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OpenOil book made with Booktype provokes open knowledge on oil industry

We spoke with Zara Rahman from OpenOil, a transparency and governance organisation interested in creative, practical and socially progressive policy making in the oil and gas industries. She discusses their recent publication: Oil contracts, how to read and understand them. The book was published during a recent booksprint and the group used Booktype for both the production and post production. We were fortunate to speak with Zara who gave us her insights into the process as well as the projects outcomes and future.

KT: How were you involved in this project? What is your background and who were the influential members bringing this project together?

I've been working for OpenOil since it was founded last year. We convened the group of experts on the topic to come to Berlin and work with us on the booksprint. I participated actively in the booksprint as a target reader, and beforehand I coordinated the group and logistics. I'm currently working on outreach, making sure the book reaches the target audience, as well as looking at how the book can evolve into a larger project.

Can you tell me a little bit about the OpenOil group? How long has it been around, who is it comprised of and what are its interests?

We are a transparency and governance organisation, based in Berlin. We were founded in September 2011, by Johnny West, who has been working on oil governance issues for a few years now. We work on resource curse issues, trying to ensure that citizens of resource rich countries can see the benefits from their natural resources, through a variety of publishing, research, and training.

Why did you decide to write a book about the topic? Where did the initial idea come from and how did you come to use Booktype and the Book Sprint method of writing?

Increasingly across the world, contract transparency - ie, publishing contracts - is becoming a norm of best practice. However, until now there have been no tools available to the non expert to help them make sense of these contracts. People have been talking about the lack of non-specialist help in this area for a little while, and when Johnny West met Adam Hyde and found out about the booksprint method, the idea of writing a book on the topic was born!

How did you find the candidates to write the book?

There were a couple of candidates who sprung to mind immediately, and through them, other people were suggested. We wanted to have a wide range of candidates, in terms of professional experience as well as geographical background; so we had a couple of oil industry lawyers, development specialists, government negotiators and civil society activists all working together on the project. Each of the candidates came to Berlin from a different country too, so we definitely got a good geographical mix.

What was the process? Had you used Booktype or been involved in collaborative writing projects before? What was it like in terms of your past writing experiences?

It was very different to any writing experience I, or many of the other candidates, had experienced before! The idea of bringing together people from such different backgrounds to collaborate on writing a book seemed like a bit of a longshot beforehand, but as it turned out it worked wonderfully. It was much more interactive and involved actually working with other people, as rather than simply putting your chapter next to someone elses, people read and edited and reorganised chapters and blocks of text along the way.

Were there any hiccups along the way? How did the participants share and work together?

I think the method was a big change from the way in which most of the participants work normally, so it took a little adjusting at the very beginning! Most of the participants have a long background in the oil industry in some capacity, and many are by now more used to giving workshops rather than participating in them; it must have been a big change to sit down and work in a group rather than leading the group! It worked really well though, everyone was very respectful of others' opinions and people cooperated really well.

What were the outcomes of the project? Was it a success?

It was definitely a success, as now we have the first non-specialist guide to understanding oil contracts, complete with lovely illustrations! We had over 3,000 downloads in the first 3 weeks, and already the first two sections have been translated into Arabic, thanks to a civil society coalition group called Publish What You Pay. I'm writing this from Beirut, where I am here to do a workshop for members of their Yemeni and Iraqi coalition, on understanding oil contracts.

What are your impressions of using the software Booktype?

During the production stage, Booktype was wonderful - it was so user friendly and people got the hang of it straight away. It was incredibly useful to be able to compare versions of chapters, so you could see exactly how chapters had changed along the way. It was also good to be able to see what other people were working on, and to mark on each chapter at what stage of production it was at.

Post production, Booktype has been more work than we expected, as the process of formatting the book and exporting it from Booktype is quite involved and (if you have hiccups with the html as we did) - requires a fair bit of time investment, especially for an html novice such as myself!

Do you plan to do a project like this again? If so, when and for what?

Yes - we are looking now at running country-specific versions of the book, for example, "How to read and understand Tanzania's oil contracts" - so far we have had interest from organisations based in Nigeria, Kenya, Cambodia, Iraq (which we would probably run in Turkey), Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania... we hope 2013 will bring lots more booksprints!

You can also watch videos from some of the participants who discuss their viewpoints and perspective on the project. The video above features Herbert McLeod from Sierra Leone where he is an adviser to the president on extractives.