What’s Fueling the Open Source Community: A Readout from a Week of Open Source Events

At this time every year, open source software experts and supporters gather for a week of conferences, gatherings and talks to discuss the future of the open source services in supporting digital development. The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) sent representatives from our Platforms and Services team to Austin, Texas, to participate in the Community Leadership Summit, GrimoireCon, and the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, to learn and share our thoughts on the latest developments in the open source space.

The annual Community Leadership Summit (CLS) gathered community management professionals from around the world and from all types of sectors. The event is an “unconference,” allowing participants to customize the event and cover the most important open source community trends in depth. DIAL’s Director of Community Michael Downey participated in many roundtable talks and one-on-one conversations, learning about the latest work of leaders in the community management field.

As usual, CLS focused in part on the latest communication tools and technologies, but this year also renewed a sense of focus on improving diversity and inclusion through community practice and policy. The technology field at large has suffered for many years from a lack of inclusivity toward underrepresented groups. Open source software projects, frequently voluntary in nature, often fare even worse. While the nature of digital development means our open source projects are many times international by design, we can still do much better. Strong codes of conduct, incident response policies, and professional community management can help our field achieve a measured improvement in diversity.

The theme of evaluation & metrics continued at GrimoireCon, where a small group of data experts  gathered to explore the new GrimoireLab open source platform for community metrics. For many years, digital development projects — and open source software platforms in particular — have struggled to demonstrate impact to funders. Together with tools like GrimoireLab, increased thought and work on measuring how people use our tools to make life and work better will lead to both increased maturity and increased reach of donors’ investments, generating a more inclusive digital society along the way.

Michael Downey
DIAL’s Michael Downey attends a keynote talk at OSCON. Photo by O’Reilly Conferences is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

The final event of the week was the O’Reilly Media’s annual Open Source Convention, or OSCON. This year a group of over 2,000 open source contributors and supporters shared their knowledge and experiences. Supported by O’Reilly Media, the event included representatives from long-standing open source digital development projects also in attendance, including Open Data Kit, OpenMRS, and Apache Fineract (formerly Mifos). This year, positive trends showed increased interest in diversity and inclusion in the open source ecosystem — and were hot topics in the expo hall and session talks. Keynotes included representatives from private industry, such as Netflix and Huawei. In the public sector, staff from the White House Code.gov initiative explained how over 20 percent of federal government-funded software in the United States will be required to be published in its online repository of open source software projects.

Many OSCON sessions focused on IT infrastructure, with containerization once again being an exciting cutting-edge innovation topic. Tools supporting peripheral challenges in open source software development, such as measurement of success and better long-term sustainability were also highlighted extensively. Bitergia’s open source GrimoireLab platform was featured as a prominent example of this technology, and we look forward to leveraging it in our work here at DIAL.

Another frequent theme in failure of open source projects shared at OSCON was a lack of diverse support. Regardless of whether organizations “open source” their products by simply placing the code online and divesting their support, or if they try to maintain those projects without fostering a larger community, the demand for support from structures that provide technical and community guidance will increase.

These themes have strengthened the design of DIAL’s approach in providing services for ICT4D open source software projects. We’ve heard from many stakeholders and project maintainers about their key needs for sustainability. Importantly, we’ve heard loud and clear that it’s neither sustainable nor wise to “reinvent the wheel” with our work. That’s why we’re proud to be hard at work forging partnerships with key organizations who are doing important work in open source asset stewardship, legal affairs, IT infrastructure, and monitoring and evaluation. You’ll hear more from us soon about these partnerships, along with how we’ll complement them with a suite of professional open source project services such as engineering management and community management.

We also know it’s important for open source projects in the digital development space to better coordinate with each other, share funding opportunities, work toward better interoperability and reduce duplication effort within and across sectors. That’s why as part of our service we’ll be launching several advisory groups focused specifically on sustainability of projects in sectors like health, finance, agriculture and education. These groups will be highly collaborative and will include key projects and organizations in each sector, helping each other work toward long-term sustainability.

Over the next several weeks, keep an eye on the DIAL blog (as well as on Twitter and Facebook) to learn more about our work. We’re looking forward to sharing it with you, and to hear more of your feedback. Please keep it coming via social media or by contacting us.