Feedback on Draft of ODK's Mission and Values


(Waylon Brunette) #1

The PMC has prepared a rough draft of a possible Mission and Values statement for the Open Data Kit project. It is based on from feedback received at the ODK convening and examples from other open source projects (e.g. OpenMRS).

We are seeking your feedback on what changes you would make to improve the draft Mission and Values to better reflect the ODK project. The final version will be posted on the revised website (which is currently looking for volunteers :wink:).

Specifically, we’d like to know

  • What resonates with you most?
  • What resonates with you the least?
  • What would you add?
  • What would you remove?

Open Data Kit Project

The Open Data Kit (ODK) project produces open-source tools that help users collect and use data on mobile devices in resource-constrained environments. The project aspires to magnify human resources through technology by creating a set of software tools, that are easy to use, easy to modify, and easy to scale. The global community of contributors provides high-quality free software with standard interfaces that enable ODK tools to be modular components of an ecosystem of complementary tools, thereby maximizing reuse for global good.

We are:

1) Deployment Driven and User-Centered

  • We produce tools that adapt to the unique needs of users around the world enabling ODK to empower both users and implementers to solve their own problems.
  • We create tools for resource-constrained environments implying design requirements such as: disconnected operation, lack of grid power, etc.
  • We strive to make software that works well at scale and is flexible enough to meet the needs of users in different deployment domains
  • We design tools for use by non-software developers as organizations and communities may have differing levels of technical expertise.
  • We use iterative evolution for software development with new tools undergoing field testing to ensure design decisions are driven by real needs of implementers in the field.

2) Open

  • We aim to build a collaborative community where people of various backgrounds, talents, and skills can come together and produce great software.
  • We publicly document and share our knowledge, skills, experiences, and failures.
  • We believe in producing and sharing impactful open-source software to enable users to independently leverage ODK to solve their own problems and produce their own custom solutions.
  • We strive to be open, honest, and transparent in both our processes and our software.
  • We strive to minimize barriers and maximize software reuse and adoption so we use permissive, non-restrictive licenses (e.g., Apache License Version 2.0, Creative Commons License Version 4.0).
  • We believe in making consensus-based community decisions that involve multiple stakeholders

(Caroline) #2

This looks great! I think all of it resonates with me. Possibly because I spend too much time grading papers, I did want to make some minor editorial suggestions that caught my eye:

should be comma free: "software tools that are easy to use"
and

suggest "such as disconnected operation or lack of grid power"

Others may have more substantive comments :slight_smile:


(Adam) #3

The Open Data Kit (ODK) project produces open-source tools that help users collect and use data on mobile devices in resource-constrained environments.

I think this is probably too specific.
"Mobile devices" is a particular class of technology,
and it seems to me that the general character of this text is about the general goals and principles of ODK,
not how they are manifested in specific products.
(Besides that, I'm confused how ODK lets one "use" data on a mobile device.)
(Also, I think "use" the wrong verb to describe ODK's relationship to data.)

Also, I think "that helps users" is a bit wordy an not needed.

I suggest:
The Open Data Kit (ODK) project produces open-source tools for collecting and organizing data in resource-constrained environments.

I would put a paragraph break here because that single statement is a succinct summary of ODK's mission and purpose and should stand alone.


The project aspires to magnify... by creating...

This seems a bit mismatched. We actually do create that software, we don't aspire to create it.
So then.... do we just aspire to magnify, and then is the creation of the software the way in which we aspire?
I don't know if that makes sense.

Also, there's something disconcerting about "human resources" (beside the fact that all tools in all of history exist to magnify human effort).

Perhaps something like:

We aspire to make these tools easy — easy to use, easy to modify, easy to scale.


The global community of contributors provides high-quality free software with standard interfaces that enable ODK tools to be modular components of an ecosystem of complementary tools, thereby maximizing reuse for global good.

Because of the desire to "stuff in" mentions of quality, our awesome contributor community, and free-ness, this loses the essential connection to the previous statement, which is that a modular component system is in service of the goals of "easy".

Perhaps "free" can be added to the first statement, "quality" can be assumed (because everyone aspires to quality and the concept is meaningless), and we can mention our awesome contributors somewhere else as well.

Something like:

The Open Data Kit project produces free and open-source software tools for collecting and organizing data in resource-constrained environments.

