Data Science Institute to establish campus Open Source Program Office

The UW–Madison Data Science Institute will establish an Open Source Program Office (OSPO) on campus, in partnership with Madison College, the Data Science Hub, the UW–Madison Libraries and UW–Madison Extension. This new office will accelerate the translation of academic research to society by providing opportunities to learn about, develop and share open-source software, hardware, data, models and more.

UW–Madison is one of six U.S. higher education institutions recently selected by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to launch campus OSPOs. Sloan is supporting a total of 12 university OSPOs, including projects selected in earlier funding rounds.

“The goal of the Open Source Program Office is to catalyze institutional change that will foster open-source community and projects,” says Kyle Cranmer, the David R. Anderson Director of the Data Science Institute. “One of the biggest challenges we face is that UW–Madison is such a large, distributed campus. There are pockets of excellence that have adopted an open-source ethos, and I would love to see that ethos become part of UW–Madison’s DNA.”

The OSPO model emerged from industries that recognized the strategic advantages of open source. While a similar model at universities shows promise, the set of challenges encountered in academic settings is very different than in industry. The Sloan Foundation, seeing these opportunities and challenges, established a program to coordinate and support open-source activity at universities. Through their investment in campus OSPOs, the Sloan Foundation aims to offer a complementary path to traditional technology transfer that echoes the Wisconsin Idea, where public goods created at universities fuel innovation beyond the walls of the institution.

“At its heart, the Wisconsin Idea is about converting the knowledge gained through research into products and services that directly benefit society,” says Cranmer. “Increasingly, open-source software products are a vehicle of that translation.”

The OSPO at UW–Madison will work closely with Extension and the Office of Business Engagement to develop partnerships with both communities and enterprises, ensuring that the benefits of open-source applications extend across the state and beyond. In partnership with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the OSPO will provide guidance to entrepreneurs on topics such as open-source software licensing, and it will explore ways to support campus entrepreneurship programs such as Discovery to Product and Creative Destruction Lab. In addition, students from Madison College and UW–Madison will participate in paid open-source development internships, and businesses and other organizations will have opportunities to work with these interns to address real-world challenges.

“IT professionals rarely start projects from zero; they build on the existing components and tools shared by the broader development community,” says Perry Govier, IT instructor at Madison College. “This mindset drives innovation in the industry, and we are excited to leverage this same partnership mentality with UW–Madison to offer expanded learning and internship opportunities for Madison College’s IT students. Working on open source together, now and in the future, will benefit our student community much in the way that open-source development benefits the entire programming industry.”

The OSPO will offer numerous opportunities and services for the UW–Madison campus community. In partnership with the libraries, it will conduct a survey and build a baseline index of open-source software projects and efforts happening around campus, and it will develop tools to track UW–Madison’s contributions to open source. The OSPO will host symposia, workshops and offer training events, and it will work with the Data Science Hub to create a Carpentries training module focused on open source.

“The OSPO comes at a perfect time for our campus as we navigate rapidly shifting expectations around data sharing and publishing, as well as participate in the ongoing global conversations about openness in research,” says Cameron Cook, Data & Digital Scholarship Manager and Chair at UW–Madison’s Research Data Services. “There are many areas of alignment and opportunity between the OSPO’s goals and libraries’ initiatives, and we look forward to providing our support and expertise to the OSPO’s projects.”

At least initially, the OSPO will be based at the Data Science Institute, located at the center of campus in the McArdle Building. This summer, the institute will hire a program manager and other staff, with the goal of launching the OSPO and its first events this fall.

If you are interested in learning more about opportunities available through this OSPO, contact Kyle Cranmer, UW-Madison Data Science Institute:, or Perry Govier, Madison College Information Technology: