3 How to Build a Leadership Team

This section of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) is meant to help you understand the importance of leadership, admin and advisory teams, share suggestions for forming these teams, and more. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY) and you are welcome to print this document, make a copy for yourself, or share with others.

Please read through the sections below, and consider the suggestions as you begin planning your project and setting out with the initial steps. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the Rebus Community project home. This document is an evolving draft, based on our experience managing open textbook projects and community feedback. We welcome your thoughts and contributions, so let us know how it works for you, or if you have any suggestions to improve the guide.

Why is it important to have a leadership team?

Seeing an open textbook project through from conception to release is no easy task, especially if you are working as the solo project manager, coordinator, or lead. But, with a good leadership team, you can share the load and responsibilities. The right team will make all the difference – helping drive the project forward and ensuring that it runs smoothly.

Having a group of people at the core who are working together to plan, lead, and see a project through to completion also allows you to draw on a range of perspectives and expertise. Each individual is unique and comes to a project with their own lens, background, and skills. These powers combined can strengthen your project, make the resource more accessible, and make the collaborative experience more inclusive.

Through providing input from people with varying perspectives and skills, the leadership team can also help with complex decisions that arise along the way. They can act as a kind of governing body, committed to helping the resource become as valuable as possible.

This group also lets you expand your network, meaning you have a wider reach when recruiting collaborators, and promoting your book in the long term. And, as an added bonus, it allows you to meet different people passionate about working in Open Education and improving the resources available in your field! As with any collaborative project, an open textbook is an opportunity for you to grow your community and learn more through shared work.

What does the leadership team do?

There are several different approaches you can take to leading a project, and not everyone has to sign up for a big workload. One approach is to have both an admin team that focuses on the project’s day-to-day activities, and an advisory team to help steer the project in the right direction as needed.

The admin team can be charged with the day-to-day managing of contributors, tasks, deadlines and other project work, working together to keep things moving forward steadily. Typically, admins will also be contributing to the project in other major ways (as an author, editor, or filling in other gaps like formatting, arranging print on demand, etc.).

In contrast, an advisory team (a.k.a. steering committee, brains trust, etc.), can be established to guide the process at a high level. This team can set the ‘big picture’ goals for the project, or measures of success. They can assist with decision-making, mediate conflict, and provide wise counsel as needed. This group should ideally be proactive, rather than reactive, in the face of challenges, and so will rely on the admin team to keep them up to date on what’s happening. And, while they might not be involved in the day-to-day, advisors are still a great channel to promote your project and find new contributors!

While it may not be possible for every project to have both of these teams, keep in mind the roles they play as you bring together your project leads and make sure you have a mix of people with different responsibilities in a way that works for you.

Specific duties and expectations

As with any collaborative project, it’s good to clearly state the duties, responsibilities, or expectations for each team member. Doing so can help to avoid confusion or conflict down the line, and keep everyone on the same page. While not exhaustive, the following lists should give an idea of what the two teams might be responsible for.

Admin team:

  • Defining the project
  • Preparing project-related documents such as guides, templates, calls, etc.
  • Managing the project’s public listing on  the Rebus Community platform
  • Sharing calls for various contributors
  • Talking to potential volunteers and onboarding those who are selected
  • Tracking content and the project’s progress
  • Reaching out to people and sending regular reminders
  • Engaging with the team
  • Conducting a developmental edit on the content
  • Reading the resource before it is released
  • Acting as a backstop for others on the team
  • Clarifying roles and tasks for team members
  • Running conference calls with authors or other volunteers

Advisory team:

  • Providing input on the project’s definition and direction, and the content
  • Setting broad strategic objectives for the resource
  • Making sure that these goals are met
  • Ensuring the team includes diverse perspectives, which are also represented in the content created
  • Mediating conflict
  • Acting as an impartial body and advising the admin team on decisions
  • Helping find and recruit volunteers
  • Attending meetings or calls
  • Promoting the project from conception to publication

Finally, make sure you discuss any other expectations with the whole leadership team, and spend some time considering decision-making strategies that you can employ over the course of the project. You could also sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with each member of your team to be certain that you are on the same page regarding their position in the project. We’ve prepared a template that you could use, or adapt.

Recruiting members for both teams

Thinking about the different roles, you can also consider who is best placed to help lead the project, and what expertise they can bring.

