12 Reaching agreement

Having money does not equate to knowledge.

Not having money does not equate to ignorance.

Unencumbered by misconceptions of how funding “should” happen, the fellowship is a programme that shows true and sustained change by focussing on people, not just donating to their projects. It’s about creating the conditions that allow fellows to experiment, and even fail, as they grow towards long-term success. Every process is built to be something useful for the fellow, assuming a lifelong partnership.

Hundreds of applications from potential fellows arrive each cycle. We review every one of those applications individually and spend a month interviewing applicants, whittling them down to a shortlist. It’s a long process, handled with care.

Chosen applicants receive an invitation to talk and, if agreement is found, to figure out the final terms of engagement. In earlier days, they would see a 24-page, arduous contract full of legal jargon and specific definitions. Now they get a simple letter of agreement that defines the proposed working and personal relationship in human terms. Making the letter friendly and lightweight was an idea inspired by the agreement Arthur Attwell created when assembling a team for Paperight, the project at the core of his fellowship. The goal was to reduce apprehension and inspire excitement about the fellowship, rather than starting the relationship with an anxious legal negotiation.

Andrew Rens, Open Counsel (and our first fellow), had a very different initial reaction to the proposed new agreement. After a call to discuss the draft acceptance letter, he offered a blunt, fiery and passionate argument against cutting a number of pages, including those covering the definition of Open and the privacy policy. By the end of the conversation, Andrew’s case was clear. But he was also in agreement about the value of a simple letter welcoming a new fellow into the fold.

The letter and agreement now total nine pages and define the partnership, explicitly detailing commitments to one another and to the wider fellowship group. These commitments include an outline of the Open Requirements expected by the Foundation and are the heart of the relationship built with all fellows. The letter is a legal agreement, an introduction and an invitation.

There is an inherent trust in the Foundation/fellow relationship. The fellow leads the way towards the fulfilment of their mission, but the Foundation team has much to contribute and does not hand over power without reciprocal expectations. This use of power is deliberate. Value is created from money and power in the relationship, but it also grows beyond the individual fellow when each lesson learnt is shared with the community. The idea is to evolve and grow together – not just over the span of a financial relationship, but over a lifetime. This is the fellowship we build together.

Honesty, sharing, mutual respect and care are expected in a fellowship designed to offer lifelong support. These values are incorporated into all interactions – both virtual and face-to-face. The acceptance letter is the start of the relationship with a new fellow, modelling these values from the very beginning.