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The Best Thing About a Summit...

Written by | Wednesday, 01 August 2012 00:00 | Published in 2012 August
Javier Gomez and I had the privilege to represent the Joomla! project at this year's Community Leadership Summit in Portland, Oregon on July 14 and 15. I had a great time at this conference last year, and I was excited to have the opportunity to return. This year's conference was better for me than last year's, and I am happy to share a few thoughts here about my experience.

This conference was started in 2009 by Jono Bacon who is the author of popular book The Art of Community. It brings together community managers and project leaders with a focus on how to grow and empower a strong community.

So many great sessions, so little time

Most of the conference took place in an unconference format, which means all the participants are invited to propose and lead the session topics. This year there were also some great plenary talks for the entire group to hear.

Javier and I both led sessions on Saturday. His was about internationalization and mine was about goals. I had a great group and discussion in my session and Javier said his was too. I also participated in interesting sessions about funding open source projects led by Jacob Redding, what should OSI do next led by Simon Phipps, a**holes discussion led by Donnie Berkholz, conflict resolution led by Randy Fay, and building a community that can challenge itself led by Jono Bacon.

One of the only things I didn't like about this conference is that there were too many good sessions going on at the same time, so I couldn't go to all of the ones I wanted to! But the good news is there is a strong commitment to having good notes taken for every session, even if they are simply written on paper. A team of volunteers made sure that the notes from each session were added to the CLS2012 Wiki so everyone could have access to things that were shared from all sessions, especially the ones you couldn't make it to in person.

Friendly folks and great discussions

There was also a lot of great learning and sharing that took place outside of the sessions. I met people from all over the world who all care about communities. There were a number of people I met at last year's conference who were back again this year, and seeing some of them again was a nice reunion. I especially enjoyed sitting down and talking informally with some people from Drupal about our aspirations for good governance and the challenges we are trying to overcome. I also was happy to meet some leaders from the Google Summer of Code project and tell them how delighted we are that Joomla is participating in that initiative this year. And I had a nice lunch and discussion with Debra Williams-Cauley from Pearson Education about the Joomla Press series of books.

My CLS2012 top 10 list

There were lots of great ideas shared at this conference. Here are ten of my favorites:

  • To help volunteers be effective in new roles, it is important to be clear with them about expectations for their responsibilities.
  • Create a certification program for project sponsors that will validate their involvement with your project and strengthen their contributions year after year.
  • Every project has a**holes. They can kill your project if you don't have the willingness to recognize them and deal with them.
  • A key benefit of good governance is that it helps your project's culture work more effectively.
  • Good leaders have a focus on building teams, empowering their team members, and creating the next group of community leaders.
  • The foundation of good governance is creating an environment that is fair, open and responsive to the community. This is critically important for projects that depend on volunteers. If volunteers don't feel happy about the environment, they'll leave. If volunteers leave, progress slows or stops.
  • Choose leaders who want to listen to, interact with, and be accountable to your community.
  • To build trust in your community, leaders must make a commitment to be open and transparent.
  • Sometimes, the first problem is getting people to agree on what "moving forward" means. It helps a lot if your community has an existing charter or effective mission statement.  
  • Drupal does a "code thaw" period where all ideas are on the table. It's a brainstorming phase where no judgments are made. This lasts about 1/3 of the release cycle. The code thaw includes kick-off posts called "personal battleplans" where people talk about what they want to work on.

The best thing about a summit...is the clear view it gives of the path ahead

One of the the realizations I had at this year's Community Leadership Summit is that the dynamics of a large diverse online volunteer community such as ours may be as complex and challenging as anything a person will ever face. We are all trying to work on the same goal, which is creating, sharing and supporting Joomla software. But there are so many different ideas about what that means and the best way to do it. We come from different cultures, and and we all bring our own unique combination of life experiences, opinions, goals, and motivations, along with our own preferred ways of communicating and working. Different languages sometimes complicates communication and usually we don't have the significant advantage that direct face to face interaction provides. 

While our challenges may sometimes seem big, when we overcome them, then the rewards are huge. We get the satisfaction of knowing we are part of a project that is having a positive impact all over the world. We get the sense of belonging from being a member of a community where we can learn from, share with, and become friends with brilliant and passionate people from all over the world. We get to share our gifts, and discover new ones that we didn't even know we had. And ultimately, we each have the opportunity to grow and change in positive ways, if we are willing to take those steps.

Let's do everything we can to create an environment where all are welcome, and all are empowered to work together effectively. Let's commit to doing everything we can to create a safe and friendly culture that people will want to join and then will want to keep coming back to. That will be hard work and it will take a long time, but I believe the rewards will be worth the struggle. And if we choose to take that path together, I believe it will be the surest way to insure that Joomla's best days lie ahead.

 

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Paul Orwig

Paul Orwig

Paul is a freelance web solutions provider based in Parker, Colorado, USA. He is the President of the board of directors for Open Source Matters, a former member of the Joomla! Community Leadership Team, a former Webmaster for the Joomla! community portal, and he was the founding Lead Editor for the Joomla! Community Magazine.