OSSci as a c6? Response to Paul Ivanov's Post

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In response to: NumFOCUS concerns

I joined NumFOCUS nearly a year ago. My role is as the program manager for the Open Source Science Initiative. To clarify briefly (because this comes up so often): I do not and have never worked for IBM. For the past 10 years I have been a leader of and contributor to various science-based open source projects, nonprofits, and startups. Nothing against IBM… great people at IBM… I’m just not one of them =).

Now, from my perspective, and this might seem odd to some, but I am thrilled that Paul released his post – that this conversation is taking place. Yes, we all need to keep our frustration, defensiveness, and passion in check, but this type of difficult, open, public discussion is what makes open source strong. The proactive facilitation of this type of discourse on frustrations that clearly exist for a reason is why NumFOCUS is and will remain a leader in this space.

There are two parts to this response. First some level-setting and summarization. Second, a take on what a c6 might look like from OSSci’s perspective. Part two is meant to be a fun additive element to the discourse – though maybe that’s only for me as an organizing/management geek.


Let’s distill the discussion so far into what I am seeing as the two main points:

  1. NumFOCUS is an enigma.
    • What is NumFOCUS?
    • What is the vision?
    • How do NumFOCUS actions manifest that vision?
    • What are the strategic goals?
    • How are initiatives executed?
    • How does oversight occur?
    • What discussions and decisions are taking place, and how can the community get involved?
      • Note here that this question is not about the many channels NumFOCUS has for day-to-day communication and operations. This aspect is handled beautifully by the NumFOCUS staff. This question is about the higher organization-level discussions and decisions.

I will admit, even after being employed for a year, I share some of these same questions. I know many others do as well.

  1. NumFOCUS is a miracle.
    • NumFOCUS is a beacon and umbrella for over 120 science-based open source projects. One hundred. And Twenty.
    • NumFOCUS is the 4th largest revenue producing entity in the open source space at 9+ million USD
    • This, despite having had a staff of under 5 for nearly the entire existence of the organization (being remedied!)
    • This, despite severely suffering brand recognition (being remedied!)
    • This, despite the number 1 revenue producing entity having a whopping 177 million USD, and the number 2 and 3 entities having a combined 75 million USD

I believe to discount NumFOCUS – to ignore all the work over the past decade+, to ignore the current position and potential of the organization – would be a spectacular mistake.

Let’s now acknowledge two very obvious negative realities related to NumFOCUS as an organization:

  1. There are operational bottlenecks; some things take a long time. This should be obvious in that one of the largest projects under the umbrella has outpaced our rate of growth and is seeking support from more established organizations. This is both amazing – congrats to their success! – while also concerning. NumFOCUS should have recognized their needs sooner and moved immediately to provide them the support they need.

  2. We have been failing to meet the communication, transparency, and governance needs of a portion of the community; This should be obvious by the fair, detailed, and supported criticisms outlined in the recent post, as well as through anecdotes, feedback, and any negative interactions NumFOCUS and staff has experienced over the years.

Let’s now acknowledge two very obvious positive realities related to NumFOCUS as an organization:

  1. We have succeeded in supporting a significant portion of the open source community. This should be obvious in that we continue to grow and experience great enthusiasm from many people and projects, and around some of the directions in which we are moving.

  2. The people employed by NumFOCUS are some of the hardest working, kindest, most genuine people. This should be obvious by the responses of the team to some fairly passionate and frustrated communication of issues, as well as through the day-to-day dedication to supporting the projects under the NumFOCUS umbrella.

Let’s add some background context:

  1. The open movement is struggling to transition its philosophy and value into a fully sustainable and mature ecosystem. Open source is everywhere, but funding, support, and public understanding of this reality is fleeting. Open access has won many battles, but still the way forward seems uncertain. Open data is on its way toward a government mandate at this point, but the infrastructure to enable it does not exist. Open education is gaining steam, but mentorship programs and internships are not going to scale as we need. Open economics has presented a plethora of novel incentive and system designs, but nothing has yet been proven stable. And so on.

  2. The organizational support system in open source is sparse and consolidated. As mentioned above, the number one organization has 177 million USD in revenue, more than every other organization combined. Every organization that currently exists is amazing, particularly the #1, but objectively, a healthy ecosystem demands a robust array of organizations with specialized services, perspectives, and choices for people and projects.

  3. Despite these problems, or perhaps because of them, interest in the open movement, and open source in particular, is increasing exponentially; For any focused and organized entity or collective, there is ample opportunity to make significant positive change in the world.

Let’s discuss:

First, I believe both negative realities are being actively addressed – to me, the c6, the recent and continuing increase in staffing, the addition of roles dedicated to fundraising and marketing, and the creation of OSSci are all steps toward operational growth. At the same time, the development of the c6 is moving slowly and is shrouded in mystery. I believe that this is a result of an overburdened volunteer-based board and stems from some of the legacy operational issues of NumFOCUS as an organization. I suppose the idea of a c6 is what I’m excited for. The execution of that c6 will define whether that excitement persists.

The c6 and OSSci are also endeavors that force strategic introspection from the organization, something that I already see is greatly benefiting NumFOCUS.

In this regard, and lacking any information on the formation of the NumFOCUS c6, let’s have some fun and explore what OSSci turning into a c6 might look like. Below is the scaffold for a vision, strategy, and revenue, and governance model of such a hypothetical organization. Tear it to shreds, add to it, remove from it, and reassemble however you’d like. Nothing here is actually happening (though OSSci and NumFOCUS do do many of these things already). This is just to start a discussion that pushes action forward in the hopes that the formation of a NumFOCUS c6 doesn’t stall-out, take years to instantiate, or manifest without sufficient community feedback.

