Saturday, June 6, 2015

On the Open Culture of the Open Data Institute

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the ODI team in the context of the GODAN Discussion Paper. I am a curious person by nature and since we had a distant collaboration, I wanted to learn more about the people that I was working with (and I couldn't actually meet). Open data is about transparency and I would like to check out how transparent the ODI activities would be - and I was really surprised by the results!

First stop was the ODI team page; a fresh page with information about the ODI team members. Then the corporate Twitter account, which is really frequently updated and used for several purposes - a really alive communication tool! But this brought me to something much more interesting, funny and cozy: the #LifeAtTheODI hashtag! An ever-growing number of tweets by several (and I mean a lot) ODI team members who share moments from their life at the ODI workplace :-)

Some of the things I realized after checking out all these interesting tweets and photos are listed right below:
  • The ODI team members (at least most of them) are active Twitter users; their accounts show that they have a relatively high number of followers, they are following a lot of other accounts/people and they tweet. A lot.
  • They use Twitter for internal communication and chatting; even though they apparently have the opportunity to discuss face to face - this means that they openly share their discussions and they like it! It is obvious that they are not afraid to be exposed, as this is part of their culture.
  • They use Twitter even for internal or local events related to ODI; check out the #ODLmeetup hashtag for the Open Data London Meetupthis allows everyone to peek at what they are doing as a team/company.

  • They have a great time in the office and they share it with everyone; just check the #LifeAtTheODI hashtag for more! They are working as a team, they create opportunities for team bonding activities, they have ideas for having fun at the office, they even go out together :-)

  • At the same time, they have a really active blog, that I am really jealous of: Frequently updated but the most important fact is that everyone contributes (more or less); it is not a one-man show (like the Agro-Know one) as everyone contributes with topics on their expertise. These guys (and girls) like to expose their work; and they are doing a pretty nice job both at implementing and at promoting it!
What they achieve in this way is a great exposure of the ODI work and culture, in a really natural way; there is no need to define their values, as they are obvious through their tweets and posts. They communicate so well informally that they do not have to make official statements about their culture and values.

In Agro-Know things are rather different: We have our culture, values and a nice working environment, but these stay inside the office. Most of our team members are not active Twitter users (many of them do not even have a Twitter account; others do but they rarely use it), they use Facebook for personal purposes only and in several cases, they don't feel comfortable being photographed. In addition, most of our people do not blog. As a result, the Agro-Know blog is sometimes referred to as "Vassilis's blog" (while in fact I have two personal blogs and a Tumblr one that I maintain myself)! This might be due to several reasons (as well as a combination of them), including (but not limited to) lack of time, lack of interest and lack of knowledge on using social media.

Don't get me wrong; we are talking about a bunch of great guys and girls, with excellent skills and experience in their field, delivering high quality work for research projects and in the context of contracts, meeting strict deadlines and working overtime in order to meet the requirements of the work. They are just not fond of social media.

But this makes me wonder: Is it only a matter of (lack of) time, a lack of interest or just such a huge difference in culture between the ODI and the Agro-Know teams? Would it make sense if e.g. I spent some time coaching our team members on using their personal social media accounts (e.g. focusing on Twitter) for sharing bits and pieces about their work? Should I repeat a training on using the Agro-Know blog as a mean for promoting our work, both at a corporate and at a personal level? What if I defined a strategy on the coordinated use of social media (both corporate and personal), hoping that it would make things easier for those of them who are interested in supporting me promote the Agro-Know work and outcomes to a wider audience through social media? Would this bring some value back to the company or would it be a waste of (precious) time and effort? Does a company like Agro-Know need to "dive" deeper into social media?

Agro-Know COO Giannis Stoitsis will be visiting ODI for a week-long training on open data and he will have the opportunity to have this ODI culture experience at first hand. I hope that he will be able to bring back some ideas and a bit of this good aura, maybe helping push things in the right direction.