Open Source leadership

There’s power in being open.

All of the projects I’m involved in, from the Empty Shops Network and Made In Worthing to the ad hoc anarchy of #riotcleanup, are inspired by the ideals of software’s Open Source movement. It’s James Fryer at Invocrown that taught me about that, helping me to set up in 2003, and showing in the most practical way tools owned by the community are more useful than anything in closed ownership.

So for each project I run, the ‘source code’ is given freely. The ideas are free; the tools are free; the opportunity is free. Take them, take responsibility, take the lead, and take power.

With the Empty Shops Network, this means there’s a free toolkit, available online as a pdf but soon to be transferred to a wiki. The toolkit lets anyone plan a temporary, pop-up project – whether for an empty shop or another empty space. Being able to understand the basics leaves people free to concentrate on the body of the project. It means they have a framework for bold ideas, brave experiments and making a big difference.

#riotcleanup was based on the same principles, and as it was a very simple idea at the heart was picked up at a speed no movement in the UK has ever been before. A hundred thousand people got behind the idea online, using Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, in one, single, amazing day. Everybody was given the power to take the lead in their community – #riotcleanup enabled more distinct local groups across London and then in other cities, and it enabled more specialist groups to build on the #riotcleanup foundations. It allowed people to raise funds by selling T-shirts, screenprints and setting up Riot Raffle. The activity is still going on, now at a local level. With things like gardening projects on the Pembury Estate in Hackney, it is quite literally back at the grass roots.

#riotcleanup was Open Source social activism, organised without an organisation.

Everyone who picked up a broom, everybody who Tweeted useful information, every person who stepped up and did whatever they did – they all own #riotcleanup as much as the hashtag’s writer Sophie Collard or I do.

As a movement, #riotcleanup is open to a hundred interpretations. It might equally be a sign of people disenfranchised from local democracy reclaming the streets, or the Big Society in action, or a recession-fuelled revival of the Blitz spirit. It might be the end of something that needed to be done on one day, or the start of a new, bigger community based around the streets where we live and work and play. The only thing that is certain is that nothing is; there was no clear agenda, no manifesto, no political ideology driving everyone that was involved. Each and every person who walked up to the blackboard did so for their own reasons. That plurality, too, is powerful.

It means that everybody who wants to claim a little bit of #riotcleanup, from the Prime Minister to the anarchist, from the Mayor of London to the man on the street with a broom, is equally entitled to.

Open belongs to everyone, ideas once born are free, and the power and the responsibility of leadership rests with all of us.


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