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The Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA) is exploring the possibility of a land and property data platform. The team is developing a proof of concept and have committed themselves to working in the open, as part of experimenting with new ways of working. This is a post about what we’ve learned along the way.

Working in the open is scary at first but then feels liberating. Publishing our team’s website and data landscape felt like a big deal at the time. Should the WRA be talking about land and property platforms? Will people outside the team understand why we’re doing this work?

And then people started to notice and say nice things.

It’s lovely to have plaudits but there are other benefits to working in the open:

Openness improves alignment. We thought we were sure from the outset about our objectives and why we were doing the work but it turns out the jeopardy of making things public forced us to clarify these before we published. Everyone in and around the team is more aligned and clearer.

Openness reduces collective anxiety. Once we were out in the open you could feel the weight fall from our collective shoulders. It was safe to talk and collaborate with others from outside the organisation. Focus shifts to the work, rather than crafting the message.

Openness tests empowerment. There’s lots of organisations that say they trust you and ask you to bring yourself to work, but do they? When an organisation encourages a team to work in the open, they demonstrate that they trust you. With WRA we are blessed.

Openness is a fabulous calling card. The more we opened up, the more people turned up to the Show & Tell to ask us some good questions; People outside of the organisation have put their hands up to collaborate or offer advice; It is helping us hire a fantastic team.

The thing is, we don’t know who we don’t know. By being out there people can find us and help us join the dots. To give you a good example, we discovered that a team in the Netherlands is working on something similar. This would not have happened had discussions been limited to internal meetings and closed email distribution lists.

Openness allows others to build on existing work. We document our work and thinking on GitHub. It’s a public history of the work and our thinking. We have built on other people’s fantastic work and we hope others might take what we’ve done and build on it too. By working in the open the institutional knowledge doesn’t get lost or forgotten on an internal file system.

This way of working is, in many ways, familiar to WRA. The level of trust and tone of voice are already established aspects of the culture but it is not the norm for teams to share weeknotes and thinking-out-loud in the same way we have with this project. We can say it has honestly helped us and made it more enjoyable. We hope others give it a try.