Governance of your open source project matters

When you are making your software open source, there comes a point when you have to think about how to respond to anybody that wants to engage with you or your team. As we have said on this blog before, a governance model is crucial in order to manage expectations and make sure you retain control where you need to, while sharing responsibility where you can.

We have published a set of documents about open source project governance models back in 2010, and have made sure they are kept up-to-date since. We also provide templates for a model with a Benevolent Dictator and one for meritocratic projects. All of our documents are released under a Creative Commons licence, which makes it easier to take our template and apply it to your own project.

If you set up a governance model for your project, people who have in interest in your project can easily see how your project is structured. It will help them understand how they can engage with the project, how decisions are made within the project, and how they may have an influence in the project’s strategic direction. If you are reluctant to give up influence in your project, you can design a model that will allow you to more tightly remain in control. When community development goals are more important, and you are looking to expand your community with others that may help guide the project in the right direction, the design of your governance model can reflect that. Whatever your approach, by making sure it is written down and the processes are thought through, you manage expectations of newcomers and prove to be a reliable partner for parties interested in investing in the project.

If you would like to see some real-world examples of governance models, I’m pleased to be able to say that there are a few respectable projects that have taken up our resources as an inspiration for their own governance model. The Qt project, for example, is governed by a meritocratic model that is based on our briefing note. Similarly, Yahoo!’s Mojito project uses a model that’s based on our meritocratic governance model.

While it may take some time to think through how you want to set up governance in your project, it is time well-spent. If you need any help with this, feel free to contact OSS Watch any time.