Breaking Down Conflicts In Open Source Community

Open source community is all about people and projects.

Why people contribute to open source

People contribute with their skills to their favourite projects for mainly any of these three reasons:

  1. Many contribute to open source projects because of their passion or personal interest and attachment to the projects.
  2. While some contribute to hone their technical skills and to learn to a new language (learning by doing).
  3. Many also contribute in order to get some recognition and to build their personal identity in the open source communities.

Why conflicts happen in community

Short answer:

Conflicts in community happen because We’re Different. Together.

Detailed answer:

Open source contribution is all about voluntarily coming together for a shared passion and mission; if we all keep our passion aside and work for our individual goals (read self-importance) then it creates conflicts in community and brings hindrances into the community which ultimately leads to dead end for the community as a whole.

When goals turn into ego

When inspiration turns into aspiration

When one starts suffering from superiority complex

But most importantly,

When ‘We’ turns into ‘I’

Whatever reason it is, conflicts are always bad, for individual and for community. The best way to deal with conflicts is to stop them even before they happen.

Here is how you as a community manager can break down the community conflict.

Establish a formal community structure

A well established community structure can keep many problems at bay including stopping conflicts from happening. However, in many cases, open source communities lives in an informal fashion. Creating and maintaining a well defined community structure will not only keep problems at bay but will also bring an overall harmony among contributors.

Give others a chance to lead by reviewing and reviving structure

With time, everything changes and so does your community’s needs and wants and hence it’s crucial to review and revive structure of the community from time to time. It is good practice to enrol your loyal and dedicated contributors in the leadership role for the community. This will also give new faces of the community a chance to thrive, lead and nurture their talents and they will inspire other to re-dedicate themselves to the community growth.

Establish Community Participation Guidelines (CPG)

Just like the community structure, having a well formed set of participation guidelines is also important. A community participation guidelines (CPG) document is a set of guidelines (Dos and Don’ts) of major behavioural aspects pertaining to contributors. It is basically a set of standards and rules & regulations for everyone in the community to ensure a healthy, safe and inclusive community for everyone.

Mozilla has a well-structured community participation guidelines that focuses on safety, openness, discipline and inclusivity of contributors and thus makes it one of the most diversified and disciplined open source community in the world.

You can check out Mozilla’s community participation guidelines here.

Establish Project Guidelines

Just like the community participation guidelines sets out rules and do’s and don’ts for the contributors; a project guidelines document sets out the do’s and don’ts of the project that contributors are willing to contribute to. In other terms, project guidelines is a set of technical guide that may include contribution rules, coding standards, list of useful tools & resources etc. It can also include an on-boarding and getting started guide and any necessary license information such as Contribution License Agreement (CLA) etc.

Pro tip: Communicate the ‘5 Ws’ of contribution clearly. Tell them about What, Where, Why, When and How of the project they are contributing or are willing to contribute to.

Keep Regular Check

Stay in touch with everyone — Keep in constant touch with contributors, even if you are a busy community manager, keeping in touch with your core contributors at regular interval helps them stay motivated and helps you know any issue or conflict taking place in the community.

Keep communication clear

Clear communication itself will stop many conflicts from happening. A small communication gap can create ruckus in the community. Communicating in a clear and precise manner will help creating any communication gap.

Dealing with poor contributors

Often times it happens that as a community manager you have to share a disappointing or negative news to the contributors and you might be reluctant to take it to them because you’re afraid to demotivate your contributors.

For example, one of your contributor isn’t doing well with his/her contribution or the contribution he/she has made is not at par with the project standards or the requirements and hence you have to discard it. How do you tell this to them? Simply go to them, talk to them with as much positivity as you can.

Tell them you value them and their contributors just like you do for other but their contribution needs more ground-work before it can be considered accepted.

Focus on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)

No community is complete if it is not diversified and inclusive in nature. Making community more diverse and inclusive doesn’t only narrow down the widespread gender gap in community but also ensures a balanced and healthy tech community.

“When we put focus on D&I in communities, we take a step forward to ensure a well cultured society that works for everyone, with hands in hands.”

Promote harmony and value each of the contributor. That’s how you build trust in community.

One final word of motivation

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Photo credit: PictoQuotes