The admin team will likely have more of a direct impact on the content, and need to be committed to being hands-on with the project. Experience with open textbook publishing is a plus, and you’ll be working closely with them, so they need to be reliable! Here are some of the kinds of people who might be involved:

  1. Librarians interested in/in charge of developing OER at your institution
  2. Instructional designers or others from your institution’s Center for Teaching & Learning
  3. Colleagues or graduate students in your department
  4. Collaborators on other projects from outside your institution
  5. Authors or editors already attached to the project

In addition, when it comes to the advisory team, think about:

  1. Senior experts in your field or mentors
  2. Anyone you know with experience publishing textbooks or open textbooks
  3. Community advisors (this is crucial is you are working with a specific community or with indigenous knowledge)
  4. Subject librarians
  5. Instructors with experience teaching the course for which the resource is intended

Another thing to consider when forming both teams is whether they are diverse and representative of the professionals in your field. This might mean looking outside your existing network, and considering people who might not otherwise be considered for this kind of project (e.g. graduate students).

In addition, including instructors with experience teaching the course you are working with means you are more likely to compile a resource with practical value in the classroom. Look for members who have expertise in the subject, are organized, committed, and buy-in to the reasons for creating an open resource. It’s also important to consider people’s time commitments, as being part of the admin team can be a lot of work. If they aren’t able to commit, an advisory role might be more suitable.

You might also be wondering how many people you will need. Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula – it really depends on the project! You should aim for enough members that no one person is left doing all the work, but not so many that no one is clear on who is doing what. And no matter how many individuals you end up recruiting, it is important for them to have a clear understanding of their responsibilities.

Our recruitment guide lists the strategies you can employ to find your team, so have a look through it when you’re ready to start looking for people.

Examples of leadership and advisory teams in action

As we mentioned in the introduction, this guide has been developed based on our experiences working with many different open textbook projects around the world. Given that experience, we wanted to share some examples of both leadership and advisory teams in action, so you could better understand their role and importance in the open textbook publishing process.

One of our pilot open textbook projects, From the Ground Up: An Introduction to North American Archaeology, set up an advisory team from very early on. The book itself sets out to offer a broad overview of the diverse groups that have called “North America” home for over 10,000 years and how lessons from the past are relevant today. The advisory team comprises a number of subject experts from various kinds of institutions. The project lead, Katie Kirakosian, explains its purpose:

The Steering Committee was formed to help guide the larger process for creating this open textbook. This Committee will be following the progress of each component of this project and preparing for upcoming milestones (i.e. sending out sections for review, marketing the textbook, etc). Steering Committee members may be asked to offer their advice if/when issues arise that need to be discussed by an impartial group that knows the landscape of North American Archaeology quite well. The goal is for the Steering Committee to be proactive versus reactionary in this progress by focusing on addressing the complex and varied needs and potential challenges during the life of this project. If you have a concern arise while working on this project, email Katie Kirakosian directly who can offer advice or bring the concern to the attention of the Steering Committee, if necessary. Please do not email the Steering Committee directly!

Another pilot project, Introduction to Philosophy, needed a large, dedicated admin team due to the sheer size of the resource being created. The project aimed to create a series of open introductory texts, each in a different sub-field of philosophy. To wrangle a project of this size, each individual text has its own editor, with a series editor overseeing the whole operation. As of writing, the team comprises nine people, located across North America, Europe, and Africa, with two other slots to be filled in future for the remaining sub-fields. While each editor is responsible for the content and contributors in their own portion of the series, they also collectively make decisions about editing and review processes, write or provide feedback on guides, assist with recruitment, and more.

Other projects have been successful with a smaller leadership team, consisting of just a project manager and lead author. In these cases, the subject expertise of the lead author was well-balanced with the more operational input from the project manager. Together, the duo was able to define the project, create calls, manage content, assess the project’s progress, and more.

As you can see, teams come in a different shapes and sizes! And that means that with a bit of reflection on what you have and what you need, you’ll be able to find the approach that best suits you.

Need further assistance?

We hope these suggestions will help you lay the groundwork for your leadership team and set your project up for success from the beginning. We’ll continue to add to this guide as we work with more projects, and we welcome your ideas on what else we could add, or your feedback on how these approaches have worked (or not!) for you.

If you have questions, or anything to add, please let us know in the Rebus Community project home.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) Copyright © 2019 by Apurva Ashok and Zoe Wake Hyde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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