Inclusion in Action: What We Can Learn from Open-Source Community Practices
Jemiah Sius, Director, Developer Relations & Ariane Evans, Diversity Equity & Inclusion Manager
In a perfect world, our tech community represents the fullness of the principles of diversity and inclusion. However, we have a long way to go before that becomes a reality. Thankfully, open-source communities provide a glimpse into what it could look like to truly embrace inclusion in problem-solving and collaboration.
Inclusion has been found to be one of the most critical aspects of success in business and in developing long-lasting communities. It has been found the most successful teams are built with a diversity of thought and experiences. In 2004 a University of Michigan study found that groups of diverse problem solvers outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers. By incorporating different viewpoints and experiences into teams, businesses can unlock more creative opportunities and solutions to be unblocked.
What does this have to do with Open Source?
As of 2020, Github has stated there are more than 14 million developers actively contributing to more than 54 million open-source projects. To operate at this scale, support from major companies like Google and Microsoft is needed (they are both top contributors in open-source projects), but more importantly, it is the diverse community of engineers that drives projects forward.
The Linus Foundation reported in 2017 that 80% of the software used in any technology product or service was open source. Businesses globally have long depended on open-source software for their products and infrastructure. Through the community practices of open source, we find opportunities for problem-solving, resource sharing, and involvement of diverse experiences and skills that elevate projects and drive successful adoption.
Through transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, and community involvement, open-source projects can thrive. In this blog post, we’ll explore what we can learn from open-source communities about inclusion and how it drives product success.
Developing projects in the open means that anyone with an internet connection can see the progress and contributions being made and easily find key collaborators. This open visibility allows anyone from any background to join in, whether they are a novice or an expert that has been shipping software for decades.
Transparency creates trust within the community, reduces friction in developing projects, and improves team communication. It also allows for a more open and diverse community to form, as anyone interested can track the progress of projects through public channels.
Collaboration in open-source communities allows anyone to contribute their time, ideas, and skills to the success of driving a project forward. Creating stronger projects through collective efforts. In open-source, collaboration can happen through code contributions, documentation improvements, design discussions, and community events such as conferences or meetups.
One important aspect of open-source communities is the emphasis on meritocracy. This means that contributions and recognition are based on skill and expertise rather than background or personal connections. This allows for a level playing field where anyone can contribute to a project, regardless of identity or background. There is an emphasis on encouraging new contributors and providing them with resources to succeed — like issues that would be good for first-time contributors. This level playing field fosters diversity in problem-solving, driving innovation and success.
Open-source communities are often made up of individuals who are passionate about the technologies they contribute to, with community members giving their time and effort on top of their day jobs or education. Their merits are judged by contributions rather than company, job title, or education. Allowing diverse perspectives to have a voice, be recognized, and be championed.
These open communities create new connections and provide opportunities to share ideas while working towards a common goal. Anyone is welcome to join and contribute, and varying skills and perspectives are championed. Support and resources for newcomers are also provided to create an environment of inclusion.
What can we learn from open-source community principles to create a culture of inclusion for all?
The open-source community doesn’t have all the answers; according to data from Bitergia, there are only 10-11% of contributors who identify as women, and while access is available, inclusion isn’t also equally proportionate. But amazing guidance can be found, for example, the Node.js Inclusivity Working Group code of conduct: “Increasing inclusivity means making the project a safe and friendly place for people from diverse backgrounds.”
In open-source communities, we see the power of inclusion in driving successful projects. By applying these principles to our teams and businesses, we can unlock opportunities for growth and success.
Here are some things we should consider:
- Encourage transparency in individual and team project progression with open channels for collaboration.
- Prioritize meritocracy, allowing anyone to contribute their skills and expertise towards driving team success.
- Create a community atmosphere where diverse contributions are recognized and supported.
- Make projects inviting new contributors and provide experienced community members with recognition.
- Recognize contributors that are not only tracked in code. Community managers, event organizers, outreach
- Provide documentation about the team and internal processes that make getting started easy.
The Featured Blog Posts series highlights posts from partners and members of the All Things Open community.