Combating Apathy in [Free and Open Source] Communities — Part 3

This article is a part of a three part series, if you haven’t read the first part and second part, you really should.

How do we address this problem?  Who does it?

In other words, how do small to medium communities battle Apathy?

In all honesty, I don’t have the answer for this question.  If I did, I’d be preaching it to every community group that would listen.  But it does occur to me that the/re are a few things the folks in charge can do to help.  And some of these are documented by the larger communities too.

  1. First thing that comes to mind is to build a proper structure.  A meritocracy where those who do the work can decide what gets done.  As most will note, this is no different from any other Free Software development project.  But we need to state it out loud.  If you do the work in the community, you get to decide how the community functions. As part of this process, community leaders can define a loose structure where others can join up, and help build where they find holes.  It’s a definite organic structure, but one that really works well when encouraged.
  2. Have something people want, and give it to them.  For us, it’s the Utah Open Source Conference and the other events the Foundation has been providing, like hackUTOS, Nerds in the Sun, Geek Lunch, etc.   Most of these events are free and for anyone to enjoy, learn and network.  However, I can see the need for even more events and services that UTOS can provide.
  3. Remind people regularly that community is here.  Reminders are very important.  It’s like what Coke and Pepsi do, constantly remind you they are out there.  The only real difference is that they are looking to sell you something for money.  UTOS and other communities are really here to help you grow and learn.
  4. Constantly invite people to join the community and help.  The community is a process that is always evolving and growing, people are needed to make it evolve and grow the way they see it.  Notice I said the way they see it.  It’s up to the community members to decide where the community goes.
  5. Get out of the way.  This is somewhat of a corollary to step 4, but it’s really important to point out.  Once the community machine is going, don’t put process and leadership in the way.  The community can do what it needs to do if we just get out of the way, don’t be an obstacle to progress of the community.

As UTOS, we’ve excelled at some parts of this list, and failed at other parts.  I suspect many of the other communities around have succeeded at some of the parts as well.

Mostly, I wrote this to help me understand what the goals for UTOS will be as we start to expand into a more regional community.  But I think these things can help us all deal with apathy and encourage others to get involved.  I hope to hear from the community on this as my article is definitely a work in progress.  I believe I’ve got a good set of problems and possible solutions, but it’s definitely not me that is going to implement most of them.

Please take a few hours out of the month of June and help us grow and become an exciting, active prosperous community.  You’ll feel better for it, and you’ll definitely make a few friends along the way, grow your skillset, and possibly even encourage someone else to join up and help.