code.ac.uk: A Bounty Hunt (my JISC Elevator Pitch)

So here's a two minute video I just posted to YouTube outlining my plan to spend a tiny fraction of the JISC millions encouraging the community to open up its existing institutional code. You can vote for my idea here up until the end of March 2012.




This proposal, which I'm calling code.ac.uk, is my submission to the new JISC Elevator website - it's a nod to the open data movement, although right now data.ac.uk only has a prototypical site at Southampton (who would have thought!).


The JISC Elevator is a new idea that inverts the conventional peer review in secret by subjecting proposals to massive amounts of public scrutiny via the mechanism of a public "pitch" (video and accompanying information) and a voting process. Will this be the way of the future? Well, let's see how the first few funded projects get on, and how the pitching and voting works out.


Here's a copy of my slides hosted on Slideshare, in case the YouTube video has whetted your appetite and you would like a closer look:
code.ac.uk: A Bounty Hunt (JISC Elevator Pitch)
 

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What will it do?
The "code.ac.uk Bounty Hunt" project will hand out small amounts of money (no more than £1000 per institution) to developers at institutions to (with the support of their institution) open up their code for interfacing institutional systems with each other.
This is a Trojan Horse to explore whether central IT support departments are culturally ready to begin sharing code and scripts as open source. If successful it has significant potential to reduce duplication of effort and free up staff time for more worthwhile activities, whilst also helping to build a community of practice.
This interfacing work is a common task that IT departments face when a new system is brought in, and there are quite a small number of systems in widespread use - albeit in a wide variety of permutations.
Use case:
If my institution migrates from say Blackboard to Moodle, wouldn't it be great if I could pick up the code that other people have already written to make Moodle talk to my library system, my student records system, my timetabling system, and so on. We presently waste a huge amount of time reinventing the wheel on this kind of work.
Timescales:
April to July 2012
Methodology:
Contributions will be solicited principally via the UCISA IT Directors mailing list and personal contacts. JISC OSS-Watch will be consulted on appropriate open source licenses to be used. If possible the project will standardize on a single license to maximise reuse potential. DevCSI will also be asked to organize a dedicated code.ac.uk event as part of the project. This will be an opportunity for institutional developers and managers to discuss the issues involved in opening up their code and share their experiences.
Deliverables:
Open sourced versions of scripts and programs that institutions use to interface their systems together, drive vendor APIs, and so on. A bounty will be agreed based on the size/scope of the code. For the bounty to be paid, each bundle of code must be accompanied by technical documentation at least at the level of a "README" file documenting usage and the underlying principles of the contributed code. The contributed code will be hosted on a shared repository such as Google Code or GitHub.
The Wrapup:
Let's be realistic, though - this is a tiny project running for a very short time, and it will only be able to scratch at the surface of this opportunity. What I hope it will do is demonstrate that there are institutions out there willing to share code, and able (with a small amount of fiscal encouragement) to surmount any institutional barriers to this. Critical mass will probably require (and you knew this was coming ;-) followup funding.

Martin Hamilton

Martin Hamilton works for Jisc in London as their resident Futurist.