Breaking it Open: How One Firm is Taking their Consulting Practice Open

Rob Cottingham (Social Signal), Alexandra Samuel (Social Signal)
Location: D138
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(3.33, 3 ratings)

Last fall, Social Signal principals Alexandra Samuel and Rob Cottingham took a hard look at our company, and realized something.

While we’d been telling clients for years to be as open and free with information as possible, we’d been doing the opposite with Social Signal’s intellectual property. Like any good consultant, we were keeping our tools and methodologies under lock and key – away from the eyes of competitors, but also away from people who could be putting those tools to good use.

So we began a process that turned the consulting model on its head. Instead of keeping our knowledge under wraps, we published it. We not only tolerated the idea that competitors might adopt our tools and potential clients might DIY instead of hiring us, but welcoming it. And we started with our flagship service, the workshop-centered Concept Jam.

Everything went online: templates, annotated PowerPoint decks, how-tos, scripts, reports and more.

Participants in this workshop will hear about what worked for us, and where we ran aground. They’ll learn the same hard lessons we learned about how much work it can be to document a resource to the point where it’s genuinely useful to others. And they’ll hear the surprising outcome: that far from wiping out demand for the Concept Jam, our initiative – dubbed Open SoSi – dramatically increased inquiries and leads, not to mention goodwill and our reputation.

We’ll work with the audience to draw out practical steps for any business hoping to harness open-sourced methodologies to their sales process. And we’ll hope to inspire others to free their internal IP, especially in emerging fields where sharing information can help all of us succeed.

Photo of Rob Cottingham

Rob Cottingham

Social Signal

For 18 years, Social Signal president Rob Cottingham has worked with senior strategic levels of government, business and advocacy organizations to help them engage with audiences – in both the digital and offline worlds.

Pioneering in the online arena comes naturally to Rob, who launched his first web site in 1995. He built one of the earliest party leadership candidate web sites in Canada, launched the country’s first online political game, and oversaw the creation of an ambitious anti-tobacco website targeted to youth years before similar efforts became ubiquitous.

Rob is a seasoned communications strategist and accomplished speechwriter, and his powerful copy and concepts for ads and collateral have won international awards.

Rob believes strongly in sharing his skills and knowledge. An engaging and entertaining presenter, Rob has provided training and facilitation to government departments, political parties and conferences on everything from basic Internet skills to online advocacy.

Rob maintains a long-running blog on technology and public affairs at He draws the popular Noise to Signal web cartoon, has been a regular freelance contributor to CBC Radio and performs in a variety of venues as a standup comic.

Alexandra Samuel

Social Signal

Alexandra Samuel is the CEO of Social Signal, a Vancouver-based company that builds online communities for nonprofit, government and business clients. Alex has guided the online strategy for some of the web’s most ambitious community ecosystems, including Change Everything and NetSquared. This work builds on her years of consulting, research and writing on online community and civic participation by harnessing the latest generation of web tools to the challenge of community engagement.

In 2004, Alex received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University. Her dissertation examined the phenomenon of hacktivism – politically motivated computer hacking – as a window on how and why people engage in online community action. Alex interviewed more than fifty programmers and activists worldwide, tracking their motivations for participating in projects ranging from circumventing China’s online censorship scheme to creating a parody of the WTO web site at

Alex has a history of leadership in envisioning the Internet’s potential as a tool for community-building. She is a member of the advisory board for DotOrganize, a project that has mapped the non-profit sector’s technology needs. In 2001 she co-founded DO-Consult, the world’s leading forum for researchers and practitioners in online consultation and public engagement. As the Research Director for Digital 4Sight’s Governance in the Digital Economy, Alexandra created and guided an investigation into the future of government and democracy for a consortium of twenty governments and businesses from around the world. Previously, she researched online social capital for Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, and co-founded one of Canada’s first online political forums.

Alex’s writing on technology issues has appeared in media outlets like the Toronto Star, CBC Radio, Business 2.0, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work on topics like RSS, tagging and online engagement is accessible on her blog.

Alexandra holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University and a B.A. in Politics from Oberlin College.

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