A Guide to Mission, Vision, and Strategy

Open Source Alliance for Open Scholarship Handbook, By Joe Hand

The Open Source Alliance for Open Scholarship Handbook was created over three days in 2018 and discussed, created, edited, reviewed, and contributed-to, and otherwise extended by contributors. This project is open to contribution and licensed CC-0.

For a community to prioritize, collaborate, and grow effectively, it needs to come to agreement on its mission, and where that mission intersects with the missions of others. By identifying a core goal, the community will be able to leverage its expertise and energy, and effectively communicate with others in the larger ecosystem.

  1. Introduction Broad summarized questions answered. Sections in this topic: Purpose of Mission, Vision, Strategy.
  2. Why? Alignment Between day-to-day and long-term strategy. Creating shared context across teams and communities.
  3. How To Examples
  4. Resources


Open source projects in open scholarship span various contexts and industries, from research to publishing to technology. Understanding how to communicate across these domains requires a set of experiences that any one person is unlikely to have. Additionally, a project that starts in one context may be pushed into another, for example scientific computing applications are developed for research applications and move to commercial uses.

In this section, we use the term "project" to refer to a specific open source project. A project has a community of stakeholders who make use, develop, maintain, support, and/or fund the project. We use the term "project community" to refer to this community. We also use the term "project organization" to refer to a more formal and well-defined set of people who are active in the governance of the project.

Purpose of Mission, Vision, Values, and Strategy

A project's strategy is a combination of its vision, mission, values, and objectives. By creating these high-level organizational statements, contributors can better align their work with others in the project organization and project community over time. To drive project structure and identify priorities, top-down organizations and distributed projects alike need a:

  • mission: why are we doing this work?
  • vision: what is the future we want to create?
  • set of values: what are the important principles we follow in our work?

The answers to 3these questions may seem clear or unnecessarily tedious to a project's core team. However, a well-define mission statement can help others better understand the project, potentially, leading them to contribute to it, and can help a project answer strategic questions such as:

  • What should we prioritize today? this week? this month?
  • Do we need to add this feature?
  • Should we collaborate with this community?
  • Should we build this ourselves or use an existing library?
  • Do we need to do more work? Have we accomplished our mission?

Broadly, a mission, vision, and objectives accomplish two things needed in open source for open scholarship:

  1. Defines a context that can be shared within the project and across communities.
  2. Creates alignment between day-to-day tasks and long-term goals.

The amazing array of communities, projects, open research labs, and inspiring people in open source and open scholarship provides an overwhelming set of potential collaborations. At some level, many projects recognize the benefit of collaboration. However, few projects can spare the time to build these partnerships which require trust, developing relationships, and sharing knowledge. Rather than comparing technical details, which is rarely an easy point in which to find overlaps, projects can compare missions to find alignment. In this sense, a mission statement may highlight a shared context across communities and better align collaborations.

Because many project are both overburdened and under-resourced, the people in these projects can struggle to prioritize a high volume of tasks with individual and organizational goals. A mission statement seeks to create alignment between daily tasks and long-term goals. With any task, you should be able to answer -- is this contributing to our mission, and how? However, this must go beyond the individual. In building open projects, we hope to create frameworks to guide a community towards a common end. While an individual may be able to prioritize tasks if they have been involved a project, will a new contributor be equally able to prioritize them?

Throughout this process, we aim to make invisible decisions projects and their leaders make more visible and more understandable. Building from the mission, vision, and values, we can chart a process for day to day work, identifying our specific goals, or what objectives should we pursue?


Let's define some of these terms more formally, with the awareness that there are multiple definitions that can be used for each term, depending on both who is using the term and the context in which they are using it.

  • Vision: What the organization seeks to become in the (long-term) future. The future the organization wants to cause to come into being; an inspiration that the community can rally behind.
  • Mission: The reason for an organization's existence (might reflect the organization's past). A statement of an organization's identity an explanation to stakeholders of why they should support the organization by making clear what important role or purpose the organization plays in society. An organization is more effective when its vision and its mission target stakeholder efforts in the same direction.
  • Values: The basic beliefs of the organization and its community about what really matters. The guiding ethical principles that underpin how the organization does its work.
  • Goals: The specific aims that an organization pursues to reach its visions and missions. They provide clear and tangible guidance on ongoing work. Goals can be SMART - specific, measurable, aggressive, realistic, and time-bound.

Examples of vision, mission, etc.

List of Resources