Open By Default

Tom C W
3 min readApr 25, 2023
Light up sign with the word open in a circle.
Photo by Finn Hackshaw on Unsplash

I think principles are important, very important. So important I started both The Good Ship and Data For Action on little more than principles. Principles act as a guide for how to act, on what you will and won’t do. They sit at the heart of your digital or data strategy, or at least they should do.

One principle that guides both The Good Ship and Data for Action is being Open by Default. But how do we define Open by Default and what does it practically mean?

Open by Default: We advocate for making resources, information, tools and data openly available by default, rather than keeping it hidden or restricted. We need to have a good reason NOT to make it open. We believe in contributing to the commons because we think transparency helps better decision making and improves what we do.

Open by Default doesn’t mean we make everything open, but it means the default position IS to make everything open and we work back from there to decide what not to make open. This may seem like a semantic shift, but in my experience this is a huge shift in attitude. It helps to frame how you write things, where you host things, how to structure things.

Practically it also means subtle, but in my opinion transformational shifts. When we work on a project with an organisation the default approach is to make all the insight, learning, development and decisions openly available to everyone in the organisation. This means you are more likely to think about how to involve people, not silo things, and ultimately makes for better work.

Open by Default also means that learning, tools, resources can be shared which contribute to bigger impact. Templates, code, data, documents and learning materials all have the potential to have a life outside of a project IF you want them to. Does this mean that I can’t use the same slide deck over and over and just change the name? Yeah, but who wants to do that anyway.

When we work with an organisation we are up front about being Open by Default, and we put it in contracts. This is not common. Most contracts are not set up with Open by Default in mind. However in my experience, even though it’s not commonplace, most organisations are happy to work in this way once they have got their heads round it.

When I first worked with Lloyds Bank Foundation on the Organisational Resilience programme (which is also based ON principles) , we made everything with a Creative Commons licence, so that it could be reused, adapted, shared. In Data For Action’s upcoming work with JRF we are openly prototyping so that others can learn, contribute and advance the sector.

Sometimes however, organisations can’t get their heads round it, or it doesn’t fit them. That’s ok, but it raises a red flag for me, and means we’re unlikely to work with them. Principles matter.



Tom C W

Do Good, Be Awesome. Thoughts on startups, social change, awesome things, and possibly running.