Sustainability and Solidarity

Sustainability and Solidarity – Kathleen Fitzpatrick:

There is absolutely an institutional responsibility involved in sustaining these projects, but, as I argue in Generous Thinking, individual institutions cannot manage such responsibilities on their own. Cross-institutional collaborations are required in order to keep open-source software projects sustainable, and those collaborations demand that the staff participating in them be supported in dedicating some portion of their time to the collective good, rather than strictly to local requirements. 

Sustainability in open-source development thus increasingly seems to me to have solidarity as a prerequisite, a recognition that the interests of the group require commitment from its members to that group, at times over and above their own individual interests. What I’m interested in thinking about is how we foster that commitment: how, in fact, we understand that commitment itself as a crucial form of social sustainability. 

Kathleen’s blog has been full of ideas recently — more than I can respond to with some travel and talking coming up — but this is an  especially important idea, and applies to more realms than the one she’s discussing. Collective achievements require collective virtues; but collective achievements also encourage collective virtues. The academic world — or at least the part of it I occupy — is dominated by incentive structures that discourage this kind of positive feedback loop. Those of us at the senior level of our profession need to be doing some serious work to restructure the incentives we’re bequeathing to our junior colleagues.