Episode 88

Practitioner Guides: #2 Contributor Sustainability


11 July 2024

33 mins 23 secs

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CHAOSScast – Episode 88

In this episode of CHAOSSScast, host Alice Sowerby, along with Dawn Foster and Elizabeth Barron, discuss measuring and improving open source community health through contributor sustainability. The conversation highlights the importance of documentation, the balance of contributor roles, and proactive community building. They share insights and examples on how projects can avoid single points of failure, the significance of onboarding processes, and the impact of asking for help. The discussion also underscores the human aspects of open source contributions and provides practical strategies for long-term project viability. Press download now to hear more!

[00:02:11] Dawn explains that practitioner guides are designed for non-experts to help interpret data on open source projects, highlighting the overwhelming amount of data involved.

[00:03:24] Dawn mentions the first four practitioner guides, including an introductory guide, and specific guides on contributor sustainability, responsiveness, and organizational participation.

[00:04:14] Alice asks why contributor sustainability is so important, to which Dawn responds that it significantly impacts overall project sustainability. She references the xkcd dependency comic to illustrate the vulnerability of projects reliant on few contributors.

[00:05:41] Elizabeth notes the increasing awareness of proactive approach towards ensuring contributor sustainability in open source.

[00:06:33] Dawn discusses specific metrics like the contributor absence factor, emphasizing the importance of a balanced contributor base. She shares a story about a Java project stalling due to the sole maintainer’s incarceration.

[00:08:50] There’s a discussion about the importance of recognizing diverse contributions beyond code, such as community management and documentation. Dawn highlights the efficiency that professional roles can bring to these areas.

[00:11:39] Elizabeth shares concerns about a specific open source project with a large user base but limited active contributors, highlighting the risks involved. Dawn briefly mentions the structure of the practitioner guides, particularly focusing on the steps for making improvements in project sustainability.

[00:15:57] Elizabeth emphasizes the importance of making documentation not only informative but also welcoming, and Dawn suggests ways to make contributions easier.

[00:18:43] Elizabeth highlights the value of recognition in open source communities, Dawn discusses the idea of expanding roles within projects beyond the binary of contributors and maintainers, and there’s a discussion on the importance of distributing work among several people to avoid over-reliance on a single contributor.

[00:21:55] Dawn shares that improving contributor sustainability is a long-term effort and suggests staring with areas that can make the biggest impact. Elizabeth reflects on the psychological aspect of maintainers having to share control of projects, which can be challenging but is necessary for project growth and sustainability.

[00:27:39] Elizabeth expresses a desire to see more open source projects include community building or growth as a deliberate part of their roadmaps, and Dawn encourages feedback on the practitioner guides to improve them, highlighting the importance of community input in enhancing these resources.

Value Adds (Picks) of the week:

  • [00:29:52] Alice’s pick is a paper she recently read on “Dark matter could be primordial black holes,” and a discovery by the Francis Crick Institute in London of a biological pathway that’s a major driver of IBD.
  • [00:31:21] Dawn’s pick is re-watching “Friends” TV show.
  • [00:31:52] Elizabeth’s pick is watching “Lord of the Rings Trilogy” at the movie theatre.

Alice Sowerby

Dawn Foster

Elizabeth Barron



CHAOSS Project X/Twitter

CHAOSScast Podcast


Dawn Foster X/Twitter

Alice Sowerby Website

Elizabeth Barron X/Twitter

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