Strengthening ROR’s sustainability model

By ROR Leadership Team | October 10, 2022

Since its launch in 2019, ROR has been charting a unique path toward sustainability. In this blog post, we want to provide an update for the community on where this path is taking us.

Journey to sustainability

In response to ROR’s growing needs and in anticipation of future ones, we have devoted time over the past few years to developing a stronger sustainability model that can support ROR over the long term while also allowing ROR to remain a community-based, low-overhead operation focused on providing infrastructure that is freely and openly available to all.

Today, we are excited to announce that ROR is continuing on its path toward sustainability by formalizing a resourcing model based on long-term support from its three operating organizations, as opposed to relying on outside revenue sources.

This is not a major change from the status quo, but it is a significant development in that it clarifies our strategy going forward and addresses some questions and uncertainties about the future.

In short, what this shift means is that ROR’s governing organizations are re-committing to ROR and have agreed to share full responsibility for covering ROR’s core operating costs. It also means that ROR is not currently planning to cover primary operating expenses by relying on revenue from future paid services or time-limited grant funds.

How we got here

ROR itself is not an organization and does not intend to become one. It launched, and continues to exist, as a collaborative initiative led by California Digital Library, Crossref, and DataCite. Our three organizations share responsibility for ROR’s governance and strategic decision-making, a responsibility we formalized in a Memorandum of Agreement signed in 2020.

As part of our shared commitment to ROR, our three organizations have provided limited in-kind resources to partially cover ROR’s operating expenses over the years. This in-kind support has been supplemented with grant funds (IMLS and NSF) and contributions from community stakeholders.

ROR’s hybrid resourcing model has helped us grow rapidly and has allowed us to be nimble and adaptable in our first few years. However, while ROR has been and continues to be a relatively small operation, it still requires resources to be successful and sustainable, especially as more users depend upon it. Infrastructure costs are rising with more usage of the ROR API, and the ROR team is expanding to be able to support ROR’s technical development, user community, and curation activities.

As we worked toward finalizing a sustainability model, a few factors were key in this process.

First of all, in line with our commitment to the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI), we did not want to be dependent on grants for long-term and/or core operating expenses. (We remain very grateful to IMLS and NSF for supporting key development work over the past two years to support curation and adoption.) And in line with POSI, we were clear that any paid revenue would need to come from additional services to be designed and developed, not from ROR’s core data.

Second, we acknowledged that such paid services would take time and resources to scope and develop, and would distract from supporting core functionality. Moreover, given ROR’s aim to provide a freely and openly available solution to the problem of identifying research affiliations, a paid service is not necessarily in line with such a mission. We did not want to invest time and resources in developing paid services just for the sake of doing so.

Lastly, while community fundraising has been successful, it has not proven to be sufficient for covering all expenses. Fundraising also requires a lot of overhead to administer. We have also experienced challenges in explaining the need to obtain contributions for something that is ostensibly “free”.

Other potential revenue-generation options that might be relevant in other situations were never on the table for ROR–i.e., ROR is not set up to become a separate membership organization and thus does not provide organizational memberships.

This experience led to a realization of how ROR is inextricably tied to our three organizations’ strategic goals, and vice versa. For instance:

  • ROR will only be successful if there is widespread inclusion of ROR IDs in DataCite and Crossref metadata. Likewise, DataCite and Crossref benefit from having the clean and consistent affiliation data that ROR IDs provide.
  • ROR’s success also depends on institutions such as California Digital Library leveraging and advocating for ROR IDs in publishing workflows, publisher agreements, citation databases, and research information systems. California Digital Library likewise needs–and benefits from–the open availability of affiliation metadata that allows for University of California research outputs to be discoverable.

Therefore, we realized that the optimal way to position ROR for success and sustainability would be for our organizations to commit to supporting ROR independently. With this approach, we can set up ROR for long-term resourcing, free up time and focus by not pursuing additional revenue-generation options, and remove uncertainties about being able to fund staff roles or infrastructure costs in the future.

Looking ahead: What’s next?

While the mechanics of ROR’s sustainability model have evolved, ROR’s core activities have not. The ROR team will continue with its activities already underway and in consultation with the community.

To formalize our organizations’ commitment to ROR, we have updated the memorandum of agreement that guides our collaboration, and we have published this document on the ROR website.

ROR will also continue to be a community-driven and community-supported initiative. A wide network of stakeholders around the world have helped to support ROR over the past years by building integrations, raising awareness, providing feedback on future directions, and contributing funds to help ROR grow. Investments from community stakeholders are a key part of signaling the value and importance of ROR as shared open infrastructure, and many organizations are motivated to support open initiatives such as ROR. While ROR’s operating organizations are committing to fund the registry’s core expenses, community stakeholders are welcome to continue contributing to ROR if they wish to do so, and these investments will be used to offset operating costs and support special projects and initiatives. ROR may still pursue grant funding in the future, and such funds would only be used for the same purpose.

Thank you to the many organizations and individuals that have helped ROR get to this point and that are continuing to join us on this journey!

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