Saturday 15 December 2018

Catching the elusive Episodic Volunteer

Fairy catching kit
Understanding the science of volunteer contributions is key to the success of Open Source projects. A comprehensive study of episodic volunteering, which drew upon our OSGeoLive experiences, provides insightful advice for anyone wishing to build sustained and successful Open Source Software:

Contributor Motivation

Findings: Episodic volunteers with intrinsic motives are more likely to intend to remain, compared to episodic volunteers with extrinsic motives.

  1. Lower barriers to entry through:
    • Accepting contributions directly through GitHub,
    • Good documentation,
    • Task–finding dashboard,
    • Simple workspace(s).
  2. Offer guided introductory events to help newcomers get started and to introduce the social element.
  3. Provide opportunities for social interactions, such as:
    • Interactive sites, including localised options,
    • Hosting local meetups.

Social Norms

Findings: Although Open Source episodic volunteers were unlikely to see their participation as influenced by social norms, personal invitation was a common form of recruitment, especially among non-code contributors.

  1. Encourage existing volunteers to talk about their Open Source involvement by:
    • Highlighting the benefits of advocating broadly,
    • Providing digestible information for sharing.

Psychological Sense of Community

Findings: Psychological sense of community is more common among long-term participants;
A policy of inclusion was a commonly mentioned reason for feeling welcomed in the community.

  1. Use a code of conduct to express the community’s intentions, allowing potential episodic volunteers to determine their similarity to the community.
  2. Give potential episodic volunteers the opportunity to identify alignment with the community through awareness of non-coding activities:
    • Collaborate with organisations with a different focus but shared values,
    • Recognise all forms of contribution.
  3. Re-enforce the psychological sense of community by:
    • Hosting local events,
    • Issuing personal invitations to episodic volunteers.


Findings: Satisfaction was most commonly cited as a reason to remain;
Episodic volunteers derive satisfaction from knowing that their work is used, enjoying the work itself, and feeling appreciated.

  1. Encourage satisfaction by increasing feelings of appreciation, by recognising all contributors and their areas of expertise.
  2. Being aware of episodic volunteers’ areas of expertise and requesting their assistance, sparingly, can:
    • Make episodic volunteers feel appreciated,
    • Encourage episodic volunteers to return to the community.

Community Commitment

Findings: Episodic volunteers who talk about their involvement are more inclined to continue participating;
Long-term episodic volunteers often have community commitment;
Community commitment is less common among episodic volunteers with extrinsic motives.

  1. Encourage long-term episodic volunteers to talk about the community to strengthen their commitment to the community and:
    • To utilise Social Norms to recruit friends/family,
    • To recruit from similar organisations through Psychological Sense of Community.
  2. Consider time-based releases for large projects to allow episodic volunteers to plan their return.
  3. Use opt-in platforms to broadcast calls for participation for specific tasks to encourage episodic volunteers to return.

Episodic volunteering

Findings: Episodic volunteering is widespread in Open Source communities, but Open Source communities are often not strategically engaging with episodic volunteers;
Open Source episodic volunteers are often habitual volunteers in other communities.

  1. Evaluate volunteer assets, volunteer availability, and potential assignments to find opportunities for episodic volunteers.
Reference Source: Barcomb, Anne, "Uncovering the Periphery: A Qualitative Survey of Episodic Volunteering in Free/Libre and Open Source Software Communities", 2018. Anne Barcomb is affiliated with the Open Source Research Group at Friedrich Alexander-University Erlangen-Nurnberg, Germany, and Lero, The Irish Software Research Centre at the University of Limerick, Ireland.

See also

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