What Is an Open Project?

Maybe it’s already on your computer, waiting for you to click send, or publish, or share. Maybe it’s a conversation you’ll have about a question that fascinates you, or a realization that you have answers to questions others are asking. Perhaps it will be made of paper or memory or Medium. You might need to get quiet and reflective for a bit.

Maybe someone will say something to you like, “Hey, you’re a qualitative researcher—go do a survey!” And then you’ll know what your open project is.

That’s what happened to Open Post Academics (OPA) founder Beth Duckles when she left academia and wasn’t sure about next steps. Beth’s brother asked her to help his organization get insights about some big-picture questions. Using her qualitative research skills, Beth conducted a survey, wrote up a white paper, published it openly, and then shared her methods and process with the community. People loved it, learned from it, and passed it along to others.

This is an open project.

Jumpstarting Open Projects

You can do one, too! OPA encourages folks to share their knowledge with the world through open projects.

For example, an OPA program that ran in 2020 resulted in this collaborative book: Leaving the Academy: Resources from Open Post Academics.

In January 2021, OPA launched Jumpstarting Open Projects, a month-long series of weekly Zoom calls designed to help others learn about, brainstorm, and complete open projects within a supportive community.

Want to DIY Your Own Open Project Sprint?

Follow this 4-part series, which shares how-to info from the Jumpstarting workshops. Then report back in the comments so we can celebrate you 🎉! Since this is an experiment, your experiences and feedback matter.

Week 1: Pick a Project

An open project isn’t tied to a single genre. It’s anything that helps some of the gatekeeping come down around a particular problem or domain of expertise. Why? So more people can contribute their own skills and knowledge to the conversation.

The first step is defining your project. A few constraints:

  • Make it small enough that you can cross the finish line in 4 weeks.
  • Your audience should include people beyond family or coworkers.
  • Check out the principles of openness from the Mozilla Open Leadership Framework, a model that guides OPA’s work.

So, what facet of your expertise would you like to make accessible? How will you share it?

If you’re stuck, it helps to talk with someone you trust. During the workshop, participants chatted about ideas in breakout rooms and then wrote down one goal for the month to create a sense of accountability. These included

  • updating a blog
  • outlining a new research project
  • writing an op-ed
  • developing an open course
  • turning dissertation research into portfolio pieces
  • drafting an article

Here are additional open project ideas to inspire you:

  • create and share a 3-minute video about a topic that matters to you
  • put up a website
  • contribute to an open repository with data, preprints, articles, or reviews
  • share your data
  • hold a workshop
  • share your teaching materials, best lectures, or syllabi online
  • go on a podcast and talk about something you’re passionate about
  • create a zine
  • share slides from a talk on Zenodo

It’s totally fine if your project changes along the way.

Get Inspired: Openness Is a Mindset

Still not sure about the what, why, and how of your open project? Workshop participants were asked to consider possibilities for their work beyond shareability. Thinking about some of these questions might spark something for you, too:

  • What do I keep to myself and why do I keep it there?
  • Who might want to have this?
  • What would be the most effective way for them to find and use this information?
  • Who is able to see and understand what I create? How can I make it more accessible and understandable?
  • Who can contribute? Who can I include in the conversation?
  • What would including them make possible?

Taking Action

To wrap up the first meeting, everyone wrote down next steps to push things forward for week 2.

What about you? Add your open project idea and next steps in the comments!

Up Next: What Support Do You Need?

Hi 👋 I’m Katie Hynes. I was a participant in the January 2021 Jumpstarting Open Projects workshops. This blog series is my open project!

Photo credit: Gia Oris @giabyte via Unsplash


Want to learn more about openness? Here are other forms openness has taken in academic work: