TEI Consortium and its Future

John Unsworth, interim chair of the TEI Consortium (TEI-C) has asked those running for TEI Board or TEI Technical Council, and those who are remaining in place to answer some questions regarding the development of the TEI.  I’m already serving a term through 2012 so not up for potential re-election this year. I’ve chosen to write my answers up as a blog post because I found it difficult adhere to John’s plea for brevity.

1) Should the TEI cease to collect membership fees, and cease to pay for meetings, publications, services, etc.?

I feel it would be difficult for the TEI Consortium to continue its work without collecting membership fees. However, I think the majority of this money should not be reserved for travel. The majority of it should be available for application in the same manner as we have done the SIG grants in the past. (However, this might be used for travel for a particular TEI Technical Council additional workgroup, or bursaries for the conference, or targeted tool development (‘bounties’) for tools useful to the TEI-C’s mission, amongst many other things.) There should not necessarily be any limits on what could qualify for an application for funding. Not all revenues would need to be spent in a single year.

2) Assuming paid membership continues. should institutional members have a choice between paying in cash and paying by supporting the travel of their employees to meetings, or committing time on salary to work on TEI problems?

The cost of running meetings for the TEI Board or Technical Council should mostly be born by the institution and agreed to at time of nomination. (i.e. if your institution won’t commit to fund your attendance (travel and subsistence) at a couple meetings a year, then you should not necessarily be accepted as a candidate.) I realise this is unfair but so is participation in most standards-creating bodies, but there is nothing stopping significant participation by any member of the community (i.e. they don’t need to be on Board/Council to affect change).  It may be that public funds could be sought to further supplement this by the institution or individual. TEI-C money would be used for any overall expenses, such as the costs of room hire, or such things not covered by institutions. If an institutional member was in dire straits financially, but the participation of a person elected from that institution was deemed to be of such a benefit to the TEI-C, they could apply for support from the TEI-C. However, this should not be the norm. All Partner-level institutions should offer services as part of their partnership agreement in addition to the top-level membership fee. These partnership agreements should be made public on the TEI-C website. ‘Membership’ at a lower non-Partner rate might be replaced solely by services.  There should be nothing stopping voluntary participation in TEI-C activities by motivated individuals who are not institutional members.

3) Should the TEI have individual members (paying or not) who can vote to elect people to the board and/or council?

All members at every single level, especially including individual subscribers should have a single vote.  Institutions become Partners to support the TEI Consortium and tend to view it as participation in a standardization body, I doubt many care strongly about their privileged position of having a vote at election time. One vote for one member (whether individual, Partner, or otherwise).

4) Should the email discussions of the TEI Board be publicly accessible?

Yes. The TEI Technical Council archives were made public partly because of my suggestion that they should be done so. See http://lists.village.virginia.edu/pipermail/tei-council/2006/005757.html … in this post I assumed that TEI Board mailing list might contain details that would be detrimental if made public.  Having had reports back from institutional representatives on the mailing list I no longer believe that this is true for the majority of posts there. I would recommend that when something of an extremely confidential nature is discussed that this happen off the TEI Board mailing list, but that an edited summary of this discussion be posted back on the list for all to see. However such in camera discussions should be very unusual and justified before taking place.

5) Should the Board and the Council be combined into a single body, with subsets of that group having the responsibilities now assigned to each separate group?

I agree that the TEI Board and TEI Technical Council might seem a bit cumbersome. I’ve been on the TEI Technical Council since 2004 and have enjoyed that it is not in its remit to worry about the fiscal, marketing, and organizational aspects of the TEI-C. Although I think the TEI Board could do a better job in these areas, especially marketing, these are not my strengths.  If they were merged together I think it might distract from the technical work. If we then made sub-groups with responsibilities for Board-like activities and Technical Council-like activities, aren’t we just reinventing the Board and Technical Council?  If the activities and discussions of the TEI Board were conducted publicly (i.e. the mailing list archives were public), then I think that would be enough. The community could then lobby elected individuals if they wished to get their points of view heard.

6) Assuming we continue to collect funds, we will still have limited resources. Given that, in the next two years, which of the following should be the TEI’s highest priority? Pick only one:

a) providing services that make it easy for scholars to publish and use TEI texts online
b) providing workshops, training, and other on-ramp services that help people understand why they might want to use TEI and how to begin to do so
dc) encouraging the development of third-party tools for TEI users
d) ensuring that large amounts of lightly but consistently encoded texts (e.g., TEI Tite) are generated and made publicly available, perhaps in a central repository or at least through some centrally coordinated portal
e) developing a roadmap for P6 that positions the TEI in relation to other standards (HTML5, RDF, etc.)
f) tackling hard problems not addressed in other encoding schemes, in order to maximize the expressive and interpretive power of TEI

This is a difficult choice because so many of these are things that I feel strongly need to be encouraged.

a) is very vague and I feel it is not the role of the TEI-C to be providing lots of services, rather maintaining a standard.
b) also sounds good, but we already have lots of people providing training (my own institution included) at cost-recovery basis. Some more basic guides might be beneficial.
c) The TEI-C can encourage these through SIG grants and bounties where appropriate, but third-party tools should be developed by third parties.
d) I’m highly resistant to the idea that any TEI users should even see TEI Tite documents at all! This schema is not TEI Conformant or Conformable by itself as it breaks the TEI Abstract Model in several ways. Tite is fine as a mass-digitization schema, but should be transformed instantly and internally to the project to a proper TEI file with a <teiHeader>. I have nothing against lots of sample TEI texts being made available, in TEI Lite or better a different slimmed down mostly structural encoding. However, I think that having these all in one place is unlikely, and distributed collections of archives (all linked to from http://wiki.tei-c.org/index.php/Samples or another location) or through some OAI-PMH or RDF aggregator is probably an easier start). Again, this should be done by the community not the TEI-C. There are no barriers to the community just doing this and I know the Oxford Text Archive has some plans in this area.
f) Is a possibility, but the suggestions and developments for the TEI Guidelines should come from the community. However, the TEI Guidelines are not Guidelines of the Gaps handling just those things not done by other standards. It plays nicely with other standards where at all possible and developments should continue to improve it in this area.
e) Which I’ve cunningly left to last is probably central to what the TEI-C or at least the TEI Technical Council should be doing. We already have a statement on the conditions for maintenance of P5 and developments of such things like P6 http://www.tei-c.org/Activities/Council/Working/tcw09.xml and I do not believe we have reached such a major change in technology or infrastructure to warrant TEI P6, yet. However, I agree that there are things we can do with the TEI Guidelines to help those seeking transformations to HTML5, RDF, and other newer formats and recommendations to be made in this area. I disagree entirely that these somehow replace the need for TEI.  A roadmap is a good idea, but a lot of the necessary changes can be done under the umbrella of TEI P5 and its intended deprecation mechanisms.

So, on balance, I plump for ‘e)’, however I think all the other ideas are beneficial things, with c) and f) being my second choices.

Overall, I do not think the TEI-C is horribly broken, and believe that the TEI has a good and useful role to play in the development of digital resources. The suggested revisions moving towards openness and transparency would be beneficial. I feel the problems people have had with the TEI Board stem from not knowing what is going on there (lack of transparency) and members of the Board acting as individuals rather than remembering that they are there are representatives of the community at large.


Posted in TEI | 1 Comment

One Response to “TEI Consortium and its Future”

  1. Lou says:

    In the interests of transparency : here are my (much less well thought out) responses:

    On 20/09/11 20:01, John A. Walsh wrote:

    > > 1) Should the TEI cease to collect membership fees, and cease to pay
    > > for meetings, publications, services, etc.?

    “The TEI” which collects membership fees is not the same as “the TEI” which pays for meetings etc. so I am not quite sure how to answer this question. It has always been the case that the TEI products and services are free at the point of delivery, and I think this should continue.

    I think we should work towards a “contribution” rather than a “membership” model, as with other open source projects. A hundred members at $50 each, is financially equivalent to the $5000 a single “partner” contributes. If money is all we care about, I cannot see the point of collecting individual membership fees: we should be trying our hardest to get more rich partners. If however we care more about community involvement and participation, we should be trying to build individual membership and hoping that either the money will follow eventually, or we won’t be the ones needing to find it (because there will be such pressure to do TEI-related work / provide TEI-related services on those who do have the money and the responsibility to
    support our community).

    > >
    > > 2) Assuming paid membership continues. should institutional members
    > > have a choice between paying in cash and paying by supporting the
    > > travel of their employees to meetings, or committing time on salary to
    > > work on TEI problems?

    Agencies which have a major investment in TEI may reasonably be expected to contribute financially or in whatever ways they find most convenient or appropriate. The notion of “TEI partner” as currently defined seems a very good one. I think attendance at TEI meetings etc. should so far as possible be funded by the attending person (or their employer). Underwriting such costs might however be something a TEI partner would be willing to do.

    > >
    > > 3) Should the TEI have individual members (paying or not) who can vote
    > > to elect people to the board and/or council?

    > >
    > > 4) Should the email discussions of the TEI Board be publicly accessible?
    > >

    > > 5) Should the Board and the Council be combined into a single body,
    > > with subsets of that group having the responsibilities now assigned to
    > > each separate group?

    I don’t have strong views on this. Obviously one body with two subsets costs less in administrative overhead than two bodies. On the other hand, cluttering up the Council’s already overburdened agenda with administrivia doesn’t seem like a smart move.
    > >
    > > 6) Assuming we continue to collect funds, we will still have limited
    > > resources. Given that, in the next two years, which of the following
    > > should be the TEI’s highest priority? Pick only one:

    > > e) developing a roadmap for P6 that positions the TEI in
    > > relation to other standards (HTML5, RDF, etc.)

    (If we don’t do that, no-one else will. Other things on this list, though highly desirable, could be picked up by other agencies than the TEI)

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