Building a community that we want to be a part of.

In my post, Drupal, I’m taking sides, I said that Drupal and our community are worth staying in and fighting for despite recent, awful events.

What is a community? What’s missing here?

For me, the definition of community is a group of people with shared goals and values. Our goals in the Drupal community are pretty clear: make Drupal better, and with a better Drupal, make better other things. But what about our shared values? There are a bunch of things we talk about a lot, but where are they documented as our values? How did we agree they’re important to us? How do we know that we really share these values? Let’s figure that out.

First, we could define, agree on, codify “our” values; what the Drupal community (wants to) stand for–you can be a part of this by taking my survey–for example, a Drupal community statement of values.

Then, we can create (new) structures, and procedures–built on our documented values–that express, support, and help us be that community that we want to be.

PERMA — Why we’ve worked so hard to stick together

I have stuck with Drupal for very practical reasons for the last 12+ years: it’s helped me pay my rent and kept my family fed! Beyond this, Drupal has given me meaning and direction. We, the Drupal community, are making a positive difference in the world and that is worth being a part of. In my last post, I also said,

“We — tens of thousands of us — have worked and fought and struggled on every front for 15 years [to do a bunch of important things] … and to build a community that we want to be a part of … tens of thousands of us. Thousands of developers, thousands of companies, making stuff for uncountable millions of end users.”

There is an academic discipline called Positive Psychology that studies what makes people happy and how to measure it. In 2011, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Martin Seligman, came up with the concept of the “PERMA” model in his book, Flourish. Seligman says that the following components are the building blocks of a fulfilled life … and I get a lot of these from being part of the Drupal community. Consider my life and career in Drupal as I paint it in the list below. Maybe you can identify with some of this, too:

ositive emotion — I have been thrilled to be part of Drupal for more than a decade now. Actually thrilled.

ngagement — Drupal has given me the chance to take my skills and education and apply them to whole new areas. I’m part of something bigger than I ever thought I could be, and maybe I even make a difference now and then.

elationships — I like you people! I have had the chance to meet and help and be helped by so many wonderful people in and around our project. I can’t wait to catch up with you at the next DrupalCamp, DrupalCon, or wherever we might meet.

eaning — Being associated with Drupal people through the community, and our technologies through code, I feel I am a part of so many great projects, helping so many organisations. My life and small efforts wouldn’t be worth much at all without the multiplier that is our community and our association with so many others.

ccomplishment — Knowing I can promote someone’s work in a post or podcast; knowing I made an introduction that turned into a job, or deal, or partnership gives me the sense that I have done something to make the world just a tiny bit better.

Kris Vanderwater puts it well:

“I think we should all put the project first. Doing what’s best for Drupal is what’s best for all of our careers. Doing what’s best for Drupal is “playing the long game” so to speak. … [Code] is NOT what defines a healthy Drupal… the community is. Without the community, we don’t fix bad code. Without the community, we don’t build fortune 100 websites, and repeatable solutions, and expertise and careers. Without the community, Drupal’s just code. I’ve written a ton of code. Most of it makes my life a little better and no one else’s. Not because the code sucks (well, it might), but because I don’t have a community built around that code. It’s not special the same way Drupal is special, and what makes Drupal special is the community.”

Why recent events are especially upsetting

I know that everyone’s experience in Drupal is different. I know not everyone “cares” like I do. It is perfectly fair and reasonable to come use our code for getting things done without bothering with all this community stuff. If you’d ask me, I’d tell you you’re not getting everything out of it that you could, but hey, that’s up to you :-)

But if you consider yourself part of the community, if you have been contributing and engaging with it, chances are you’ve been pretty upset lately. I felt like some number of people I know and trusted have screwed up, put the project at risk, and that we didn’t have the tools and structures to deal with all of it well. And you know what? I fear for my PERMA. I fear losing you, Drupal community, losing our mutual source of pride, engagement and all the rest.

