Principles of Authentic Participation: continuing the Sustain conversation

Hi folx! This thread is one place to continue the conversation from Sustain 2020 about Principles of Authentic Participation and creating a resource we can take back to our organizations to advocate for authentic contributions in open source communities.


To define a core set of principles of what authentic participation means in multiple contexts (e.g. corporate, individual, humanitarian/NGO, etc.).

These principles can be used as a starting place for future work, such as a best practices document, a certification body, or other mediums. But before we get tactical, we need to be strategic about what principles are essential to authentic contribution.

Table of contents

  1. High-level recap
  2. [proposed] Principles of Authentic Participation
  3. Themes from Sustain conversations
  4. Where to go from here?

High-level recap

This discussion took place across two working sessions at Sustain 2020:

  • Models for corporate accountability as open source community members (a.k.a. what does it mean to be a corporate member of open source communities?)
  • Principles of Authentic Contribution (session notes)

Across the sessions, we talked about the following:

  1. Organizational accountability
  2. How to participate in open source transparency and authentically as an organization
  3. Desire to create an inter-organizational resource to take back to our orgs to help explain what authentic participating in open source actually looks like
  4. Explore ways to build social accountability into our workplaces

[proposed] Principles of Authentic Participation

Authentic Participation Starts Early.

This came out of the discussions about organizations showing up with mature, fully baked contributions over which the community had no input.

Authentic Participation Puts The Community First.

This reflected the general consensus that when an organization and the community want different things, the community needs to come first.

Authentic Participation Starts With Listening.

This was Duane’s reflection of some comments about folks showing up to projects with no historical context and telling them everything they were doing wrong.

Authentic Participation Has Transparent Motivations.

Without a shared understanding of the motivations, it’s impossible to resolve differences of opinion effectively. No hidden motives.

Authentic Participation Enforces Respectful Behavior.

Participants agree to adhere to community-established codes of conduct. Organizations commit to holding their participants accountable for their behavior.

Authentic Participation Ends Gracefully.

No sudden withdrawal of resources without notification and an exit plan. Clear documentation that would allow the community to pick up projects when a company decides to withdraw support.

Themes from Sustain conversations

Session notes are annotated and color-coded according to the following themes:

  • Maintainer responsibility: Open-sourcing your own projects or participating in existing communities
  • Guiding hand: Navigating contribution intent with a hidden agenda that is not well-communicated
  • Participation: Making key decisions while involving a community
  • Equalizing knowledge: Understated value in documentation?
  • Undervaluation of open source: Communicating less obvious perks for engaging authentically
  • You and corporation: Relationship between individual contributors and the organization they represent in their contributions

Where to go from here?

  • Text discussion about the principles defined here
  • Audio/video discussion about next steps
  • Can you help push this conversation forward?

This text-based discussion

The goal in sharing this thread is to create a wider conversation. Are the principles defined here enough? Do they capture what genuine, authentic participation means whether you are an individual, a corporate actor, or a non-profit actor? What holes do you see? Or alternatively, do you think these are a good vision for defining authentic participation?

Remember, the intention in this discussion isn’t to get into details (yet). First we need to set and agree on a vision that loosely captures a variety of different views. Where this conversation goes next will always depend on specific contexts for specific organizations. It’s impossible to capture everything! But we want to be happy with what we have captured here to start more conversations inside our organizations and communities about what this looks like for us.

Future audio/video discussion

Fill out this poll with your time preferences for a 60m discussion about this topic between 24 Feb. to 1 Mar. A time will be decided and announced here on Saturday, February 22nd.

As promised, I am committed to hosting a few virtual round-table discussions about this topic and to see where we can push this conversation forward. I’ll circulate an agenda for the meeting as a reply to this thread next week.

Help push this forward!

In our session, some folks noted that Discourse and audio/video was not an inclusive way for them to participate in this conversation. Since I am only one person, I am committed to carrying this conversation in the ways explained above. But you can help push this conversation into new places! We need the help of folks to connect the dots between more communities. If you can volunteer yourself to share this discussion on a mailing list, a forum, or some other platform, you are encouraged and empowered to do so! (It would be nice if you could let us know of your outreach in this thread, but it is not required.)

Okay, this is a long thread with a lot of text. I hope it isn’t too overwhelming. I’m looking forward to where we push the conversation forward from here. :100:


Hi folks, thanks for your patience. Here are the meeting details and agenda:

First chat: 2020-02-28 @ 16:00 UTC

Based on the responses from the WhenIsGood poll, the best time to virtually meet for the most people is on Friday, February 28th, 2020 at 16:00 UTC. For convenience, time zone conversions are below:

  • PST: 8:00am
  • CST: 10:00am
  • EST: 11:00am
  • London: 4:00pm
  • IST: 9:30pm

Hosted on BlueJeans

I will host the chat on BlueJeans. This call may be recorded. I will ask for the consent of everyone who shows up if they are comfortable with our conversation being recorded and shared. Otherwise I will try to summarize the discussion later here.

If you are using BlueJeans for the first time, I suggest testing your audio/video before connecting to the call. There is a browser web app, desktop client, and mobile app:


This is tentative and broad, but this is what I had in mind for the conversation:

  • [5m] Welcome / hello’s
  • [5-10m] What do you want to get out of the Principles of Authentic Participation?
    • This conversation might shift the agenda some :slightly_smiling_face:
  • [5-10m] Do we agree on the Principles?
  • [15-20m] How can we as individuals respect the Principles?
  • [15-20m] How can our organizations/employers respect the Principles?

I think it is ambitious. We might not get to the end of the agenda, but this is the first chat of perhaps three to four I want to host. I would rather take the time to focus in on each part fully instead of cramming too much into too little time.

If you have feedback or suggestions for the agenda, please let me know (preferably as a reply to this thread).


Thanks for setting up a meeting to advance the topic!

(I will not join but I’m happy to meet up at SCALE that day)


Great work Justin. I tweeted it. Have you reached out to those folks who attended your conversation? If not, LMK and I can get their contact info for you.

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Awesome, thank you Justin^2! :smile:

I have – there is an email chain going in addition to this Discourse thread. :+1:

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Love it, keep us posted!

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Looking forward to it!

I agree that the agenda is ambitious, but I’m hopeful that we can at least spend some time kicking around the principals.


Friendly reminder we are about one hour away from the first call. Hope to see folks there.

Thanks all for participating today. Here is the video recording of the call and a text summary of our conversation:

Watch the recording here

Initial considerations

  • We want something concrete we can take back to our projects/organizations
  • Community outreach is important to avoid “over-corporatization” of these Principles
  • What does accountability look like for these Principles?

Looking at the Principles

We spent some time looking at the Principles as they are written above. What ways could they be improved, or what holes were there in what was already written?

Authentic Participation Starts Early.

  • Start getting community feedback on what we’re working on here
    • Need to work towards some sort of draft of what we are doing to share?
    • Or, just share and put it out there? (Start early!)
  • Don’t need to settle on a specific medium; we can invite people in our own circles

Authentic Participation Has Transparent Motivations.

  • Communicating open and early closely associated to transparent motivations
    • Don’t push off thinking about it until after starting contribution work
  • Case study: Hiring open source contributors on short-term contributors
    • We discussed a possible trend (?) of companies hiring open source contributors to work on their project under two different contexts:
      • :skull_and_crossbones: Adding features for company: Company hires individual under specific context of adding features or changes to the open source project that the company wants
      • :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: Subject-Matter Expert: Company hires individual to be an in-house consultant for internal projects using their open source project, and employee has some paid time to independently work on maintaining open source project
    • Potential to model good behavior?
    • Potential for employee “contract patches” in hiring process
  • Externally-defined standards: Significant value in pointing to a “standard” way of contributing, not me as an individual employee telling you the company the right way to do it, but instead this is how the open source project/community defines what contributing is

Authentic Participation Enforces Respectful Behavior.

  • How to define between “personal time” and “company time”?
    • Noted concern over a company throwing their hands up, saying “a participant who is our employee is not our problem”
  • Where is line drawn between personal time and company time in open source?
    • The line is blurry, and will probably always be blurry
  • Case study: Title IX legislation at universities
    • Gender-based discrimination includes actions done on the job as well as off the job, including personal social media
    • Precedent set that if you harass or discriminate against someone you have a professional relationship with, even if not “on the job,” you are still held accountable and can be disciplined
    • While Title IX is university-specific, it is an interesting legal precedent in personal accountability in a professional context
  • Case study: Accountability for individual behavior/actions as an employee of an organization
    • Companies increasingly have policies around objectionable employee behavior “off the clock”
    • @kpfleming: At his company, if an employee’s personal participation in communities that the company is a member of is deemed harmful or rejected, internal consequences exist and are communicated
      • Or if company is not involved, but part of your time as an individual participant is associated to the company, you are still accountable
  • Importance of education: Part of this principle should include resources or best practices on what respectful behavior means
    • For communities with Codes of Conduct, this is the community’s context of what respectful behavior means
    • Therefore, not unreasonable to expect accountability to community’s Code of Conduct as part of authentic participation; you as an individual contributor associated to a company would be held accountable to that standard

But what are these Principles?

