At Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI), we consider strong community governance to be a cornerstone of sustainable, resilient open infrastructure and initiatives. Strong community governance, as well as transparency and accountability, are critical to  ensure the organizations are always guided by their core values. Therefore, as part of our strategic support work, we engage with open infrastructure organizations to implement our research recommendations to develop robust financial sustainability, governance and capacity, and stakeholder engagement strategies.

This expertise is what IOI contributes to The Catalyst project (also known as the Open Collaborative Project for Latin America and Africa), which aims at facilitating the use of Open Science Cloud Services (OSCS) for under-resourced biomedicine communities in Latin America and Africa. The project, funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, is a coordinated effort between six partner organizations (2i2c, MetaDocencia, the Carpentries, CSCCE, Open Life Science, and IOI) to achieve four goals: (1) Deploy and manage open cloud infrastructure for under-resourced communities in Latin America and Africa, (2) Create training and pedagogical content to assist others in using this infrastructure for cloud-based science workflows, (3) Build capacity for technical, pedagogical, and leadership skills within these communities, and (4) Identify a participatory service model to sustain, scale, and generalize impact for global communities. Within the project consortium, IOI is responsible for co-designing a governance and sustainability model that participant project teams will pilot. The Catalyst Project will run from October 2023 - March 2025.

Rationale for the needs assessment

Our ultimate goal is to identify a model for running OSCS for global communities that is generalizable, sustainable, and replicable. This project will allow us to gain real-world experience in serving these communities, and to experiment with various ways to collaborate with and serve them. It is equally important that we identify a model for continuing the impact of this project beyond the scope of the grant window. We believe that this will be useful to a broad community of stakeholders that are interested in serving global communities with open infrastructure.

In May 2023, IOI commenced a needs assessment to understand the governance and sustainability systems and expectations of the six participant organizations in the Catalyst Project. The needs assessment was a critical step to foster and nurture collaboration among participants of the project. To ensure the work done on this project has enduring value, the project also needs to critically understand the necessary preconditions for sustainability and design the project to be both highly collaborative and viable in the long-term.

This step was critical because the six organizations, each with different processes and procedures, will collaborate closely through the project period (October 2023 - March 2025). To do this efficiently requires a comprehensive understanding of each organization’s expectations and transparent mechanisms of governance to ensure accountability for project success.

The needs assessment began with a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis of the project and the respective consortia organizations as a collective. SWOT is a tool commonly used to help organizations and collaborations identify their strategic position at a moment in time.  

Interviews with project managers also supplemented the SWOT analysis to unearth familiar narratives within the project team around goals and areas of tension due to conflicting values and expectations for the project. We also analyzed the expectations around the relationships that participant organizations hope to develop with local research communities in Latin America and Africa (as the potential users of the cloud computing services intended in the project).

The general finding was that establishing common ground across partners is a crucial starting point to guide governance and sustainability directions. Based on our results, partner organizations share many expectations around the project. But we also identify some areas that would benefit from discussion and actions to align expectations further and build consensus among the project partners.

Outlined below are some of the critical areas that we propose the consortium members implement to bolster the governance of the project and the sustainability of its resultant initiatives:

Governance

  • Establish clear roles and expectations now to enable more horizontal leadership opportunities in the future. These partners have yet to collaborate, and this project is an opportunity for them to build the trust and relationships they want but still need to have. Enacting a horizontal leadership model before horizontal trust can lead to partner frustration and disengagement. For now, clarify project structures for where and how decisions are made, what timeline the project will follow, and what expectations guide partners’ individual and collaborative work.
  • Each organization should commit to following the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI) for the activities associated with this project. Over the last few years, the POSI tool has become increasingly important to open infrastructure providers. It assists these entities in ensuring that their actions align with the values of the open science and scholarship community. Specifically, we propose that project participants follow three focal principles:
  • Be stakeholder governed by including the participation of communities in Latin America and Africa.
  • Have transparent operations where each partner organization documents and shares information on their procedures and processes associated with this project.
  • Implement formal incentives to fulfill mission & wind-down. Partner organizations should be responsible for achieving the project’s goals and allocating appropriate resources.

Sustainability

  • Nurture relationships with partner organizations to deliver committed outputs and engage in future projects. This was recognized as a desired outcome for most partner organizations. Deeper engagement as a project team may bring this recommendation to fruition; we applaud the Programme Manager's and others' efforts to increase communication between and among the partners, including through meetings and Slack channels.
  • All partners are to have financial accountability by reporting to the project team how they are using funding for committed outputs in the grant and to report back any project work supported through different funding streams. This will provide the grounding for understanding how much it costs to run this project and its affiliated services, which is essential for planning expansion and ongoing work in this area.
  • For the project to document results and learnings to have a proof of concept to report results that may be used for future implementations by this set of partners and other groups seeking to expand opportunities for engaging in cloud infrastructures in Latin America and Africa.

Next Steps

A detailed outline of IOI’s schedule of activities can be found in the complete needs assessment report. The next significant milestone for IOI will be the commencement of six working sessions in October 2023 to guide and facilitate the creation of Catalyst’s governance and sustainability model. IOI will invite project leads and representatives of communities in Latin America and Africa to working sessions to design governance and sustainability structure and norms for the project. Hopefully, this instils a deeper reflection on power, and this approach will be replicated in other projects worldwide over time.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Catalyst Project as the implementation stage gathers pace. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news from the project.

Posted by Jerry Sellanga, Emmy Tsang and Tania Hernandez