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Recap of CLS at linux.conf.au 2017
9 relevant topics for community leaders today
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In 2009, Jono Bacon brought the first Community Leadership Summit to the free and open source world. Five years later, Donna Benjamin hosted an off-shoot event, CLSx at linux.conf.au in Auckland. 2017 marks the third year for CLSxAU at LCA.
This year the event hosted nearly 30 attendees, each participating in one or more of nine discussion sessions.
All CLS events are presented in an unconference format, allowing attendees to shape the program as they see fit. At CLSxAU, this shaping happens at the start. This year attendees provided over 20 different topic ideas, which they then collaborated on and negotiated down to the nine necessary to fill the schedule.
Due to the sometimes sensitive nature of the topics discussed at CLSxAU, all conversations are under Chatham House Rule or, more colloquially, what happens at CLSxAU stays at CLSxAU. Because of this, while there are notes for each session, there are no videos save for the final recap and summary session. Therefore, to help spread the knowledge to all who wish to help improve their communities, I provide here a summary of each of the sessions at this valuable event.
Nonviolent communication for diffusing charged situations
Conflict and difficult situations are bound to arise in any community. How do we have these conversations in a safe manner, with participants safe from feeling attacked or taking things personally? This is a complex question, but an important one to consider when leading or participating in a community. The group discussed approaches to preventing conflict through Codes of Conduct and the humanization of all community members, as well as how to resolve conflicts when they arise. One key to that resolution is to explore similarities first before diving into the points of conflict. The group compiled a good list of resources for learning more about conflict resolution.
Practical strategies for fundraising
For many projects, fundraising is a vital part of maintaining a vibrant and healthy community. The CLSxAU group was lucky to have attendees with a great deal of experience on both sides of this issue—both asking and paying out funds—who were able to share their knowledge with the others. This knowledge generated a list of guidelines a community should follow when seeking funding, including tips like, "learn how to invoice," "make it easy for companies to pay you," and "tailor each proposal." The complete list and other valuable tips are available in the CLSxAU17 wiki.
Rewarding community members
Everyone who participates in free and open source does so for their own reasons. Sometimes they feel intrinsically rewarded by the feeling of having helped others. Other times they value extrinsic rewards, such as public recognition. Regardless of a person's particular motivations, community leaders must find ways to acknowledge and reward the work performed by community members. This session explored that idea and its challenges. The group discovered that even something as simple as defining "reward" can be quite complicated, even setting aside such questions as how to reward new or nontechnical contributors or how to avoid the potential downsides of gamifying a reward system. Their discussion ranged wide and contains many valuable insights and suggestions for how to handle this in your community.
Reworking old communities
While the group assembled to discuss such things as revitalizing older communities or shifting them onto a more vibrant path (i.e., getting them out of a rut), the majority of this session was devoted to a discussion of codes of conduct. While many in the group saw instituting a code of conduct as an important method for creating a positive environment, others expressed concern at the constraints that the document could impose. While the discussion was very active and collegial in this session, it's obvious that there is still work to do around the matter of codes of conduct and how they might be used to revitalize existing communities.
Diversity is a hot issue in our industry lately, and with good reason. While technology itself has a lot of work to do to increase diversity, open source lags even behind that. The members of this session wanted to discuss all forms of diversity, but they had a particular interest in increasing the amount of indigenous people who are able to participate in free and open source. The conversation featured personal stories of successful efforts to increase various diversity metrics in people's respective communities and provided a lot of great advice for those looking to replicate those results in their own. All members of the group agreed that diversity is not something that you just wait to have happen. A community must actively reach out to diverse people, must lower barriers to entry for all people, and absolutely must have the support of its leadership for the effort.
Community building, cohesion, and retention
Back in Ye Olden Days we had Usenet, mailing lists, and IRC. Since then communication methods have multiplied, fractured, then multiplied again. How can we create and sustain cohesive communities in this sort of an environment? In discussing this issue, the members of this session discovered that while there is no silver bullet there are some methods that appear to work in most situations. These include embracing the fragmentation and going where the people are, and creating a community of diverse communication routes and styles. Meeting people on their terms allows you to welcome far more people than otherwise.
Recruiting a core of contributors
As much as we might like to think otherwise, people do not scale. This session addressed how to create a resiliant group of core contributors who can support not only the project and community but also each other. The session members discussed tactics for transitioning from a single leader at the top to a more diverse and available team, including delegation, documentation, communication, and empowerment. The session notes are packed with advice and actionable tips for communities of all sizes.
Community metrics are often an important part of the parent Community Leadership Summit, so it was good to see the topic make an appearance at this, its progeny. The session members held a very active dialog on the nature of metrics, which ones are the best to collect, and what collection methods are most effective. On all points, the answer was, "It depends." There is no one size fits all solution for community metrics. The members shared their experiences with what had and had not worked and learned tips for determining how to approach metrics for their respective communities.
How to participate when you work for a corporate vendor
When you work at a corporate vendor of open source, often it feels as though the perception is, according to one session member, "All vendors are bad and should feel bad and should go home and cry into their buckets of money." This session explored how people working at these vendors can help their company and their community collaborate better. One suggestion was to start working in a more open manner within the company, embracing open source software development best practices (such as code reviews), and being more open to feedback, in hopes of instilling a greater appreciation for openness within the organization. There was also some discussion on how the best companies approach interacting with open source foundations and their constituent communities.
Overall, attendees deemed the third edition of CLSxAU a success. The unconference format is ideal for this type of knowledge transfer and brainstorming, allowing the attendees to share insights and expertise in a way that would have been impossible in any other sort of format. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with all expressing that they'd found the experience very valuable and thought provoking.
Jono Bacon provides instructions on the Community Leadership Summit site about how to run a CLSx in your own community. While it was a lot of work to put the event together, considering the quantity and especially the quality of information shared at CLSxAU, it was a very good investment and one I'd recommend to anyone with a strong interest in free and open source communities.