Keeping Your Episodic Contributors to Open-Source Projects Happy

open source

Community managers have long been advised to nurture top contributors, but it is also important to consider infrequent and casual (episodic) contributors. There are more potential episodic contributors than habitual ones, and getting the most out of your episodic contributors can require reconsidering your strategies for retaining and incorporating contributors.

There are several reasons you should care about episodic contributors, other than just numbers. Getting more people involved can help more people learn about a project, and new people also bring new ideas. Furthermore, many tasks can be done effectively by episodic contributors, freeing habitual contributors to perform other work. Smaller communities might benefit from contributions to documentation or translations, while communities of all sizes can use extra temporary help when running an event.

Greater benefits are realized when the contributors know something about the community and the work because of their previous engagement, and thus require less time to understand their role. An upcoming scientific study looked at what factors are associated with episodic contributors continuing to return to a community to participate (the article will be available starting in February 2019; see the Resources section at the end of this article). This article describes the key findings of the research.

The Design

Five factors were expected to positively influence an episodic contributor's intention to continue participating, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Proposed Model of Factors Associated with Retention

Contributor Benefit Motivations

Contributor benefit motivations describes contributor motives that benefit the contributor, such as learning new skills, having fun and improving job prospects. In free and open-source software, these motivations are generally linked to retention.

Social Norms

Social norms describes how the people the participant interacts with on a daily basis—friends, family, co-workers and neighbors—view contributing to free software and open-source software projects. Earlier work found this factor to be relevant for people volunteering for a number of non-profit organizations.

Psychological Sense of Community

Psychological sense of community describes the motivation stemming from the affinity a person experiences when meeting and engaging with a group. Previous research has shown that this factor is relevant for both habitual and episodic participants.

Satisfaction