Planning for Lesson Program Governance Committees

Strengthening community leadership for Software, Library, and Data Carpentry

In January 2023, The Carpentries will call for community leaders to volunteer to join Lesson Program Governance Committees for Software Carpentry, Library Carpentry, and Data Carpentry.

Where We Have Been

The Carpentries was formed in January 2018, after Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry merged to form a single organisation. Our third lesson program, Library Carpentry, joined in November that year, and the structure of the organisation has remained relatively stable ever since. Before the merger, Software Carpentry & Data Carpentry had Steering Committees, which combined into a single entity when the two organisations agreed to merge, and became the first Executive Council of The Carpentries, following an election of new members in late 2017.

The Carpentries has had an Executive Council ever since, but Software Carpentry & Data Carpentry have not re-established their own community governance, except for curriculum-related matters discussed by their respective Curriculum Advisory Committees. Library Carpentry has been the exception: retaining community governance in the form of the Library Carpentry Advisory Group since they joined The Carpentries. Curriculum governance is more consistent across the three lesson programs: each has at least one Curriculum Advisory Committee, and Maintainers for each of their lessons.

The state of governance across The Carpentries lesson programs in 2022, and the pathways of communication between lesson programs and the Core Team and Executive Council. A summary of the state of lesson program governance in 2022. Each lesson program has a different governance structure, and no formal lines of communication exist between lesson program communities and the Executive Council. Instead, communication on strategic matters largely takes place between lesson programs and the Core Team.

As the community has grown in size and complexity, it has become unrealistic to expect members of the Executive Council to remain informed about the status of each lesson program and to define their strategic priorities. Curriculum Advisory Committees and Maintainers have no responsibility to report to the Executive Council, and this was historically also not a requirement of the Library Carpentry Advisory Group, so no formal lines of communication have been established between lesson programs and the governance of the community as a whole. Furthermore, due to a lack of any formal community leadership responsible for overseeing the strategy of two of our lesson programs, members of the Core Team have been charged with a lot of the decision-making around the direction and needs of the Software and Data Carpentry programs. This arrangement is not ideal for a community-led organisation like The Carpentries, especially as the members of the Core Team are not necessarily experts in the domain and context of the lesson programs themselves.

Where We Are Going

In response to this, the Executive Council composed and ratified a Lesson Program Governance Policy in 2021, which states that each of The Carpentries lesson programs should have a Governance Committee of community members, to oversee its strategy and communications. Now that Curriculum Advisory Committees (CACs) have been established for all of our curricula in English, the Curriculum Team is preparing to further strengthen the community governance of our lesson programs by introducing Lesson Program Governance Committees in line with that policy. The Lesson Program Governance Committees will act alongside Curriculum Advisors and Maintainers to ensure the overall health of each lesson program.

The proposed structure of lesson program governance, and the responsibilities of each governance group, following the introduction of Lesson Program Governance Committees in 2023. The planned structure of lesson program governance after Governance Committees have been introduced in 2023. Arrows indicate formal lines of communication, but in reality Maintainers, Curriculum Advisors, and Lesson Program Governance Committee members will be able to communicate freely and directly as they need to. Indeed, some community members are likely to belong to more than one group (e.g. Maintainer and LPGC member). The blue-green box illustrates the multi-curriculum model of Data Carpentry, which has one Curriculum Advisory Committee for each curriculum.

Lesson Program Governance Committees will be formed of volunteers from the lesson program communities, who will have the opportunity to steer the project according to the needs and objectives they identify. The Responsibilities of the committees will fall into three main categories of leadership: strategy, advocacy, and communication.

  • Strategy:
    • Monitoring the health of the lesson program and designing strategies to maintain and improve it
    • Identifying priorities for growing the community and reach of the lesson program
  • Advocacy:
    • Representing the lesson program in their local and professional networks
    • Working with the Executive Council and Core Team to promote the interests of the lesson program within The Carpentries
  • Communication:
    • Reporting on the activities, objectives, and needs of the lesson program to the Executive Council and Core Team
    • Engaging the community on topics and projects relevant to the development of the lesson program
    • Maintaining up-to-date information about the lesson program on The Carpentries websites

The initial structure described above, of separate Lesson Program Governance Committees and Curriculum Advisory Committees, is designed to preserve and supplement the governance structures already in place. It also accounts for feedback received from Library Carpentry Advisory Group members, who in recent years have gathered experience of both a merged governance and curriculum advisory group and of keeping separate but related entities. The Advisory Group - which will be renamed to the Library Carpentry Governance Committee during this transition - found that it was too much for a single group to take responsibility for both strategic and curriculum-related matters for a lesson program. Once established, however, the Governance Committees will have the power to adjust the division of responsibilities between their committee and the CAC(s) for their lesson program, including the option of absorbing the responsibilities of the CAC into the Governance Committee, as they think best suits the interests of the community.

How You Can Help

The first Lesson Program Governance Committee members will be appointed and onboarded after a call for volunteers that will be published on this blog in January 2023. Volunteer applications will be reviewed by members of the Curriculum Team and Executive Council, and other community members. This will be a great opportunity for members of the Software, Library, and Data Carpentry communities to gain experience of community leadership, to have a real impact on the direction and success of the lesson program, and to connect with other members of the community, so watch this space for more information.

In the lead-up to this call for volunteers, the Curriculum Team is developing documentation and onboarding material for the members of these new committees, and drawing up a plan for how members can best be supported throughout their service on a Governance Committee.

If you have any questions or concerns about the introduction of Lesson Program Governance Committees or the structure proposed above, please comment on this post, or contact Toby Hodges by email or on The Carpentries Slack Workspace. Similarly, if you do not expect to be able to volunteer to serve on a committee but would like to help review applications, please get in touch with me directly.

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