Fwd: Steering committee being disbanded?

I just saw this:

No longer relevant since the steering committee is being disbanded.

Is there any more context available? Was there any discussion before the decision was made?

What will the new governance structure look like?


Hi Tom,

Thanks for bringing this up. I very much think that much more transparency is needed on this topic, and I have been trying to encourage those discussions (which happened so far between the advisory committee and with @Sandra when she was project director) to take place in public.

We set up the advisory and steering committees back when we joined CS&S at the end of 2019. We created those two committees to adopt the sort of default gouvernance structure of CS&S projects.

The steering committee has stayed mostly dormant. The idea with this committee was to have a panel of high-profile people who could advise the project’s general direction, help us knock on the right doors with partners and funders, and so on.
After a few years of operation, it is clear that we have failed to set up the right structure for this committee to meet regularly and for the advisory committee to solicit their feedback enough to make the committee useful.
Hence the interest in cleaning up our gouvernance structures and removing this dormant committee.

At the same time, the advisory committee concentrates too much power and operates in a too opaque way. There is an interest among the current members of that committee (@Martin, @Ainali and I) to reduce the committee’s role to the strict necessary (being formally responsible for the project within CS&S, signing documents…) and creating a more open structure to deal with strategic decisions such as which grant applications to write.

Sandra initiated a move in this direction, which intended to set up an ambassadors’ council. It would draw its members from our user community, representing each sub-community’s interests (such as librarians, journalists, wikimedians…) within the project. Now that Sandra has left this role, the advisory committee has taken over the task of pushing for this, and we have kept this process internal mostly by inertia (in my opinion). I wish this had made more progress but for now we are quite slow.

Overall I have to say that I am quite uncomfortable with the current situation, where I am the only link between those gouvernance structures and the developer community, which gradually diverge from each other. Some months ago, I have offered to leave the advisory committee because of that, as a way of making sure that the committees would then need to really make an effort to explicitly involve the developer community in their operations. Others did not think it was a good move.

This is my personal view on the current situation. I’d be very interested to know what others think of it and what gouvernance structures they wish for OpenRefine.

Thanks for the background. That’s very helpful. I agree that more transparency is needed and am kind of surprised that Code for Science & Society isn’t strongly advocating, if not insisting, on it. Out of curiosity, what is their role in governance? Are they completely hands off as long as you follow their financial reporting requirements?

It strikes me that the advisory committee is misnamed, since there’s nothing “advisory” about it - it controls ALL operational decisions related to the project, including, and especially, financial decisions. A name which aligns with common usage in the rest of the industry like “Project Management Committee” or something similar might make its function more obvious.

Having a tiny group of 3 that only meets in private, controls all funding, and only reports out what they deem “necessary” seems like a recipe for disaster to me. At a minimum, there should be minutes published with attendance, recorded vote tallies, financial distributions made, etc.

One advantage to having a higher level group, whether it be called a Steering Committee, Customer Advisory Board, Ambassadors, or something else, is that it can provide strategic vision, in addition to oversight of the group making day-to-day operational decisions. There are any number of how-to’s on setting up and running Customer Advisory Boards - https://duckduckgo.com/?q=customer+advisory+board Heck, they even have a conference.

One could look for other examples of governance structures like Python, Apache, Eclipse, or Wikimedia, but those are all of vastly different scale than OpenRefine which only has a very few active developers at any given time. I think it’s important that the governance structures be scaled to the size and needs of the organization. I also think it’s important that the governance reflect the importance of volunteers and users, and not be solely focused on extracting money from grant making organizations and paying it to professional developers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of most open source communities.

Another dimension which might be worth explicitly considering is commercial and large scale non-profit organizations which have an interest in OpenRefine like Ontotext, RefinePro, Wikidata, etc.

I can do some research on potentially appropriate governance structures, but I’m sure others in the community have suggestions as well. A first step might be to think about the desired goals for such a structure.


