Proposition for the Ambassador Council

Following the initial thread regarding the proposition to create an ambassador council and the steering committee being disbanded, the Advisory Committee is seeking your help in defining the role of the Ambassador Council.

Throughout 2022, we developed the concept of the Ambassador Council as a group that would help steer the project’s future. This post delves into further detail on how the Ambassador Council would function and the type of participants we are seeking. At this stage, we are seeking community feedback on the proposal outlined below.

Goals of the ambassador council

We aim for the Ambassador Council to achieve four goals:

  1. The Ambassador Council should represent OpenRefine’s diverse community, both geographically and across different communities.

  2. The ambassador council will clarify who makes non-technical decisions regarding the project. Currently, that power rests with the Advisory Committee, but it should reside with the community. The Ambassador Council will be responsible for day-to-day decisions concerning grant administration (within the grant’s scope), fund allocation, new grant applications, hiring, establishing partnerships, and implementing changes to OpenRefine’s governance.

  3. Members of the Ambassador Council will serve as one point of contact between their respective communities and OpenRefine. The project member can seek their feedback to understand better how their community uses the software. Their ambassador title helps to identify them as representatives of OpenRefine.

  4. The Ambassador Council serves as a means to acknowledge community leaders while facilitating the emergence of new leaders. We envision the Ambassador Council as a growth track for identifying future Advisory Committee members or Project Managers. It will coexist with other methods of recognizing participants, such as promotion to a Committers role.


We expect individuals to demonstrate long-term commitment, allowing them to participate in initiatives over several months.

Members are encouraged to attend Ambassador Council meetings at least once a month and actively engage with the community on our forum.

Example of questions and topics the group will be working on:

Below are some topics the current Advisory Committee has addressed in the last 24 months. We would like the Ambassador Council to take ownership of these subjects. Their implementation can be supported by other volunteers, or OpenRefine paid resources (developers or project manager).

  • How should we spend the diversity-focused software development budget (see thread) or extra budget from the EOSS-5 grant?
  • How should we manage the OpenRefine roadmap?
  • Are there any organizations we should closely collaborate with? Are there grants we should apply for?
  • What should the first OpenRefine BarCamp look like?
  • What should be the process for renewing the Ambassador and Advisory Committee?
  • How do we manage user invitations and privilege revocations in the forum and GitHub organization?

Ambassador Council members may also volunteer to participate in specific, more time-intensive tasks, including:

  • Participating in a hiring committee.
  • Assisting with grant writing and reporting.
  • Managing the internship program.
  • Organizing a group of volunteers for specific tasks (e.g., recording new explainer videos, social media management, translation).
  • Representing OpenRefine at events.

What’s coming up next

We want your feedback on the proposal.

  • What are your thoughts on the suggested goals?

    • Would you add more responsibilities to this new group?
    • Is there a topic where you would like to see them involved?
    • Does the new group have too much or too little authority over non-technical matters? What would you add or remove?
  • Do you have any additional ideas for fostering leadership within the community?

    • What measures should be in place to ensure transparency and accountability within the Ambassador Council’s activities?
    • How can the Ambassador Council best facilitate communication and collaboration with the community members?
  • Regarding the topics and tasks outlined for the Ambassador Council,

    • Are there other tasks the Ambassador Council should take on?
    • Are there any initiatives that you think we should prioritize?
    • Are we expecting too much from the participants?
  • Would you be interested in joining such a committee?

You can publicly provide feedback on this forum or contact me at or by scheduling a call from this page. I will also reach out directly to those who already express interest via the 2022 annual survey or other channels.

The ambassador council will clarify who makes non-technical decisions regarding the project. Currently, that power rests with the Advisory Committee, but it should reside with the community. The Ambassador Council will be responsible for day-to-day decisions concerning grant administration (within the grant’s scope), fund allocation, new grant applications, hiring, establishing partnerships, and implementing changes to OpenRefine’s governance.

As I have written before, I am skeptical about this. Day to day decisions are best made by a smaller group of people who are more familiar with the project's operations. Liaising with particular user communities is great but that's a very different task and I don't see why it should fall on the shoulders of the same people - especially if they are new to the project. Even just the term "Ambassador" feels at odds with the executive function.

Overall, I think this urge to create this committee comes from our (or at least my) anxiousness about being in a leadership position, not feeling legitimate about it and struggling to take decisions because of that. I think there are better ways to tackle this issue.

I think those are great questions that can simply be discussed on the forum or other open spaces. I don't see why we need to create a committee for those. I don't think the advisory committee should feel bad about enacting decisions that come out of such discussions.

