ITAV Community Case Study: Mukurtu


The Mukurtu team at the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation at Washington State University began working with the It Takes a Village team (ITAV) in early 2022. Mukurtu CMS is an open-source content management system built with Indigenous communities to manage and share digital cultural heritage. Mukurtu is a grassroots project aiming to empower communities to manage, share, and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically minded ways. The Mukurtu team is committed to maintaining an open, community-driven approach to Mukurtu’s continued development. Mukurtu’s first priority is to help build a platform that fosters relationships of respect and trust.

The direction of Mukurtu CMS development has always been driven by the needs of its global user community base which is primarily Indigenous communities. The team responsible for Mukurtu’s development and management has always been a small group consisting now of a team of five: a director, project manager, two developers and a technical lead. The ITAV Toolkit represented a perfect opportunity to assess the sustainability of Mukurtu both as an organization and as a community–developed software platform.

The Mukurtu team worked with ITAV to set out a course of work for the year to pilot aspects of the governance facet. The work was conducted between March and July 2022.

    • March 2022 – ITAV and members of the Mukurtu team held a preliminary meeting to define goals, expectations, and general structure of the toolkit and pilot project.
    • April 2022 – ITAV led a two-day kickoff for the Mukurtu team to conduct an initial overview of Mukurtu and complete the Getting Started activities.
    • May 2022 – the Mukurtu team completed several preliminary governance activities from the ITAV toolkit.
    • July 2022 – ITAV led the Mukurtu Advisory and Leadership Board (Advisory Board) in two activities from the governance facet.

ITAV Analysis Planning and Kickoff

ITAV hosted a two-day planning session for the Mukurtu team where they guided the team through the Getting Started section of the guidebook. Through this session, the Mukurtu team decided to focus on the Governance facet. Based on the planning activities, ITAV identified pre-work activities for the team to complete and activities for the Advisory Board to complete together.

Facet Focus: Governance

Internal Pre-Work

After the kickoff, the Mukurtu team defined internal work that would be required before the larger governance activity session with ITAV and the Advisory board. Since the Advisory Board was created during the ITAV pilot work, board members would need background information and onboarding to confidently participate in the ITAV session.

In preparation for the Advisory Board, the Mukurtu team completed four of the ITAV governance activities: Mission / Vision; Who is Your Community?; Checklist of Governance Elements; and How Much Structure Works for your Program?

Mission / Vision

While Mukurtu had clear core language about values and goals, the program did not have formal mission or vision statements - this activity was extremely helpful in developing those statements. While it was easy getting the general sentiments expressed, refining the specific language took some time, and these may be refined before they are fully rolled out.

    • Mission: Supporting Indigenous communities to steward and share their cultural resources ethically.
    • Vision: An information and social ecosystem where Indigenous priorities are met.


Who is Your Community?

While the Mukurtu team was confident that they knew key stakeholders, it was worthwhile going through this activity to get a broader sense of stakeholders who may not have been as evident. Given the familiarity with these groups, there were no surprises, and the team was able to focus at a very granular level. This activity was valuable in seeing all partners and stakeholders identified in one place, and provided a better sense of the major groupings, roles, and connections between these groups.

Checklist of Governance Elements

The primary value of this activity to the Mukurtu team was identifying where the organization’s level of different governance elements, where changes should be made, and what should remain the same. These items were not immediately actionable, but will lead into future toolkit activities, so taking the time to complete this activity will serve the Mukurtu team well going forward.

The major areas of governance where the Mukurtu team wants to see some kind of shift included:

    • A broader governance group;
    • Clearer decision-making structures;
    • Leadership transition planning;
    • More transparency;
    • Improved technology roadmap;
    • Improved communication with user communities; and
    • Fiscal stability and reserve funds.
How Much Structure Works for your Program?