  • What is the physical form of these guidelines? Where do they live? What do they look like?
    • First impressions are key
    • Who much can you accomplish in first five minutes of reading to raise knowledge and consider adoption?
  • Defined principles must be clear, concise, actionable

Action items

  • @jwf: See if Sustain OSS Discourse is already set up for starting threads via email / replying via email?
    • So people who strongly prefer email for accessibility reasons could actively participate in this conversation more easily
    • @jdorfman, could you help us answer this one?
  • Collect real-world examples for each Principle
    • Collecting these as part of a community feedback curation process
    • Examples of “receiving” behavior of each principle, but also “sending” behavior of each principle

Where do we go from here?

I am committed to organizing 3-4 more of these roundtable conversations, summarizing them here, and sharing recordings. Today’s call was broad, open-ended, and loose. Going forward with this initial set of feedback, I’d like to begin narrowing down our conversations to more concrete goals and purposes. Hopefully this also enables others to participate in areas where they feel they are better equipped to help.

I’m taking some time to process these notes, think up a next agenda, and then I will put out another WhenIsGood poll by next Wednesday, March 4th, to choose a date/time for our next meeting. Stay tuned!

Thanks everyone who made time in their busy schedules to take part. I’m excited for where we go from here.


Thanks for the great notes @jwf!

On the subject of Clear, Concise, and Actionable: I think there’s an interesting intersection here with Code of Conduct notes when discussing respectful behavior. I favor the approach of “Clear, Concise Principle” that is clarified by “Actionable Clarifications/Examples.”

In this example, I might write something like this:

Authentic Participation Enforces Respectful Behavior. Participants agree to adhere to community-established codes of conduct. Organizations commit to holding their participants accountable for their behavior.

(not the best language on those two clarifications but I hope y’all get the idea).

What this allows is for an appeal to a clear concise principle, without needing to try to cover all use cases in a single short sentence, while still proactively addressing people who read the sentence and think “But what does that even mean?”


Sure just go to your email preferences (replace USER-NAME with yours):

And check “Enable mailing list mode

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I love this distinction. I am concerned about the skull symbol. Is this saying that it is bad behavior to hire a contributor to work on only specific features?

I heard a story today in which a car manufacturer had thousands of cars grounded because of an issue with an open source library they were using and the company flew out a developer from the project to help resolve the issue so that the cars could be upgraded and sold. I didn’t have the impression that this was a negative form of participation.

Testing reply by email. If this posts, then it means email replies are
enabled. :tada:

I agree and think this excellent. I’m going to edit the line in the first post with your updated statement.

Thanks @jdorfman! For what it’s worth, this option isn’t required for email replies to work. Mailing list mode means every post from every forum category comes to you via email.

However based on what @kpfleming brought up at the end of the chat, this might be the setting we advise people to use who prefer email over visiting the site. Will take some to think on this for a bit!

This is a good clarifying question. In our call, the context was a violation of two principles: Starts Early and Transparent Motivations. We discussed a company hiring an open source contributor involved in a project the company is interested in. The company pays the contributor to add features the company wants. But this is done without engaging the wider project community first and it is not transparent that the contributor is now paid by the company to work on these features.

I guess it is helpful to distinguish something like a one-off commitment in your example, from a long-term contract over many months without engaging the wider community on the new changes.

Does this clarification help, @GeorgLink?

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Reply by email works for me too :tada:

Yes. Maybe I was just thinking of an edge case. I agree with the principles the original case study was aiming at.

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Hi all! Thanks for being patient. This reply has three parts:

  • Overview of next three fireside chats
  • Detailed agenda for next fireside chat
  • Choose meeting date/time for next fireside chat

In a historical nod, I decided to call future conversations/calls “fireside chats.”

