TOC Meeting Notes - 2023-12-12


The Technical Oversight Committee met on Dec 12, 2023 with the following members in attendance:

  • Edward Zarecor (Axim) 

  • Dustin Tingley (Harvard)

  • Ferdi Alimadhi (MIT)

  • George Babey (2U)

  • Virginia Fletcher (2U)

  • Stefania Trabucchi (Learners representative, Abstract-Technology)

  • Xavier Antoviaque (Operators and Core representative, OpenCraft)


  • Anant Agarwal (2U)

  • Samuel Paccoud (Instructors representative, FUN)

Meeting Summary

TOC Election Wrap-up

The main discussion initially revolved around the close of the TOC election. Due to a potential issue with spam settings, the voting was reopened for an additional week. There were a few additional votes, but only a couple of votes in the learner category, resulting in an insufficient vote count to rank the candidates, after one incorrect vote was nullified. The outcome of the election remained unchanged with Nacho Despujol, Régis Behmo and Xavier Antoviaque getting elected. The election’s execution was  acknowledged to have had issues this year, and hopes were expressed to execute it better in the future.

Next Steps

  • Results of the TOC election will be published, provided there are no objections from the group present.

Open edX Release and Maintenance Discussion

Ed announced that the first version of the Quince release was tagged and expressed gratitude for contributions, particularly to the whole BTR group, as well as Peter Pinch from MIT. The next release, Redwood, is expected in June and will likely include features around modular learning and taxonomy, which are currently in beta testing.

Open edX Conference Venue Proposal

Ed brought up the topic of the Open edX conference venue for 2025, sharing a proposal to co-host with the MOOC conference at a yet-undisclosed location. While there were concerns about the location and logistical details, the idea of co-hosting with the E-MOOCs conference seemed favorable due to past success in Madrid. Stefania and Xavier offered to help with the organization and candidature review.

Next Steps

  • Work on a detailed plan and partnership with the candidate for the 2025 conference

Open edX Conference in Cape Town

It was suggested to focus on attracting more people from the African continent to the conference in South Africa, considering the region's potential for growth and need for education solutions like Open edX. The importance of considering a flexible pricing model to encourage diverse attendance was also stressed.

Next Steps

  • Implement regional marketing plans with support from local contacts.

  • Explore options for flexible pricing and discounts for potential attendees who might otherwise be unable to afford the conference.

Maintenance and Sustainability of Open edX

The meeting concluded with an in-depth discussion on the maintenance and sustainability of the Open edX project. Concerns were raised about the financial burden of maintenance and the risk of relying exclusively on funding sources from edX/2U and Axim, and the importance of a maintenance strategy to ensure the platform's long-term viability was stressed.

Detailed notes

It was highlighted that Open edX is both a producer of open source code (through the developments we make on the project) and consumer of open source code (through our dependencies, and contributions to third party projects). Generally, across open-source ecosystems, overall maintenance activity is often a difficulty for projects. However, confidence in the quality of software is important for user adoption, it’s important that Open edX is able to face common open-source issues such as supply chain attacks and maintainer attrition. 

It was noted that 2U is facing significant financial pressures, which make it harder to keep maintaining Open edX at their current contribution levels. Also, business conditions fluctuate and the level of contributions might fluctuate with them.

To spread the maintenance load better across the community and increase contributions levels, it was argued that good incentive mechanisms are necessary - contributions in open source are voluntary. Our community primarily consists of businesses and institutions with paid developers, so the incentives need to be tailored to encourage these entities to contribute toward maintenance. Giving real decision-making power and involving organizations in the project decisions could be key to obtaining additional commitments. Tools like maintenance programs, the contributors program, and marketplace advantages linked to contributions were mentioned, as well as the importance of holding contributors accountable and making a distinction between active engagement and mere titles. 

There were concerns about the management overhead needed to manage such contributions, in particular the need to monitor the organizations’ respective contributions. To make tracking commitments simpler, contributions could be made through funding or selecting a specific set of repositories to maintain, which would represent a certain amount of monthly workload/complexity.

There were enquiries about the availability of data pertaining to the current state of maintenance burden and respective contribution levels. However, a comprehensive figure across the project was unavailable at the time of the meeting.

The group agreed that the conversation had been productive, although no conclusive solutions had been reached. For next steps, the members saw the need to continue the discussion, perhaps starting with establishing the total cost of ownership for maintenance. A clear picture of who contributes what and how much might provide a clearer understanding of the current situation and the disparities that need to be addressed.

To keep the project well-maintained, the options mentioned were:

  • Reduce the overall amount of maintenance work the project requires by removing portions of the core which aren’t widely used, or through initiatives like dependency automation tools to decrease maintenance effort

  • Get the rest of the community to step up its contributions to the project maintenance, by improving the project’s governance practices and providing additional incentives for organizations and individual contributors to contribute maintenance - either directly or through funding

  • Explore public funding options, like the EU Cyber Resilience Act, which aims to help open source project with funding on-going maintenance, or developments

Next Steps

  • Collect more data on who is contributing to the maintenance and what the associated costs are.

  • Consider various strategies for expanding the contributor & maintainer base and thus sharing the maintenance burden more equitably.

  • Address the community's need for transparency and involvement in decisions regarding maintenance work.

Next Meeting

The next TOC meeting will focus on reflecting on the outcomes of actions decided upon here as well as continuing discussions on the many points raised, especially those regarding maintenance and the 2025 conference proposal.