The Carpentries Executive Council 2019 In-person Meeting

A summary of discussions from the in-person Executive Council meeting and the way forward

What have 9 people, one library meeting room, one cat, “Ich schaue nur”, all kinds of great German food and beers, and water “ohne Kohlensäure” in common?

November 4th and 5th the Executive Council and Executive Director gathered in the beautiful German city of Darmstadt, near Frankfurt. Our host, Gerald Jagusch from the Technical University Darmstadt, was so kind to arrange for us to use a meeting room of the University and State Library Darmstadt. for both Sunday and Monday. That library was a big building, with lots of students studying there and thus absolute silence was required in the hallways. Luckily the room we used was sound-proof enough that we could have our meeting there without disturbing the students (it helped that we managed to avoid the discussions becoming too heated :-) ).

We had a packed agenda with as our main goal the start the process that in the near future will lead to the first 3-5 year strategic plan for the Carpentries.

We started the meeting with some really nice ice-breaker activities (we were asked to line up based on birthday month and day, or on distance travelled to the meeting). We then started with ‘the state of the Carpentries’. Based on the Eight Key Areas of Nonprofit Excellence from the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, Executive Director Tracy Teal had created her summary of how well The Carpentries, at the end of 2019, are meeting each of the key areas. Using Think-Pair-Share as a method to collect our thoughts on this, we collectively reflected on the areas. The exercise was a really good starting point for the other discussions during the meeting about where to go next. The results of these discussions will be part of the yearly report for 2019 to be published early next year.

Next, we started brainstorming on The Carpentries’ Strategic Plan. We fall started by suggesting high-level, 3-5 year goals/areas, each answering the question ‘where do we want The Carpentries to be in 5 years?’. We deliberately allowed ourselves to come up with anything, including controversial goals that the person that the originator might not agree with themselves. Inspired by the “One-up, One-down” exercise we often do at the end of The Carpentries’ workshops, we also made a list of things we do not want to focus time and resources on. Next, we individually categorised all the raised points under themes, which subsequently were clustered into a set of high-level focus areas.

The Executive Council and Tracy teal. Not in the picture: Mesfin Diro
The Executive Council and Tracy teal. Not in the picture: Mesfin Diro

The next day, we further defined these areas in small breakout groups. This lengthy process was essential for the last step, done as collective brainstorming sessions which resulted in an initial list of 6 high-level goals for the next three to five years. Although we are not yet ready to share these goals, what can be said about them is that we are not proposing to drastically change how the Carpentries operates, but we do sharpen the focus on a few areas. Our community is very central in these goals, as is sustainably scaling up our efforts.

There were two other important items on the agenda:

  1. The first was reviewing the current draft of the Carpentries Values.

    From the latest blog post on the values project:

    As a community, values are important to us and we consider that we have a set of shared values. However, we have not yet articulated what these values are.

    Through a process with extensive community input, the “Carpentries Values Project” was able to present a draft of a set of value statements for The Carpentries. The EC had only minor comments and feedback on this draft and we expect the values statement to be released in the near future. We are excited to soon have this important document in place. We believe it accurately reflects how we are and who we want to be. Our thanks go to the Values Task Force!

  2. We also discussed the budget for 2020.

    As always, we need a balance between spending the money we have wisely, while keeping enough in the bank to cover unexpected situations. Tracy Teal presented a budget that, while conservative, shows that The Carpentries is a financially healthy organisation. We have sufficient revenue sources through memberships and workshop fees as well as grants. These include the new grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative we just announced. We will be able to keep up and grow operations, further develop programs and achieve milestones set out in grant proposals, with enough buffer.

Another milestone was reached during the meeting as we released The Carpentries Vision statement, see the vision statement blog post. Determining our Vision, which “spells out where we see The Carpentries in the future and guides our decision making and priorities in the present” has been a process that started over a year ago, but we needed this time to determine, with our community, a vision we all feel is appropriate for the new umbrella organisation.

The final vision statement we arrived at is:

The Carpentries’ vision is to be the leading inclusive community teaching computing and data skills.

The Executive Council joins Tracy Teal in thanking the community for their contributions to the process leading to our vision!

Summary and Outlook

This is our second year as The Carpentries, the umbrella organisation of Software Carpentry, Data Carpentry and Library Carpentry. We now have our Bylaws, the mission, vision and soon values and strategic plan in place. These are essential components that shape our organisation, but also tell our story: who are we, what is important for us, and where are we going. The Executive Council feels we are now well positioned as an organisation, and as the governing body, to work with staff and all of you to realise our vision and mission.

If you are interested in being a part of this journey, there is now the option to nominate yourself for a community-elected position in the Executive Council.

Finally, whenever I talk about our community, I tell people how amazing it is that The Carpentries attract such wonderful people. We may sometimes meet a group of people coming from different countries and backgrounds, working on different things. When this group is from The Carpentries, I know in advance I can be certain we will all be getting along well. I know we will enjoy discussing The Carpentries and its future, but also what interests us, science, society, food, drinks, knitting and much more.

This Carpentries Executive Council in-person meeting was no exception to that!


Thanks to Gerald Jagusch and the University and State Library Darmstadt, for making this meeting possible. And finally, we thank the hotel lobby cat for all its attention and purring.

Tracy and hotel lobby cat

Dialogue & Discussion