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The motivational drivers and barriers of volunteers in open source communities Part 2

The motivational drivers and barriers of volunteers in open source communities Part 2

I blogged a while back about Barry doing his Masters Thesis on The motivational drivers and barriers of volunteers in open source communities which looked at the Ubuntu Community, he handed it in yesterday and I know some folks were curious about results so I asked him to write a small piece for the blog:

Barry Smyth:
In early 2010 I sat in on a seminar on Open Source Software and the community in Ireland, organised as part of my masters course in DIT Kevin St. One of the speakers was Laura Czajkowski. It was during her
talk that I saw the commitment she had to the community and it begins a process of thought about what drives individuals to offer their time and effort to Open Source Communities.

The course that I was studying was Computing but specialising in Knowledge Management (KM). Knowledge Management is the realisation that knowledge is an organisations greatest asset. We constantly hear
the term Knowledge and Smart economy being touted by the Irish government at the moment. They like so many large organisations realise that it is what we know and don’t realise we already know can
be our greatest resource.

Within companies it is commonplace for individuals to hoard knowledge, we do this for various reasons.

  • We are not confident about what we know, and are afraid others may disregard our knowledge.
  • We fear giving our knowledge freely, as it may make us redundant.
  • We find it difficult to articulate our knowledge.
  • We do not have the tools available to record our knowledge.
  • We simple do not realise that we possess some knowledge.

KM is about accessing the knowledge within people, teams, departments, organisations, then storing that knowledge in an understandable or codified fashion, and finally making that knowledge available and
easily accessible to others. Some prime examples of where KM can work effectively is in the Pharmaceutical industry, where the process of getting new drugs to market can be as long as 12 years. Most of the large pharmaceutical companies have implemented large KM projects. One in particular cut the time for filling applications to the European and American drug boards in half. The KM systems they installed held the knowledge of previous employees and former workers of the American Federal drug  Administration (FDA). Due to their expertise as to what information was required in an application, these applications could be filled out much faster. As you can imagine the saving of several years in getting a drug to market is worth a considerable amount of money to drug companies. This is can be the power of KM.

However what many organisations find when they implement KM initiatives, regardless of the money, time and expertise that they throw at it, is people seem unwilling to share their Knowledge. There are drivers that motivate and barriers that prevent people from sharing their knowledge.

Within Open Source communities, we have a group of people who come together to freely share knowledge. This makes it an ideal place to investigate positive motivations. If KM initiatives could replicate
the motivations within Open Source Communities then their initiatives could prove far more successful.

Back to my story, I began to realise that the Ubuntu community could offer me a perfect environment to investigate motivations to knowledge sharing. In May I contacted Laura and told her about my Idea. Within days we
were sitting down together in a lab in DIT and Laura was showing me around the Ubuntu community. Over the course of the next 3 months with Laura and several other members of Ubuntu’s community I had fashioned
a suitable experiment. The experiment would utilise the existing social networking pages (Launchpad) within the community and over a period of Two weeks would email an advertisement of one of those profiles to the mailing list of the Irish team. I would then survey the Irish team to ascertain the usefulness of the experiment. The idea of the experiment was to measure the levels of trust needed for knowledge sharing, and whether tools like Launchpad could assist in people getting curious about others in the community. This is the starting point of building relationships and trust. The experiment received great support from the community and I had a fantastic response to the survey. The experiment idea was even taken on board as a continuous feature by the UK and North Carolina teams. The results of the experiment did indeed indicate that, firstly trust
is important to knowledge sharing and secondly tools like launhpad if used in a proactive manner can initiate contact between members of the group.

Overall my experience dealing with Laura and the rest of the Ubuntu community was extremely pleasant. I could not of asked for any more help or enthusiasm. It was a privilege to get an insight into a remarkable community.

