Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

RFCs and lessons learned

Thanks to everyone for sharing questions and comments on our recent Request for Comments regarding the upcoming merger of Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry. Now that the official response period for the RFCs has ended, the GitHub issues specific to the RFCs will be closed. We received comments from individuals across our community representing multiple stakeholders, including the Software Carpentry Advisory Council (representing member organizations) and the community at large (through the GitHub repository, private comments via the Google Form, and personal communication). Those of us working on the merger have been actively considering and discussing this valuable feedback and have been identifying areas requiring additional attention and clarification. We will be publishing blog posts over the next few weeks summarizing our thoughts and identifying future actions for each of the RFCs. You are welcome to continue communicating your questions or concerns to us through new issues in the GitHub repo. Below we describe the context behind a few themes and issues emerging from the RFC discussions which may not be immediately apparent but have factored heavily into our approach.

  • Compromise. This restructuring has involved months of discussion and planning involving the existing leadership for Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry. While both groups share related visions and have begun to implement joint policies, the origins and governance of each group are quite different. As a result, our approach to the merger is based on compromise and an understanding that no solution will be the perfect fit for everyone.
  • Scalability. Merging two organizations requires thinking carefully about the scalability of our current policies and processes. This includes the potential addition of other lesson organizations following the union of Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry, as well as continuing to reach more learners, train more instructors, and expand into new geographic areas.
  • Staff. As our organizations have grown, we have continued to hire staff to support the community in achieving our mission. With this increase in staff comes an obligation to these employees to provide job security and the ability to make longer-term plans related to their role in the organization. Moreover, the role of community governance (e.g., Board of Directors) can now shift focus from policy establishment/implementation to strategic planning.
  • Financial obligations. Both organizations (and the future merged organization) are non-profit agencies supported by a fiscal sponsor. Additionally, support of our staff and other infrastructure comes largely from institutional memberships, for which we are obligated to provide associated services.
  • Community involvement. The role of the community in leadership and governance varies between Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry, in part because Software Carpentry is a more mature organization and in part due to differences in how the groups were formed. This reorganization is an opportunity to combine the best parts of each organization’s approach to leadership and governance. Specific decisions about governance have been based on previous experiences from both organizations, successful leadership models in other large volunteer projects, and the priorities described above.

All of these issues represent perspectives that we have considered during planning, and which we continue to weigh as we incorporate your feedback. We understand that this process is resulting in incongruity with existing Software Carpentry governance procedures. We also recognize there are many decisions to be made that the original documents did not anticipate. Therefore, we are endeavoring to uphold the mindset of these guidelines and are using them as the foundation for the new organization’s bylaws. If you have questions or concerns about this process, please feel free to contact Kate Hertweck, the Software Carpentry Steering Committee chair. Please watch for the upcoming summaries of feedback from the RFCs, as well as the call for nominations for the four elected members of the first Board of Directors of the merged organization.

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