I am stepping away from my role to lead Objective 4 for OpenMRS and as a senior manager for education programs. After long discussions with @paul , @terry, @surangak , @judy … I feel that my work isn’t going to make much impact due to our organizational culture and way of working. I truly believe in the mission of OpenMRS and will continue to work on the mission. That mission is why I’ve been a contributor to the project for the last 9 years. I am grateful to a number of people with whom I’ve worked in the community and friends who have truly shaped my life.
I hope someone else can work on the objective and reach the goals. I will collaborate with anyone interested to work on these goals and take things forward.
First, I’m sorry to hear you are stepping down from the role. As Andy mentioned, I too would like to have a chance to better understand the issue you are raising. You said:
I know what I think are the organizatonal culture issues and ways of working, but I’d really value hearing what you think those are. Would you be willing to be more specific here and talk about what you felt was preventing you from making the impact that you wanted to make? I’d like to change that, and I’m sure others would to.
Agree with Andy, Jan, and I think probably others. I’d like to know more, and have an opportunity to share my own thoughts about what works and doesn’t work within the organizational culture. It’s hard by phone and harder by email and even harder by Talk thread!
It sounds to me is if there are many one-to-one conversations occurring, and that those have as many unsatisfactory outcomes as satisfactory ones.
Saptarshi, thanks for this update. I hope that we can continue with this
work as it is critical to the open source HIT community(s) that rely upon
the OpenMRS platform/ data model/ functionality to support implementations,
communities and patients. If anyone in the community is interested in this
work, please reach out to both Saptarshi as well as Terry. thanks. Terry
Thanks Jan, Bill, Andy and others for wanting to hear more. Schein (1992) and many others, have shown that organization culture is the hardest attribute to change. Power distance, collectivism, respect for people, etc. are inherent… processes slowly do help change culture, but leadership is clearly its main determinant factor. Unless, leadership changes, there is limited scope of cultural change. In fact, Schein’s career anchor constructs are determinants for what I say below. I fear this will be a very long post, which I want to avoid because details will get lost and it is likely more rewarding when written in a manuscript
Following are some specific aspects of the OpenMRS project that I believe will not change:
Lack of accountability: As a community, we have very little accountability for the work that we are supposed to get done. We have laid numerous plans over the years (take education goals for example). There is no update on leadership calls on what happened to those in the last quarter. Giving voice to others is about power distance, collectivism, respect for people. Take our 501c3 status, dev stages, BCG report from way back, etc etc… too many over the years.
Lack of a meritrocracy: Due to the above, there is no appraisal process. It is acceptable that things that are on someone’s plate don’t get done, because we didn’t pay for someone’s time. Community-driven open-source projects elsewhere get work done due to meritrocracy and not because someone founded the project, or the founders know someone personally. If it doesn’t get done, that person is removed and another person needs to do that work…
Lack of openness: We have too many one-to-one conversations. Decisions are made without user involvement. The cynic in me says its not even made by the leadership collective… there is just a lot of discussion. Decisions are made through lazy-consensus… a culture where it is acceptable to not work as a collective. Devs have argued that impls are not very active. In a resource constrained impl world, off course this is the norm. You will have to send ppl to the field to get feedback. Security disclosures are not made in an open, timebound manner is an example, again too many to name.
Visibility of work: With all of the above, the resultant is lack of visibility of work. For the education goals, we made training videos, a curriculum, a certification path - which received no comments, very little visibility.
Many others including me feel that this is not a thing that will get fixed with fundraising, as @paul, @burke or others in the leadership think. This is deeply rooted in how OpenMRS works. If anything, it will complicate matters further… I have lost faith that OpenMRS is doing its mission. The education mission that I was leading will also not get done, at least not by me in the current structure. I do believe the mission will need to be done elsewhere.
I agree with a lot of the specifics you’ve described above. Some of these behaviors are most definitely happening (and have historically happened) in the community.
I think a lot of what you allude to is steeped in two underlying principles: accountability, and openness. I’ve not met a member of the project’s leadership who is not concerned about both.
To the former, I’d say that yes… we need a different way of working, and a different way of relating to each other. I believe the work we’re doing on the Constitution, and bringing forward a daily operational leader is a way to meaningfully respond to that.
To the latter, after having been at this for over 10 years, I’d just say it’s darn hard. I’ve seen communities attempt to make decisions as a collective and get mired in disagreement. I’ve seen communities try to move things forward against a timeline and watch people feel disenfranchised along the way. Everything I’ve read and learned from the open source world suggests that things move fastest in smaller groups. Lazy consensus from my perspective is a simple way to empower the leaders of these small group processes to work with the rest of project’s leadership to inform them about the work they’re doing and get input from them before committing to a path.
