Ubuntu Community Survey Next Steps: Enhancing Recognition and Credit

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.
  • Guest

    It would be kind of neat if Canonical sent out a personalized thank-you packet to regular, top contributors – maybe with some neat ubuntu swag novelty and a personalized glossy letter. 

  • https://launchpad.net/~andrewsomething andrewsomething

    I’m reminded of this image that someone put together at the end of the Hardy cycle. I was excited to see my name listed, and at the same time helped make me feel part of something much larger than myself. 

    http://www.seqfault.de/files/hardy-thankyou.png

  • http://twitter.com/jspaleta Jef Spaleta

    you are missing the point. Singling out top contributors is exactly what Jono wants to avoid.  My comment when he originally announced the Hall of Fame comment are still on point.

    http://www.jonobacon.org/2008/11/19/announcing-the-ubuntu-of-fame/#comment-223295987

    What’s needed is a recognition framework that has the ability to scale beyond launchpad as a data source beyond Canonical as a source of windfall and beyond Ubuntu in scope. There’s a crap load of working being done in Debian that Ubuntu relies on and that needs to be appreciated in the same way Jono is talking about or you’ll demotivate that work.  Anything that is built specifically to single one person or a group of people who are doing day-to-day work out will de-motivate others in a non-competitively driven volunteer organization. 

    And the very last thing you want at this point, considering the rift along the corporate fenceline is for Canonical to stand itself up and appear to be hand picking contributors and showing further favoritism among the external community.  Jono’s discussion in this very post about how UDS sponsorship is perceived speaks exactly to the problem of having an opaque community resources budgetting process.   As it goes with UDS travel, so will it go for contributor swag.

    -jef

  • Thorben

    For users which are unable to contribute (support, code) Software Center is already a good start to say ‘thanks’. Further, give me a ‘thanks’ button to pay software, project (teams), like firefox addons have it. (Canonical button is very much hidden). Thanks!

  • vSchroed

    This could be kind of out there but… What if you made contributing to Ubuntu like playing a video game with badges and points?  You could establish a points system to reach achievements and earn badges.

    Maybe even have a place where, when someone reached an achievement it would post it in a public place.  That might make it more fun for everyone, and a place where people were more likely to receive a, “Hey I saw that you reached that achievement, congrats and thanks for all the help!”

    Just throwing that out there.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SMFJTZEEFSWPMLCRRT45DODZS4 Christoph

    popcorn count is thank you count

  • https://launchpad.net/~bryce Bryce

    Giving volunteers rewards for contribution is always tricky. A great book on this topic is /Punished by Rewards/.

  • Guest

    Just wondering, if it presently gives a hard time to manage and appreciate this small community, (incl. irrational bug treatmeant), how is it going to be handled by reaching 200 millions? My contribution was a free decision, I don’t expect anything and like to stay anonym, my reward is to learn a lot in different ways. I don’t appreciate the self celebrating culture (coming from U.S.) at all, it may incl. a great amount of self lie.

  • https://login.launchpad.net/+id/xf6ttrJ Christoffer Holmstedt

    I’ve not read the book /Punished by Rewards/ but what you say is spot on what I think about tangible/intangible rewards. For me a good example is Khanacademy.org which has alot of points and badges for whatever you try to learn(math/physics/economy). In the beginning it was all about learning but in the end it was alot about collecting points and badges as fast as possible. I haven’t tried Khanacademy.org the last months but instead tried out projecteuler which still has somekind of “top achievers” but it’s not always in your face. You shift focus from the points to the task at hand instead. (Another good book about motivation is Daniel Pink’s “Drive”.)

    To get back to the original question(s) from Jono I want to say that the feedback given must be binary, noone can be better just by doing more(file more bug reports, post more comments etc).

    One idea I’m thinking about is having a contribution page for each project at launchpad that list the names of all contributors. If person A files 10 bug reports and person B file 1 bug report to project XYZ both users should get their name on the contributors list(assuming at least one bug report from each person is valid and get solved to improve the project).

    The entire list might look something like this: === Developers (active code contribution) === List of names…

    === Other contributions (Has filed a bug report or …) === Person A, Person B, more names…

    A list like this should also be easily exported for software developers to include in their “about pages” when releasing a new version of their software. The most important thing here is that if I’m new I can help out a little and be as awesome as the other names in that project’s contributors list.

    The image posted below by “andrewsomething” is what I’m talking about but for each project and seperated into a few categories depending on what the contribution was about. The limitation is that Ubuntu has alot of upstream projects that won’t be included in this, but launchpad can be first and others may follow.

  • https://login.launchpad.net/+id/ppKr8cf Scott Ritchie

    I’ve long thought Launchpad should give an indicator about how many people you are affecting right there in the interface.  You could say a package is used by 2 million people, say, based on popcon.  Most, but not all, contributions go through launchpad in some fashion.