We aspire to make this software easy — easy to use, easy to modify, easy to scale. To that end, our tools are modular and use standard interfaces, maximizing the ability to reuse and customize components in an ecosystem of complementary tools.


(Adam) #4

We are... (1) (2)

I suggest making "open" first, as that is a more fundamental part of ODK's identity.

Also, I would say "Free and Open" for two reasons:

  • I think "free" is at least as important a concept as "open" (perhaps more)
  • "Free and open" is a better parallel to the other headline which also has an "and"

(Adam) #5

We aim to build a collaborative community where people of various backgrounds, talents, and skills can come together and produce great software.
We publicly document and share our knowledge, skills, experiences, and failures.

+1

We believe in producing and sharing impactful open-source software to enable users to independently leverage ODK to solve their own problems and produce their own custom solutions.

I'm not sure about using "open-source" in a section describing openness. Feels like a circular reference. It would be better to use a bullet point or two to describe development practices which are open. This is referenced in the last bullet point, but not in as explicit a way as I think it could be. ("Community decisions" are a different class than "development decisions", and I think it is worth pointing out that development discussions and decision making, and most of the dev process, happens in the open.)

Perhaps something like:

We build software in the open. Our discussion and decision making platforms are public and our in-process work is shared.

That is a lot like:

We strive to be open, honest, and transparent in both our processes and our software.

So maybe these ideas can be combined a bit.

(I'm not a fan of "strive" in this context because it suggests to me
that being open is a matter of trying hard to be open
rather than instituting processes which makes openness automatic.)

We strive to minimize barriers and maximize software reuse and adoption so we use permissive, non-restrictive licenses (e.g., Apache License Version 2.0, Creative Commons License Version 4.0).

I don't think I would cite the specific licenses here (we don't specify git or Slack, either). Perhaps a link to licensing would work here, but putting the names inline is awkward.

We believe in making consensus-based community decisions that involve multiple stakeholders

This is one of several statements that put some distance between us and the things we do (We strive to do, we believe in doing). Why not just say "We make consensus-based community decisions...."?


(Yaw Anokwa) #6

@adammichaelwood Since you have a lot of thoughts and I'm curious what the statement would look like if you had total editorial control. Could you write your take in a Google Doc and send out a link?


(Adam) #7

Sure, will do.

(I hope my series of posts weren't too annoying. I thought it would be easier to read in sections...)

I realize, also: I jumped into trying to improve things, but I should have started by first saying ---
This was really good to start with. These stated values are why I love being a part of the ODK community.


Here is my draftish version...


(Tom Smyth) #8

Hi folks! Thanks for this effort! Having a clear mission and values is so important.

I added some comments and suggestions in @adammichaelwood's document.

Great job on this all!


(Matthew White) #9

I also think this is looking really good! I added a few small suggestions to @adammichaelwood's document.


(Waylon Brunette) #10

Thanks to everyone for your feedback so far! Please keep your comments coming!

I realize (a little late :wink: ) it is probably easier to make comments on a google doc [Thank you Tom and Matthew for making suggestion on Adam's document, and leading by example].

It also occurs to me that people may want to comment on things that have been removed by someone, added by someone, etc. Therefore, here is a fresh copy of the original draft text so everyone has an easy place to make comments. If this "copy" gets too cluttered I will put up a second fresh copy so everyone has a chance to make suggestions/edits.

Please feel free to make your suggestions on this Google Doc. (learning :smiley: ) :point_down:


(Yaw Anokwa) #11

It's exciting to see the mission and values document coming together!

Just to add my two cents, I really like @adammichaelwood's edits with @Matthew_White and @tomsmyth's suggestions and so I've added some ideas there.

I like that the text was reduced to the essentials and that there was some mention of user privacy, which is an important value that we should highlight. @adammichaelwood can you please address the feedback in your Google Doc so there is a mostly clean version?

@W_Brunette is there an idea or language in the original that you think was dropped that you'd like @adammichaelwood to work into his draft?


(Adam) #12

I've incorporated the suggestions. There's on outstanding side-conversation currently about some particular wording.

I added @yanokwa and @LN as editors --- I would have added @tomsmyth, @Matthew_White, and @W_Brunette as editors, but I couldn't figure out how. (GDocs won't autocomplete you even though you've contributed to the docs with your Google login, and it doesn't show me your google username.... ugh).


