Announcing Birdaro – a new project to support scientific open source projects as they scale

We’re excited to announce Birdaro, a new project to support open source software (OSS) projects as they consider scaling and plans for long term sustainability, thanks to funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In recent years, OSS products have become increasingly important within STEM research and beyond – underpinning research methodology and making possible new advances, particularly in high-throughput and data intensive fields. Alongside this growing recognition are emerging and ongoing conversations about how best to support the longer term persistence of these projects – with new organizational entities, conferences, books, reports, and other resources arising to support conversations about project scaling and sustainability. 

For several years now, CSCCE has been researching and developing materials about the challenges of scaling and sustainability in OSS that specifically relate to “human infrastructure” topics, such as community engagement, governance, the definition of roles and leadership pathways, and where projects end up being hosted. We’ve conducted preliminary research into the factors that are important for project success, and have supported several clients in the OSS space with the development and delivery of new community leadership programs. We have delivered the pilot training for grantees of NSF’s Pathways to Open Source Ecosystem (POSE) program for open source projects and we’re now preparing to train our third cohort of CZI grantees this summer, via our Scientific Community Engagement Fundamentals course.

All this to say, we’re delighted to now be able to bring together and expand this specific area of work under a new project, where we’ll be carrying out further research into this space, collaboratively creating and sharing new resources, and building out a new training program for open source project leaders.

“Given our extensive expertise in topics related to human infrastructure in other STEM contexts, and our strengths in building cohort-based trainings, convening practitioners, and curating information, we’ve been delighted to discover how transferrable our experience is to the OSS space.”

“We’re looking forward to many more collaborative conversations with OSS practitioners and supporting some of the activities that will aid their longer term success.”

CSCCE Director and project PI, Lou Woodley

If you are interested in staying up to date with this project, which we’ve named “Birdaro” – and are branding distinctly from CSCCE – you can register for our open-source-focused mailing list and read more details about the project below.

About the project

Our goal for this project is to begin addressing common, predominantly human infrastructure-related challenges faced by open-source projects as they consider whether to scale. We’ll be focusing specifically on the individuals who take on leadership roles in these projects, whether they are named leaders or not. Our previous research identified five areas in which open-source projects experience challenges as they grow: governance and project roles; organizational management and structures; community engagement; systems-health considerations, including issues of inclusion, security and credit; and business skills (white paper in progress with more details of the model). 

With these topics as anchors and guides, we’ll advance the work of Birdaro – which we see as distinct, but powered by some of the expertise in human infrastructure that we have at CSCCE. This is why we’ve decided to give Birdaro a separate identity which is related to, but distinct from, CSCCE. This also holds open the door for future plans to emerge – and for Birdaro to potentially adopt projects, approaches, and processes that may be more relevant for the OSS space. More on that to come.

We’re looking forward to this exploratory journey, to mutual learning along the way, and what will emerge as a result.

An evening sky, some steaks of orange in the clouds, with a murmuration of starlings (a big cloud of birds) in silhouette.
A starling murmuration at Prestwick, UK. Credit: Walter Baxter via Wikimedia Commons

About the name

A “birdaro” is a flock of birds in the constructed international language of Esperanto. It’s no secret that we like a good natural world metaphor at CSCCE with our original logo incorporating an umbel flower head with seeds of knowledge disseminating widely to propagate growth outside the CSCCE community (and check out our recent guidebook on the garden as a metaphor for community building). For this new project, we wanted to capture something even more emergent and collaborative, with multiple individuals collectively working towards a shared vision. We were inspired by the murmurations of starlings – the swooping three-dimensional shapes of hundreds of birds working together, yet still visible as distinct individuals. We see the work of empowering open-source leaders as similar, charting a path forward together, in community. 

You can expect more on this theme – and some branding to match – as we get the project fully set up in the next few months.

What to expect from us next

We are not the only organization currently focusing on the challenges faced by (scientific) OSS projects. As we’ve begun working on Birdaro, our primary goal has been to understand some of the ecosystem dynamics already at play – who is working in this space, what are their goals and audiences, how do these overlap with one another, and where are the gaps that we might be best placed to address? To do this, we’ve been carrying out a listening tour – speaking with leaders from a range of organizations addressing different aspects of open source (predominantly, but not exclusively software), and starting to map the landscape of existing projects and resources. These conversations are ongoing and if you’d like to participate, we’d love to hear from you!

When this initial research phase focusing on the “meta-level” of existing support is complete, we plan to share a report of what we’ve learned and host accompanying discussions of the findings (including participating in existing platforms and channels!). We’d like to bring open source leaders directly into the conversation to add deeper context and start exploring preferences for specific outputs we propose. 

We’ll also start to build upon the relationships and partnerships we’ve fostered to co-create new outputs – which might look like partnering on an aspect of the curriculum, adopting key infrastructure hosted by others and providing them test cases in the process, or co-hosting emerging conversations together. 

We currently envision that Birdaro products will likely include the development of a training program tailored to leaders of open-source projects, as well as complementary resources and activities (such as community calls or other “pop up” events) that address some of the needs identified in our research. We are, however, holding a lot of space for collaborative conversations and opportunities to build with others so if you’re interested in doing something together, please get in touch!

Stay connected and get involved

If you would like to stay up to date with work on the Birdaro project, you can sign up today for our mailing list. We’re planning to share regular updates via email and, as we further develop our plans, we’ll let you know how else you can get involved in the project. 

If you are interested in connecting with us to talk more about the project, please send us an email: