Principles of Open Source Institutional Design

Hi folks! So, during the SustainOSS 2018 workshop we had at least two sessions about Elinor Ostrom’s Principles of Institutional Design, from Governing the Commons, and how they might be applied to open source community design. (These sessions were building on conversations that had emerged during the 2017 workshop).

These sessions are referenced in the aggregated workshop notes. I have synthesized the notes into this draft, which you can comment on.

We made it about halfway through the process of articulating relatively well-formed versions of Ostrom’s principles for an OSS context; the second half mostly contains fragments or questions.

Your feedback would be welcome, esp in regards to the following questions:

  1. does what we currently have resonate, seem potentially useful, etc? Are there use cases for these principles that we haven’t considered? (So far, we’ve identified the use cases of: starting or scaling an OSS community/project; conflict resolution, resolving dilemmas; and advising funders / corporations, etc on their proper roles.)

  2. Can you weigh in with input on the content, especially on the back half?

  3. Is this similar to anything else out there? Are there other perspectives we should involve in the process of honing these principles?

Would welcome any other feedback… looking forward to hear from you


The following people put their name down to continue the conversation on this topic:

Greg Bloom
Andrew Nesbitt
Ben Nickolls
Caroline Corbal
Brian Exelbird
Maurice Sainyinzoku
Rachel Lawson (contributor Lifecycle)
Eric Berry (contributor lifecycle)

Thanks, @pia!

I don’t think i saw a list of attendees’ contact info… if these names also are associated with email addresses, I’d be willing to follow up with folks myself.

let me know what you suggest :slight_smile:

email with this information and links to the working groups coming up tomorrow!

@jdorfman just shared this resource, which includes a set of principles: About the SFOSC category

At a quick glance, it seems like there’s a lot of overlap… and things they’ve specified which we didn’t discuss, as well as some things that we specified that i’m not sure they touch… i’ll take a closer look shortly.

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Yeah, @GeorgLink made a similar discovery so that is why we are teaming up with Adam/SFOSC so we can avoid such overlap. More TBA!

@greggish ISTR you referencing three Ostrom works as the progenitors for these principles. I have Governing the Commons and The Future of the Commons. What was the third?

One of Ostrom’s last works was contribution to a book called “Understanding Knowledge as a Commons.”

Also relevant is this collection that applies her framework to information resources (including a chapter on open source software specifically): Governing Knowledge Commons.

I’m not familiar with Future of the Commons… is that David Harvey?

fill yer boots:

hoboy here we go again. well thanks!

I’m interested in this topic/would join a working group on this! In this space/recent:

Thanks! just messaged you.

It seems like there might be some events coming together soon, perhaps in DC in September. Would be glad to keep talking with folks who are interested…

Hi folks - I’m following up here from the SustainOSS event in January. We reviewed our statement of principles for governing OSS commons, as articulated during previous SustainOSS convenings, and iterated upon them.

Here are the notes from our session. This document is the main output.

I’d like to see the process through by evolving this into a shareable artifact. I have a couple of next steps as suggested by various folks:

1) Clean up the document, write a preamble, and publish it.

Karen Sandler at the Software Freedom Conservancy requested that we reproduce this document using a non-proprietary tool (i.e. not Google Docs) which seems reasonable to me – I’m open to suggestions!

2) Revise and elaborate on the ‘Questions to Ask Frequently’ that can help community leaders apply these principles in their practice.

Specifically, I’d like to iterate on the table that Georg Link drafted during our session (see page 7) delineating various ‘layers’ of resources, and questions that can apply the principles to each. Possibly add the principles themselves into a new version of this table, to have it all in one table.

3) Identify other relevant initiatives and see how this might be useful to them.

For instance, Vincent Bachelet pointed me to this project, and the principles seem complementary.

Open to other ideas!

Would you like to discuss any of the above? Please respond to let me know if you’re still interested (and able, given all of the turmoil from the pandemic). If there’s interest from more than a couple of people, I’ll set up a poll to find time.

Thanks, I hope you and your people are safe and sound during this difficult time.

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Thanks @greggish!

I love to see this move forward.

I’m still interested. I’d join if we set up a 1h working session.

@greggish Did you get responses from anyone else? Now that we’re all used to social distancing, it might be a good time to send out another reminder email with this information to the people who signed up. :slight_smile:

Hi there – thanks for checking in! I’ve spoken with @GeorgLink, and also am in touch with the point people on the other workgroup on governance and the principles of authentic participation. I think I see how all of these groups could weave together, as there seems to be strong complementarity.

I’m going to go ahead and do another round of cleaning up the document, and will revise the commentary that I had there into a draft of a blog post to accompany the principles document. Then I’ll put a call out to review and discuss next steps! Aiming for the end of next week.

Would welcome questions or suggestions in the meantime :slight_smile:


Hi folks – thanks for the feedback I’ve received about all this. I went ahead and set up a site for publication that’s on open source software with some more appropriate functionality vs Google Docs.

See here:

I’d like to add some images from our process there, and also start working on the matrix of ‘Questions to Ask Frequently.’ but first, eager to hear any feedback you might have.

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Thanks for putting together this publication @greggish I share this with my class today. I found it helpful in explaining governance in open source communities. Let’s see if my students have additional feedback and I’ll make sure to let you know.

Hi folks - finally got back around to this! thx for your patience.

I’ve taken some steps to align the Principles from our group with the output from the Governance Readiness workgroup, which I think are different aspects of the same idea.

The Governance Readiness group articulated a bunch of questions that could be compiled in a checklist to help open source community deliberation. I finally found time to go through those questions and see how they align with the principles from this group – and the matrix of principles vis a vis layers of resources that we began drafting in January.

See the result here, and in a table in our original source document as well.

Moving forward, I’m eager to hear feedback – does this alignment seem to make sense? Both in the aims/outputs of the two workgroups, and also on a topical basis? How can this be made more useful, and how should we iterate on it?

Thanks! greg


Thanks @greggish, this is a great step forward!

Where does the cell references in the matrix and spreadsheet point to?

I’d be open to having a monthly meeting or so to advance this more.