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The Many Faces of Collaboration with Fedora Commons

In the last issue of HatCheck, I mentioned the importance of collaboration in achieving the Fedora Commons mission. Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to communicate with many of you to discuss your ideas for advancing our open source software to provide new capabilities for preserving and archiving digital content, fitting repositories behind collaborative web applications, enabling interoperability among scholarly and scientific repositories, and supporting the important task of data curation. With your input we have created the new Fedora Commons Technology Roadmap, which is now available online at
As we plan ahead for the next 6-12 months, collaboration will be essential in achieving our goals. But we cannot take this assertion at face value. In moving forward with any collaboration, it is important to understand why we collaborate and what types of collaborations are possible, and to review the essential nature of successful collaborations. With so many potential collaborations available to a new non-profit such as Fedora Commons, it is important that we have a dialog with potential partners in which we ask basic questions such as what are the benefits of collaboration, in what manner might we collaborate, and how does the proposed collaboration integrate with other partnerships? We may want to work together in some manner, but may not be able to get to the next step of defining clear goals that ensure mutual benefit. In other cases, we may believe that a complex strategic planning process is necessary, and we may miss some low hanging fruit. It may be that we know what we would like to achieve if we could work together, but there may be difficulty in committing the necessary resources at the right time. Then there is the challenge of plenty: we could engage in so many collaborative opportunities that we could run the risk of diluting focus. How does any organization navigate this terrain?
For Fedora Commons, the answer has been to define three basic models of collaboration and to address each one with a different approach. The most basic form of collaboration is when an individual participates in the Fedora open source software development process by contributing bug fixes or developing new features. We have a simple process for becoming a contributor or a committer, and we encourage many people to join in. The first step is to contact Chris Wilper (Lead Developer) or Dan Davis (Chief Software Architect).
The next form of collaboration is where a group of community members band together around a particular problem and work towards a collective contribution to Fedora Commons aimed at solving that problem. We have approached this type collaboration model by adopting a community organizing approach. Under the leadership of Thornton Staples, we are helping the community organize “solution councils” to work together in defining a particular problem, outlining goals, and devoting resources towards achieving those goals. Contributions can be in the form of requirements specifications, new software modules/services, or new applications that can be contributed back to Fedora Commons. Currently, we have four such solution councils under formation, each with a community champion (chairperson): the Preservation and Archiving council (Ron Jantz of Rutgers), the Data Curation council (Sayeed Choudhury, Johns Hopkins), the Open Access Publishing council (Rich Cave, PLoS), and the Applications Integration council (Matt Zumwalt, Mediashelf).
The most advanced type of collaboration is what we have referred to as “strategic partnerships.” This form of collaboration is characterized by Fedora Commons forming an alliance with another organization – either a company or another not-for-profit organization. This third type of collaboration requires contemplation and strategic planning to ensure success. I encourage anyone forming strategic alliances with other organizations to consider the partnership evaluation framework described by James Austin in his book The Collaboration Challenge (see citation at Austin offers guidelines known as “The Seven C’s” for evaluating whether a partnership is likely to have key elements for success. Briefly, Austin provides a framework of questions to ask in making this determination:
- Clarity : what is the purpose of the collaboration? Has each partner determined the function and value of the collaboration and how it fits in the plan of achieving its goals?
- Connection: do the individuals involved have good interpersonal connections? Do the leaders of the organizations have high quality interactions? Do the people believe in the collaboration?
- Congruence: do the partners understand the mission, strategy, and values of each other? How can each partner help the other in accomplishing the mission?
- Creation of value: what specific benefits will accrue to each party from the collaboration? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
- Communication: What are the processes for communicating? Is communication open and constructive? Are there dissenters, and can they be converted to supporters?
- Commitment: what is the level of organizational commitment to the partnership and how is this demonstrated? Are partner expectations commensurate with execution capabilities?
- Continual learning: what has each partner learned about how to work effectively with another organization?
I have found these questions to be very helpful as I have discussed new collaborative opportunities for Fedora Commons. An example of a very successful corporate partnership that was built upon dialog that addressed these questions is the Fedora Commons partnership with Sun Microsystems. This partnership is very synergistic around shared interests in providing open source solutions to enable preservation and archiving of digital content. It is complementary in that Fedora provides repository software and Sun provides storage solutions that can underpin the repository. The partnership exhibits excellent interpersonal relationships and communication. Each side provides value in terms of software development, community/customer outreach, and product testing.
We are currently engaging with another non-profit organization, the DSpace Foundation, to evaluate our collaborative potential. Both DSpace and Fedora Commons share a similar mission and are interested in collaboration to help serve our communities better. Both organizations are motivated to show how our open source repositories offer a unique value proposition compared to proprietary solutions. I look forward to reporting to you in the next issue of HatCheck on the results of these exciting discussions with DSpace*, and other organizations we are working with. Please contact us if you would like to discuss any of the forms of collaboration I have discussed. –Sandy Payette
*SPECIAL NOTE: DSpace Fedora Discussion Tomorrow June 10, 2008
Tomorrow DSpace Foundation and Fedora Commons will be meeting with a few key folks from each community to begin the discussions on identifying ways the communities can work together to advance the missions of both organizations and communities. This will be the first in many discussions with our communities in the hopes of coming up with tangible ways to easily work together. In our effort to make these discussions as transparent and participatory we have set up a skypecast. Skypecast is a broadcast of the meeting available for anyone with a skype account to listen in and participate. The Skypecast can accommodate 100 people. In addition to the Skypecast, we will post the notes from the meeting on our wikis, and hope to have a recording of the meeting that anyone can download.
We realize the technology, language and timing to get massive transparent participation is very limited. However, we promise to continue to make all discussions open and have multiple opportunities to voice your opinion, this being the first of many possible opportunities.
If you would like to listen in tomorrow (Tuesday June 10,2008, 1pm EDT, GMT-5 hours) , the meeting will go for 3 or 4 hours and you can log in at:
or search for DSpace at:
You must have a skype account to join the meeting and currently skypecast does not support MAC.