This was the first activity where the Mukurtu team began to feel that the organization's make up and operation may not map cleanly onto more conventional governance models and concepts. The team had difficulty with finding commonalities in the written materials provided by ITAV and the organizations structures, goals and needs. While the organization may not align with the models presented, knowing how the team’s operations differ from other similar organizations is valuable.

Highlights of the current Mukurtu governance structure were:

    • Having a balanced focus on both advocacy and service goals (while most organizations primarily target one or the other);
    • The issues/goals/reason for Mukurtu’s existence as a platform are not likely to be “resolved” soon (decolonization is an ongoing and systemic set of practices and changes);
    • The current governance team is small and has largely operated on a balance of leadership and consensus-driven decision making.;
    • There is a need for distributed/delegated governance in the future, especially as transition planning and other similar matters will eventually arise.
Advisory and Leadership Board Session

ITAV led a half-day session with the Mukurtu team and Advisory Board. During that session, a recap of the previous activities and general orientation was provided for the Advisory Board, followed by two ITAV toolkit activities led by ITAV: Catastrophizing, and Choose Your Own Governance.

The Advisory Board was represented by five of its members (there are now eight), representing a range of Mukurtu stakeholders. Some Advisory Board members were well versed in the details of Mukurtu while others have been supporters from afar; some were from Indigenous communities while other represented academic, repository, and/ or industry perspectives.

The opportunity to not only connect with members of the Advisory Board, but give them free reign to brainstorm, share ideas with each other, and express their opinions and experiences to the Mukurtu team in a guided, structured fashion was extremely valuable and provided much needed context for some of the long-term changes and challenges the group expected.


In many ways, this activity was a highlight of the session. As with earlier activities, the Mukurtu team had a strong sense of their own fears going in. Many of those possibilities were echoed by the Advisory Board, though they brought additional items to the conversation. There was a great temptation to take these potential catastrophes and run with them, but ITAV was effective at grounding and refocusing the conversation on the identification and planning aspects of this activity – that it was not a problem-solving activity.

The most prominent topics were focused on relationships between Mukurtu, users, and other stakeholders. While this itself was not surprising, the concerns around loss of valued staff or loss of community trust far outweighed more technical or development-oriented issues – the Advisory Board trusts the Mukurtu team to steer the proverbial technical ship.

Choose Your Own Governance

As with the earlier “How Much Structure Works for your Program?” activity, this activity proved more challenging as the structure of the Mukurtu team is different from the exemplars given. While the activity may not have had all the expected outcomes, it generated valuable topics for future planning sessions, including:

    • Need for someone to co-ordinate the user community;
    • Development of codes of ethics and conduct for the Advisory Board, and Mukurtu broadly;
    • Importance of recognizing diverse types of community participation;
    • Advisory Board role was defined more clearly to steward the values of the mission and vision;
    • Succession/transition planning;
    • Improving pathways to technical participation; and
    • Assessing the long-term institutional home of Mukurtu.

Results and Next Steps

The ITAV activities completed provided a useful lens to frame discussions of governance for the Mukurtu team. Some activities led to immediate actions and decisions, while others will help guide future planning sessions. Where not every activity was directly relevant to Mukurtu, ITAV was responsive in adapting the activity or creating a new activity to help fill gaps.

Two primary types of outcomes emerged: confirming and expanding on existing knowledge; and identifying paths for future discussion and expansion. There were no major surprises or revelations about the current governance of Mukurtu, but the Mukurtu team was able to appreciate a greater nuance and spot gaps that may not have been noticed until a problem arose.

Convening the Advisory Board to participate directly in the activities was an excellent opportunity for them to engage proactively, rather than leaving the planning to the Mukurtu team.

There is work to be done implementing the governance decisions made through the course of this exploration, and the team anticipates there will be some flux as the recommended actions are put in place and stress tested. With the Advisory Board established, governance priorities identified, and having experience working with the ITAV Toolkit, the Mukurtu team plans to continue working through additional activities. The team is prioritizing more governance planning and beginning to work through community engagement activities, with the direction provided by the Advisory Board.