Open Community Section

Chris Hoge 4 years ago
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Open Community
One of our core goals is to maintain a healthy, vibrant developer and user
community. Most decisions are made using a lazy consensus model. All
processes are documented, open and transparent.
The technical governance of the project is provided by the community
itself, with contributors electing team leads and members of the Technical
All project meetings are held in public IRC channels and recorded.
Additional technical communication is through public mailing lists and is
"Open Community" is the critical piece of the Four Opens puzzle. It embodies
the key difference with single-vendor controlled open source projects. It is
about ensuring that the community is a cohesive, inclusive, level playing
ground where all the voices are heard and anyone can rise to leadership
To build a truly open community, you need to balance the three forces:
developers, users and ecosystem. It's easy to think simply in terms of upstream
and downstream, but communities are complex organisms, and the reality is much
more dynamic. It's important to establish common goals and build strong
connections between the forces, because operating in silos will dilute the
power of the community. Each force affects the others and they have to be
working in harmony to achieve anything.
Open Community defines how to best align these forces through:
- Common mission & goals. - Effective governance & leadership. - Diversity &
Inclusiveness. - Contributor recognition & motivation. - Communication. -
Branding & positioning (example of collaboration across forces, product
definition). - Education & On-boarding. - Marketing & events. - Ambassadors
& meet-ups. - Cross-community collaboration (NIH).
Common Mission & Goals
A strong mission statement is one
of the most critical elements to achieve a healthy open source community. It's
imperative to outline a long term vision that is focused, but not overly
constrained. A strong mission statement helps define the community values and
provides a guide to make decisions and prioritize activities. It also helps new
contributors and adjacent communities quickly understand the goals of the
Getting the current stake-holders input and buy-in is key to the success.
Typically a mission statement is developed in the early days of the project
when there are fewer contributors, which makes it critical€”and as a bonus, a
bit easier--to have an open discussion and process. Similarly, changing the
mission statement should not be taken lightly, and can be a challenging process
as the community grows and there are a broader range of perspectives. A good
example of this process came from the Zuul project. Project leaders first
drafted example mission statements in an etherpad, which was circulated to the
public mailing list for feedback and new ideas [link to archive]. The list of
ideas from the etherpad was then put to a Condorcet vote [link to archive] for
the same group of contributors, and the result was:
Effective Governance & Leadership
Any group needs some form of governance. Governance is the set of rules that
the group follows in order to address issues and make decisions. Open source
projects are just another group, so they need governance in order to avoid
decision apathy. There needs to be a place where the buck stops, with a clear
strategy in place to how to solve problems before they arise.
It is tempting, especially amongst tech people, to start with no rule, to to
make them up as you go along. This is anarchy as a form of governance, and a
community formed under the absence of rule will naturally resist later
organization, as something they did not sign up for and resent.
It is also tempting to crown the project's initial creator as the "benevolent
dictator for life". That can work well, until the dictator becomes less
interested in the project or sadly disappears, at which point the project
enters governance limbo (as evidenced by the Gentoo and Python examples) with
no clear way forward. Or worse, engages in unchecked toxic and abusive behavior
that drives away contributors who aren't "tough enough" to handle the it.
A base framework for an Open Community governance would balance 4 basic rules:
Contributor-driven bodies It is critical that the people contributing code,
documentation, usage experience, mentoring time or any other form of
contribution to the project are aligned with the leadership of the project.
Without contributor-driven bodies, leadership and contributors gradually drift
apart, to the point where the contributors no longer feel like their leadership
represents them, making the disruptive decision to fork the project under a
new, contributor-aligned governance, generally leaving the old governance body
with a trademark and an empty shell to govern.
Allowing for replacement Nobody should be appointed for life, as life will
change people. Contributors should regularly be consulted, and the governance
should generally encourage turnover.
Distinct groups call for distinct governance bodies If a community is made of
disjoint groups with little to no overlap in membership, and those groups all
need decisions to be made, then they probably need to each have their own
governance body at that level.
Avoid vanity governance bodies There is no point in having a governance body
where there is nothing to govern and no decision needed. Not every group of
people in a community needs a governance body.
There is no one-size-fits-all implementation of those basic rules that would
work for any project. The size of the project is a critical difference.
Sometimes a multiple-level structure to properly balance autonomy and
We generally recommend using regular elections using a ranking vote mechanism
(Condorcet, STV...). Condorcet is known to favor consensual candidates over
faction candidates. Staggered elections (replacing half the seats at each
election) ensures some leadership continuity. Limits in the number of seats
potentially held by employees from a single organization are usually a good way
to sidestep governance gaming.
Governance bodies should ideally only make consensual decisions, but when that
proves impossible and a decision needs to be made, a formal vote should be
held. It's useful that the body has an odd number of members to avoid having to
give anyone a tie-breaking specific power.
Some of the things that indicate a healthy community are:
Diversity & inclusiveness Nowhere are the three forces (developers, users,
ecosystem) more important than when dealing with diversity and inclusiveness.
Providing an inclusive and safe experience for everyone, regardless of gender,
sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race,
nationality or religion is not only critical to the health of the entire open
source community, it's something that must be considered at the beginning of a
Code of Conduct A code of conduct may not seem necessary as your community is
getting its start. However, creating a path for conflict identification and
resolution at the start can head off issues before they balloon out of control
and alienate valuable contributors and community members. Make the code of
conduct carefully crafted, but also prominent, part of larger strategy to be
inclusive and diverse. The OpenStack Foundation initially adopted the Ubuntu
Code of Conduct when establishing its own.
The first lesson learned is the enforcement policy is equally as important
as the code of conduct. We did not put enough thought into how it was
applied or enforced across our various community events and activities.
Delaying the resolution process while your leadership consults legal
experts and attempts to come to a solution can be more damaging than the
violation itself. Having a clear path to enforcement and resolution sends
a strong message to the community that you have thought through the process
and are looking out for their best interest.
Representation? A few years into the project, we worked with the community,
including the Diversity Working Group, to publicly document an enforcement
policy. Again, we looked to another successful open source community, Python
and PyCon, as a basis for our policy. This policy gives anyone who wants to
report an issue a clear call to action and sets expectations for how it will be
handled and gives the Foundation staff a clear process to follow and removes
the emotion from the process.
Check the health of your community as you go. Do you have something similar
to the following?
Groups that advocate for minorities: A working group to help ensure
projects and teams within the community are following the code of conduct
and properly representing diverse voices.
Visible documentation of policies and enforcement
Regular surveys and check-ins with your community
The strength of the community can be enhanced through education, culture,
pro-active recruitment, in addition to the processes mentioned above.
Consider that the needs for diversity and inclusiveness extend beyond the
normal development community and must be shared with your users and the
ecosystem at large. Don't assume that you know all of the barriers that your
community members may face. Take the extra steps to pro-actively ask them to
identify the challenges they face in trying to contribute and then break down
barriers to participation — whether those barriers are time zones, culture,
gender, age, education, etc€¦ Supporting a diverse set of leaders, both
geographical and by organization, can help reinforce this participation and
will ultimately make for a stronger community.
Contributor Recognition & Motivation
Is there anything more emblematic of the modern work-force than attempting to
solve the problem of day-to-day communication? Open source communities face
standard issues of isolation due to remote work, time zone variations, travel,
and so on. There is typically no home office for teams to meet face-to-face in.
Conversely, remote tribes of team members can work together on a project, but
in the same physical office space, creating friction amongst other team
Highly transparent communication is imperative to help bridge these barriers to
a healthy community. Open communication channels (mailing list, IRC or slack,
web-site) not only help to document decisions, but enable new contributors to
catch up and get involved with the community. Providing a set of open source,
and internationally available, tools will aid collaboration and help build
community. OpenStack initially started collaborating with Google Docs, but
ultimately realized that we excluded a large portion of the world where Google
products were inaccessible/unavailable.
Host meetings in way that can be archived and searched so that the
conversations are accessible to all time-zones and participants who do not speak
English as their first language. Internationalization (translation, tool
choices like google docs, time-zones), in general, helps foster a more diverse
group of contributors.
Board meetings in particular should be open so that anyone can dial in.
Notes/re-cap should be sent out to the community at large via mailing lists
within 48 hours of the meeting. At the OpenStack Foundation, the transparency
policy for the board developed within the first year.
In person communication is as important as online. Identify the most
accessible way to leverage the community and their channels to share your
messaging. This can include local user groups, regional meet-ups,
international/national summits, developer mid-cycles. All can be used to
further educate and engage your open source community.