Overall I think we definitely can and should get better at asking for feedback and input. But that is not the same thing as outsourcing leadership (which feels like an oxymoron).

The problem with the Steering Committee wasn't its name (well, the name was confusing), but the fact that it wasn't managed and utilized effectively. There's an art to effectively running advisory committees and getting useful input from them (that's advisory committees in the traditional sense, not OpenRefine's misnamed version).

The proposed Ambassador Council sounds like a confusing mix of high level strategy and day-to-day decision making. I agree with Antonin's reservation about having a new, larger, group of unknown composition making decisions about things they know little about.

I think it'd be worth taking a step back and thinking about what the goals for the governance structure are. Which relationships are advisory? Which are reporting 9ie controlling) relationships? How many levels/groups are really needed?

In a traditional corporate structure employees report directly or indirectly to the CEO, who reports to the Board of Directors. Day-to-day decisions are delegated down the chain of command, but ultimately the CEO is responsible to the BOD. The BOD is responsible for setting, or at least approving, strategic direction. If there's a Customer Advisory Board, Scientific Advisory Board, their advice is (hopefully) valuable, but totally optional.

What is currently called the "Advisory Committee" (which isn't advisory at all since they control the purse strings and make all hiring & firing decisions) seems most akin to what Apache and Eclipse call Project Management Committees. I

The biggest problem with the current governance structure isn't the names of the committees or the number of people on them, it's the fact that everything is done in a backroom, out of public view without such much as published minutes or recorded votes. That's seriously anti-community and I'm surprised CS&T allows it.

I don't think more than one managing body is needed at the current project scale. I would propose:

  • Start publishing minutes of all decision making meetings, including recording of votes. Consider having at least a portion of the meetings open for community listening.

  • Rename the "Advisory Committee" to "Project Management Committee" or something similarly appropriate that reflects their day-to-day management responsibility

  • Document how PMC members are nominated & approved

  • Rename the Steering Committee to Advisory Panel or something similar (avoiding the official sounding "Board" term) which reflects its function and reinvigorate it with a clear charter, meeting schedule, organizational structure, etc. Perhaps consider splitting the panel into appointed and elected components.
    There are other possible structures, like adopting the Apache model, but I think the above leverages the structures which are in place already.


I think the first three measures make a lot of sense and I would be very keen to adopt them. The Apache gouvernance model is a tried and tested one, and we can likely take some inspiration from them to find a way to renew the PMC.

For the fourth one, the current steering committee is effectively dormant so I am not sure it's worth renaming it: in the current state of things, I would just delete it properly. Using the term "advisory" for it (or a new version of it) could be initially confusing since people could mistake it for the current advisory committee. If you see a use for it, we could reinstate it, but we need to have a clear view of which role it plays (so that it does not fall into oblivion out of lack of use).

I don't think should be a problem for CS&S that our advisory committee is renamed to PMC. We adopted their default gouvernance model when joining, but that decision was not forced on us. We can check with them about this.

@Ainali @Martin interested to hear your thoughts on this.

I dislike the term management and prefer leadership. That’s also the initial reason we did not choose to say PMC initially when first discussing choices with CS&S.

From this thread it’s still hard to gather explicitly how some named committee would help OpenRefine. I want to hear less their duties or roles and more about how it helps OpenRefine or Advisory members or the community or users.

Dear @antonin_d and @tfmorris,

Thank you for sharing your valuable comments. As mentioned in my introductory post, the proposed outline serves as a draft to generate feedback.

Based on various discussions, it appears that two models are currently being proposed.

  1. The first model suggests maintaining the status quo with a smaller group consisting of the current Advisory Committee and Project Manager. This group would actively engage with different OpenRefine communities (developers, users, trainers) to understand their needs and guide the project accordingly. As suggested by @tfmorris, this group could operate more openly.

  2. The second model proposes a community-driven governance structure, as outlined in the proposed ambassador council. However, many details still need to be defined for this model.

I don't have a strong preference for either model. I agree with @antonin_d's observation that the Advisory Committee can encounter decision-making difficulties because it relies on a small committee. This reliance may lead to overlooking the needs and vision of our diverse user and contributor community members.

I am reaching out to current contributors to gather their perspectives on OpenRefine and to seek their feedback on the governance questions. My contact details are in the first post if you want to have a private conversation. These conversations are expected to occur throughout July and August 2023, possibly extending into early September.

Please note that I will be on vacation for the next two weeks, so my response time to comments on this thread may be delayed.

