What motivates the open source community? – Rina Jensen

This talk is the result of research done by Mozilla on what motivates contributors.

Sometimes when things have to be shipped, the aspect of openness seems more tedious than that it helps. This engendered a research project about how the experience of contributors can be improved. Research was done by talking to people face-to-face and in video calls. Primarily technical contributors, of all ages, and contributing to several projects of different types (e.g. open hardware), mainly Mozilla projects but also others. The research was developed and analysed in co-creation sessions with community members.

The researchers were mainly looking for positive stories.

There is a report with all details, this talk gives the highlights. Four aspects were identified.

  • Learning: E.g. a constant update of what matters.
  • Community: Belonging to something bigger than you.
  • Cause: Doing something better. Mostly the concept of Open Source of course.
  • Recognition: both for initial contributors (e.g. a sticker) and tacit recognition of experts.
  • Tangible goals: Making a difference, contribution has an impact.

The above is fairly obvious. To get further, the research team clustered the motivations in Personas. Give a score on each of the 5 motivators and create clusters statistically, then give names to each cluster. The Persona allows a project to identify a contributor’s needs and take them into account.

  • Independents: rather young; main goal is to build up skills and network. That’s how they come in, but they stay because of recognition.
  • Leaders: Have been contributors for a longer time. What matters most is the community, and recognition as expert.
  • Fixers: Join because they have a specific problem, i.e. tangible impact. Stay because of learning opportunities.
  • Citizens: Care about cause and community. Satisfaction of contributing and advancing society.

Guiding principles of how to attract volunteers

(Focused on Mozilla, but general trend.)

  • Showcase the value exchange: show contributors the benefits of being involved. They shouldn’t be tacit benefits.
  • Frequent communication of how to get involved. Visualize it, make sure that people can track their involvement. Visualize what the project is about – cfr. Mozilla Pulse project.
  • Show how to make a difference, highlight the cause.
  • Recognise that recognition is important.
  • Make people feel part of the community.
  • Foster co-ownership, sense of responsibility.

Many more recommendations in the document.

There is a survey for Mozilla to collect more quantitative information. This survey could be reused by other projects.


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