Board Meeting Minutes, August 2016

An additional meeting of the Open Knowledge International (OKI) Board was held in London and virtually via GoToMeeting on 4th August, 2016.

Present: Karin Christiansen (KC) - Chair, Jane Silber (JS), Helen Turvey (HT); and Tim Hubbard (TH) (via GoToMeeting) 

Observing: Pavel Richter (PR), Franka Vaughan (FV) for minutes, Mark Gibbs (MG) (via GoToMeeting), and Paul Walsh (PW) via GoToMeeting

Apologies: Martin Tisne


Paul Walsh (PW) was introduced to the Board as the head of OKI’s Tech team and is joining the leadership team permanently. Having the technical aspect of OKI represented on the Leadership team is beneficial given OKI’s mission and focus on open data and technical solutions. 

The timing of this meeting is to allow PR to go to Omidyar with confidence that the new business model is understood and supported by the Board. 

Three Year Financial Forecast

PR presented the financial forecast in detail; as it was not a budget, figures for 2016 were not included. The aim of the 3yr financial forecast is to translate the mission statement into actions and figures, and to show how this will shape OKI going forward. The forecast is based on the information we have now and limited in scope (as the longer the period of forecasting, the sketchier the figures and information become). 

Income is divided into restricted grants, unrestricted grants and commercial / other income. There are secured funds, meaning we have contracts and grants signed; unsigned funds, which may be at various stages of negotiations; and there is commercial / other income which proceeds from Viderum.  

Expenditure distinguishes between core operations and project expenditure. 

Income (Restricted Grants) 

The total forecast income for 2017 is £2,995,000.

EU Grants 

NEXTGeoss - a new EU consortium, a 3-year project that runs until 2019, already signed - is of strategic importance because its funding is for geodata and environmental data. A Project Manager experienced in EU funded grants has been hired to handle NEXTGeoss. OKI is not seeking EU funding going forward due to the onerous reporting requirements of these grants. 

Existing Funders

  • Adessium are a long term supporter of OKI, mostly for OpenSpending. There’s the possibility to secure funding for other projects with them due to the long-standing relationship.

  • Arnold Foundation is funding Phase 1 of OpenTrials (until March 2017) and funding for Phase 2 is being sought. PR is travelling to Houston to meet with them.

  • Sloan Foundation funds Frictionless Data with a grant secured for next year. There is also the potential for funding other projects. 

  • Hewlett Foundation supports a project grant for GODI, community support and organisational capacity building.

  • Open Society Foundation has recently changed focus - we previously were funded through their government accountability programmes and are now looking at their ‘Rights of Justice’ programme. 

  • Ford Foundation is a new prospective funder, for programmes around tax justice.

  • USAID has contributed towards School of Data.

  • Wellcome Trust provided the prize money won by OpenTrials.

  • IDRC/OD4D are long-standing funders of School of Data; they also support other initiatives such as GODI, and a couple of fellowships and grant programs we are running in sub-Saharan Africa.

Other philanthropic income 

We hope to raise monies through funders we don’t have a relationship with as of yet. We’re building fundraising capacity within OKI to focus on three areas: Human Rights, Environmental issues and Health Issues.

Non-Philanthropic income

We have no experience with aid agencies, governmental bodies and international development banks as yet, hence why we expect no income here in 2017. We need to understand how they operate in terms of requirements, reporting, applications etc. 

Income (Unrestricted Grants) 

  • Sigrid Rausing Trust

  • Omidyar Network is our biggest funder in terms of unrestricted funds. PR will attend their Investment committee on the 28th September where £570K is realistic. We agreed to seek only a 2-year funding for now as it allows for the possibility to apply for another round of funding.  

  • Hewlett Foundation wants to support us with unrestricted funding moving forward; at the end of 2017 when our current restricted grant ends, we will negotiate the terms of the unrestricted funding. 

  • Open Society Foundation is one of the key funders of unrestricted grants in our field; to rebuild our relationship with them, we need to move into programmes that interest them.  

Commercial & other income 

There are no plans for OKI to generate any income here. 

Profits from Viderum in 2017 and 2018 will be re-invested into growing the business. We expect contributions from Viderum to OKI from 2019. 

Event sponsorship will be allocated to support OKfestival moving forward.

Discussions around Income  

The Board asked about plateauing of growth forecast after 2 years. PR explained that this is due to ambitious plans for the 2 years where OKI can settle into this model, where current projects will continue for this duration, and the following years are steady where we can reassess further growth.

The Board challenged the projected numbers for project growth. PR stated his belief, ambition and optimism for this business model, noting that if it does not succeed there will be a change of approach.  


PR highlighted the cost of non-project Software Developer time which is not allocated in the forecast, due to limited availability of core funding, and needs to be found elsewhere (this will change over time). 


PR stated he has allocated a significant amount of money in the forecast to OKFestival in order to re-establish it as a yearly global event, with a full-time Project Manager.

Core Non-staff expenditure 

This is the cost of being a virtual organisation: technical infrastructure, legal, and everything that is not staff- or project-related. Travel is a large part of this, especially the Summits, and in process is a project fund for teams to work together in person outside of Summits. 

Portfolio Model

The aim is to allow the projects to develop independently outside of OKI. For example, if Arnold invests $5M in OpenTrials over the next 2 or 3 yrs, it will be quite a challenge for OKI to manage such a big project. With this business model, we will build a sustainability model around OpenTrials in a way which either ends when the project ends or becomes an independent organisation outside OKI. OKI in this case will support it and be the home of the project. This avoids growing structures around one successful project which we can’t support if a funder shifts focus away.

All discussed risks of this approach, including:

  • New people joining OKI often, for specific projects, and subsequently losing their institutional knowledge;

  • funder relationships, for example OKI might lose a funder if we are not successful with a particular project;

  • recreating admin structures for spin-out projects, including how funders will perceive this (the role of partner organisations was  considered, to mitigate this).

Also discussed was that:

  • Some projects will not spin-out, while others  will be clearly aimed to spin-out;

  • Some projects may be undertaken by OKI permanently, such as OKFestival or GODI, and programmatic work and others that are part of the core functions of the organisation will keep running year after year; 

  • Some projects will start and end with OKI.

PR clarified he is moving away from looking to spin-out every project; however, he will ensure everything OKI designs as a project should have a defined end.

New focus areas for OKI 

PR presented the following three focus areas to explore:

Human rights & Open Data 

One of our key funders (Sigrid Rausing) supports us in this area; we have access to a network of interesting grantors who are interested in how open data can be used to improve HR worldwide; it’s uncharted territory but has a high potential for success. 

Environmental issues & Open Data 

We have an anchor project in this area with NextGEOSS; we have funding around geodata which is key in terms of environmental issues and open data; there is high interest in this area among staff; there are great non-philanthropic funding opportunities available.  

Health & Open Data

We are using our network and base funding for OpenTrials, and the advisory council that we have built around OpenTrials is well-connected in various health related fields.

Board feedback

The Board asked whether more challenging areas of focus had been considered (citing sex workers, GMOs and food data), and how the model will prove itself as working well. PR noted the deliberate decision to focus on areas that are comfortable for OKI and where we will be most effective, and that funding will be the proof of concept, especially if we can convince funders who are not generally or traditionally open to open data. 


Ben Goldacre & Arnold Foundation

PR noted that the Arnold pitch was presented to Ben Goldacre and the OpenTrials team. There were some concerns about the future of our collaboration for phase II of OpenTrials, and PR aims to build a relationship with Arnold through his trip to Houston in the week beginning 8th August.