Our partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) over the last few months has confirmed to us that democratizing design is the best way forward for People & Culture. While democratizing design does takes effort, it also has deep respect for context and allows the richness of unique perspectives, lived experiences, and individual and team preferences to come to light. The human-centered design of that process yields results that make a real impact and move the organization much further forward.

Why Democratizing Design Matters at OCP

Earlier this year, with the concerns still growing on the pandemic, we were introduced to an amazing organisation called OCP – Open Contracting Partnership. They are a (growing) team of 18 people, who started with the big, bold and visionary idea to make the world of public contract open, fair and efficient.

Respect for Making a Difference

Here at mwah., we have the deepest respect for the work done by Public organisations – particularly when they demonstrate the highest integrity, passion, smarts and commitment to doing the right thing every day for the communities they serve. We’ve seen the work local, state and federal governments do in Australia, and we firmly believe that there is great potential to change society by the work done in Public organisations.

We’ve also started to see more of the work done by public organizations in more ‘global’ settings. Not least of which is the work done in the 2020 global pandemic. We know that global development of relations is a rich, important tapestry of information and potential. As students of people and organizations, that is, in and of itself, fascinating.

Back to OCP.

The People of OCP

OCP is a team of incredible, globally-minded and highly educated individuals. They are bound by the purpose of making sure that the communities they live in, work in and love get the access to services, amenities, facilities and more that they need in the best possible way. Making sure public officials are held to account with data and insights shared. They are only 18 people, but in just about every region of the world – Latin America, Africa, Europe and the UK, the North Americas – and intent on making a big difference

The Human Side of Public Contracts

Making public contracts open is no mean feat. Navigating organisations, departments, stakeholders, project plans, getting alignment, buy-in, and influence means moving people forward in the same direction. That is about as complicated a problem as you get.

And along with these big goals, as one of the team so beautifully put it, it’s also about simplicity and explaining that impact. When your Mum, or Grandpa asks about the progress of the local park or hospital, it’s about knowing that the public resources to build that are being well used. The funds will go to those facilities to make the community better. That good people will build it well, and deliver what they said, how they said, when they said and within the agreed budget parameters.

And knowing you play a part in that is a deeply rewarding social impact.

The Context – Scaling Impact

Along with this significant impact, there are some organisational factors that are well worth mentioning.

Maturation from ‘start-up’ to a ‘small but scaling powerhouse’

The OCP started as just two people – in Washington DC, with a big and bold idea on Public Contracting. From that seed, something special grew, funding was secured, new people signed up to contribute their work to further the purpose. Now, more than 6 years later, with a sustained deep focus on social impact, and the team working in more than 10 countries, it was time for OCP to sharpen the way they approached People & Culture.

Strong purpose alignment

In every piece of our partnership, the alignment of people – with and despite their differences, perspectives, unique lived experiences, similarities, geographies, communities and more – to OCP’s purpose, is unwavering. The OCP team fully signs up to making the organisation and culture the best it can possibly be to get the work done well.

A highly talented, globally dispersed and insightful team

The group of people we work with are all leaders – whatever their title. They have all done significant studies in their fields – social policy, economics, politics, development, research and more. They continuously ask ‘why’, and search for understanding. They are deeply oriented to growth, and are always looking to build momentum and move forward.

As our CEO and Co-Founder, Rhonda Brighton-Hall wrote last week, Democratizing People & Culture is critically important:

  1. People & Culture is high on the list of potential derailers for smaller organisations
  2. Organisations need to provide access to great People & Culture information to the entire team
  3. Organizations and decision-making processes are rapidly evolving and becoming democratised.

Despite being ‘newer’ to the idea of focusing on People & Culture practices, the team at OCP have strong instincts about its importance. They are willing to make space to understand, to listen, to learn, to adapt and evolve based on feedback if it gets people, and the organisation, forward to a better place, in order to have a bigger impact.

That shared focus of growth and forward momentum is a great foundational mindset for designing People & Culture practices.

Democratizing Design – The Lessons

So, what did democratizing design with OCP look like, and what are the lessons that you can apply in any organisation?

1. Principles before Process, every time.

At OCP, we had a really clear brief on the work we should do together – and it made sense:

  1. Consider pay benchmarking data received, and form a sensible approach to compensation
  2. Co-create a performance approach that made sense with existing continuous improvement focus, and
  3. Career Paths for OCP’s People

As we started working together, we wanted to solve these three things. As we spoke to people across OCP, some clear themes emerged quickly.

These themes became our fundamental design principles, the beacons we would use to check that what we were designing was right.

The OCP People Principles are:

  1. We are building an exceptional and diverse global team
  2. We value fairness, equity and consistency
  3. We aim to attract and retain the best talent
  4. We invest in professional and personal growth
  5. We foster and support high performance
  6. We encourage our team to be bold and ambitious. It is better to set a bold goal and fall short than a cautious one
  7. We reward both growth and performance

In any work where people are at play – customers, stakeholders, team – before we go leaping into the solutions, we should step back for a minute. That is absolutely a principle of Human Centered Design, and People & Culture is about humans! When we get People & Culture work right, we appreciate that the work we are doing is both ‘art’ – feelings, emotions, perceptions, sentiment, grey areas, navigating the imperfect and ‘science’ –  systems, structures, and well-engineered intuitive processes.

