Open Lunar Foundation was founded five years ago by a community committed to starting projects together towards a values-forward lunar future. As we have grown, we have iterated and improved our approach, and learned how to better empower our community to engage effectively.
This year we have worked to codify and clarify our process to multiply our impact, enhance our focus, engage more people, and provide more certainty, so our engine of innovation can thrive. This post will outline both this new approach and how we arrived at it.
How did we get here
For over five years, Open Lunar has been focussed on research and development into open infrastructure solutions to enable a positive lunar future. We have been workshopping, developing, funding, and directly building experimental initiatives in support of this goal. Examples include open sourcing lander designs, building an open lunar architecture, holding formal deliberate dialogs, and creating the Moon Dialogs, just to name a few.
Now we are formalizing our process for how we take something from idea to action.
It’s important to acknowledge that this maturation and evolution of Open Lunar’s approach doesn’t come without its vulnerable moments. Behind all our work lies many brave conversations and trade-offs. Our culture is creative and bold yet rigorous and disciplined. Everything we share in this blog post results from in depth consideration, committed supporters, and a willingness to experiment.
As we turned five, we conducted a deep review of the Foundation’s approach and impact to date. Lists of potential and current activities were ranked and scored and sorted. Assessments of impact on investment were reviewed by stakeholders. Our strengths, resources, positioning and other strategic situational awareness factors helped focus our attention on what to double down on and enhance as we sought to advance our mission.
Processes like this strengthen our resolve and since January we have been all systems go on our refined strategy.
Designing an Engine of Community Driven Innovation
Our innovation approach is grounded in creating stewardship. Open Lunar will provide sustainable support systems for projects that enhance cooperation and good governance of our lunar future. We are especially committed to developing institutions and services for the lunar community that demonstrate innovative governance models. Projects must advance resource governance, sustainability, and/or infrastructure.
Open Lunar projects have a life cycle: we’ve seen it over our first five years, and we are formalizing our support systems based on lessons learned. Our community coalesces around ideas that meet an impact criterion, and Open Lunar will support ideas to evolve into viable projects with technical and financial support.
Based on decades of evidence and experience, we attribute the design of our system to models such as Zaid Hassan’s Social Lab, Schmidt Futures’ “focussed research organization”, the work of Mariana Mazzucato, venture studios, mission labs, incubators and more. This approach builds on innovation frameworks established in both for-profit and non-profit accelerators and applies that model to support challenges designed to advance change at a more macro ‘field’ level. In this blog, we are explaining it publicly for the first time.
Here’s how it works
First, we’ll work with experts from around the world – we call them Affiliates - to source ideas to advance lunar stewardship. This idea generation process is the top of the funnel entry point for Open Lunar’s contributions to the sector. We will write more about how stakeholders can get involved with this in a future post. These ideas will be published in an open and transparent way. A subset of these ideas will be prioritized, in collaboration with our Affiliates, for further development.
We have hunches
Our next step is to further develop prioritized ideas. We call these prioritized ideas “hunches”. A hunch needs some dedicated time and effort to understand how it could create impact. To do this, Open Lunar will support six to eight month research fellowships. Fellows can come from anywhere in the world. A hunch might have more than one fellow working on it!
Open Lunar plans to invest in 3 hunches a year as a baseline. In the past we’ve been honoured to have support from funding partners, like MoonDAO and Celestial Citizen, to Fund a Fellow which allows us to expand this work, and we’ll continue to seek this support.
In many cases, the result of a fellowship will be an output summarizing the results of the research. Commonly this will be a research paper, but it could also be a business or non-profit proposal, a CONOPS for a mission, a draft technical standard, or even a summarized body of research. Results will be released online with open-to-attend launch events, where a wider community will have a chance to discuss them. Two examples of this are our Registry and Time Keeping white papers presented in April of this year.
This is where it gets interesting. Open Lunar will work with our community to assess the results of this work and consider whether it merits further development. A subset of our community will be invited to take on the work of evaluating the potential impact of the work. Its timeliness relative to other opportunities, and a myriad of factors to determine what receives further investment.
Work that doesn’t progress isn’t bad, it might be excellent but not timely, or we might discover that it isn’t what we thought it was in terms of potential impact or relevance, or it might simply be a complete contribution at this stage. All of these are good outcomes in that they advance the body of knowledge shared by the community. We can also come back to our hunches in the future, or others might choose to progress them without our involvement.
We call hunches that advance to the next stage ‘concepts’. Concepts are a kind of adolescence in a project’s lifecycle, where we take the lessons learned from our hunch research and then build out a more formal concept design. This is an operational design phase, where we would look at explaining in detail the implementation resources necessary to execute a demonstration of the project. It is a period where we test sector readiness, fundability, and explore what team is needed. The result would be a proposal that is ready for funding. Our Lunar Registry hunch, for example, is now moving forward as a Concept, and will be up for review at the end of the year as to whether it advances further.
Concepts mature into Initiatives. Initiatives are the first step outside the Open Lunar ecosystem and towards becoming an independent body. At this point, their relationship to Open Lunar changes significantly. Initiatives have an independent lead who receives annual grants and reports every six months against milestones.
Their ultimate goal is to deliver on impact aligned with Open Lunar’s mission. We may choose to fund initiatives in house for extended periods if we see impact. We may also stop funding initiatives where the timing isn’t right for impact, and then return to them later. Part of the reality of investing in focussed research is that the outcomes are uncertain. What’s important is that we provide a consistent signal that there is sustained contribution to dedicated lunar research.
With each phase— Idea to Hunch, Hunch to Concept, Concept to Initiative— we apply rigorous examination and further support. Support looks like wrap-around care such as coaching and mentorship, project management, access to network and institutional backing. Support is also financial: the level of investment approximately doubles when a project advances to the next phase.
The value of this model is a simple and predictable operating approach. By simplifying how we support ideas, we free up space to invest in engaging experts in generating new ideas. We also make Open Lunar an organization that is easy to understand and partner with. This approach also fosters accountability in all aspects of our work, and incentivises intellectual honesty about where impact is created.
In the coming months, you’ll see more about how we are putting this model into practice. The model itself is an experiment, and we will be very open to feedback as we iterate on it over time.
How to Engage with Open Lunar
Community is central to this model. Open Lunar has a strong community built out over years of engagement. A subset of this community will be convened as Affiliates. At first, Affiliates will be subject-matter experts in fields aligned with research currently being undertaken by Open Lunar. Over time, Affiliates will come to represent a diverse, interdisciplinary approach.
This means drawing on expertise in fields that are both aligned with Open Lunar’s mission and relevant to lunar exploration, but that may not specifically focus on space at all. Examples of areas of expertise could include peace building and de-conflicting, technical communications and governance, nature conservation and sustainability, international policy and geopolitics, among others.
Affiliates will support Open Lunar in engaging with their respective communities to identify potential ideas that can advance the notion of lunar stewardship. They will also help nurture our existing projects and make decisions about what projects to support. This will be a volunteer position and Affiliates should plan to spend about four hours a month on engagement with the community, plus occasional deeper dives to support development of specific projects.
As we establish this new way of working, we are eager to hear from our community what’s working well, what isn’t, what you would like to see more of. Please get in touch with anyone on our team to offer your feedback and ideas.
This is all part of our effort to establish predictability and transparency around what we are working on and, importantly, why. The “Why” behind Open Lunar informs our theory of impact. How will our work shift the lunar future? How can we measure success? I’ll be writing more about that, and how our new model relates to it, in the coming months.