I wanted to briefly clarify your final comment about me. I do not think culture changes with fundraising. I don’t think you can buy culture. Culture changes because leaders want to see culture change, and work hard to advocate for that change. However, I do believe that fundraising allows us to find more dedicated people to help us accomplish the tasks that we’ve historically not done well as volunteers. As you allude to above, we are working with resource constrained people and environments. As such, fundraising helps support things like transparency (through good communications support folks), project management, requirements gathering, etc etc.
We have known that this day will come, at least i have thought so myself. Increasingly I have personally felt the work around the mission for OpenMRS not to be satisfactory, and even @sunbiz encouraging words of ‘Always look for what OpenMRS has done for us’ are not enough. I have felt lots of apathy from leadership, and looking at the followup from the camp from last year when i thought we would have visible change , i have only seen our wiki pages get longer. As someone maybe who is inclined to action , I unfortunately do not feel to be part of the community that i joined in. If this is something that @sunbiz is going through , then i totally understand it. I have seen @sunbiz work , and had a bigger vision for education in the new ecosystem of OpenMRS based on amazing work that people like @pascal continue to do. Being judicious not to air dirty linen here is that our house is not in order , it hasn’t been for a long time - and maybe allowing others to come to the front and take over some tasks will bring some needed fresh air to our organization and the change I want to see… Till then i am back to the shadows …
Judy, although I shared your concerns about the state of our work, I don’t think I was as pessimistic that “this day would come”. What I think I would like to know is why you and others felt that you couldn’t do what you wanted to do within OpenMRS. Why you think that going out on your own will be any different? And how you weigh the potential repercussions of taking this action against what you could do within the existing community?
I would hope that you, Michael and others would not take any irrevocable action until you all present to the existing leadership team. As I wrote before, I don’t think there is anyone who would not give you a fair an honest hearing, and I strongly believe that a majority of the team sincerely want to see the same thing that you do… so I find it surprising that such action would be taken without adequate discussion. It sends a red flag to me.
As someone who has found a way to represent OpenMRS away from a formal role as an evangelist of the software, I think its ok for new communities to come up. I dont understand where the red flag is but members come to our community every day and fork our code , and we have subcommunities of which some run independently of the main community .
There are two groups of people who work with openmrs … people who actively sought Openmrs and people who were given Openmrs … None of these groups take their roles lightly , and i have had the pleasure of interviewing so many of the community members to know how the feel deeply and be inspired by their passion. I heard something repeatedly last year from all the interviews i did … that if a better software came along that met the purpose of the community, then most people would implement it… Our focus are patients who wouldnt get the care they receive without the support OpenMRS provides to frontline health workers. So if a new community does that … even for a few patients i think its fine…
@darius reminded me once that if we mapped where openmrs has been to against where we need to be working , we have barely scratched the surface , so lets get working to make the world a little better … whichever way one feels that it works . unfortunately for me , its not in the current community setup…
All the while I have been reading the posts, comments and changes, this is the question that has been coming up in my mind. I personally feel very sad. Everyone of us joined the community with similar beliefs and intent, with a lot to offer. There are a lot of people you have inspired, including me. I am sure you feel things are not moving fast enough or we have been trying to do the same thing over and over again. But, we try to work with what we have, we can try again one try wiser. I am not against a different community and I agree more communities will only further the mission.
But, the community including the leadership needs to know why? What would you do differently? Whats stopping you from doing it? - Be specific, any feedback can be constructive. Any conflict is a mismatch of expectations vs what happened. State the obvious, because often times what we assume to be obvious is not to others.
I personally feel the you know the community’s blind spot. Please illuminate it.
“You” are the leadership, if you don’t stand up for the issues in the community, who will?
this is an out of sync post for Hamish as he is unable to post today…
Sorry for the timing!
Hi Terry, can you post my comments to the strategic objective 4 discussion
list please as it is doesn’t recognise this email.
Hi Judy thanks for sharing your thoughts. We were the juniors and outsiders
12 years ago, complaining about the backward ideas of the establishment and
then changing the way people worked in health informatics. 5 years ago
Darius and I and others were planning to set up an independent company or
org to build a great UI for OpenMRS because things were going to slowly. We
were discouraged by Karl and others but we probably should have done that.
The main difference is that in forking the core you leave organizations
with an existing installation with a dilemma about what to do going
forward. eHealth software is not like most other software, it is slow to
change, organizations have high costs of changing systems and of course
patients health depends on it. Forking at the UI and application level is
OK and is where most of the action will be going forward I think. I get you
wanting to build a separate organization, it would be great if we could
help make that easier, define some shared areas to minimize disruption to
the community, and then get out of your way.
Because, the new organization won’t have ineffective leaders. Yes, I said it. It will be learning from the mistakes that the leaders of this community have made. I’m not really concerned if I’m popular, disliked, or whatever. At the end of the day, it’s not about you, it’s about the community and the people in the field relying on our software.
