Announcing the OpenCorporates Advisory Board… governance with teeth

Right from the word go, we wanted OpenCorporates to be a different kind of organisation, and we had three core goals we wanted to achieve.

First, we wanted it to have as its central mission the opening of company data for the public good.

Second, we wanted it to be sustainable, not dependent on the vagaries of grants or government funding, but generating income from adding value to public data by making it more useful, more accessible and, crucially, more reusable.

Third, we wanted it to help develop the open data ecosystem with an innovative and successful business model that could help make the open data world a first-class player in the business community, the way open source is in the software world.

Because of this, we set up OpenCorporates as a for-profit (technically speaking we set up a for-profit company, Chrinon Ltd, that is the publisher of OpenCorporates), giving us a fair degree of freedom, and allowing us, if we wanted to, to accept investment. Were we founded in the US, we may have gone down the route of a B-Corporation, a for-profit that includes social good in its governing principles, and that’s something we may well look at in the future.

But as we grow, we need to make sure the third of those goals doesn’t subsume the first. We also needed an honest friend to give us feedback on tricky issues – helping us tread the path between the various competing rights – and to tell us when they thought we were going down the wrong path.

To do that we’ve set up an Advisory Board, but one with teeth. Their core goal is to be that honest friend that we wanted – one who shares our goals and ideals but is willing and able to criticise us when they disagree. But they will also have the power to make a difference to what we do. Cutting to the chase, this is what we’ve agreed:

  • The Advisory Board would be consulted on key strategic directions, to help ensure that OpenCorporates/Chrinon Ltd (the company behind OpenCorporates) acts in the wider public interest.
  • The Advisory Board would be a resource for OpenCorporates to ask for advice, e.g. on policy where there’s a balance of competing interests (privacy etc).
  • The Advisory Board would normally keep its discussions with OpenCorporates private, but could go public if it strongly felt OpenCorporates was behaving badly, or going in the wrong direction. Prior to doing that it would engage with OpenCorporates to try to find a mutually acceptable solution.
  • The Advisory Board would be regularly given a data dump of the entire OpenCorporates database (which is under the ODbL licence), which it could release to the community in the case that either OpenCorporates went into liquidation, or dissolved in some other way, or should OpenCorporates have veered sufficiently from acting in the wider public interests the Board felt it necessary to help create a fork of the project.

We think this goes further than any other similar project, and helps ensures that we always keep central that goal of opening company data for the public good.

There are currently three members of the board, all of whom have exceptional credentials in the open data and transparency world. We may well appoint further members to the board (with the agreement of the existing members) in the future, for example to widen the area of expertise. The members are:

  • David Eaves David needs no introduction to the open data community, and his 3 Laws Of Open Data were a key influence on us, but he describes himself as “a public policy entrepreneur, open government activist and negotiation expert”. He is retained by several governments to advise on open government and open data, works with two spin-offs of the Harvard Negotiation Project and advises businesses on open source strategies and community management.
  • Kaitlin Lee Kaitlin is the senior developer for the Subsidyscope, Clearspending and Six Degrees of Corporations projects at the Sunlight Foundation. She researches transparency related issues in several areas of federal spending, including tax expenditures, risk transfers and contracting. She holds a B.S. in Applied Math from Johns Hopkins.
  • Andrew Stott Andrew was the UK’s first Director for Transparency and Digital Engagement.  He led the work to open government data and create; and after the 2010 Election he led the policy development and implementation of the new Government’s commitments on Transparency of central and local government.
    Following his formal retirement in December 2010 he was appointed to the UK Transparency Board to continue to advise UK Ministers on open data and e-government policy.  He also advises other governments both bilaterally and through the World Bank and the World Wide Web Foundation.

In fact the Advisory Board has already proved invaluable to us in numerous discussions, and helped us draw up the OpenCorporates principles. They also provide an important reassurance to the rest of the community, and perhaps even a template for other open data organisations too.