The Open Source Science Initiative

Like, a c6?

The Vision

OSSci operates as the central nexus for three core communities—open science practitioners, open source projects, and open source contributors—facilitating connections among them while also engaging with external stakeholders across academia, industry, government, and more. This nexus nurtures a mycelium that supports and interlinks the activities and aspirations of all involved. Ultimately, OSSci aims to empower an ecosystem that drives the development and sustainability of science-based open source tools while enhancing the collaborative capabilities of the scientific community at large.

How do we support our three core communities?

Open Science Practitioners

OSSci supports open science practitioners from academic institutions, corporations, and citizen science initiatives by serving as a knowledge hub and entry point to the vast ecosystems of open source and open science. We help identify relevant open source tools, provide forums for inter- and intra-community dialogue, and offer tailored educational resources and training for open source use and career advancement in open science. We also leverage the global network of our three core communities to facilitate impactful collaborations, offer visibility and leadership opportunities, and assist in navigating the open science publication, impact, and funding environment.

Open Source Projects

OSSci aids open source projects incubated within various environments—academia, industry, or the broader open source community. We offer visibility through our platforms, connect projects with potential contributors, funders, and users, and provide consulting services on project growth and governance. We find core projects for emerging tools before they become abandonware, help identify productive collaborations and partnerships within the tooling ecosystem, and work to ensure a healthy, robust network that stabilizes access to the complete life-cycle for all science-based open source projects.

Open Source Contributors

OSSci supports open source contributors by providing platforms for collaboration, education, and professional development. It enhances contributor reputation and helps establish their professional track records through a variety of networking opportunities such as connections with a global community of peers, collaborators, and potential project partners. OSSci boosts contributor visibility within the scientific and open source communities through platforms that showcase contributions and achievements, offers tailored educational content and upskilling opportunities, and provides practical experiences through internship, placement, and consulting opportunities.

Services OSSci Would Offer the Markets

Exposure and Visibility

  • Social Media
  • Community Newsletter
  • Members/sponsored Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Podcast and other media

Community and Connections

  • Mycelium Tap
  • DEI/Upskilling/Internship Mentorship
  • Jobs Board
  • Interest/Working Groups
  • Directed Feedback Services
  • Facilitated Connection/Collaboration Services
  • Events (tooling based)
  • Events (domain specific)
  • Events and Local Community Support

Consultation and Pathways to Growth

  • Maintainer/Developer/Manager Placement
  • Software Use Consultation
  • Governance Consulting
  • Open Source Project/Community Growth Consulting
  • 101 “How to Use Open Source in Your Open Science Research”
  • Educational and Training Programs

Understanding of the Ecosystem and Knowledge Sharing

  • The Map of Open Source Science

Governance of the c6

OSSci core membership is categorized into three main types: open science practitioners, open source projects, and open source contributors, with free memberships for those who are active and contributing to the three core communities of OSSci. In addition to core members, there are corporate members, academic members, and others. Non-core members are those who have provided funding to OSSci for their memberships. While corporate and academic members are privileged with a seat at the table, their influence can not override that of an aligned core member constituency. This balance allows OSSci to maintain financial stability while ensuring community-driven decision-making, aligning with its vision to advance open science through open source collaborations.

So that’s a very brief stab at what a c6 might look like. I’m not sure if any of it is even possible as a c6? But it’s somewhere to start. I’m very curious as to what y’all think!

And again, we need to keep having these hard conversations in a positive direction; if the conversation stops after a few exchanges, I fear the most extreme outcome. The frustrations in the wider community are very real and substantiated. Let’s continue to explore them and build outputs that move toward actionable solutions.

I don’t understand how the c6 would change the list of services provided. Other than paid consulting all of these services are available from NumFOCUS today. Additionally, isn’t OSSci a project of NumFOCUS, wouldn’t opening a OSSci c6 conflict with the current NumFOCUS mission?

More fundamentally, Paul and others are saying NumFOCUS is not communicating and servicing the projects needs. Before creating a governance process that tacked on the end, there most definitely should be an understanding of the underlying economics. These things need to be fully explained and the connections made. If the community feels that the current core mission isn’t being met, i.e. fiscal services, then adding a new consulting service seems likely to add more delays.

Yes! A lot of the services in this hypothetical scenario are already in some form provided by NumFOCUS. Solidifying their purpose and execution is very important before adding anything new. To Paul’s, others’, and your point, we might need to identify the services projects need and communicate how we execute on plans to meet them, who is accountable for each, and where to host discussions on the successes and challenges for each one.

A point of clarity that might have failed to come across from the post:

I’m not proposing anything, especially that OSSci become a c6. I am just using OSSci as an example because there is no post on what a NumFOCUS c6 might look like.

Just to be super clear here: Nothing in the post is actually happing, and none of it is a proposal to do anything specific, and NumFOCUS (with OSSci and PyData as programs within it, for example) already provide a lot of the services listed.

The point here is to open the door for discussion with a substantive hypothetical to talk about.

To that end, I very much agree with your points. Maybe it would be of benefit to highlight exactly which services NumFOCUS provides, and the operational structure behind each one. From there, we might be able to identify where gaps exist, and how NumFOCUS might fill those in.