(Yaw Anokwa) #13

Thanks, Adam! I've added Tom, Matt, and Waylon's accounts!


(Lloyd Owen Banwart) #14

I've added my comments and edits to @adammichaelwood's document.

Great work -- I like the direct and simply format this has evolved into.


(Kate Chapman) #15

Is the intent that this is the mission? I think it is to the point and works, though it could resonate with me more.

I'm thinking about some of the things it enables:

  • Much of the data was either not collected before or we trapped in paper and not analyzed
  • A variety of low cost devices can be usd
  • Users really can be in charge of their own data without being locked into a vendor.

Any thought on also thinking about the vision? What is the world we want where ODK has accomplished its mission?


(Kate Chapman) #16

I think it might be worth adding something about equity to the values.


(Waylon Brunette) #17

It's not necessarily if I want them, I think it should be more if the values of interest to the community.

Value concepts/ideas that (at least to me) appear to be dropped:

  • Global community of contributors
  • We believe in making consensus-based community decisions that involve multiple stakeholders
  • Tools are Deployment Domain Independent/Agnostic
  • What does resource-constrained mean? (people can have different interpretation, one driving part of ODK historically has been disconnected operation)

Also the old tagline got dropped "Aspires to magnify human resources" just noting as I do not think it is that big of deal.


(Jeff Beorse) #18

Sorry I'm a bit late to the party here.

(Besides that, I'm confused how ODK lets one "use" data on a mobile device.)
(Also, I think "use" the wrong verb to describe ODK's relationship to data.)

I wanted to defend "use data", or at least some word with a similar active meaning. I like the addition of "managing" in Adam's current draft, but I don't think this fully captures it. For example, you can preload .csv files into Collect and use that data to make decisions. I believe you can preload geopoints and display them in a map widget. There are also medical surveys in which enumerators make treatment decisions on the phone, such as IMCI (see this example form) or hypertension screening (see this example form). ODK 2 also makes extensive use of previously collected data. Many of the organizations I have interacted with highly prioritize making use of their data in the field moving forward. It seems to me that obtaining actionable data that can be used immediately or after aggregation is part of ODK's mission, both historically and into the future.


I like @wonderchook's idea of thinking about what a "victory" for ODK would be. To me this seems like a world where anyone, regardless of training or domain, can leverage modern technology to gather data quickly, cheaply, and easily. I think the second paragraph touches on this a bit. I know @yanokwa is suggesting we remove that paragraph as it stands now, but I wonder if we could refocus it in this direction (but not the wording I used above). So the first line is what we do and the second is where we want to be. Then we get into the detailed lists of how we do it.


I agree with @W_Brunette that it would be a good idea to expand on resource constraints. I think these, more than anything else, drive the design of the ODK tools and explain the choices that are made. As @W_Brunette pointed out: disconnected operation is probably chief among the resource constraints we account for, and it has major repercussions on the design of the tools, including the local storage, the server API and protocol, and even the user interface. Another constraint is support for older, cheaper devices, which encourages us to target the oldest Android versions we can and forgo the bleeding edge features. We might consider cost to be a resource constraint, which influences which technologies we integrate with and ties into the cheaper devices.

I don't think we should include all of these repercussions, but I do think it is useful to enumerate the constraints we account for. This list may change in the future, but if a new constraint is added the ramifications on the tools will likely be large enough to warrant a mission update.


(Adam) #19

I've edited the Google doc taking into account the suggestions made there.


re: enumerating specific constraints (rather than simply stating "resource constrained"

I disagree. I think:

  1. A mission statement is, by nature, somewhat lofty and poetic. It serves as inspiration and introduction as much as anything else, not technical specification. It shouldn't need to be weighed down with the oddly specific.
  2. "Resource-constrained" seems to cover the things that it needs to cover --- low powered devices, slow/no internet --- What else would it mean in the context of software?
  3. The list of resources that might be constrained is endless. As a side note, @Jeff_Beorse mentions cost. Training or familiarity with technology could also be included. Personnel and labor capacity is another. Time is another. It seems to me that ODK takes all of these, and more, into account, and strives to make software that does as much as possible with as little as possible.

(Adam) #20

This is the one thing missing that I think really needs to get back in.
(I'm going to see if I can find a good place for it.)

This adds a lot of context for resource constraints, as well as other things like ease of use, lack of technical capacity. It also implies several important needs, like language internationalization and the way we communicate as a community.