Simply put, the best way for us to navigate the art and science of it, is to understand what matters most to the team. Principles before Process, every time.

2. As a People & Culture advocate, you DO NOT need all the answers.

As People & Culture experts, we must listen and understand first, then provide insights, ideas and thinking. We are there as a People & Culture advocate. We need to understand the context and the business, but we do not need to know all the answers, nor be the custodians of processes that don’t work, nor police rules that are ineffective or too hard to follow. We should help people navigate complexity and always be trying to help them find simplicity. Not knowing all the answers and being comfortable with that as you’re ready to really hear what matters most to people, means you’re doing People & Culture right.

3. People want to be involved in decisions that can impact them.

This one is no secret, but it’s worth saying for the avoidance of doubt. People are more likely to want a say in things that impact them. Full stop.

How we contribute towards a purpose we care deeply about, how we are rewarded and how we grow and develop ourselves and our careers is really important to each and every one of us. It impacts each of us, and that is worthy of our input! We’re yet to find a team who weren’t really interested in being personally involved in every step. People and Culture is not a job for the distant HQ Team. It’s a job for every employee.

4. People & Culture is never standalone.

We consider this lesson foundational to everything we do. People & Culture is not a set of standalone, compartmentalized processes, practices, and policies. It is integral to how an organisation and a team and every individual operates and is able to contribute towards the collective goals.

Yet, in so many instances, we still see People & Culture designed in silos, and often the structures and operating models of HR support this approach. Designing People and Culture, as an aside – ‘best practice performance’, for example – without winding it into the very fabric of the work to be done, has got to be the biggest mistake HR can make. People and Culture supports the purpose and the work to be done. It should never be seen to add a layer of process unrelated to the actual work.

As we thought about Performance, there would be implications to compensation and career/promotions. As we designed performance, we discovered some capability and training needs. As we considered training needs, we thought about onboarding, and supporting newer leaders who would be appointed based on our work on career and promotion.

People & Culture is a system that must work together. It should never be a set of singular disconnected processes.

5. Benchmarks and Best Practice are helpful. Right Practice for Us, are better.

Lastly, benchmarks, data, and best practice are really helpful. But we cannot just lift and drop. We must understand the right practice for the specific context, work and team, and keep refining it. No two contexts are the same.

Democratizing Design – The Results

With OCP, we articulated the core people principles. We literally co-created a Guide to outline those principles. We then looked at how roles came together, the best approach to performance, the right approach to and data around pay, and most effective way to look at career pathways and growth.

This worked well. Performance really centered on the conversations between leaders and their people. This landed with a simple and practical approach – looking back on the previous period, understanding growth and development needs, and setting the goals and plan for the next period.

We then learnt some lessons as we moved from design to implementation, and will be refining the guide slightly to incorporate what we learnt.

Democratizing Design at OCP – What’s Next

Right now, we are working closely with the team at OCP to consider the importance of Diversity and Inclusion on them as a team, and in the work they do with diverse communities. We have used mwah,’s proprietary Belonging Index as a baseline to understand the team and culture, the similarities and differences that spark conversation on what matters most.

Given the purpose and work of OCP, it makes good sense to both OCP and key stakeholders that Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging is critically important. Together, we’ll bring it together clear principles and strategy into practical actions that make a difference.

Democratizing Design – The 5 Take-Outs.

  1. Principles before Process.

Understand what really matters to your people, deeply. At mwah., we often work with clients to do just this including using our Belonging Index and Values Facilitation Guide.

  1. Listen and Learn from each other

To democratize design, you need to make space. To listen and learn, in more than one channel or medium, to capture diverse views. Not just big team sessions, or email only, but a multi-pronged approach to understanding.

  1. Challenge each other to do better.

At OCP, when we thought the system was looking good, there was always one more idea of refinement that took it to a better place.  Keep an eye on the voices that challenge or create, as they often take everything up a notch.

  1. See the parts, see the system.

People & Culture is a system and a great place to start is seeing all the parts of existing system, all the inputs and outputs of the existing system, and then at the parts being considered for the new one. Every component matters and will impact every other component.

  1. People & Culture is never ‘done’.

At OCP, we’ve landed with quality designs that are supporting the team to keep doing great work. That said, just like OCP will continue to step up their work and ambition around a fairer and more open procurement process in the best interest of society, we will no doubt continue to improve People and Culture alongside that work.  That is in the OCP organisation’s ethos, and on ours, and it will be an important part of their continued growth, success and impact.

In Closing

We’ve really enjoyed working with the amazing team at OCP. They are role models of an organisation in the new economy – deeply purposeful, for social impact, and always focused on doing the best they can by society and their team.

As we worked alongside OCP, it has only solidified to us that THE future of HR, and the future of work, is all about democratizing design.

Happy Designing!