Stop assuming

I’ve pulled non-Drupalist friends into our world as I’ve been trying to get a handle on the recent tensions and public discussion around our community, Larry Garfield, Dries Buytaert, the Drupal Association, and others (I suspect I’ve been a huge bore, sorry!). I’ve been looking for perspectives and advice on what could or should happen next. These conversations have raised some critical issues that I hadn’t necessarily noticed before. Among them, people pointed out structural weaknesses and challenged many of my long-held assumptions. And that’s good! As my 16-year-old is fond of telling me, “Daddy, when you assume, you make an ass out of U and me.” Thanks, kid. Keep up the clichés :-)

In “Drupal Land”, our sense of belonging, our feelings about community have led us, perhaps, to assume that we are all on the same page about our values, too. When we talk about contribution, karma, paying it forward, and all our other catch-phrases, it feels like we’re talking about the same thing, so we must mean the same thing, and feel the same thing … right?

When called out on this by a friend of mine, “Where does it say transparency is important to you Drupal people? I can’t find anything in writing that says you have to be inclusive or what you mean by that?” I had to admit that I don’t think we have explicit statements about our values. We do have a Code of Conduct.

I well recall the long, intense discussions that got us to our current Code of Conduct (golly, 2010! That’s a while ago!) … the tension between various community members who wanted statements ranging from “Be respectful. Don’t be a d**k,” to detailed scenarios about perpetrators, victims, and authorities. For a long time, I really liked how the Drupal CoC walked the line between these extremes very well; how it tries to be constructive and respectful while dealing with tricky, important material.

So what are our values? How do you know?

I’ve reconsidered and come to a new conclusion. Our current Code of Conduct is a mix of idealism and practice. If we are a community based on values, or principles, or ideals, we need to say so–and maybe we’re not and we should say that, too. In my last post, I said, “Our killer app was never the code. Our killer app is a global community of smart people solving hard problems together — in tech, online, and between humans,” … and this is a doozy of a problem. We’ll have to invoke the Ancient Drupal Way of the Bikeshed and agree on it all, but if we “stand for” something, we cannot assume what that something is anymore.

I propose we find out what our common values are and put them into a Statement of Values. This would give us an instance, something concrete to reference when we talk about the “who we are” part of Drupal. We can iterate on our values over time, too. They’re ours. We know how to change and grow a spec over time when the requirements change. Then, with commonly accepted values in place, we could then create a separate, new Code of Conduct (and/or structures, procedures, rules, documentation) built on top our community’s stated values in the Statement of Values. This new CoC (or whathaveyou) could help us to act predictably, consistently, and in accordance with our agreed values.

Building a Statement of Values

Harvard Divinity School has a powerful Statement of Values. I am in awe of this document. I urge you to read the whole statement; read it twice. It’ll only take you a few minutes. It expands on Harvard University’s stated values and adds depth and specificity to them. For example this Harvard value:

At Harvard University: Respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others.

Expanded and clarified at the Harvard Divinity School:

At HDS: We seek to respect, understand, and learn from the cultures and beliefs of the members of our diverse community. Conscious of our own levels of privilege, we seek — with kindness and compassion — to engage in open and active dialogue that broadens our perspectives, increases our knowledge and awareness, and fosters mutual understanding and empowerment.

The HDS statement of values would be my personal starting point in any discussion about creating such a statement for and about our community. Its approach to respect, empowerment, accountability and the rest resonate with me. But this doesn’t mean it should be your starting point and it doesn’t mean it has to be ours. What do we value? What do we (want to) stand for? Let’s figure it out. To get the ball rolling, you could take this survey I have put together. Let me know what is important to you. If it’s not enough, you can let me know that, too.

Drupal Community Values Survey

What do we (want to) stand for? Tell me what values are important to you in Drupal. This only works if we hear as many voices as possible in this. To formulate shared values that will help us be the community we want to be, it’s important that everyone contributes. Thanks in advance.

Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire

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Building communities creates value. Speaker, podcaster, media, opinion. Open source, community, technology, business.