An overview of decision-making systems for open projects

Meaningful Participation And Mentorship

How you invite participation from your community is the secret to your project’s success. Remember, you are working with volunteers who are contributing valuable time and energy to the project. As you saw in the Persona activity, you will need to work with them to find tasks that motivate them and connect to their skills and interests.

As an open leader, you cannot make demands or act like a boss. You are not telling contributors what to do for you or the project; you are entrusting them to follow through on work they want to own and supporting them in doing so. Delegation is about you sharing agency and ownership in your project with volunteers; it’s not about being fully in charge and making assignments for people without their agreement.

Distributed Leadership

In the previous section on Personas and Pathways, you wrote a pathway that moves the user into a leadership role by the end. Distributing or sharing leadership among a few community members is a way to secure your project.

Distributed, shared leadership is a key element of open leadership. It requires that you intentionally hand off aspects of your project to trusted, capable people who have grown (and you have mentored) into that role. It means giving up some control of the project to your community members. This is difficult for many people to do– you may find it uncomfortable at first– but it will make your project stronger. Distributing leadership ensures that there are others who feel invested in the project and its survival and success over the long term. If there are times when you’re not able to put as much time as usual into the project, your co-leaders can step up and pitch in. If, eventually, you’d like to move on to other new and exciting projects, the contributors you’ve mentored can take over leading the project

Participation guidelines

To lead an open project effectively, you’ll need to think both about the individuals on your project and how they can join and grow with the project (as we did in the previous sections) but also about the community that your crew of contributors create together. For your project to truly thrive, your community must be welcoming, inclusive, and safe for all. This means that all people– regardless of their background or identity– who come to the project as a contributor or potential user should feel comfortable, find themselves reflected in some way in the project, and be able to participate.

One of the ways to do this is establish some guides for participation in the community, which you’ll write up in a document called a Code of Conduct or Participation Guidelines. These guides are for both projects and any events or convenings you’ll hold for your projects. They apply to face to face, in person interactions and those that happen online, in forums, chat, via email and in project repositories.

Codes of Conduct serve two main purposes:

  • To establish the sorts of behaviors encouraged by the community, and to make clear which behaviors are unacceptable and discouraged
  • To establish the processes by which any problems or violations of the guidelines will be handled by the project lead or leads.

Examples of codes of conduct (sometimes called “participation guidelines”):

What is a governance model & why does it matter

Usually, communities form, grow, and begin to thrive before they start considering how they will share power and deal with the conflicts that inevitably arise. Open source projects usually operate according to rules, customs, and processes that determine which contributors have the authority to perform certain tasks. The earlier those rules are made explicit and are agreed upon, the greater your chances of successfully and positively growing your community.

These rules and customs that define who gets to do what, who makes decisions and how they are supposed to do it, are called a project’s “governance model”. A clear governance model allows potential contributors to understand how they should engage with the project, what is expected of them and what protections are provided to ensure that their contributions will always be available to them. Defining governance is one of the most important steps a project can take towards project sustainability.

If your project is in its early stages you may not need to think of governance right away, but as soon as you start working with people, it will matter. We highly recommend you to take a look at CommunityRule, a tool with templates of governance models you can learn about and tailor to your community needs.

Assignment: Write your Code of Conduct

This is a writing and brainstorming exercise. It can be done individually by the project lead but it’s best completed with members of your community, to encourage shared responsibility for the community’s health and wellbeing.

You can also follow the guidelines in OSHWA - How to write a code of conduct

  1. Brainstorm. (30 minutes or more) Whether in person or online, start by reflecting on the following questions. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to answer each set of questions, or more time as needed.
  • What core words would you associate with your community? These could be values, ideals, or characteristics. Try to keep these to one word answers, if possible.If you’re having trouble getting started, think of communities you identify with, be they a set of friends, a group of peers, or an organization you feel a part of in some way. What makes that a community you come back to? (Examples: welcoming, safe, open, friendly, creative, playful, fun).
  • What behaviors do you want to encourage? … and what do you want to discourage? Be specific enough to be useful here, and be sure to include lots of positive behaviors. Don’t focus only on the negative.(Examples: Encourage: active listening, being welcoming, asking questions; Discourage: unwanted physical contact, insults, being disrespectful of another’s skills or work)
  • How does someone alert you as project lead to a problem, issue, or violation of the code? Be explicit in these steps. It’s OK (and encouraged) to have a few different options for reporting issues. Example: Leaders create a Safety/Code of Conduct committee, and advertise a bit about each person (general information, bios) including a photo to all. Reporters of problems can contact the Safety/Code of Conduct representatives by email or in person at an event. Note that all discussions or correspondences are confidential. Call or text a Google Voice number, set up specifically for the event or project.
  • What consequences are there for violating the code? It’s important the consequences are real and appropriate to the situation. Examples: Verbal warning. Asked to leave the event. Removed as a contributor from the project.
  • Who decides what does and does not violate the code? What’s an example of how this might be done? Come up with a process and think about you’d explain it to participants. This should be clear and consistent. You may want to define response times, how decisions on reported events will be handled, where this will be posted etc.
  • How can you make others feel safe and supported? Code of Conducts are about creating a welcoming and safe environment as much as they are about discouraging bad behavior. Take a few minutes to reflect on how you can better support your peers, reward or highlight good behavior, and model the behavior you want to see.
  1. Refine and Remix. (25 mins) Using the information you’ve collected in the brainstorm above and drawing on the examples, Write your own Code of Conduct. You can also remix some of these to get started.

  2. Share and Discuss. (As much time as needed) Share the version created with your wider community for feedback (if there isn’t one yet, share with colleagues, or trusted members from other communities); make sure everyone knows about the Code, how it was created, and that the intention is to ensure the wellbeing of all community members. In the next section, you’ll be putting your project and this Code of Conduct on the online collaboration platform GitHub, where everyone can see it. It’s a great idea to ask for comments on your Code of Conduct from project members, and revise as needed.


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