How to avoid open-splaining and find open allies quickly

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open source button on keyboard

Thanks to the tireless efforts of open organizations and contributors everywhere, "openness" is something that more and more people are starting to understand. And as the ideas behind working openly have spread, the types of people embracing this way of working and organizing has broadened. The tenets of open—things like decentralization, hackability, and transparency—no longer belong just to technology firms and programmers.

As an advocate for open practices, you've probably found yourself explaining what openness looks like in your day-to-day work. You've had to, because the ideas just weren't mainstream. But now you're more likely to experience an increase of those awkward moments: when someone sighs loudly and says "I know!"

Here is a list of four groups that don't need your open-splaining.

NGO communication experts

People who spend their days shaping the image of their organizations likely inherently know the value of open. A certain kind of communication expert who chooses to work for non-governmental organizations: They know that the best story they can tell has to do with a group of people working together towards a common goal. Afterall, they're likely working in the non-profit field because they have idealism in their hearts, and they've formulated the press releases that explain how people power led to overwhelming advancement or change. These experts have seen first hand how leading with transparency and following up with humanity can change the conversation.


The OER and #edtech revolutions are spreading rapidly. Educators are embracing constructivism in learning. They're actively searching for ways to release themselves from the constraints of outdated educational policies. Many educators are thinking outside the box about ways they can best practice their craft. All of this means that more and more educators are openly tapping their networks in order to learn, think, and grow. These networks are decentralized—and educators' transparent methods of knowledge sharing makes them prime candidates for accidental open-splaining. Additionally, educators are pros at organizing group work and having teams working together and sharing. Project based learning and peer to peer assignments are the bread and butter of many an educator's curricula design. At the heart of pedagogy and research is an open discussion carried out between peers, experts and educators.

Volunteer coordinators

Organizations have always been building networks of volunteers to help create local impact on a wide variety of issues (and new digital technologies have only enhanced their abilities to do this). Today, even the most tightly-controlled brands are opening up to the idea that good ideas can come from anywhere. Volunteer coordinators have long served as mediators between organizations and their non-paid contributors. They understand how important transparency is to morale. They know that perfectly polished materials often don't work in the real world, so they're used to remixing things on the fly.

Digital strategists

Companies and organizations funding the advancement of their digital presence are likely hiring someone with experience choosing the right tools for the right job. As technologists, digital strategists have tried a variety of tools and led many water-cooler conversations about those tools. They've researched approaches to organizing openly, and they've internalized much of the collective online culture. They know a new meme when they see it, have a library of animated gifs at the ready and can recommend 5 different tools for any online task. If people are living online in this way, it's likely that they've brushed up against the difference between open and proprietary information and software. It's also likely that they have spent time conversing about openness, whether they use this term or not.

Preaching to the choir

Plenty of other groups understand and spend time thinking and talking about what the open source way. Organizations left and right are shifting to new structures and leadership frameworks in an attempt to attract talent and remain relevant in a quickly changing world. If you're an advocate for openness, you might find yourself "open-splaining." But don't worry: If the person you're talking to understands open, they won't have a problem gently letting you know that you are preaching to the choir.

Laura Hilliger is a writer, educator and technologist. She’s a multimedia designer and developer, a technical liaison, a project manager, an open web advocate who is happiest in collaborative environments. She’s a co-founder of We Are Open Co-op, an Ambassador for, is working to help open up Greenpeace, and a Mozilla alum. Find her on Twitter and Mastodon as @epilepticrabbit

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