The future of Open Data Kit

4 minute read

Dear Open Data Kit Community,

I am excited to announce the beginning of a transition process for the Open Data Kit (ODK) project.  I became the guardian of ODK and have been overseeing the management of the ODK project at the University of Washington Department of Computer Science and Engineering (UW-CSE) since ODK’s visionary and leader, Gaetano Borriello, passed away in 2015.

Gaetano had a vision that as the ODK ecosystem matured and could support itself, ODK would transition from an academic research project to a community supported open-source project owned by a non-profit.  While UW has nurtured ODK during its incubation stage, ODK has outgrown its initial home and has cultivated a diverse set of stakeholders with many users.  Thus, it is time for ODK to transition to a community led open source project.  My goal is to support the team in tool development and transition planning to help ensure ODK has lasting impact as a global good.

Following Gaetano’s vision and strategy, we plan to have a multi-step transition over the next year that will transfer ODK ownership to a non-profit and empower ODK stakeholders to steer the project and allow an active open source community to participate in ODK expansion and management.  The target date for ending UW-CSE’s ownership of ODK is September 2017, which will allow time to make adjustments if necessary.  UW-CSE’s ODK team will act as a safety net and will assist in the transition, but will ultimately have a minimal role.

There are several parts to this large transition: 1) establishing improved community support for ODK which will enable the community to implement new features, handle general support, maintain documentation, fix bugs, publish software releases, conduct code reviews, etc.; 2) establishing a community steering/management committee to set the direction of ODK as well as to create the governance policies for the support and management component (e.g., new features, general support , documentation, bug fixes, software releases, code reviews); and 3) identifying a sustainable non-profit foundation (either existing or new) to take ownership of the ODK project and deliver initial funding.

The target date for the completion of the ODK transition is September 2017.  To begin the transition, I have asked some of the ODK co-founders to help establish the community management/steering committee and to help setup the community support mechanisms.  ODK co-founders Carl Hartung, Waylon Brunette, and Yaw Anokwa will help with the transition of the ODK community taking over responsibilities from the UW-CSE’s ODK team.  Yaw Anokwa ( has agreed to be the point of contact to start engaging the community and forming a management/steering committee.

The first stage of the transition will focus on ODK Collect.  Starting September 1, 2016, UW-CSE’s ODK team will no longer support ODK Collect.  This means new features, general support, bug fixes, software releases, and code reviews that relate to ODK Collect will be handled by the community supervised by a management/steering committee.  Once we have a robust community support mechanism setup around ODK Collect we plan to shift additional components of the ODK project to this mechanism.  The UW-CSE’s ODK team will assist in the transition by helping to make community contributions easier through infrastructure changes such as restructuring the website and integrating continuous build servers, but will minimize contributions to the already transitioned tools.

We are planning a convening in Seattle during the first half of 2017 to discuss the future of the ODK project and to obtain feedback on how the transition is proceeding.  As part of the transition planning, we have started the process of identifying suitable types of host organizations for ODK and are investigating various options for project sustainability.  Prior to the convening, a concept note will be prepared that presents various non-profit options as well as funding models for organizations to house ODK.  We plan to receive feedback about the ownership options from the community and produce a preferred list of alternatives to be explored that could include both non-profit and other models. We hope to have representatives from field implementers, NGOs, funding organizations, and companies that depend on ODK to bring the community together.

The ODK core team understands that many organizations have invested millions in ODK deployments, software add-ons, and trainings.  We do not want this announcement to make people nervous.  We are using a measured approach to give time for the community management and governance to grow. We expect some course corrections and adjustments as the community learns what is effective.

I am committing UW-CSE’s ODK team to be a safety net and to maintain ownership of the ODK project until the transition is completed, hopefully by September 2017.  UW-CSE’s ODK team expects success and will be transitioning additional ODK project responsibilities in the coming months once a successful community management has been established.  By giving time to the community to tweak steering, governance, and the management model while UW-CSE’s ODK team acts as a safety net, we hope that ODK is continued to be viewed as a trusted tool for mobile data collection.

During the transition year, UW-CSE’s ODK team role will shrink as the months progress. The team will only take a more active role in the transition if the project becomes completely unstable, abandoned, the management/steering committee dissolves, or the management/steering committee is not representative of the ODK community.

We are optimistic that a community led project will elevate ODK tools to a transformative platform for global good.  With a long term strategy for sustainability and a yearlong safety net commitment from UW-CSE’s ODK team, we are confident that with community participation the ODK project will be around for many more years.



Richard Anderson

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering

University of Washington