This post is part of a series of posts discussing next steps based upon findings in the Ubuntu Community Survey Report that was released recently. The goal of these posts is to focus on solutions, and I would like to encourage your comments and discussion to be focused on areas in which we can drive solutions forward.

Sorry folks, this is a little longer than I would like, but it covers some important points which I am keen to hear your views and ideas on.

One pattern of feedback outlined in the survey was a desire by some respondents to see better recognition and credit for the contributions that they make to the community. This was one of the responses when survey participants were asked how we can improve the level of influence and impact that the community feel on the project.

It seems a fairly simple and unsurprising piece of feedback – when people contribute their time and effort to Ubuntu, the least they should expect is a sense of gratitude and thanks for their contributions. While entitlement is the enemy of a community and can be a disruptive force, I don’t believe that the majority of this feedback is born out of a sense of entitlement; other feedback in the survey suggests that recognition and appreciation for contributions is a really motivating and pleasant side of contributing to Ubuntu, and who wouldn’t want more of that? :-)

Now, we have tried to attack this problem before. Some will remember when we built the Ubuntu Hall Of Fame; this project was designed to highlight many of the great contributions to Ubuntu, but it had two unintended side effects:

  1. It didn’t really achieve the goal of a community feeling a personal sense of thanks from someone who benefited from their contribution.
  2. For those who did not make it to one of the Top 10 lists on the site, some felt like their contributions were not as valuable or appreciated.

I think these lessons are interesting. For the former, I believe that recognition, thanks, and acknowledgement needs to feel personal, and making Ubuntu more personal is something my team has been increasingly focusing on over the last cycle (but there is definitely lots more work to do). I suspect most would agree that getting an automated email saying you are a top contributor, or an automated messaging thanking you for a contribution to a team is far less compelling than when a member of a team or user personally reaches out and thanks you for your work.

As Ubuntu has scaled up into the large community it is these days, I think we have sometimes lost elements of this sense of personal connection, and the survey results speak strongly to the desire to retain and optimize our community for these experiences where our community can offer thanks and positive re-enforcement of contributions. This is something I am really keen to hear your ideas about. How do you feel we can provide more opportunities for people to see each others contributions, for our users to see these contributions, and to provide an avenue for people to thank each other more for their contributions?

I think another aspect of this desire for and enjoyment of thanks and appreciation is that said appreciation coming from someone who you respect and admire makes it even more motivating. We have always known that the Ubuntu community is something of a cult of personality, and I don’t believe any of us are immune to big smiles when someone we respect or admire appreciates what we do. I am curious to see if there are ways in which we can better connect those who inspire us to see our work when it happens and to thank us where appropriate. In most Open Source communities which only have 10 or 20 people, this is easier: the scope is much smaller, and influential leaders can often see almost all the contributions, but in Ubuntu with our many teams and hundreds of contributors, I think we have to think more smartly about how we do this. I am keen to hear your ideas or suggestions if you have thoughts on how we can do this better.

Following on from this, and to the second point I raised about the Hall Of Fame above, is that there is an unintended side effect when a subset of the wider contributor base get acknowledgement and others don’t; de-motivation from those who don’t get the kudos. A good example of this is UDS sponsorship. For every UDS Canonical provides financial support for a large number of community contributors, but of course we have a limited budget so we can’t financially support everyone. Every community member is welcome to apply for sponsorship support, and everyone has their application reviewed by a number of people in Canonical, but due to budget constraints we don’t get to send everyone who applies. Many people who apply…many really great contributors…don’t get to do simply because of these budget limitations. Unfortunately the number of awesome Ubuntu people far exceeds the budget of people we can financially support to send to UDS.

While those who do get sponsorship are naturally happy and motivated to be going to UDS, those who don’t get sponsorship support sometimes feel quite de-motivated, and some feel insecure about how Canonical or leaders in Ubuntu view their contributions and “why wasn’t I chosen, particularly given all my contributions to Ubuntu?“.

Now, I have made it pretty clear a number of times that many great people don’t get sponsorship support (mind you, maybe I could improve and widen this message further), but the de-motivation often still exists in some. I suspect that part of the reason for this is that either getting sponsorship support or not is a pretty binary option; you either get it or you don’t, and there is no graduation in feedback. As such I suspect some feel like they won and some feel like they lost.

Part of the challenge here is that for every 10 people who do great work, if 1 person gets kudos and thanks, 9 people don’t, and I would like to explore ways in which we can reward, motivate, and appreciate our community’s contributions, but not de-motivate those who don’t get the kudos. With a community the size of Ubuntu, not every contribution will have someone saying thanks, and I think that would be an unrealistic expectation. I do though feel we have plenty of scope to increase this sense of personal appreciation further. I also think we as a community can come up with some cool ideas for solving these challenges.

My hunch here, and I am completely open to ideas, which I am keen to discuss here and at UDS, is that we are best doing this at the team level. Ubuntu is a network of different teams, and I am curious to explore ways in which we can empower teams to ensure their respective contributors feel this sense of motivation and appreciation for their work.

Another string to this bow could be identifying better ways of users and leaders offering thanks and gratitude to the team as opposed to the individual. While less personal, I suspect that many contributors to the Documentation Team (as an example) would feel a sense of empowerment and pleasure if some of our users were able to explicitly thank the Documentation Team for their work. Would you folks agree with this sentiment?

This is a wide and complex topic, but an important one for us to focus on, and while I have a set of ideas and things I think could work, I am keen to hear your thoughts about concrete plans and approaches we can take to increasing the level of personal recognition and acknowledgement of contributions. What are your thoughts?

Next Steps

  • As part of the Ubuntu Leadership Mini Summit at UDS, I want to discuss this topic in more detail and explore what other solutions we can put in place to better provide this sense of credit.
  • Daniel Holbach will also be holding a UDS session on this topic and more specifically directed to developers (as part of this developer growth efforts). He will follow up soon with details on the session.
  • I am going to reach out to our leaders in other teams (e.g. IRC Council and LoCo Council) to discuss how we can approach these challenges.
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