This is an extract of some of the projects findings:

  • The project’s findings clearly suggested the varying forms of trust. That initial conversations between members in the Ubuntu community did lead to greater curiosity of others.
  • This can then lead to a process where two individuals will get to know more about each other and strengthen the bonds of trust between them.
  • The project also identified tools as being very important within online communities in building familiarity and trust.
  • Correspondence and direct communication was identified as being the most important tool in which people will get to know one another and build trust.
  • The project results suggested that the availability of social networking tools in this case Launchpad was utilised by members as a means to gain more knowledge about other users. However it also suggested that this was after initial correspondence with that individual. Curiosity of others increased after correspondence with them. This would suggest that tools are very useful in the process of building trust and friendships in virtual communities.
  • Communities where there is little correspondence however may not benefit from this trust building processes and utilisation of community tools. This is where the project findings are so useful. They clearly suggest that by advertising members profiles can initiate curiosity in them. Traffic to the profiles and results of the survey indicate that this is the case. This can be an important initiative in implementing the trust building processes in communities and subsequently the sharing of knowledge. It can help drive the initial stages of a KM system and could become an important part of the familarisation and trust building process.
  • The building of friendships was indicated as being one of the main motivators of membership in open source communities and thus the free sharing of knowledge. Trust is a vital element in any friendship and therefore any tools that can facilitate this are very valuable in creating a healthy dynamic knowledge-sharing environment.
  • The findings imply that a proactive approach is needed within a community to initiate the trust building process, that although members desire to build relationships of trust with others they may need a push to do so.

Thanks to Barry for the update, if anyone wants to drop him a line here is his email address.

The Motivational Drivers and Barriers of Volunteers in Open Source Communities

The Motivational Drivers and Barriers of Volunteers in Open Source Communities

I mentioned a while back  I gave a short talk on “To Ubuntu and Beyond, how I got involved in it all” to a group of Masters Students at DIT on a very early Saturday morning.

I found it interesting at the time these were masters students studying Project Management and some of them hadn’t even considered using an Open Source alternative in their businesses. They also didn’t realise by using some applications they were in fact using Open Source. So I wasn’t very hopeful of any follow up.  I was wrong!

Two students Barry and Niall contacted me recently, they have chosen Open Source topics for their thesis. I met with them last week for a general Q&A session, I wanted to see how I could help and they had questions on Ubuntu.  After about two hours of me firing information at them about the Ubuntu Community, Launchpad, IRC, Wikis and how I got involved, I showed them how IRC worked.  They were very polite and took lots of notes and asked for clarification on comments and followed up with questions.  I explained the layout of the community from top to bottom and about the different teams that are working towards making Ubuntu what it is.

When I left I went over the stuff I had said, basic information I knew as I’d been using linux for a number of years. To me it’s common sense, but looking back at the conversation I had and the remarks that were made made me realise sometimes in the community we take a lot for granted and sometimes we don’t have patience with new people. An example being HTML and top posting in email threads. Both drive me bonkers! Namely as I’m so used to them now doing it the other way is utterly wrong to me. But Niall did wonder why all of the mails I replied to kept replying at the end and it wasn’t till I explained why did he realise.

I went back the following day for Day II of Introduction the Ubuntu community as both of the lads have chosen to focus their areas on Ubuntu. Clearly I made one or two good points in my talk!  This time I got both of them to sign up to the Irish Team, and the mailing list. For them to log into Launchpad, they had to create an Open ID which again resulted in a small explanation.  I also go them to log into the wiki and show them around.  IF you think about it, most people would never have to go near a wiki or edit it or even log in, so this was all new to them.  I also encouraged the two of them to mail the team list and introduce themselves to us as they will be coming along to the Ubuntu Hour and looking for people to interview.

So this first post is going to be on Barrys topic – “The Motivational Drivers and Barriers of Volunteers in Open Source Communities”. I asked Barry what his level of OSS background was and what he had done before, just to explain to folks, this is where he has come from and his level of expertise.

