It Takes a Village: Reflections on Fulcrum’s Sustainability Workshop

Article originally appeared on fulcrum.org

In late February 2019, the Fulcrum team invited Megan Forbes and Laurie Arp from LYRASIS to facilitate a workshop based on the “It Takes A Village Framework” guidebook.

The It Takes a Village project was funded in 2017 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to bring together open source programs serving cultural and scientific heritage to develop shared sustainability strategies, and to provide communities with the information needed to assess and contribute to the sustainability of the programs they depend on.

The main output of the project is a guidebook that is designed to serve as a practical reference source to help open source software (OSS) programs serving cultural and scientific heritage organizations plan for long-term sustainability. This sustainability effort includes ensuring that commitment and resources will be available at levels sufficient for the software to remain viable and effective as long as needed.

The sustainability workshop for Fulcrum was the first of its kind for the It Takes a Village project, based around the guidebook but providing a facilitated whole-team experience. Laurie and Megan crafted a thorough yet flexible agenda that spanned a day and half, covering the four facets of the framework: governance, technology, resources, and community engagement.

“We had a wonderful time working together with the Fulcrum team to put the ITAV principles into practice. It is rewarding to work with such a thoughtful and dedicated team, and we look forward to incorporating their feedback and ideas into future versions of ITAV workshops and guidebooks,” commented Megan and Laurie.

“It’s easy to get bogged down in the tactical issues of managing development time and money when building open source tools. ITaV offers an invaluable framework for taking a more holistic and balanced view, and the workshop was invaluable in allowing the whole team to step back and reflect on how far Fulcrum has come along the road to sustainability and identify the potholes we need to fill,” added Charles Watkinson, Associate University Librarian for Publishing at University of Michigan.

With the help of the LYRASIS team, we identified goals, characteristics, and common roadblocks for each phase in each facet. We came up with several questions that not only informed our progress in the workshop, but also our plan for moving forward in the coming months. A particular facet where we recognized a need to improve was our Governance structure, where we identified several key questions:

  • How can we better enunciate the values that can help us prioritize our work?
  • What form of priority roadmap can most effectively enlist non-technical internal stakeholders and our key external stakeholders in our development trajectory?
  • As a hosted service based at a single institution, we are in danger of becoming too product-focused and losing sight of our commitment to sharing. How can Fulcrum give back to the open source communities with which it works most effectively?
  • How can we make strategic decisions about Fulcrum’s future in a way that is less dependent on ideas of the grant co-PIs and more inclusive?
  • How can we keep our sustainability strategy “present” in our regular meetings rather than constantly engaged with short-term operational issues?

Our biggest takeaway was this: sustainability is about being responsive to one’s community. We spent a lot of time thinking about who our community is, how we can be more transparent with that community, how we can better understand their frustrations and needs, and how we can better consider our community when making decisions about our resources, technology development, and governance structure.

It was incredibly productive to bring the whole Fulcrum team together–something we had never done–and take a step back from the day to day tasks and look at the big picture in terms of sustainability of the platform. In the coming months, we plan to develop and release more information and documentation inspired by the ITaV meeting.