We sometimes ask ourselves 'what is it all for?' Not every day, but every now and then. And how we answer determines what we do next.
We often advise our clients in any sector to work on mission and vision statements: they define what you do and can guide the way you communicate with your audiences. Perhaps more importantly, they are something for everyone in your organisation to get behind and potentially free you up to change direction entirely in the future. But coming up with one yourself is never easy...
We felt that our existing statements were too wordy. We have a good idea of who we are but in spelling it out we had become overprecise. So our first step was to reduce the statements to basic ideas: we sat together as a group and wrote on a board words that we associate with ourselves and our clients, our work and our goals. We then tried to divide these broadly into things that pertain to our vision of the future (or things that are timeless for us) and things that relate to what we do at the moment (our mission). At times we struggled to keep the two categories distinct, but the discussion itself helped us form stronger company agreement on the use of non-open source software and when we travel by plane!
Ordering these words into sentences in good English was also tricky. The previous set had felt as though they'd been compiled by a committee (they had) so we asked one person to come up with suggestions. We put three more short meetings in the calendar, each a week apart and between the meetings we pinned up the draft versions around the office.
From our conversations, two surprising things emerged. We realised that most of our work is helping clients to communicate better with their audiences. We work primarily with Drupal as we build websites and other systems that are integral to this communication and other specific technical operations. However, our emphasis on discovering and prioritising interactions can have a wide range of outcomes. Secondly, and even more fundamentally, we imagined a situation in which we were doing something else - not websites, not computers, not design. (Ceramics and goat farming were mentioned!) Could we still be 'Agile Collective'? This was partly inspired by the Worker Co-op weekend we attended in May, where we discussed the idea that the way we do things, and how we are constituted, is as important to us as what we do. Although a change of direction is not on the cards and would require substantial reskilling, it was a good reminder that being a cooperative and helping create a better living environment for ourselves and our communities is an important part of who we are. When running up against deadlines it can be easy to forget, but our vision is more than just making the best websites possible.
In realising this, our vision statement became a lot clearer. We are not going to talk about what we will look like in five years' time; instead we will say what we want to see in the world in which we operate. How we help achieve this can wait for the mission. This left us with a grand set of ambitions but, why not? The reason we are in business is to help contribute to the world. And we wanted something that would inspire us.
Our vision is of:
An environmentally secure and equitable society in which people own their work, technology is open source and business is conducted transparently and fairly.
This left us agreeing that our mission - i.e. what we are doing now to help realise the vision - is:
To provide high quality, creative digital services to socially positive organisations, using open source, agile and cooperative principles.
We are perhaps lucky that there are existing frameworks that guide us. By aligning ourselves with open source, the agile methodology, and the principles of cooperation we are able to refer to the way we work in a form of shorthand. In our vision statement, 'open source' refers to the philosophy of achieving better products through collaboration, whereas in the mission we are thinking more of the practical advantages to our clients of working with code that is not owned by one company.
These statements are mainly intended for us to use internally but they will form the basis of our external communication. One of the more helpful sites we consulted for advice during this process suggested that you can produce a combined mission and vision statement; in our case this would be a bit of a mouthful and we imagine a more friendly explanation of who we are, being more expansive about how we work and why. In the meantime, we've added it as a message whenever we push to gitlab :)