Use it or lose it: Crowdsourcing support and outreach activities in a hybrid sustainability model for e-infrastructures – The ViBRANT project case studies
Free-to-use information services and e-Infrastructures aim to provide a stable, accessible and reliable environment for their communities. As the majority of e-infrastructures are initially designed, developed and implemented under externally funded projects over a defined time period, post-project sustainability is often a concern.
In the absence of agreed sustainability criteria and maturation indices, future-proofing e-infrastructures might eventually become a challenge even bigger than developing the structure itself. Careful planning of support structures and regular re-assessment of their impact during the development phase is essential for long-term sustainability.
We demonstrate, using examples from the ViBRANT project (http://vbrant.eu), how a shift towards adapting an information commons philosophy to sustain user support structures, can efficiently complement or even replace reliance on contiguous external funding. Inspired and committed communities can efficiently contribute to maintaining a de-centralised support and development mechanism.
In particular, the Scratchpads (http://scratchpads.eu) case study shows how a globally distributed network of people with diverse backgrounds, can undertake sustaining a vital and responsive community. The citizen science COMBER (http://www.comber.hcmr.gr/), GBIF’s Node Portal Toolkit (NPT) (http://www.gbif.org/participation/participant-nodes/nodes-portal-toolkit) and GeoCAT (http://geocat.kew.org), which performs rapid geospatial analysis to facilitate the process of Red Listing taxa, have proved popular, attracting a significant number of users, an indicator of the confidence levels of these services. New services, however, like the Oxford Batch Operation Engine (https://vibrant.oerc.ox.ac.uk), RefBank a bibliography for Life and BioWikiFarm (http://biowikifarm.net), have taken significantly longer to attract an active userbase.
In this talk we will try to identify the whys and wherefores of e-infrastructures popularity discrepancies. We will also discuss how the development of a network of Ambassadors (http://scratchpads.eu/support/ambassadors), the investment in structuring, the necessary support mechanisms and the systematic assessment of the targeted audience needs, along with the adoption of an open and scalable model, are arguably the principal factors leading to the successful migration from a research project to a production-quality open-source system.