Open source software is the backbone of the digital economy and is critical to the development and maintenance of transparent, inclusive, and secure digital infrastructures. Universities and their employees rely on it daily for everything from basic communication to advanced research, and in turn make substantial contributions to the open source resources used within and beyond higher education. Over the past several decades, major corporations have created centralized offices, often known as Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs), to coordinate and nurture open source activities across their organization. While these offices have proven their value in private sector contexts, they are just beginning to make inroads into higher education, in large part due to leadership from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The Sloan Foundation has recently funded the establishment of OSPOs at 12 US research institutions. These pilot OSPOs will institutionalize open source principles, software, and cultures with the goal of improving the teaching, learning, and research practices on campus and creating social and economic benefits in and beyond the university.

Last month, the Sloan Foundation engaged Ithaka S+R to assess the effectiveness of university OSPOs in facilitating the development and maintenance of open source software. Through the “Leveraging OSPOs to Advance the Academic Research Enterprise” project, we will identify the characteristics that maximize the impacts of university OSPOs within and beyond campus. Our research will focus on three crucial areas: 1) alignment with unit-level and university-level strategic frameworks; 2) viability and sustainability of organizational structures and labor models; 3) growth of open source research cultures and practices.

What’s next?

Working in coordination with the Sloan Foundation, Ithaka S+R will conduct several rounds of  listening sessions with senior leaders, semi-structured interviews with OSPO staff, and focus groups with end users at each institution hosting a Sloan-funded university OSPO. The first round will begin in Fall 2023 and will focus on contextualizing OSPOs within the broader strategic goals of a university, exploring challenges and successes in staffing OSPOs, and identifying the value that OSPOs are providing to university communities. A second round of interviews will be conducted in late 2024 and early 2025, and will focus on evaluating each OSPO’s progress towards fulfilling its goals, including consideration of their success in obtaining long-term funding to sustain them as they transition off of grant funding.

We will share findings with the Sloan Foundation and the general public throughout the course of the project. For more information about the project, please contact Dylan Ruediger at