Make things open, it makes things better. But...

My favourite of the government design principles is number 10: Make things open, it makes things better. The principle says:

“The more eyes there are on a service the better it gets - howlers are spotted, better alternatives are pointed out, the bar is raised.”

I really believe that—especially when it comes to content.

It’s why I dedicate a lot of my free time to coaching and mentoring people on writing about their work. It's also why I ran the 10 More Blog Posts experiment in 2019, to get more people blogging with the help of a buddy system.

There are a lot of challenges involved in making things open—on personal, organisational and even societal levels—and I don’t want to undermine that.

But there’s an aspect of this principle—or at least, the way it’s sometimes interpreted—that I want to examine.

What “making things open” means

Sometimes “make things open” is used as a shorthand for “make things public”.

I’ve had clients and colleagues quote it to me to try and convince me we should publish something I don’t believe is viable. As someone whose job it is to advocate well-designed information, that’s frustrating.

Because making things open is more than just making things public.

To make things open in a way that actually does make things better, they have to be made truly available and inclusive.

That doesn’t mean everyone should become a context expert, or keep their ideas to themself—far from it.

It means being clear in our intent to help people to find and understand the things we’re making open, so that more people can benefit from our ideas. Doing this means that they can spot those howlers and propose better alternatives.

To me, that means that they’re:

  • findable - so people can discover it in the first place
  • inclusive - so people can access and understand our content
  • easy to navigate - so people can scan and search our content
  • relevant - so people know if it’s for them
  • useful - so we achieve our goals of making it open

These, in my view, are the pillars of minimum viable content.

Over the next month, as part of my NaBloPoMo effort, I’ll publish posts covering each of these principles in more detail, with practical tips to achieve them and create truly open content.