How P2PU Became a Totally Open Org

Image by craftavist collective, CC BY 2.0

Image by craftavist collective, CC BY 2.0


About six months ago we put out a search for a new Executive Director. Our ED Philipp Schmidt, took a position at the MIT Media Lab, which required transitioning from  a hands-on ED to a more advisory (although no less involved) role.

In theory, Executive Directors oversee fundraising and set the agenda of the organization. But the reality is that P2PU has always been an open and community-driven organization, and our working practice has always been more about staff developing their own visions rather than relying on a boss who dictated what to do and when to it. As the search for a new ED progressed, we realised that Philipp’s moving to the board had become more of a prompt for staff to take lead, and we began to consider the possibility of not looking for a replacement, and imagining what P2PU might look like if we held each other accountable.

However, distributing the ED responsibilities means each team member has to take on a bigger role, and we are aware that this is not a trivial process. We have started talking through the details and successfully made some early tough decisions collaboratively. Based on our progress so far we are confident this will work and will be good for P2PU and its goals.


Concrete changes

Moving from the big picture to the concrete details, we focused largely on three areas. Here is a quick summary.

  • Governance: how would we make decisions and set the agenda for P2PU?
  • Budget: how much should we get paid and what should we spend money on?
  • Management: how would we hold each other accountable to get things done?


Governance. Once a week we meet virtually to discuss governance and fundraising questions. During these calls we pitch ideas for new projects to the group and decide as a team whether to pursue them. We also discuss HR or board questions, and other strategic issues. In addition to the meetings, we’re all starting to take on new responsibilities individually, such as conversing with funders and sketching out project budgets.

Financial governance is an area we want to tackle next. The current payment process works well, but we’d like to involve the collective in monthly review of our finances to increase a shared sense of oversight.

Budget. Moving to the collective model, would mean making budget and finance decisions as a group. Because P2PU is a virtual organization, most of our cost are related to people. As a first test of how the collaborative governance would work in practice, we decided to develop a new compensation model for ourselves.

We decided to start at zero, as if all P2PU staffers were hired today and looked at examples of other open compensation models. We developed a basic formula that takes into account different types of roles, different multipliers (rough proxy for expertise), cost of living in different parts of the world, and preserves our flat salary structure (nobody makes more than twice as much as anybody else). We then applied the formula to ourselves, which had only minor budget implications overall. In fact, it meant that costs would go down about 3500 USD/ year.

Getting to a formula we all agreed on, and then applying it to ourselves, was a big test for collective decision making. Money and finances are often an area where transparency is hard. We created a good process to identify areas of concerns, worked through them as a group, and came to a collective decision. It was a successful example for how P2PU can make decisions going forward.

Twice a week we run project meetings to share progress, ask for feedback and keep track of all the work underway. We use a public Trello Board (a software tool for project management) to track all current and future projects and we walk through each “card” on the board together. We know that it is incredibly important to keep each other honest and also ask the hard questions (which typically an ED might ask) and are trying hard to give useful feedback and hold each other accountable. This isn’t always easy, but the sense of shared ownership, outweighs the downside of having to work through the slight discomfort.

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