we are all new to this more dynamic community, so let’s pull together and make Steve’s vision of a self-governing commons a reality.

Scroll to Top