Succession & Contingency Plan

What we’re doing to limit the impact of the unexpected, and ensure an orderly shutdown if required.

Established: August 2019
Last updated: July 2020

We are a mission-driven nonprofit and, as such, our goal is to exist only as long as needed to serve our mission. Practically speaking, we currently run services that individuals and institutions rely on for mission-critical functions. We take that seriously and carefully plan our budget, operations, and development in line with best practice approaches (including those outlined in ‘Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures’) to maintain these to the highest standards for their useful life.

Outside of these day-to-day considerations for avoiding issues, in this plan, we’ll outline the major pieces of our strategy for:

  • Contingencies: how do we mitigate the impact of unexpected events that limit our ability to operate effectively? For example, a major unexpected cost or long term illness of staff?
  • Succession: how do we plan to shut down or transition our services, due to expected or unexpected events, to have the least impact on our mission. For example, what would we do if we were unable to raise revenue to fund our services, or merged with another organization?

While these are plans, that doesn’t mean they’re theoretical. We have dealt with many situations where we’ve put them into effect, or been close to. We have had expected permanent shutdowns of our services, prepared for imminent shutdown of our work due to lack of funds, and had unexpected departures and unavailabilities from the team. While we’re much more stable now, we expect to update this plan as we continue to learn how to manage these, and review it yearly.

Contingency plan

  • Financially, we aim to maintain a small contingency reserve (~ 4% our budget) to use for unexpected costs.
  • Technically, several people are able to post alerts to our website and communications platforms regarding issues. Services can be rolled back to stable builds and quickly restarted when required by multiple people.
  • Personnel are all trained in, and expected to practice, agile deployment, share all documents, and conduct documented long-, medium-, and short-term planning to limit the impact of unexpected unavailability. In the case of total unavailability, we prevent single points of failure through, for example, shared but secure account access maintained via a shared password manager and good management practices. Through our fiscal sponsor, experts, such as lawyers are readily available to provide advice and counsel.
  • We keep local copies of mission critical cloud hosted documents, such as those on Github and Google, for use should there be extended or permanent unavailability or loss of data by those services.

Succession plan

  • To manage an orderly transition or service termination, our earned revenue and reserve will cover server costs, essential systems administration, and a limited number of major bug fixes helping ensure that we’re able to sustain basic operations for a reasonable timeline (> 1 year) during funding interruptions. We actively work to ensure all our core services can be maintained to a useful degree with only servers while value-adding human mediated elements of services can be paused or limited as required.
  • In the event a shutdown becomes likely, available technical and non-technical resources will be immediately redirected to ensuring an orderly shut down. We estimate that the necessary work would take six weeks, but could be done faster if required.
  • To avoid an interruption in services, we’d work with our technical partners (Cottage Labs) to find values-aligned non-profit organizations who we may be able to transition services to. This would be done with the approval of the SPARC Steering Committee and our fiscal sponsor, the New Venture Fund.
  • If a shut down was inevitable, we’d post notices on our websites, and proactively contact users (where possible) and stakeholders regarding the shutdown, including when and how this would happen, and to what extent other values aligned services were available.
  • Because our content, code, and data are openly licenced, independently hosted, and archived, those who still required our services could continue to run them locally. We don’t have patents or trademarks; however, we would request organizations that continue to run the service use another name.
  • Long term, we’d work with values aligned individuals or organizations to ensure our domain name, and an inexpensive website serving redirects and providing information, was maintained for a reasonable period (roughly equal to our life) after our shutdown.
  • We currently have no formal incentives, or threshold, at which we would choose to wind down.