This is a response to David Lassner's questions around Sakai support (primarily the CLE) both currently and post merger. The answer will be lengthy, so please bear with me.
I've trimmed the post to get to his primary question:
"Can anyone on the inside share any thinking about how Sakai software will be developed and maintained when it is no longer even the singular focus of an eponymous foundation but rather one of many projects/initiatives within a broader community activity? Or maybe this is something the merger team can consider in the next round of discussions?"
First, let me provide a very short answer, then for those who like to read long statements, you can read further. :)
Currently, there is not sufficient funds to provide the type of extent of staffing the CLE group wishes to see. Therefore, without the merger there will still not be sufficient funds in the Sakai foundation to staff at the levels they are requesting. The Foundation is NOT immune to the current budget crisis that is facing the entire world and education specifically. The majority of foundation funding comes from membership fees. Funding of the CLE and OAE projects primarily come from donations of time, materials, people, and cash.
Thanks to the OAE project fund raising effort, and their willingness to provide some compensation back to the foundation for using Anthony, we ARE now able to fund a FT person for the CLE project. Previously, the foundation was only funding 1/2 of Anthony's salary. A job description has been developed with the TCC and a request for applicants has been tendered. This position will continue to be available for the CLE project whether we merge or not.
The Sakai Foundation currently does not fund any project-specific positions for OAE (e.g., Anthony Whyte). The OAE community is funding that as well as other key positions. It is likely that the CLE community will need to find a model for sustainable funding as well. It is unlikely that the Sakai Foundation general fund will increase sufficiently over the next year to support additional CLE staffing needs.
The merger will not significantly change any of the above situations. It will not suddenly bring in an infusion of cash and provide a suddenly robust staffing plan. It also will not take any money away from current projects in either organization. Project funding levels and allocations will remain attached to those projects.
Moving forward, the questions are:
1. Will the merger likely provide us more opportunities to share administrative costs--thus freeing up money for other priorities? I believe it will free up some money. I believe in the short term, that amount will not be significant enough to add additional FT staff.
2. Will the merger more likely provide opportunities for cross-marketing and provide a story of product breadth that is more interesting to new adopters than a single-product focused organization? I believe it will. We have already seen some evidence of that as we've spoken with institutions outside the U.S. We have also seen some evidence of that in regards to projects that are aligned with our values, and have customers in the teaching and learning arena, but have not yet found a home and believe the merged organization will provide them an opportunity to share/integrate with us.
3. Will the shared infrastructure, and cross-pollination of people, ideas, and creative energy yield something more than one plus one that will be compelling to education? I belief it will. My experience has been that when you get more bright minds together to solve common problems, the solutions are significantly better than what any one organization produces.
If you believe the answer is yes to the above questions, then vote for the merger. If you believe the answer is no, then vote against it.
LONGER MISSIVE BELOW
Here is where I believe the misunderstanding of Foundation funding and staffing has originated. In the early days of Sakai, everything was funded with millions of dollars in grant money and some shared or matched personnel from the institutions who began the project. In the early years of the Foundation there was a transition from the grant funded environment to the independent non-profit that became the Foundation there was still a lot of development, some follow-on grants that were related but institutionally independent, and a lot of initial uptake and excitement that drove initial memberships in the organization.
When I first joined the Board, the foundation had 5 funded positions: the Executive Director, a Sakai CLE QA Person, a Sakai CLE Project Manager/Community Coordinator, a Foundation Communications Director, and a FT clerical assistant who also did conference planning and some bookkeeping/invoicing.
Cycle forward a couple of years and the Foundation finds itself in the midst of the worldwide economic downturn which began in 2008-2009 and, by some reports, is just now hitting bottom three years later. Just as institutions have suffered significant cut-backs in their funding and had to reconfigure staffing, so too has the Sakai Foundation had to cut back. We had increased staff at the request of our membership and believed that the economy at that time (2007 and 2008) would continue to support that increase. We did not anticipate the extent of the recession/depression. Since late 2009 and early 2010, two things were apparent to the Board. First, that some member schools were either significantly delaying payment of their membership fees OR deciding to cut the membership fee from their budget. Second, those same schools which frequently provided staffing resources to work on projects were also withdrawing some of those resources back to their own central services as they cut junior personnel. We needed to determine which positions to cut in order to stay within budget.
The only FT position that has been retained in the Sakai foundation budget is the Executive Director. The foundation contracts for a part-time clerical assistant and a part-time accountant. These roles are critical for the Foundation to operate at all and to meet its financial and reporting obligations. Over the past year, we have seen some substantial improvements in memberships and funding levels because the Executive Director has worked VERY hard in two areas; 1) Pursuing accounts receivables, reminding current members of the value proposition for foundation membership and getting their renewed committment in both dollars and people; and 2) Telling the Sakai story around the world so that we bring in additional institutions to contribute to and participate in our community. The turnaround in our memberships and the potential for additional members has never been better in my time on the board.
Even with all of Ian's work, the dollar increases will take time. There are many new Sakai pilots, some in CLE and some in OAE. I believe eventually we will get more traction for Sakai and we will see significant investment. But it is also dependent on the economy and what current and future institutions believe their priorities are around software investment and what those institutions believe the value proposition is for paying membership fees. I personally believe the value proposition is increased when an institution sees more than one open source product (an LMS int he case of Sakai) available and with the potential for integration.
How to Fund Specific Projects
During the last two years, the OAE project schools and one commercial partner decided that having a working OAE product, within a specified timeframe, was critical to their long term planning. They knew that the Sakai Foundation could not fund, now or in the next five years, the development at the level that was required (several million dollars) to achieve the timelines these institutions strongly believed were important. These institutions each put up a significant sum of money and pooled those resources to ensure the project would stay on schedule. It is because of this model that OAE has been meeting its deliverables and has gained so much interest in the teaching and learning community. This project sponsorship model is new to the Sakai Foundation, but not new in the open source world. In my opinion, this model has proven to be significantly positive and has been an important part of the OAE development teams being able to reach their deadlines.
To date, the CLE Community has not been able to suggest a funding model and execute on it. I believe they are capable of finding a model that works, but for some reason it hasn't happened yet. Certainly there are significantly more schools invested in CLE than in OAE. However, for some reason, schools that are heavily invested in CLE have not come forth and been willing to put in dollars or significant numbers of people to ensure the products continued development or building of a sustainable maintenance model. In addition, though CLE adoption has grown over the past three years, Sakai memberships have not grown nearly as significantly as adoptions. I personally believe the reason for this is twofold: 1) The economy; and 2) The mistaken belief that because open source is free there is no need, nor value, in paying a membership fee to a foundation. This mistaken belief is one that the board needs to address and that all CLE community members need to wrestle with changing.
There are a number of people on the Board, as well as Ian Dolphin (Executive Director) who have been talking to member schools about making an investment in CLE. There is no doubt it is a critical application in many institutions. I believe we will see some funding for the CLE product in the future. But that does not negate the need for a sustainable funding plan. There are many models, but it is the CLE community which needs to lead this work. The Foundation and the Board are willing and
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