In our early years, The Commons operated with a collective vision but no written down values. Our small team was unified by a shared drive and passion for building technology that supported small watershed organizations, foundations, and governments working to improve water quality and safeguard natural resources. Our benchmark for determining choices was our commitment to the organization’s vision, our similar work ethic, and our high valuation of the environment in our lives. These implicit values worked, for a while. But we are now far removed from our early days and recognize the importance of codifying the what we consider important in how we conduct ourselves and build our organization. It is important to us that what was clear to our founding team can be understood and adopted by a broader network of stakeholders and staff. Declaring and committing to our values bolsters our organizational stability and enables others to effectively share and bring new approaches and perspectives to our values, vision, and mission.
We knew that we wanted values that demonstrated our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, but we also knew that we needed values that demonstrated these how we acted on these commitments rather than just stating them. To find the words that captured our intent and our reality, we developed an inclusive and intentional process to guide our path toward identifying, defining, and adopting The Commons' core values.
Starting in 2019, we engaged our entire organization by asking our staff and board to complete readings, engage in conversations, and share values that they believed The Commons already embodied and aspirational ones that spoke to our vision of success.
Yes, this process took us close to four years to complete. The process was methodical and unrushed. We started with a broad list of questions and then, through collective discussion, identified the values that helped us answer those questions, and then we spent a lot of time sitting with and testing our final values. We asked ourselves, who do we want to serve, how do others perceive our work? – if all they see is our values, what are we doing differently than our predecessors in the environmental movement, what role does technology play in the environmental movement, and how can we be just, fair, equitable, and inclusive? Because we were so intentional throughout the process, we have high confidence that we can lean on our values throughout our operations and culture far into the future.
We also had a lot of fun talking about the name chosen for this organization. We asked ourselves, what does The Commons mean? What does it entail to embrace The Commons ethos in our daily work? And how can we engage with our stakeholders through a Commons lens?
The conversations we facilitated among our board and staff led to moments of both self-and teams- discovery. And after many lists, discussions, distillations, and edits, we arrived at two indexes - The Commons Values and The Commons Guiding Principles. The values are intended to be seen as a process in and of themselves – we lean on our values as we look to solve problems and work with our stakeholders. Our values embrace our commitment to fostering shared environmental resources; our values reflect the common social agreement necessary to create environments where everyone can thrive. Our Guiding Principles go a step further to demonstrate how our organization upholds these definitions and applies them across all of our work.
I outlined our process for arriving at these values and guiding principles because we are in awe of how much work it took to get here, but also because we are also proud of the results. Without further ado, here are our Commons Values and Guiding Principles.
What we stand for - Commons Values
We are stewards
If we invest in taking care of ourselves, our work, and our clients, our organization and mission will thrive.
We are curious and humble
We intentionally learn from and listen to our stakeholders to understand how our work can help contribute to enduring change at the community level and throughout the environmental movement.
We are conscientious bridge builders
Nothing we accomplish can be achieved without expanding our community of participants, inviting their expertise, or supporting their goals.
We are pragmatic problem solvers
We view technical problem-solving through a lens of pragmatic optimism and our default is to trust the expertise and goals of our stakeholders.
We own the outcomes of our decisions
If our choices lead to adversity, we work through it.
The following guiding principles demonstrate how our organization upholds these definitions and applies an agreed-upon across all of our work.
We believe that critical data about air and water - the most important commons - should be a public resource for public benefit.
We allow empathy to guide our work. We gather ideas and insights from the people we serve to build better products.
We operate in a manner that makes it easy for our constituents to see what actions are being performed toward a given objective and understand the strategic intent.
We believe our stakeholders are the experts. We work to amplify their knowledge and give voice to their data to enact, enforce, and expand the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.
Our software is free or low-cost to end users, accessible to a diverse audience, and built for people first.
We follow a transparent, community-based approach to data collection that promotes participation, accountability, and trust.
We embrace and commit to innovative ideas that create sustainable solutions to serve all stakeholders.
We subscribe to and promote an ethical approach to software development. We build products to serve the public good, promote trust amongst our users, and fulfill their intended role.
We believe that everyone but especially under-served and overburdened communities can improve their natural resources and public health through improved access to environmental data.