    Basically, Launchpad itself could be more rewarding and fun to use.  Sort of like how stackexchange is actually fun to use.

  • Martin Owens

    To help solve the UDS sponsorship issue: We need sponsorship to be more forward looking and for people who get UDS sponsorship to be posted to the blog and the reasons why. It should be honest and forward looking, for instance: “Pleia2 is being invited to UDS to organise community issues and move forwards with some such blueprints ” instead of perhaps the unintentional impression “lfarone is being invited to UDS because he performed good work in the eyes of the Canonical elite” the difference is that we shouldn’t use UDS sponsorship as a reward, it’s clearly about the interests of Canonical and (in some ways) what it thinks is good for the community and how to move all those interests forwards. I think we should be brave enough to be honest about all those motivations.

    The other issue is perhaps more subtle, programs and events won’t work so well. Perhaps we can add an amendment to the Code of Conduct that we will take time out to thank people who have helped us and/or done good work in our eyes? Although it’s not even obvious how good work is highlighted, so much is seemingly anonymous.

    Someone did email me a few days ago to thank me for my wacom PPA, I felt great, out of the blue, someone I didn’t know had a better Ubuntu experience because of my work. But with PPAs we know who is doing the work, it’s right there in the URL. Who looks after the python packages I use every day? I don’t know, I suppose I could check.

  • http://twitter.com/jspaleta Jef Spaleta

    I’m trying to find something to add to the last paragraph, all I can think of is skills development/training. But really that pretty much covers the multiple facets of volunteer “payment” as I understand them.  Instead of focusing on one thing out of that paragraph, perhaps it would be best to see if there is adequate balance between those different payback intangibles.  Though I think its going to be hard to quantify influence when so many of the key decisions appear to shouted across the corporate fenceline.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, and while Launchpad is a large codebase, now it is Open Source, I wonder if folks could be interested in writing some patches to make it more social.

  • Anonymous

    “To help solve the UDS sponsorship issue: We need sponsorship to be more forward looking and for people who get UDS sponsorship to be posted to the blog and the reasons why. It should be honest and forward looking, for instance: “Pleia2 is being invited to UDS to organise community issues and move forwards with some such blueprints ” instead of perhaps the unintentional impression “lfarone is being invited to UDS because he performed good work in the eyes of the Canonical elite” the difference is that we shouldn’t use UDS sponsorship as a reward, it’s clearly about the interests of Canonical and (in some ways) what it thinks is good for the community and how to move all those interests forwards. I think we should be brave enough to be honest about all those motivations”.

    While I think we can always drive improvements in the sponsorship process, my original point here was less about the UDS process but more about how some will see not getting approval/accolades/kudos will percieve it is because they are not as good. I think that highlighting why people were picked won’t solve this problem – if you feel frustrated that Canonical didn’t pick you, I suspect that knowing why everyone else was picked won’t make you feel any better.

    As for being honest about the motivations, I think it is also important to remember that UDS is a Canonical event and all sponsors are at the discretion of Canonical. While I have tried to construct as fair a process as possible to ensure everyone is best represented when they apply (e.g. such as weighting those who have not been to UDS, and Ubuntu Members), it is still entirely the discretion of Canonical managers as to who goes, and to be honest, sometimes this will be as simple as “because I need them their to contribute to work that is important to my team”.

    “Perhaps we can add an amendment to the Code of Conduct that we will take time out to thank people who have helped us and/or done good work in our eyes? Although it’s not even obvious how good work is highlighted, so much is seemingly anonymous”.

    I think this is a really interesting idea, and while I am not sure the CoC would be the best place for this (the CoC is about conduct and not thanking folks would not be misconduct), I do think documenting the importance of this somewhere very influential could be a great idea.

    “Someone did email me a few days ago to thank me for my wacom PPA, I felt great, out of the blue, someone I didn’t know had a better Ubuntu experience because of my work. But with PPAs we know who is doing the work, it’s right there in the URL. Who looks after the python packages I use every day? I don’t know, I suppose I could check”.

    Awesome! This is exactly the kind of experience I would to see happen more and more – people feeling good because they their work helped someone else.

    Thanks, Martin.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the feedback, Bryce, I think you raise some really good points. Maybe what we need to do is to think carefully about what tangible rewards people would value based upon different community roles?

    As an example, for developers, quicker merge reviews, hardware, and privileges may be useful. For LoCo contributors, those thanks may be more aligned with access to merch, advocacy support, and marketing.

    Do you folks think that putting together a matrix of tangible rewards would be a useful exercise to focus on?

  • Martin Owens

    I dont think I applied for this UDS, no frustration here. I’m explaining that perception of reward via udss would be muted if people could see how mundane the reasons are. Plus an added focus for udss benificiaries. Sorry I wasn’t able to explain myself well enough in the first comment. Please email me if you still don’t understand and we can chat.