Open Source, Open Science, Open Data, and the Future: Part Three of an Interview with Mark Leggott

An image of a person looking into a crystal ball.

Digital Echidna will be attending Islandoracon 2017 in Hamilton, ON from May 15-19th. As we prepare, we’re pleased to present part two of a three-part interview with Islandora’s founder, Mark Leggott -- currently the Executive Director at Research Data Canada, part of CANARIE.

Today’s focus? Why Leggott chose to go the open-source route, what mistakes he made (and learned from), and why he’s just as committed as ever to promoting open data, open science, and open technology -- just from a different role.

ECHIDNA: What was the value to you in embracing the open-source ideology and releasing Islandora to the open-source community at a very early stage?

LEGGOTT: “There’s probably a few reasons. Islandora was actually my third open-source project. One was called OpenILL -- that was an ISO-compliant interlibrary loan system that was built on HP maybe. The other one was a system called Martini -- which was a cocoon pipeline-based framework for building a user interface on top of OCRF, from an organization called Olive.

"Both those projects were very well designed and created great products but they didn’t pay any attention to build a community in practice, or business community, or a business model. They were focused on building great code and just assumed that a great community would follow.

"The big difference with Islandora is that there was deliberate strategy to build a diverse community and ecosystem around an open-source project. So paying attention to good code, but also paying attention to good practices, good stewardship, and community building. I think the results paid off.

"I think to some degree, when I was building the company I had a coach who was a former banking executive, who on the first time I met him said, “Do you want to make a lot of money or do you want to change the world?” I said, “Well, I’m a bit of a lefty, so…”

"It was an odd question for me to consider, but it’s probably the one question that I remember as if it was asked yesterday. It was what led to the genesis of that kind of model and approach that we took with Islandora to encourage a rich ecosystem and multiple companies to play in the community and not advantage one over another.”

ECHIDNA: In many ways it seems you were at vanguard. We seem to be moving towards a greater acceptance of open source/open data (this interview was conducted on World Open Data Day). Do you see there is a greater tolerance or appreciation for the value of open source?

LEGGOTT: “Oh absolutely. I think if you follow the Black Duck Open Source survey. They survey institutional CIOs and IT people about open source. I think they’re In about their 10th year. When you look at the series of results from the survey, it’s quite clear that the adoption of open-source in enterprise has not been exponential, but it has been pretty healthy every year. I think everybody recognizes that open source is a critical part of any organization’s IT infrastructure. The difference comes in how deep you want it to go, what kind of team you have, what kind of tools you’re comfortable with.

"When you combine that with broad acceptance of open source with the public support for an recognition of the value of open data, it’s a pretty powerful combo. The underlying philosophies are relatively similar. My move to Research Data Canada was predicated on a number of decisions, one of which was I didn’t have continuing value in the Islandora community. The community was growing. I tended to be more disruptive than stabilizing. It was a good time -- plus I was deeply embedded and always have been in the research lifecycle and how research is done and how research would benefit society -- so it was a natural progression to try and influence adoption of open data, open source, and open science from a policy level rather than what I was before.

"I continue to do very similar things, but now just with a focus on the data side.”

ECHIDNA: Now you’re working with Research Data Canada. How has what you’ve done in the past prepared you for your role now. And where do you see your influence lying now and where do you see the future of this type of technology going?

LEGGOTT: “My role... Research Data Canada is pretty much an organization of one, but is part of CANARIE (a non-profit corporation working towards the advancement of Canada’s knowledge and innovation infrastructure), which also runs Canada’s higher-education internet backbone and has a research software program, as well as a couple of other programs. There are other resources and people here that help support Research Data Canada.

"As an organization, my role is one of facilitation. One of my primary roles in the Islandora community was to build community, to encourage adoption, and to get people fired up about what it means and what it could do for their institutions. I take a similar role at Research Data Canada. The stakeholder group that I serve is any organization that does publicly funded research, any organization that funds research, and any organization that supports those two -- like software vendors and other organizations that support public research and public-funded research.

"The key things that I do are encourage best practices -- so my deep understanding of metadata standards and the application of those not just in a technical framework, but also within a community of practice is a good example of the critical skill set that comes to the foreground when you talk to to researchers about adopting open-science principles and open source products because you can speak to the advantages. In the same breath you can talk to the senior staffer or the head of a funding organization and talk about policy and you can affect cultural change in a practice that has been there for 350 years in terms of quality of research. And how do you affect change that benefits society.

"I thought it was a logical progression for me. It gives me a good challenge. I need a challenge to keep me working 12 hours a day. This does that. I still get to encounter colleagues from the Islandora community and organizations like your own. It’s a good fit.

"I still live in PEI. I have an office in Ottawa at CANARIE. I’ve managed to maintain a nice quality of life while continuing to have an impact, so I think that’s all I need.”

Part one of the series discussed the early days of Islandora.

Part two of the series looked at the potential offered by pairing Islandora with Drupal.

Questions Answered

Why should we adopt open source technology?



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