Overview of next three fireside chats

I am committed to hosting three more fireside chats on the Principles of Authentic Participation. Our first fireside chat took a broad, general approach to revisit this topic a month after Sustain. Going forward, each of the three remaining chats I host will have a more narrow focus with specific goals in mind:

  • Building a platform: Where/how we publish these Principles, designing a community input process, determine what a “first draft” looks like to seek out more feedback from other communities
  • Getting organizations on-board: How can we best include open source organizations in adopting these Principles? How do we get our own companies/organizations to follow these Principles?
  • Getting practical: Brainstorm generalized examples for each Principle, figuring out where we go from here

Detailed agenda for next fireside chat: Building a platform

The next fireside chat is on Building a platform. This is in response to the conversations we had about the practical concerns of how we get the Principles out there, but also how we bring in others to this conversation.

As I see it, figuring out the best way to get these ideas and principles out to the world is important. Where do we publish them, who takes responsibility for curating, how do we review change proposals? We wanted to bring in more people to this conversation who are not already here. But before we widen the feedback loop, it’s important to consider how we scale the conversation to support more voices in an equitable and inclusive way.

Here is my tentative agenda for how we spend the hour:

  • [5m] Welcome / hello’s
  • [15-20m] Where/how do we publish these Principles?
    • A tooling conversation. Normally I save tooling for the end, but I’d like to start on the practical question of where we put this out and how we publish the existing Principles.
    • Ideally this primes us for the much more difficult topic next:
  • [15-20m] Designing a community input process
    • A community/governance conversation. Once we put our ideas out in the world, how do we accept “patches”?
    • Is an ad-hoc group possible to facilitate this? Do we need our own organization? Or can we fit inside an existing organization?
  • [15-20m] Principles of Authentic Participation: v0.0.1
    • Once we have a rough idea of where the Principles will go and how we accept feedback, what does the first draft of the Principles look like?
    • A content conversation. What does a first draft of the Principles actually look like?
    • A first draft will not be ready to distribute to the world, but it gives us a place to give newcomers to this conversation a foothold. Consider this an “alpha” release of the Principles.
    • Pointing people to a 20+ reply Discourse thread is not a great way to ask for feedback; so, what do we ask people to look at?

Choose meeting date/time for next fireside chat

Fill out this poll with your day/time preferences for a 60m fireside chat on Building a platform between 9-15 March. A date/time will be announced on Sunday, 8 March.

Second chat: 2020-03-13 @ 15:00 UTC

Based on responses from the WhenIsGood poll, we will meet next on Friday, March 13th, 2020 at 15:00 UTC. Time zone conversions are below:

  • PDT: 8:00am
  • CDT: 10:00am
  • EDT: 11:00am
  • London: 3:00pm
  • IST: 8:30pm

Hosted on BlueJeans

I will host the chat on BlueJeans. This call may be recorded. I will ask for the consent to record at the beginning of the call. Either way, I will summarize the discussion here.

If you are using BlueJeans for the first time, I suggest testing your audio/video before connecting to the call. There is a browser web app, desktop client, and mobile app:

I’m looking forward to this call. In the meanwhile, if you have feedback or suggestions for the agenda, please let me know (preferably as a reply to this thread).

Special thanks to the folks who joined today’s call. Since there was only a few of us, we decided to punt to a future date. However, we did have a short chat on tooling. Here’s a quick recap:

Publishing the Principles

We’re taking the Principles as written in the original post in this thread and moving them online. I have an action item to follow up with @jdorfman, @RichardLitt, and/or @benjam to set up a repo on the Sustain GitHub organization.

Going off of what I am personally familiar with, I plan to set up a Python Sphinx docs project to publish on The content source will be in Markdown. We can use the GitHub repo issue tracker for detailed discussions and use pull requests to accept and discuss changes.

Choosing a time for the next meeting

Fill out this poll with your day/time preferences for Fireside Chat #3 on getting organizations on board between 30 March - 14 April. A date/time will be announced on Sunday, 29 March.

The focus of this call is below. An agenda will be written closer to the scheduled call.

Bonus: Take-home reading

@awright shared a research article titled “Corporate Editors in the Evolving Landscape of OpenStreetMap”. This was published in May 2019 by Jennings Anderson, Dipto Sarkar, and Leysia Palen at University of Colorado Boulder / National University of Singapore.

Resharing here for folks to review!

Corporate Editors in the Evolving Landscape of OpenStreetMap.pdf (2.7 MB)

A first draft of the Principles are now published!

The source for these Principles lives here:

Keep an eye out for more to come at that repository soon.