How to turn a FLOSS community newcomer into a good community citizen?

For those who are wondering about what my PhD project is about, here are a few insights and a brief description about what I am working on.

Attracting newcomers, …Ok. But that’s not enough!

A number of FLOSS communities have realized that attracting new members had become crucial to ensure the success and survival of communities.

There is a large array of newcomer initiatives to help recruit new people within FLOSS communities and turn them into regular contributors. The Google Summer of Code is an obvious example of such initiative. Since its beginning in 2005, SoC has been gaining momentum year after year, this year it was announced that 1,212 proposals were accepted in 180 organizations. Other forms of mentoring (formally or formally) also do happen and are now becoming common practice.

There are also other initiatives such as the use of newcomer sub-communities such as Gnome Love, Debian Mentors, Kernel Mentors and Newbies. Some communities rely on a very formal process to enrol new members relying on sponsorship mechanisms and a fixed joining process or procedure such as the Debian New Member process. There are a lot more other initiatives that I am not aware of.

Attracting newcomers is indeed important but the position adopted in my research is that this is not a sufficient condition to ensure the success and prosperity of a project.

FLOSS communities need good citizens.

Certain communities are growing at a very fast pace. I reckon OpenStack is among such communities as it is gaining a lot of attention and popularity throughout the world. There seems that have been a lot of positive feedback about the OpenStack community success at the latest Openstack design summit-conference 2012.

However, it is highly risky for a community that attracts a large number of contributors as it is important to make sure that new members fit the community mold. Indeed, if a community looses control and a lot of new members do not comply to the code of conduct, commit stuff without considering the people or projects/modules being affected by the commit, do not attend any of the community events, do not help any other members, and are not in any way reliable or dependable in their contributions … The community is in great danger. As such behaviours will keep spreading.

So, yes … it is important to attract newcomers but a community needs to make sure that a certain proportion of these newcomers become ‘good’ contributors from the community perspective. ‘Good’ in the sense that they shall contribute to the well-being and growth of the community, ‘good’ as good community citizens.

This is one of the important aspects of my research. I try to define what a good FLOSS community citizen does for a community. I try to define what good citizenship behaviour is and what it is not.

What do FLOSS community newcomers really experience?

FLOSS communities have launched a wide array of more or less initiatives to attract newcomers and turn them into regular contributors but it seems that the other side of the coin is less understood by communities: the actual newcomer experience. What are the different types of such experience? How can we characterize it? Is there a way to measure such experience?

This is the second important aspect of my research. I am trying to develop a model of newcomer experience that would allow me to measure the various aspects of newcomer experience and compare the various types of experiences.

Abracadabra. How to turn a community newcomer into a good community citizen?

The overall objective of my research project is thus about linking newcomer experience to citizenship behaviours in the context of FLOSS communities:

What are the various aspect of a FLOSS newcomer experience that generate citizenship behaviours within the community?

The answer to this question will help FLOSS communities in implementing practices and processes that will engender and nurture such behaviours. Down the line, it will help communities to be ‘healthier’ and ensure their survival.

Until today, answers to the following questions are still not clear:  How are the contributions and the behaviour of a new member affected if he or she has received formal mentoring by one or several experienced members? What about if the new member has been actively involved in a newcomer sub-community? What is the impact of the quiz-based approach used by communities such as Debian and Gentoo? Is a fixed joining process beneficial in generating good community citizens?

I sincerely hope this research project will help in answering some of these questions and will overall contribute to the well-being of FLOSS communities.

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