@tfmorris It feels as if you want to make things more loose and informal, but that worries me in 2 areas that I think we should always have clearly defined, documented, and available for users to see on our website itself (the most visible of the OpenRefine project resources).

It seems important, no matter the structures, at any point in OpenRefine’s life, that we always have an up-to-date documented process (a document) and a group(any kind) mentioned in it, to handle:

  1. controversies that need to be resolved.

    • code of conduct team
    • project leadership/management committee (PLC, PMC)
      • financials/funding team
  2. technical objections

    • technical advisors team

In WHATWG it is broadly described in a FAQ bullet (but they have Policies):

Who controls the WHATWG?

The community working there. Living Standards are informed by input from contributors, driven by workstream participants, articulated by editors, and coordinated by the Steering Group. If necessary, controversies are resolved by the Steering Group with members appointed from the organizations that develop browser engines, as a backstop to ensure the editor’s judgment aligns with what they will implement. Substantive technical objections are considered and resolved by the Steering Group, consistent with the principles of the WHATWG.

As a user and community member, I would like to see at a minimum a lightweight document that tells me where/who to address those two (2) categories above would be great (and perhaps it should not even be the GOVERNANCE.md document but instead refer to it). 1. is for anything not related to technical objections, such as this very thread opened by @tfmorris. I assume that the entity that is addressing this is currently the “Advisory Committee” with @antonin_d wearing that hat and replying. But these kinds of things should be more clear, so that we can always know which group/entity is handling 1. or 2. and if the issue is in category 1. or 2.

Many of the SFC projects (not saying they are better or worse) have a page that details their Governance really well, and a Teams page.
As a user and community member, I would like to see a place on the OpenRefine website that has not just links, but the display of the Governance and Teams policies and where they have links for private or public discussion (this forum and it’s channels). This can help new users navigate much better.
The Governance page should have a link to email privately at a minimum to address controversies in 1.
The Teams page could have links to the Forum channels that are appropriate (or create them as needed) to address objections for 2.

NOTE: Notice also above that the Code of Conduct team is not under the PLC, PMC hierarchy for very good reason.

Thanks for listening (whichever “hat” is listening to me as a user with general governance concerns).

@tfmorris It feels as if you want to make things more loose and informal,

Sorry if I gave that impression. That wasn’t my intention. I think the weight of structures and mechanisms should match the scale of the organization / community, but I totally think things should be clearly defined, well documented, and not “loose” at all. Formality should match the weight of the decision. For many decisions, lazy consensus on the mailing list is fine. For major decisions, minuted recorded votes are needed, as I suggested above.

One thing I noticed buried in the SFC Code of Conduct policy is an implied “Project Leadership Committee” for SFC projects. Does OpenRefine have a PLC? Who’s on it? The SFC defines it as ‘PLCs are comprised of volunteers, academics, and industry professionals that represent a Project’s community and make decisions about a Project’s technical direction (“PLC Persons”).


From my understanding, CS&S can accommodate with pretty much any gouvernance model for the project as long as there is a designated, relatively small team of people who are responsible for the project within CS&S (which is currently the role of the advisory committee). I am not familiar with the gouvernance structure of SFC projects but it sounds like it could be similar to their PLCs in some ways.

I think drawing ideas from other projects is very sensible. I think for something like this, it is easy to get things wrong and experience is the only true test of whether a particular structure works well or not.

Thanks for opening the topic @tfmorris

Our governance document reflects how the community operates. In addition, I open #5625 to fix broken links and reflect the project director status.

The relationship between OpenRefine and CS&S is defined in the CS&S Sponsorship Policies Agreement (CS&S template matched what OpenRefine signed during the onboarding process). The document coined the term Advisory Committee (even if it confuses everyone) and basic governance rules. As @antonin_d pointed out, we have a lot of flexibility in creating our structure.

The goal for 2023 is to rebuild the Ambassador Council as the governance body. It will be up to the Ambassador Council to decide how the project should be governed. The advisory committee plan to communicate in more detail in the coming weeks on how we want to approach the launch of the Ambassador Council.