Community : What I’m Learning

As long as I’ve  been an open source participant (since 2005), I’ve  rather tirelessly (and some might say annoyingly) encouraged others to also ‘get involved‘.   In the beginning this talk was straight forward:  I simply spoke a lot about learning, how much you can learn!  Who you can learn from,  who you can mentor, how much better the end-result can be when people work on something together.

Open source contribution, can actually be a very simple path, but it gets more complex in practice as background, skill-set, values, and environment merge.  Simply wanting to contribute to an open project sometimes isn’t enough. On the flip-side,  inviting contribution is rarely enough to sustain it.

I often talk to dev shops with great intentions of contributing, but who then defer to budget limitations, and deadlines as to why they never do; so good work, potentially innovative work stayed silo’d.   Universities are big users of open technologies, but are poor contributors –  worried about publicly-facing imperfections, or accidental sharing of proprietary ideas. I sometimes speak to Higher Ed on this subject.  Explaining the value of a project’s mission can also be very very challenging for the average human attention span, I still struggle with this when speaking locally about Mozilla and Webmaker.

And even when people arrive, finally… ready to help , they’re often met with confusing or incomplete contribution pathways,  human indifference, and technical challenges they weren’t prepared for.  Busy family lives, time-zones, language and missing or under-utilized skill-sets can also derail continued participation.  There’s actually a lot to this thing of ‘getting people involved’, and then some to sustaining involvement.

And so,  my job at SocialCoding4Good, working with a group of amazing open projects and contributors, has given me a lot of insight into what works for different projects, for different contributors, businesses and institutions.  I am witness to development shops successfully donating code and time,  of corporations making a difference through donating technical skills of their teams. I am able to, with some confidence send talented people to open projects and see them become part of that community.  I am starting to recognize trends in what works , and doesn’t work for people, and pathways. Seeing a contributor find ‘their place’ is one of my most favorite things in the whole world.

I of course want to share what I am learning, but a single blog post could never cover it.  Instead I’ll will try a series of shorter post, and include content of three workshops I use to help open projects evaluate and grow contribution pathways:   ‘Visualizing Community’, ‘Designing for Participation’ ( an evolution of Mozilla’s workshop) and ‘Practicing Open’.

Coming Soon – 1st Post : Visualizing Community.