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CLSx at LCA 2017

Last week I was in Hobart, Tasmania for LCA 2017. I’ll write broader blog post about the whole event soon, but I wanted to take some time to write this focused post about the CLSx (Community Leadership Summit X) event organized by VM Brasseur. I’d been to the original CLS event at OSCON a couple times, first in 2013 and again in 2015. This was the first time I was attending a satellite event, but with VM Brasseur at the helm and a glance at the community leadership talent in the room I knew we’d have a productive event.

VM Brasseur introduces CLSx

The event began with an introduction to the format and the schedule. As an unconference, CLS events topics are brainstormed by and the schedule organized by the attendees. It started with people in the room sharing topics they’d be interested in, and then we worked through the list to combine topics and reduce it down to just 9 topics:

  • Non-violent communication for diffusing charged situations
  • Practical strategies for fundraising
  • Rewarding community members
  • Reworking old communities
  • Increasing diversity: multi-factor
  • Recruiting a core
  • Community metrics
  • Community cohesion: retention
  • How to Participate When You Work for a Corporate Vendor

Or, if you’d rather, the whiteboard of topics!

The afternoon was split into four sessions, three of which were used to discuss the topics, with three topics being covered simultaneously by separate groups in each session slot. The final session of the day was reserved for the wrap-up of the event where participants shared summaries of each topic that was discussed.

The first session I participated in was the one I proposed, on Rewarding Community Members. The first question I asked the group was whether we should reward community members at all, just to make sure we were all starting with the same ideas. This quickly transitioned into what counts as a reward, were we talking physical gifts like stickers and t-shirts? Or recognition in the community? Some communities “reward” community members by giving them free or discounted entrance to conferences related to the project, or discounts on services with partners.

Simple recognition of work was a big topic for this session. We spent some time talking about how we welcome community members. Does your community have a mechanism for welcoming, even if it’s automated? Or is there a more personal touch to reaching out? We also covered whether projects have a path to go from new contributor to trusted committer, or the “internal circle” of a project, noting that if that path doesn’t exist, it could be discouraging to new contributors. Gamification was touched upon as a possible way to recognize contributors in a more automated fashion, but it was clear that you want to reward certain positive behaviors and not focus so strictly on statistics that can be cheated without bringing any actual value to the project or community.

What I found most valuable in this session was learning some of the really successful tips for rewards. It was interesting how far the personal touch goes when sending physical rewards to contributors, like including a personalized note along with stickers. It was also clear that metrics are not the full story, in every community the leaders, evangelists and advocates need to be very involved so they can identify contributors in a more qualitative way in order to recognize or reward them, maybe someone is particularly helpful and friendly, or are making contributions in ways that are not easily tracked by solid metrics. The one warning here was making sure you avoid personal bias, make sure you aren’t being more critical of contributions from minorities in your community or are ignoring folks who don’t boast about their contributions, this happens a lot.

Full notes from Rewarding Contributors, thanks go to Deirdré Straughan for taking notes during the session.

The next session brought me to a gathering to discuss Community Building, Cohesion and Retention. I’ve worked in very large open source communities for over a decade now, and as I embark on my new role at Mesosphere where the DC/OS community is largely driven by paid contributors from a single company today, I’m very much interested in making sure we work to attract more outside contributors.

One of the big topics of this session was the fragmentation of resources across platforms (mailing lists, Facebook, IRC, Slack, etc) and how we have very little control over this. Pulling from my own experience, we saw this in the Xubuntu user community where people would create unofficial channels on various resources, and so as an outreach team we had to seek these users out and begin engaging with them “where they lived” on these platforms. One of the things I learned from my work here, was that we could reduce our own burden by making some of these “unofficial” resources into official resources, thus having an official presence but leaving the folks who were passionate about the platform and community there in control, though we did ask for admin credentials for one person on the Xubuntu team to help with the bus factor.

Some other tips to building cohesion were making sure introductions were done during meetings and in person gatherings so that newcomers felt welcome, or offering a specific newcomer track so that no one felt like they were the only new person in the room, which can be very isolating. Similarly, making sure there were communication channels available before in-person events could be helpful to getting people comfortable with a community before meeting. One of the interesting proposals was also making sure there was a more official, announce-focused channel for communication so that people who were loosely interested could subscribe to that and not be burdened with an overly chatty communication channel if they’re only interested in important news from the community.

Full notes from Community building, cohesion and retention, with thanks to Josh Simmons for taking notes during this session.

Thanks to VM Brasseur for this photo of our building, cohesion and retention session (source)

The last session of the day I attended was around Community Metrics and held particular interest for me as the team I’m on at Mesosphere starts drilling down into community statistics for our young community. One of the early comments in this session is that our teams need to be aware that metrics can help drive value for your team within a company and in the project. You should make sure you’re collecting metrics and that you’re measuring the right things. It’s easy for those of us who are more technically inclined to “geek out” over numbers and statistics, which can lead to gathering too much data and drawing conclusions that may not necessarily be accurate.

There was value found in surveys of community members by some attendees, which was interesting for me to learn. I haven’t had great luck with surveys but it was suggested that making sure people know why they should spend their time replying and sharing information and how it will be used to improve things makes them more inclined to participate. It was also suggested to have staggered surveys targeted at specific contributors. Perhaps have one survey to newcomers, and another targeted at people who have succeeded in becoming a core contributor about the process challenges they’ve faced. Surveys also help gather some of the more qualitative data that is essential for proper tracking the health of a community. It’s not just numbers.

Specifically drilling down into value to the community, the following beyond surveys were found to be helpful:

  • Less focus on individuals and specific metrics in a silo, instead looking at trends and aggregations
  • Visitor count to the web pages on your site and specific blog posts
  • Metrics about community diversity in terms of number of organizations contributing, geographic distribution and human metrics (gender, race, age, etc) since all these types of diversity have proven to be indicators of project and team success.
  • Recruitment numbers linked to contributions, whether it’s how many people your company hires from the community or that companies in general do if the project has many companies involved (recruitment is expensive, you can bring real value here)

The consensus in the group was that it was difficult to correlate metrics like retweets, GitHub stars and other social media metrics to sales, so even though there may be value with regard to branding and excitement about your community, they may not help much to justify the existence of your team within a company. We didn’t talk much about metrics gathering tools, but I was OK with this, since it was nice to get a more general view into what we should be collecting rather than how.

Full notes from Community Metrics, which we can thank Andy Wingo for.

The event concluded with the note-taker from each group giving a five minute summary of what we talked about in each group. This was the only recorded portion of the event, you can watch it on YouTube here: Community Leadership Summit Summary.

Discussion notes from all the sessions can be found here: https://linux.conf.au/wiki/conference/miniconfs/clsx_at_lca/#wiki-toc-group-discussion-notes.

I really got a lot out of this event, and I hope others gained from my experience and perspectives as well. Huge thanks to the organizers and everyone who participated.


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