There is a gender gap in the open government field. Women face certain barriers to entering the sector, and even those who have achieved successful careers may face harassment or exclusion from their male peers. Women from the global south are especially underrepresented, their voices rarely included in the global conversation.
Enter Open Heroines. Open Heroines is a group of nearly 600 people who identify as women or non-binary, working in open government, civic data, and civic tech across the globe. Since its inception in 2015, the group has blossomed into a safe space for women to vent, talk, share, and amplify each others’ voices. They connect through their slack channel, blog, and in-person meet-up events at conferences in the sector. Together, Open Heroines are bringing an intersectional diversity and gender lens to the open government field – a field that prioritizes transparency, but does not always reflect it in practice. They have increased the number of women, especially from the global south, in global policy making conversations, put pressure on conferences to pay attention to their gender diversity, and created a space where women feel comfortable to share their struggles working in the field.
Since Open Heroines started organically and informally, it does not have a defined leadership structure. Certain community members have stepped up to volunteer in leadership roles, managing grants, awarding scholarships to Heroines to attend conferences, organizing meet-ups and writing publications. But as the community continues to flourish and grow, the need for structured leadership has increased. Open Heroines came to the LabStorm to ask for guidance as they embark on defining their leadership and membership structure. They raised the challenges of building feedback into community decision-making processes, keeping the online community engaged, and democratizing the vetting process for new members. It was a lively discussion with lots of creative ideas. LabStorm attendees suggested that Open Heroines take the following ideas into account as they embark on their journey:
- Define membership goals, and signal them. Before Open Heroines plans their membership definitions and requirements, they must clarify their membership goals. Do they want to grow the community as much as possible, and invite anyone who is interested to join on slack? Or do they prefer to have a smaller, but more committed group of members that goes beyond the slack channel? LabStorm attendees agreed that it would be important to work with the community to outline these goals ahead of time – perhaps by asking members what they value most about the group, and how much group size or involvement impacts what they get out of Open Heroines. Once the group has defined their membership goals, Open Heroines can signal those goals to new members through an onboarding survey when a new Heroine requests to join the group, they could be asked a few initial welcoming questions that determine their ideal, intended level of investment and involvement before joining.
- Involve the community in onboarding new members. Finding and welcoming new members is a shared responsibility across Open Heroines, and often one of the most rewarding parts of being a member. To get community buy-in around new members and ensure every new Heroine feels welcome, involving the larger group is key. One promising way to use the power of the larger community to create meaningful membership is to build an ambassador or mentorship system. Existing members can reach out to their own professional networks to share information about Open Heroines, while other members can be matched with newcomers to show them the ropes at the beginning of their membership. These two practices would create meaningful connections for new members and democratize the onboarding process.
- Keep the community invested in light-touch ways. Once women have been welcomed and integrated into the fold of the community, how can they stay involved and invested? LabStorm attendees had two great ideas for encouraging active membership. First, Open Heroines can harness the momentum of in-person events to gather feedback. People are much more likely to respond in person, so Open Heroines could do some light surveying at events and then follow up afterwards online. This will help improve response rates and carry in-person conversations from events to Slack. Second, Open Heroines can “gamify” some elements of the online channel to drive participation – to have members get special badges for responding to others, offering help or sharing content. These badges not only reward people for being active members and encourage them to participate in online conversations, but they can also serve as an indicator of which members might be good leaders.
This LabStorm discussion was full of creative ideas for how to build the Open Heroines community and keep people engaged. The discussion reminded us that designing a fair and effective leadership structure is no small task – but that involving the community and getting their feedback can help lead the way. Have you seen similar groups develop successful leadership and membership structures? Please leave a comment below, or send a note to [email protected].
If you’re interested in joining Open Heroines or getting involved in the conversation, send the group an email to [email protected]!