Branding & positioning (example of collaboration across forces, product
definition) including tools and processes Develop with stake-holders, open to
community Some degree of collaboration is useful and necessary, but only to an
extent. This is especially true in regards to visual identity since it can be
subjective and contentious. Design rationale should be provided to the
community to build consensus, but there should be key decision makers to
prevent the ideation process from continuing to infinity. Lessons learned with
project mascots In an attempt to provide consistency we discovered removed
individuality with some projects Slippery slope - Once the projects got them,
every small group also wanted their own mascot Upside - These are actually
picked up and used regularly by the press and in group events. Critical to
develop brand guidelines, to give community guidelines to extend brand beyond
internal resources Development of consistent UX to be applied to web-sites,
documentation, etc.... This can be tough b/c the needs of the design team
don't always mesh with the needs/methods of developers managing properties like
documentation. Design must be available as an easy plug in (HTML or javascript
snippet) for headers and footers of sites.
Marketing & Strategy Once the initial branding and positioning has been
finalized, share with all key stake-holders. The challenge is often identifying
the correct channel to ensure everyone is apprised of updates and changes. This
may take time, but trying different options and even a combination of a
few often helps reinforce the messaging and branding for the maximum impact.
Ahead of the start of the year, identify the largest areas of opportunity to
increase brand visibility and favorability to create a strategy. After
identifying programs, events and projects that can support the strategy,
communicate this back to the community, reaching out to the marketing teams at
the ecosystem companies directly to participate and provide feedback. This is
your biggest opportunity for a ripple effect. Stay apprised of market share
and user adoption metrics. Share these metrics openly and broadly, particularly
with the ecosystem companies and elected officials who represent the three
forces. This can be done in joint leadership meetings, both remote and in
person, as well as mailing list newsletters. If the information could be
perceived negatively, come prepared with a solution or action plan to increase
confidence of key stake-holders. It's important to pro-actively share the
negative information when possible to prevent reactionary fear, uncertainty and
doubt. Identify key dates and milestones that celebrate the successes of the
community. Whether it's specific to a force, like a software release or new
case study or specific to the software or community itself, like results in a
market report or participation in a supported event. This helps create momentum
and rewards the positive community efforts that are impacting another force or
even the broader industry. Leverage collaborative opportunities when possible.
If the broader market perceptions indicate a confusion around facts that affect
one of the three forces, collect the people most affected to identify a way to
pro-actively address the problem. An example would be that OpenStack is seen as
only a private cloud solution. A Public Cloud Working Group that
collaborates to create programs and most recently messaging that will help
alleviate the confusion is a response that helps leverage the affected parties
to address the overarching issue.
Events Support upstream developers with dedicated space and events to
collaborate and get work done. This includes collaboration within a project and
cross-project collaboration. Create a productive event that combines upstream
developers with operators so that production challenges and successes can be
combined with software road-maps and bug tracking. Create an opportunity for
ecosystem companies to interact with operators and developers to educate around
available products, gain insights from the market and participate in road-map
discussions. Identify gaps in both the community and the overall market and
use events as an opportunity to gather content, subject matter experts and
adjacent communities to share knowledge and solve problems. OpenStack Days
Industry events
Education & On-boarding Goal to make the barrier to entry as low as possible.
Clear, discoverable and digestible documentation Recorded and real time
on-boarding sessions - webinars, f2f sessions at events Suggest training the
trainer - creating a toolbox and guidelines to provide to regional community
members so they can lead their own on-boarding sessions Documented ways to
communicate with seasoned experts / join meetings to accelerate on-boarding.
Mentorship programs
Ambassadors & Meet-ups Supporting global communities through user groups,
ambassador program, Providing resources & content for events and meet-ups, and
setting precedents for those events (branding, content, etc.), while still
giving them creative freedom building the relationships first; find leaders
outside of the Foundation to foster new user groups leaders; collab sessions at
Summits using tools available to all regions community of 90,000; team of 23
(XX ambassadors, 100+ user groups) Collaborating with local leaders to better
understand regional differences in the technology choices, use cases and
community involvement. Create a way to co-own user group contacts to ease the
transfer of ownership if people leave the community or if there are any bad
Cross-community collaboration (NIH) From the very beginning invite other
communities and projects to collaborate and participate. In turn actively reach
out to engage and participate in other communities to enhance integration
efforts. Need examples here