Concept Note F - The (Nearly) “Nothing” Approach

CONCEPT F - The (Nearly) “Nothing” Approach

This topic is for discussing people's thoughts on Concept F. For more information or to take the online survey, please refer to general Exploratory Concept Notes topic.

The source PDF for this note can be found here.


In this lightest-possible option, control of the ODK Project would simply pass to the current GitHub ODK Project owners. There would be no formal nonprofit organization or company, and no pre-defined rules or structure. It would simply be an open source project under the control of those GitHub owners, and it would be up to them to decide how to structure rules around governance, decision making, etc.


Full responsibility and control over the ODK Project would be passed to the GitHub ODK Project owners (currently 6 people as of this writing). They would be responsible for all decisions related to the project. Absolutely minimal funding would be required. It would be up to the project owners and greater community to ensure continued maintenance, bug fixes, and feature development on ODK.


Governance would be determined by owners of the ODK GitHub Project. These owners could (hopefully) come to a consensus on a specific governance structure for making decisions. For example, they could decide to follow the OSS Meritocratic template (this is the current ODK governance model; see Note A.2) and rely on majority vote by the project owners. As another option, they could choose a single leader with ultimate decision making authority, aka the “Benevolent Dictator For Life” (BDFL) model (this is similar to how ODK was originally run from its inception, with Gaetano Borriello being decision maker). Still another would be structuring it as a democratically controlled multi-stakeholder cooperative, where the users and technical staff would be voting members (with different levels of decision making authority). The main point is that governance would not be determined by the current PMC or as a requirement for the transition, and it would be up to the project owners to determine amongst themselves. Additionally any subsequently chosen governance/organizational decisions could also be later subject to change.

Note that GitHub’s organizational account ownership permissions give each and every owner full control over the repository, memberships, etc., including the ability to remove other owners and delete the organizational account and all repositories.

It is also possible that the project ownership membership might change before the transition, as a result of input from current ODK leadership, the community, and the convening.


All decisions on the technical roadmap would be made by the GitHub project owners, or by whatever subset/leadership they set up. As with other concept note’s models they would of course be wise to seek the input of community if they want the project to succeed, but it will be up to the project owners to decide how they want to solicit and incorporate feedback.


Funding needs are absolutely minimal, to cover small items such as domain registration and potentially online services such as web hosting, community and software management tools, although free options for these services are possible. Therefore funding would be sought by direct donations, either of cash or services (e.g. hosting).


As with the roadmap, it would be completely up to the GitHub project owners (or whatever governance structure they set up) to seek out and incorporate feedback from the community (feature requests, bug reports, etc.). Being responsive is important for ODK to thrive as an unfunded open source project, and as such, they should be strongly incentivized to seek and balance input both for continued project success and to avoid forks from unheard community members. But as with all aspects of this note, all decision on how and to what extent to involve the community would be up to the project owners.

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I would leave this one up to the devs that would be individually taking on liability without the projection of an org.

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I'm a fan of this approach because I don't think most open source projects need an actual home. ODK is very liberally licensed, has no IP to speak off, has never held funds at a project level, and has some governance in place already that is pretty good. That governance allows the folks who are doing work (and who want to do work) contribute to the project.

Rather than default to the people who are the current owners of the Github repo, it seems best for ownership to transition to the folks who have been active contributors over time and can publicly commit to contributing to and leading the project.

With this approach, the proof will be in the pudding. The more work people do, the more ownership they have on the project. And if over time those active contributors want to transition to another model, then they can decide, rather than have that structure baked in from the start. That is, if you want a community-led and owned project, let those in the community who want to lead and own it do so.

A lot of organizations (like the Red Cross, my employer) rely heavily on ODK and could be convinced I think to provide more support to the core project. We've contributed some with our work on OpenMapKit and would like to do more. Would this option make it more difficult to formalize support of the core ODK project?

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It's a good question. I think it may largely depend on the organization sponsoring contributions and how they are hoping those contributions to be perceived.

I don't think a nearly nothing approach prevents contributions. ODK currently has a meritocratic leadership model, governance that allows folks to become leaders, and a permissive license that makes it very easy to fork if the leadership goes rogue.

From my perspective, there is nothing preventing Red Cross from contributing to the project (either through Red Cross staff or other folks they hire). What specific difficulties do you see?

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