@ -2,337 +2,306 @@
NOTE: This section still needs editing
The Four Opens is a set of principles to guide you when you build, support or
participate in an open source community to ensure a healthy and balanced
While there is no magic formula that would apply to all communities, there
are practices you can follow and steps you can take regardless of you being one
of the contributors, or if you work for an organization that supports the
This chapter will give you examples and recommendations to build on based on
the experiences of the OpenInfra communities and the ecosystems around them. We
will cover the following areas:
- Common mission & goals.
- Effective governance & leadership.
- Diversity & Inclusiveness.
- Contributor recognition & motivation.
- Open & Transparent Communication.
- Branding & positioning (example of collaboration across forces, product
- Education & On-boarding.
- Marketing & events.
- Ambassadors & meet-ups.
- Cross-community collaboration (NIH).
- Common mission & goals
- Effective governance & leadership
- Diversity & Inclusiveness
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 project.
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
[#f1]_, which was circulated
to the public mailing list for feedback and new ideas
[#f2]_. The list of
ideas from the etherpad was then put to a Condorcet vote
[#f3]_ for the same
group of contributors, and the result was: "To provide software and processes
The idea behind openly-developed open source software is to share and work
together on tools and projects that provide solutions to common problems. While
having a shared challenge is a good start for collaboration, it cannot
guarantee a stable direction for the community in itself. This is why it is
crucial to define the common goals for the community and summarize them in a
strong mission statement.
A clear mission statement and goals are essential to create and maintain
balance between contributors, users and the ecosystem around a community. They
should be easy to discover to give a clear view of the community values and
direction to everyone - established and new contributors, adjacent communities,
users, and so forth.
It is important to spend time on making the mission statement and goals as
clear and simple as possible. In addition, the community can also define a long
term vision which describes the target they would like to reach. The vision can
serve as big picture to provide guidance for actions and decisions. However, as
both technology and the challenges are changing rapidly, it is worthwhile to
revisit the mission, goals and vision periodically to ensure they are still
accurate and update them if necessary.
This step should be completed while the community is in the forming phase, as
getting input and buy-in from everyone who is motivated to participate is key
to long term success. The advantage of developing the mission statement in the
early days is having fewer contributors who need to reach consensus through an
open discussion and process. As the community grows and evolves the process of
updating the mission statement and goals should also follow the same open
procedures, even if it seems harder at first.
A good example to explore is how the Zuul community worked and agreed on their
goals and mission. Project leaders first drafted example mission statements in
[#f1]_, which was circulated to the public mailing list for
feedback and new ideas
[#f2]_. The list of ideas from the etherpad was then put
to a Condorcet vote
[#f3]_ for the same group of contributors to choose the
variant that resonated with most, which was: "To provide software and processes
to automate continuous integration, delivery, and deployment of interrelated
software projects in a secure manner using project gating."
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 rules and to
make them up as you go along. This is anarchy as a form of governance, and a
community formed under the absence of rules 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:
When you are working together with a group of people you will soon need
processes and governance to ensure smooth collaboration and operation.
Governance is the set of rules that the group follows in order to address
issues and make decisions that affect the whole community or some of the
sub-groups and to avoid decision apathy. Governance can also help to resolve
any conflicts and help reaching consensus where needed. In addition, having
formal bodies in a community to guide and deal with technical and community
related issues these bodies can also help with coordinating cross-community
outreach and interactions.
While you cannot anticipate all challenges that the community will need to
overcome and every governance body that they will need over time, you should
still encourage your community - that you are a part of or supporting - to put
a basic structure in place. This can help to avoid anarchy where you can hit
big road blocks and obstacles if you try to create an organizational structure
later as the community is starting to grow. The governance bodies should evolve
and grow with your community over time.
There are multiple models to choose from and you can find examples to these
within existing communities.
Projects often start as a one-person endeavor with no need of governance, and
from there can naturally evolve into a collaboration on which the initial
project creator retains full authority and become "benevolent
dictator for life" (BDFL)
[#f5]_. You can look into the Linux kernel, as an
example to the BDFL model. Even though the Linux kernel became very successful,
this model has many risks that you need to take into account. If the project
leader loses interest or has another reason to leave the community, it can
enter governance limbo with no clear way forward and challenges to make
decisions the community agrees with (you can see the Gentoo or Python projects
as examples). The leader can also engage in toxic and in some cases abusive
behaviors that is hard to control and will affect existing contributors and
make it hard to on-board newcomers.
