Proposition to create OpenRefine Ambassador Council


Starting in 2019, OpenRefine explored a new sustainability model by leveraging grants and corporate sponsorship. Four years into that process, OpenRefine is now fiscally sponsored by Code for Science & Society Inc and has secured four significant grants from three organizations. As a result, the project matured with the creation of the Advisory, Steering, and Code of Conduct committees and started hiring contractors to advance our roadmap. During that time, OpenRefine went through tremendous growth, doubled the number of active contributors, increased the number of languages translated, and continued seeing more users relying on OpenRefine.

In 2023, the advisory committee is looking to revisit OpenRefine’s governance model. We want to improve community involvement in decision-making and ensure the project’s long-term sustainability. The current system, where the advisory committee makes most decisions, isn’t working as well as it could. It needs to involve more people from the community and make it hard to grow or find new leaders for the project.

Proposed new organization
Therefore, we would like to transition the steering committee to a bigger group called the ambassador council to address these issues. The idea of an ambassador council emerged in the second half of 2022, during conversations between the advisory committee, active members of the steering committee, and the project director.

The ambassador council’s will act like the legislative branch of OpenRefine.

  1. They’ll participate in OpenRefine’s decision processes by participating in a monthly call and engaging with the community on the OpenRefine forum. The council will run the project and make day-to-day decisions, such as applying for grants, fund allocation, hiring people, or establishing partnerships.
  2. They will build OpenRefine’s governance with the community’s input by setting up guidelines and identifying areas where help is needed.
  3. They’ll also represent their communities within OpenRefine and share examples of how their peers used OpenRefine. They will help the project build connections and partnerships with funders and partners.

The ambassador council will initially comprise 5 to 10 people. However, down the road, we would like to grow it up to 25 to have voices from every community using OpenRefine.

The advisory committee will act as the executive branch of OpenRefine. For now will stay the same with three members, at least 51% of whom will be volunteers. The advisory committee will be responsible for the legal aspects of the project, by ensuring the project follows governance rules and owning financial and contract issues with Code for Science & Society Inc and other partners.

The project director will have a new role as a conductor and will be in charge of the project’s day-to-day operations. The project director reports to the advisory committee and helps the ambassador council run smoothly. Part of the role includes preparing monthly meetings and ensuring all the ambassador council members remain engaged. They’ll also help with grant proposals, including budgeting and writing.

In addition, the project director will be responsible for formalizing the project roadmap in coordination with the ambassador council and continuing to develop and document governance processes to support onboarding and leadership development, particularly as part of the CZI Diversity Grant. The director will also help recruit resources to support approved grants, coordinate OpenRefine’s participation in internship programs, and ensure the project’s financial sustainability.

In conclusion, the new governance model for OpenRefine aims to improve community involvement in decision-making and ensure the project’s long-term sustainability. Hopefully, this will result in a clearer and more powerful voice for the OpenRefine community and enable the project to attract and build relationships with more people.

While this post defines the high-level structure, much is left to be defined. We welcome feedback and suggestion on our approach. The advisory committee will also reach out directly to those who already express interest via the 2022 annual survey or other channels.


Question 1:

The Project Director’s statement of:

seems to conflict with the Council’s statement of:

What happens in a scenario where the bank account drys up to $0 ?
Does a Project Director become a volunteer role (unpaid) ?

Question 2:

It reads as if the Council will have some voting processes in place for fund allocation and ultimately be responsible for financial sustainability, rather than the Project Director.
It seems also that the Council is whom will be voting on whom to put in place as a Project Director?

Question/Statement 3:

I see the use of the term “help” within the Council:

And I think it would be better that the Council themselves define the governance?
Maybe rephrase to “They will build OpenRefine’s governance with the community’s input…”

Question 4:

This one worries me a lot. Would it not be better for the Project Director to report to the Council since they are responsible for the day-to-day decisions? Otherwise, it seems we are then back to the original ways of working with the Advisory Committee still retaining much control rather than the community through the Ambassador Council.

Question 5:

It seems perhaps best that no one on the Advisory Committee should be on the Ambassador Council. Clear Executive/Legislative balance. This seems important to consider and let the community through the Ambassador Council decide this tidbit since this involves Governance itself?

Question 1:

Currently, the project director’s contract is renewed based on available funding. Today we have funding for a part-time role for the next 18 to 24 months (for a position between 20 and 30h/week). After that, if no further funding is secured, the project director’s contract will not be renewed, and responsibilities will return to the advisory committee and ambassador council.

Question/Statement 3:

You are correct. This is poor wording in the original post.

Questions 2 and 4:

This is a chicken and egg issue. We need the council to define the governance, but from our previous experiences, we can not expect a new council to form and run efficiently without dedicated support. This is why the project director first reports to the advisory council (which already exists) to help seed the council. As things take shape, this is something we can revisit.

Regarding fundraising and fund allocation. We know that fundraising and grant writing are time-consuming and sensitive tasks. The council can decide which grant we seek and help prepare it, but it makes more sense if the project director is responsible for the execution (rather than relying on a volunteer-run council). Fund allocation is on a case-by-case basis, depending on the flexibility of the grant.

Question 5:

This will be up to the ambassador council (and the community) to decide.

Just a quick note to mention that not much has happened on this front so far.

The proposed next steps to set up such a council are to reach out to a selection of people and get on a call with each of them to see if they would be up for getting involved. The idea behind us selecting them (rather than having an open call) is (if I understood correctly) to ensure that the diversity of users and contributors is well represented on the council. That implies quite a lot of work to select and reach out to those people.

Personally, I can go with this plan although I am still not very comfortable hand picking people for this committee. I still think it would be worth exploring other models already adopted by other open source projects, with a clear view on how such committees are formed, updated, and so on. For instance, at the FOSS Backstage conference, the CommunityRule was mentioned as a tool to explore various governance models for communities. I am sure there are many more resources on this topic.

One thing is clear: we need more capacity to work on this. On my side, I recognize this as an important topic, but my attention is needed in other places too: guiding Outreachy applicants, general technical maintenance and reviewing PRs, development on the reproducibility project, and project management tasks left open after Sandra’s departure.

We are attempting to hire a project coordinator (not director) to help with some of those project management tasks and get the ball rolling on those governance changes. Your feedback on the position is welcome: