Visualize your support network

One of the most exciting things that can happen to you once your project is out there is that someone finds it exciting and wants to start contributing to it. It’s one of the great things about going open, people around the world can join you, multiplying the impact of your project.

However, any time a group of people come together to do exciting, creative work, there will necessarily be struggles. As project lead, you’ll need to establish good working relationships with an ever-growing, diverse community of contributors.

It’s important that you, as project lead, have support and help that you can count on when things get challenging. So before you grow a community of contributors around your project, identify a smaller group of people who support you as an open leader.

Support can come in many different forms:

  • someone who shares or champions your vision,
  • someone who serves as a partner or colleague in this work,
  • someone who funds your project or has been reliable and enthusiastic about contributing time, work, advice,
  • someone in your life who doesn’t work on the project, but offers emotional support or encouragement

We are talking about people with whom you have person-to-person connections. These are people who can encourage and advise you; they’ll be your closest allies in creating this project.

By describing your support network and the kinds of relationships you have, you’re in a better position to remember to draw on that group of advisers and allies when times get tough. And if you feel your support network is not large enough, this might be a good opportunity to reach out to people and create those kind of connections. Is there someone who you admire at a personal and/or professional level? Reaching out to them may sound daunting, but you’d be surprised on how much people like to support each other, specially when they are working on open exciting projects.

Contribution personas

When you think of attracting contributors, it’s better to plan a little in order to understand who you’d ideally want to help you grow your project. In this way, your outreach efforts will be more efficient, and you’ll be able to keep people engaged once they get to know your project.

“Personas” and “Pathways” are tools used in the world of design that will help you plan and test how you’ll interact with new contributors, and imagine what is really involved for the contributor to succeed.

A persona is a detail of an imaginary member of your community, based on real-world observations and understandings of existing members or potential future members.

Here is a sample persona for a member of an educational open hardware project community:

Andrea is a 22 year old design student at Politecnico de Madrid. She likes creating stuff for fun, to learn new skills. She took an introductory interactive design class at uni and has lots of ideas for gadgets but she thinks she won’t be able to create them because she’s not an engineer. Andrea needs to build prototypes to test and validate interactive concepts in a University context, but boards are expensive to learn with, they are usually meant for experts, her background isn’t technical and she feels programming microcontrollers is just too difficult. Andrea has been following the Arduino community on Twitter, has some exposure and interest to the open hardware community projects, but doesn’t know where to start getting involved or what to learn first.

Contribution pathways

Once we have created a persona, we can imagine how they might interact with our project– the pathway they to get involved and to sustain involvement. Let’s imagine that this process of engagement has a few phases.

  1. Discovery - How they first hear about the project or group.
  2. First Contact - How they first engage with the project or group, their initial interaction.
  3. Participation - How they first participate or contribute.
  4. Sustained Participation - How their contribution or involvement can continue.
  5. Networked Participation - How they may network within the community.
  6. Leadership - How they may take on some additional responsibility on the project, or begin to lead.

If you are working with a good persona, you can clearly see a progression of steps. Here’s an example, continuing with Andrea:

  1. Discovery - Andrea reaches the project website through a STEM education newsletter
  2. First Contact - She attends a virtual community call, and is encouraged to return in a follow up email.
  3. Participation - She asks and answers questions during your project office hours.
  4. Sustained Participation - Attends several community calls and events organized by your project throughout the semester.
  5. Networked Participation - She invites some of her peers to join your project forum
  6. Leadership - Agrees to present her work at a community call and creates a learning resource to contribute to the group’s repository.

When you think through a pathway, you should begin to realize, what needs to be in place to move your persona forward. You’ll begin to see the friction points that would prevent your persona (and potential real life contributors), in terms of skills, time, and motivation. Once you have a sense of this story, you can begin to list solutions to any challenges. Here are examples of things that the project lead would need to do, or put in place for Andrea’s pathway to work:

  • Publicize group meetings via other communities’ communication channels
  • Collect emails of new group attendees for follow up messages.
  • Offer an online intro to your project that onboards newcomers easily, like office hours
  • Schedule community meetings in a way that they don’t clash with university schedules

Assignment: Think of one persona and pathway for your community

  1. Using The Turing Way Persona Creation Tool, follow the steps to create a persona for your community. Write down your description following also the example of Andrea. Be as detailed as possible!

Have in mind these two questions:

  • Who is the person you most need in your community or on your project? Think of skills and attributes– but, since this is an imaginary person, also give them identifying details, a brief life story, etc.
  • What are that person’s motivations and needs? Think of what might draw them to your project, what value they would gain from it, how it fits into their long term goals.
  1. Plan a Pathway Using the structure we mentioned above (Discovery → Leadership), describe a pathway for your persona. What are the steps through this project? What could be stumbling blocks for user?


next: Participation and decision making  

Help us improve content and suggest changes to this page.