The solution to avoid the drawbacks of a BDFL model is to create governance
bodies, which are diverse groups within the community, that are responsible to
help and guide the community to work towards its mission to achieve its goals.
To build such framework, you should consider the following four rules:
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.
People who are active participants of the community are the best skilled and
positioned to become stewards. By building the governance bodies from the
project contributors, you can ensure that they are representing the community
that remains aligned with the leadership of the project.
Without contributor-driven bodies and leadership, contributors will most
likely gradually drift apart, to the point where they no longer feel like
their leadership represents them. This can lead to 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
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.
Nobody should be appointed for life. Processes should allow to revisit the
governance bodies and elect new leaders and group members from the community
by the community on a regular basis that is well publicized. This ensures that
new views and ideas are brought into the project leadership.
It can also help to avoid the burning out established leaders as well as
encouraging new contributors to join and maintain the project if they have the
opportunity to become one of the leaders over time.
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.
As a community grows it often ends up having disjoint groups with little or
no overlap between them. For example, these groups can be project teams, who
work on different services that make the end product of the community. These
project teams usually need a project leader and a stable group of people who
ensure quality work and efficient processes around that team and service.
Every group that is mainly standalone within a community needs to have its 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.
In order to keep balance, the opposite of the former rule also applies. You
should avoid overloading a community with governance bodies which typically
results in making the community slower and less efficient. Once a community
has an initial framework it needs to be carefully revisited if all the
governing bodies are useful and necessary or if there is a need for a new
group for an area that is yet uncovered and therefore not operating
efficiently. The opposite is also true as there is no point in having a
governance body where there is nothing to govern and no decision is needed. It
is crucial to keep balance to focus on helping the community to operate as
opposed to drown in heavy and complicated processes or have a governance body
just for people to hold power.
There is no one-size-fits-all implementation of these 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.
work for every project. The size of the project is a critical factor to take
into consideration, where larger communities may call for a multiple-level
structure to properly balance autonomy and consistency.
Choosing the project stewards could also be a challenging task, but there are
popular ways to build the governing bodies. When a community is forming and
people don't necessarily know each other yet, it can be hard to make a decision
that involves the whole community. A common practice is to appoint the first
group or groups of leaders from the people who launched the project.
After a first term -that often spans from 6-month to a year- when the community
is operational they are most often switch to an election-based process to find
new members to the governance bodies. Popular choices to make:
- Use 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 with the opportunity to introduce new members and
refresh the group
- 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 project.
proves impossible and a decision needs to be made, this can be resolved by
holding a formal vote. You can also consider having odd numbers of members in
the governance bodies to avoid having to give anyone a tie-breaking specific
Diversity & Inclusiveness
Open source practices are all about open collaboration without limits and
boundaries, but it's much easier said than done.
A community has to be an inclusive and safe environment to participate in for
everyone, regardless of their circumstances and characteristics, such as
gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race,
nationality or religion. In order to create such environment, you need to
create and maintain a culture within the community, which requires work and
conscious effort from the very beginning. And along with culture and human
behavior, the community also needs inclusive processes.
There are several steps that you can take to create a friendly, welcoming and
accessible environment for everybody no matter who and where they are. This
section mentions a handful of these for you to consider to apply in the
community you support or participate in.
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 a carefully crafted, but also prominent, part
of the 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
An open source project cannot survive without contributors, so it is important
for project leaders to motivate developers and find chances to encourage
them. It could be a mention in the project newsletters or an email sent to
public mailing lists or blog posts. Another good example could be the Open
Infrastructure Community Contributor Awards
[#f4]_ which offer recognition to
behind-the-scenes heroes and are nominated at every Summit by other community
Open & Transparent Communication
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 a 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
Branding and positioning is an example of collaboration across forces
and product definition which includes 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
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
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
The goal is 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 actors.
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
While we all expect people to bring their best behavior and intentions, there
are cases when people's actions and interactions go beyond a limit and become
harmful. The community needs to be able to define their standards to state
their values, rules and expectations with regards to how people are expected to
behave and treat each other. The document that describes these items is called
a Code of Conduct.
While it may seem self explanatory, and, with that, unnecessary to have from
the launch of the project, it is a crucial step and serves as the foundation to
create the open and inclusive culture and environment that is desired for every
open source community.
