Proposition for the Ambassador Council

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.