I’ve not done any work in OSS at all. Although thanks to you i’ve started using it :-)

General info, I’ve an honours degree in computer science from Griffith college. I’ve work in IT for about 8 years in various IT roles, system administration, QA, Bug development and for about 5 years as a business/systems analyst. I worked on point of sale software for Arklife AIB and then later Hibernian. My last potion was in Bank of Scotland where i worked in the corporate banking application development in a system analyst role. I’m also a qualified financial advisor and I have a cert in Prince 2.

So with that in mind, Barry has a lot to look into and learn about Ubuntu and our community I hope folks will be helpful and advise him if he is stuck or needs a hand.

Step 1 Knowledge Elicitation: In order to best analyse the motivational drivers, and understanding of the open source communities is needed in order to ask questions that will elicit the most appropriate response from participants. Therefore after initial research and observation into the communities, semi structured interviews will be held with experts from that community. Using Knowledge management techniques such as card sorting and triadic method, a knowledge map will be built of the domain. It will also be decided through this process as to what communities will be involved so that a more rounded and accurate reflection of communities is represented in the data.

Which is where Barry is at now, as well as learning about the Community and how Ubuntu works! Why we all help out where we can and get involved.

If anyone wants to ask Barry more questions he has said drop him a line

Talking to Masters Students in DIT

Talking to Masters Students in DIT

Well I gave my first talk today to DIT Masters Students this morning. Early start on a Saturday morning, they have a day of Case studies and get in speakers once a month.  Great idea to get some first hand knowledge on topics rather than reading about them.

As I said it was my first talk, in the past I’ve always gotten someone else to give a presentation as I’m more the organiser behind it. This time I decided to bite the bullet and give a short talk.  It went well I think. Not knowing what our target audience views on the subject we asked a few questions to give us an idea of the level of knowledge on the subject. Again the students were masters students, it’s a managerial course aimed at Information Technology.

A show of hands  raised shows us a lot were working already in IT, and some as managers, others were doing it as a follow on course from their undergrad. None of them seemed to have had much if any experience in the Open Source field. Few said they had used Open Office and that was about it really.

There were four speakers including myself this morning, Patrick O’Connor and Paul O’Malley gave a talk on “Teach your boss to floss“, Breaking their talks down into two parts. They covered how their experience in the work place and working with SMEs is benefiting SMEs using Open Source in every day business.

Next up was Declan McGrath, who was talking about the “Relationships between the Open Source communities in Ireland in general, focusing on Ruby as he is a ruby developer.  He gave a quick demo to the students to show them how easy it was to set up.  I have to say I was rather impressed and something I will definitely follow up on.

Finally me! I spoke on “To Ubuntu and beyond: Where individual participation can take you“. I tried to explain how I got into Open Source. My involvement in it, the role I play and how there are many ways you can contribute. I used the example of a ladder, going from point A to point B. Some people in life take the direct route, know they are a developer and know what they want to do and how to achieve it.  I’m not that person, I know I love technology, I know I dislike coding to an extent, I want to contribute, I’m good at other things, so the path I take is not direct it’s a lattice I weave and go up and get to places find out more about things and work where I can in places I can make a small difference.  It’s my contribution.

I have to say I was a little disappointed in the lack of feedback and questions over all to the speakers.  There were only two questions posed that were then referenced by all speakers throughout.

Q: Why has Open Office not taken off as well as Microsoft Office?

Q: Even in large a company, managers are only trained in (proprietary )standard products/applications?

I’m not sure the answer to the first question.  Alan Bell found figures to show how some countries have adopted it.

But to the second statement, I guess to me I find some managers don’t look outside the box, look for alternatives, and are in their comfort zone. The idea of change is often feared from a mangers perspective and I also think they don’t want to deal with their co-workers after the change has been implemented. So for the quiet life they leave it as is.

I’m glad I did my short talk today, it’s given me a bit more courage to do it again, I left some Karmic CDs there and students did take them, so I hope at the next Ubuntu Hour people will come along with suggestions after trying it out, or if they need help, we can point them in the right direction.