There are several well-crafted Code of Conduct documents that you and your
community can use as a basis to create your own with giving recognition to the
original document. As an example, portions of the Open Infrastructure
Foundation's Code of Conduct were derived from the PyCon Conference Code of
To take this a step further, defining your values and expectations is not
enough without a process to be able to enforce it and report violations. It is
very important to address the creation of such process along with the Code of
Conduct document. Having a process to report violations in a clear and
anonymous way and having a similarly clear resolution path are key to make your
community a safe environment for everyone in it. Violating the code of conduct
always have emotional implications and therefore being able to resolve the
conflict as soon as possible is in the best interest of both the community as
well as the individuals involved in the incident.
Advocacy and Support
Having a Code of Conduct and continuously putting effort into creating a
friendly and welcoming culture for the project are just the first steps, but
they are not necessarily enough to build a truly diverse community. People,
especially in under represented groups, can have a hard time when they start to
participate in a community that is new to them because of bad experiences
elsewhere or just because of being intimidated to join a larger group of people
who they don't know.
Many communities recognized these challenges and contributors are forming
groups to put more focused efforts into helping newcomers to join a project as
well as to ensure that the community is a safe and friendly environment for
The OpenStack community recognized this need early on and formed a group called
Women of OpenStack (WOO), where they set it to their mission to help women in
technology to become part of this project. The group had a mailing list and a
channel on IRC in order to be reachable for anyone in need and they were also
meeting on a regular basis to find ways to advocate for women, and help them
with their first steps and contributions. While the name might suggests, the
group was open for anyone to join, regardless of their gender, who was wanted
to participate in reaching the group's mission and goals. The WOO group also
organized gatherings at OpenStack and some other events as well to reach out to
more and more people in need of their help and support.
Over time the WOO group transformed into the Diversity and Inclusion Working
Group to broaden the group of people to reach out to, as there are many under
represented groups in tech who need to find their voices and freedom to be able
to do what they are passionate about.
When we talk about diversity it is easy to focus on the bigger movements that
consider factors like gender, race, religion, and so forth. But being inclusive
is even broader than that.
Especially in case of larger global communities, simple things like time zones
and spoken language can prevent someone from participating. It is very
important that both the community as a whole as well as individuals in it are
conscious about these factors when they build their processes and define their
ways to collaborate.
To give a simple example, if your community relies on meetings for strategic
discussions and to make decisions that means that you are excluding all the
people from the decisions making process who are unable to attend these
gatherings for any reason. This violates many pillars of the Four Opens, as the
people who are unable to participate in these discussions cannot make their
voices heard and participate and have much less chance to ever rise to
leadership positions, even if they are still motivated to do so.
The OpenInfra communities rely a lot on their mailing lists to ensure that the
discussions that concern project teams or the whole community can reach
everyone before decisions need to be made. It is a conscious decision to
provide enough time and accessible channels for everyone to weigh in regardless
of where they are and what is their native language. On top of mailing lists
you can also use review tools like Gerrit or GitHub to publish items like
design documents or resolutions that you need a decision on. These tools
provide the possibility for everyone to read the problem statement, even
without creating a user and sign in, and to join the discussion which is also
logged to keep a conversation history.
Diversity is also represented in the ways how people can contribute. Even when
we talk about software development communities, not everyone is a software
developer who participates. You need documentation for the project, a website
where you can share information, people who report issues with the software,
speak at or organize events and many other things that are not about code
development, but essential for the long term success of your project. If you
only focus on and favor the technical contributors, the community will not be
an inclusive place anymore to a lot of people whose knowledge and experience
Being inclusive can be very challenging due to a lot of circumstances that a
community has to overcome. But it has to be a choice from the first day to
create a culture, where inclusivity is a principle that turns into action every
day, which includes the processes that the community creates to help them to
collaborate without boundaries.
.. rubric :: Footnotes
@ -340,4 +309,4 @@ examples here
.. [#f2] http://lists.zuul-ci.org/pipermail/zuul-discuss/2018-May/000394.html
.. [#f3] https://civs.cs.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/results.pl?id=E_708e8e18e160cdcf
.. [#f4] https://superuser.openstack.org/articles/open-infrastructure-community-contributor-awards-denver-summit-edition/
.. [#f5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benevolent_dictator_for_life