What does this even mean? This is what Open Source means. People can fork it if they choose to do so. io.js forked from node.js, granted they came back together, but it happened. There is literally nothing you can do. Why is everyone so threatened? You don’t make money off of this, so what livelihood is threatened here? Egos?
Maurya please read my post about the 4 specific points. I’ve said these same points over the last two leadership camps. Plans were made to deal with these. There has been no or very little execution. The blind spots (in your words, but I don’t think they are blind spots since other FOSS projects do them even at scale) have been shown way too many times.
We are not yet ready to announce the better way to do things. But I would do it by throwing the Floss to the other side, instead of building the perfect bridge. Most plans we’ve already imagined, need a place to execute the plans without blockers.
I want to be clear where my motivation is. It is not about my ego. I have been dedicated to OpenMRS for years in an unpaid capacity and continue to provide almost daily support to the community. I think that the majority of people who voluntarily join the leadership team and give of their time and effort are in a similar position. We are not reacting to this on a personal level (although I believe a lot of the energy and vehemence behind some of the posts I am seeing ARE motivated by personal issues). I don’t think having “ineffective leaders” is just about the specific people involved… and I think what the old timers are trying to communicate is that what is currently proposed by the new community is potentially quite damaging to the overall mission. We are open to hearing the proposed changes and if they will work, then I think we are happy to try them out. But we do this together.
There is a big difference between forking software and splitting the community. In my opinion, the public leadership discussions are not toxic. They are becoming more so, and I would ask that everyone be a little introspective as to how they are responding to people. The motivation of all parties is one of good will. We are a big family and have worked together for years. The level of discussion lately is not worthy of us and does not respect the people who have been involved. I recommend that we step back, detach the emotional component, and honestly appraise the situation before committed steps are taken that cannot be taken back.
Michael was the only person actually paid by OpenMRS. We’re all volunteers. We’re all dedicated to OpenMRS, and I doubt most of the people who have chosen to leave, did so easily but felt it was the only recourse. Our issues are with the way the project is currently being run. More details below.
Except here’s the thing: issues HAVE been raised in the past and what lead Michael to leave was the fact that he kept saying what was wrong, and nobody listened to him. He’s been trying and yes, people leaving is about personal issues, and the issues are with people in leadership who are not taking any action. I’m trying very hard to not get to the point where I feel like being here is like tying myself to a sinking ship. In fact he actually has a long document outlining the problems within the Community Management team from the OpenMRS Camp in 2015 – and people acted like that whole thing ever existed. This is the kind of stuff that is causing people to leave. The document is 4 pages long and has detailed answers. There is NOTHING damaging the community and if there is damage, the blame lies with the “ineffective leaders.” – I’m sorry to blunt and direct but I’m trying hard to not make this community die. It’s not an either/or thing. People in the field still use and rely on OpenMRS. People like to be heard, and those who have left, they can choose to speak if they so choose, have done so because of that.
Who knows, maybe we could be like Node.js/io.js and come back together…or it might not happen. Nobody has a crystal ball. Forks happen, this isn’t the first Open Source project to have internal politics lead to a fork and it certainly will not be the last. Maybe Michael leaving will be enough to force you all to take action, maybe not…I’m not so sure myself.
In case people forgot about that document I mentioned, here’s a topic about it:
The motivation to fork is because of the utter lack of transparency, poor leadership and, not being listened to, I should also point out that the Mozilla Public License has no restriction on forking, in fact it’s allowed. Why everybody is so threatened by this is beyond my comprehension. It’s not damaging – and it wouldn’t have happened if people listened and implemented changes when the problems were pointed out. Nobody did that. I don’t think at this point and time, that people will stay with OpenMRS, at least not until leadership actually does something versus having conference call after conference call and reviewing document upon document. No action being taken is an “irrevocable action” (your words). Forking is continuing the community’s work. It’s not as black and white as you’re making it seem.
I moved all the conversations and split them (several times, first attempt had a few out of sync but now the conversation isn’t entirely lost. Replies are a bit wonky but we can’t do much about that. I attempted to re-thread this conversation so it makes sense.
This thread was largely split from – with intermediate topic that I have chosen to delete as the whole discussion belongs in this thread:
I think that many people don’t understand what forking actually entails and are panicking. For example, MariaDB is a fork of MySQL due to its deep ties to Oracle and the communities distrust of Oracle. io.js was the fork of Node.js that happened due to internal politics. It is worth noting that io.js merged back into the Node.js project, so it’s not always end of the road. Our Open Source License, is a permissive one which allows ANYBODY to fork it, rebrand it, sell it, profit from it, they can do whatever they like so long as we are attributed as the original author.
This is allowed to happen and there is literally nothing anybody can do. Welcome to Open Source. I looked up the wikipedia article on forking and it is worth reading: