It Takes a Village: Open Source Software Sustainability

Arp, Laurie Gemmill; Forbes, Megan; Cartolano, Robert T.; Cramer, Tom; Kimpton, Michele; Skinner, Katherine; Whiteside, Ann Baird

This Guidebook is designed to serve as a practical reference source to help open source software programs serving cultural and scientific heritage organizations plan for long-term sustainability, ensuring that commitment and resources will be available at levels sufficient for the software to remain viable and effective as long as it is needed.

One of the most significant themes of this Guidebook is that sustainability is not a linear process, with set beginning and end points. Program sustainability shifts and evolves over time across a number of phases and facets. The phases speak to where a program is in its lifecycle: getting started, growing, or stable but not static. The facets describe the different components of sustainability, each of which is critical to overall program health, but may have different timelines, goals, and resource needs. The facets deemed
most critical by the Guidebook’s authors and contributors are: Governance, Technology, Resources (Financial and Human), and Community Engagement.

Sections of the Guidebook will: define the phases and facets of sustainability; identify goals, characteristics, and common roadblocks for each phase in each facet; provide guidance for moving an OSS program to the next phase in a given facet, with the understanding that the same program may be in different phases along different facets of sustainability; and highlight case studies and additional resources to help a program’s research and decision-making process.

The Guidebook is intended for a broad audience. While certain paths may be of more interest than others, we would recommend reading through each of the facets before returning to the one that aligns most closely with a specific role, e.g., governance for a program manager, technology for a technical lead, engagement for a community manager, or resources for an administrator. The worksheet in Appendix A can help identify the specific phase a program is in along each facet.

The open source landscape is wide and varied. Bringing open source programs serving cultural and scientific heritage together under one shared umbrella can provide us all with the power to better advocate for our needs, develop shared sustainability strategies, and provide our communities with the information needed to assess and contribute to the sustainability of the programs they depend on.


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March 8, 2018