Blog Post

Understanding the Motivation of Open Source Community Members

By June 11, 2020October 5th, 2021No Comments

Understanding the Motivation of Open Source Community Members

By: Igor Steinmacher

Why do developers participate in open source projects? Motivation to contribute to Open Source Software projects has been intriguing researchers since the early 2000’s. The literature at that point, although mentioning some motives related to learning and financial motives (e.g., payment), showed that the general participation in Open Source was mostly volunteer, driven by altruistic motives, returning to the community, reputation, and fun. At that moment, most of the Open Source projects were community-based endeavors, conducted by volunteers. A few foundations backed small sets of projects, and many big companies dismissed the importance of open source software.

However, these surveys were not updated since then, and most of what we know, scientifically speaking, is connected to a reality of almost two decades ago. There is no doubt that the Open Source landscape has changed a lot. Companies are interested in Open Source more than ever, creating an interesting ecosystem, in which professionals beyond coders are important to the projects, developers get paid to contribute and maintain projects, big companies release their software as open source, and social coding platforms such as GitHub have facilitated collaboration. With these changes, Open Source has grown and become central to the software development industry. Thus, it is important to revisit the topic, to understand whether these changes represented a shift in contributors' motivation to contribute to open source.

We need your help! CHAOSS is focused on creating analytics and metrics to assess community health. Being aware of contributors' motivations is a key point to attract and retain contributors, ultimately influencing communities' sustainability. Still, understanding the motivation behind contributions is an important input that reveals the driving forces to keep people around.

To help understand the motivation of today’s open source community members, our team has revisited the old scientific research studies on motivation and compiled a comprehensive and updated survey. We replicate the motivation studies, using some of the same questions so that we can see where the changes are from 20 years ago. We expect that this work will help companies, maintainers, foundations, and communities to adjust their understanding of motivation focusing on building more sustainable and inclusive communities.

You can help by answering our questionnaire telling us about your motivations to contribute. The questionnaire os is simple and short (10 minutes):

The research is a collaborative effort with support from members of Northern Arizona University (USA), Oregon State University (USA), University of Adelaide (Australia), Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (Spain), Bitergia (Spain), and CHAOSS.

Know more people that participate in open source projects? Please share our questionnaire so we can reach a broader population.