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The advisory committee started to share its minutes in the Day-to-day project operations - OpenRefine category.


During the summer, I had 16 one-hour-long conversations with current and past OpenRefine contributors and individuals who expressed interest in the 2022 annual survey. Through these conversations, I was able to understand better contributors' expectations and aspirations regarding OpenRefine.

From a governance perspective, most contributors were not interested in the ambassador council proposition. At the same time, the idea of improving contributor pathways emerged as an alternative solution.

Before proceeding further, I would like to express my gratitude to all those who took the time to engage with me and helped refine this vision. It was an enjoyable experience, and I learned much from these discussions. We covered many topics, and while this post focuses on governance aspects, I will create additional forum threads or GitHub issues for more technical points as needed.

About the interviews

Out of the 16 interviewees, 14 were individuals, and 2 were organizations. I also had less structured conversations with @lozanaross @Ainali, and @antonin_d and I did not include them in the below count.

The participants represented the following communities:

  • 6 from GLAM
  • 3 from the semantic web,
  • 2 from Humanities,
  • 1 from OpenStreetMap,
  • 1 researcher, and
  • 2 from other communities.

On average, interviewees had been using OpenRefine for more than six years.

Type of contributions (one person can contribute in more than one way):

  • 11 of them provide training,
  • 8 provide support (except for one person, all those involved in support also offer training),
  • 4 are developers,
  • 4 are extension developers (with only one person overlapping with the developer group),
  • 3 are involved in community management.

Finally, I noted the specific uses of OpenRefine:

  • 4 users are developing workflows using OpenRefine, where OpenRefine is used to generate generic recipes to transform data; all workflow developers also provide support,
  • 7 are using reconciliation services, with 1 being a reconciliation developer.

Feedback Regarding OpenRefine Governance

Most interviewees expressed no concerns about the current governance as long as OpenRefine meets their needs. However, many asked for more transparency, including providing a high-level description of development efforts, the project roadmap, and a better explanation of the project's history. I noticed that even though the information is available, it is not easily discoverable. It is often buried in various sources such as mailing lists, forum threads, and blog posts, or it is provided with too many details, making it difficult to get a big picture of what is happening.

As mentioned previously, there was little interest in the ambassador council format described in this thread. Only three interviewees showed interest in being more involved in OpenRefine governance, and I am following up with them.

Interestingly, most interviewees did not know how to engage with the project, even those with over five years of experience. They were unsure about the proper channels for various interactions (feature requests, bug reports, general questions) and how they could contribute beyond code. This aligns with feedback from existing core contributors who expressed the need for confidence and perseverance to reach their current contribution level.

Contributor Pathway: Bottom-Up Instead of Top-Down

I believe that the Ambassador Council, as previously described here, represents a very top-down approach. I came with predefined expectations and tasks; it felt unnatural and difficult to envision how it would operate.

Following my post in August Improving the onboarding process for new contributors - #3 by Martin, my series of conversations and discussions with members of Code for Science & Society and the Turing Way, I would like to continue exploring the idea of a contributor pathway, as described in the Mozilla Open Leadership program.

I believe this format is suitable for the size of the OpenRefine project, with a small core user group and a wider community we are looking to engage with without creating committee bloat and complex governance structures.

I am particularly interested in developing a contributor handbook and a mountain of engagement framework (see template and the introduction blog post). I expect to develop them openly based on community input in a format to be determined.

The idea is that instead of naming "ambassador" or "steering committee" members, they will emerge from the community by following pathways we previously identified.

Through this approach, we will

  1. Enhance transparency and predictability regarding how one can contribute and progress,
  2. Offer better recognition to non-code contributors,
  3. Increase one legitimacy by officially recognizing different types of contributions.

I'd like to think that conversation in Increasing participation from designers – update on the Outreachy design internship and more and the PR to restructure the guide for new contributors, along with @Lydiaofficial documentation on how designers can contribute are our first steps in that direction.

What's Your Opinion?

As I continue to explore ways to improve OpenRefine's governance and promote the voices and contributions of OpenRefine users and the community, I appreciate that we can openly experiment with and discuss various models.

I am eager to hear from you and learn your perspective on this new approach. You can directly respond in this thread, contact me through email at, or by scheduling a call using this page.

Thank you @Martin for this monumental set of tasks! Looking forward to our continuing efforts to make clear docs on ways to contribute. As well as seeing more of our engagement in other communities besides just GLAM and journalists, such as statisticians, scientists, government, and small businesses, all of which abuse Excel all to often for essential data cleaning because of our lack of marketing and engagement in those communities.

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