Tuesday Trainings: Practising Open Communication

Strong communication within a local organising team is one of the keys to a well-managed community. When it comes to open-source communities, especially when discussions are almost exclusively held online, making things public will enhance the impact and value of that communication exponentially.

Open communication is, however, an easy thing to forget when it comes down to it – talking about things in private channels is frequently quicker and easier, or at least feels quicker and easier, even if it isn’t. This makes it easy to fall into a pattern of keeping conversations private amongst organisers, although it’s usually done largely out of convenience and speed rather than any sort of intent to hoard control.

Benefits of open communication

In order to push us towards openness, let’s look at some of the benefits of open communication:

Greater community buy-in

When you make decisions in public, people have a much easier time buying into what you have decided, even if they haven’t been involved in the decision-making process. People might not speak up during a discussion, or provide any actual feedback at the time, but the fact that they were able to see the process taking place gives them an inherent bias toward agreement and approval.

Increased engagement

Many of your community members might want to be more engaged, but they struggle to find the time or motivation – this is for a variety of reasons, many of which are out of your control. One thing that you can do to increase engagement, however, is to make your discussions public. Holding conversations in a space where everyone can follow along gives your community members a chance to get involved and to become further engaged. Even if they choose not to take part in a specific conversation, it shows them that they can be a part of your decision-making process, which is a great encouragement for them to remain connected to the community.

More ideas

One of the open-source principles included in the WordPress contributor training is “with many eyes, all bugs are shallow” – this is equally true of community building as it is of software development. If you involve more people in your discussions, then you will have a greater resource of ideas and input to learn from.

Greater trust

Many people have an inherent mistrust of people in power and will frequently second-guess your motivations and decisions, assuming that you are only serving your own interests and not those of the community. You know what your true motivations are, so you need to do what you can to reassure people that they are in good hands. One of the ways you can do that is by discussing things publicly and engaging the community in your conversations. If you do that, it will build trust with the members of your community and they will more readily believe that your motivations are noble and that you are working their best interests in mind.

How to practise open communication

With all of that in mind, and seeing how public discussions can really make your work in your community significantly easier, here are some practical steps you can take to make sure you practise open communication as much as possible.

Use a public SlackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform https://slack.com/. The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at https://make.wordpress.org/chat/. channel

Many organising teams use Slack for their event planning. This is a great idea as it allows you to have a searchable history of your communication as a team. In order to make Slack even more beneficial to you as a team, you can make sure to use a public channel in your community Slack group. You can go a step further and make sure everyone in your community knows this is where you discuss your plans, by advertising the fact that you are using this open space. This goes a long way to maximising all of the benefits we looked at above.

Use a public P2P2 P2 or O2 is the term people use to refer to the Make WordPress blog. It can be found at https://make.wordpress.org/.

P2 is a WordPress theme designed to create a collaborative space that can effectively replace email (this blog uses a modified version of the P2 theme). Setting up a P2 for your local organising ream to use as a communication space allows all of your conversations to take place in a central location and not be tied into a series of private email threads. You can set up a P2 for free on WordPress.comWordPress.com An online implementation of WordPress code that lets you immediately access a new WordPress environment to publish your content. WordPress.com is a private company owned by Automattic that hosts the largest multisite in the world. This is arguably the best place to start blogging if you have never touched WordPress before. https://wordpress.com/, or simply download and install the theme on any WordPress site.

This allows anyone to follow or comment on your plans with ease. You can even link your P2 to your Slack channel so that all new posts show up in there, maximising their visibility.

Publish meeting notes

Even if you maintain public spaces, like Slack and P2, there will always be conversations that happen on calls or in other areas that are not open to everyone. In those instances, you can use your P2 as a record of these meetings by publishing notes and summaries of what you spoke about. This allows all of your discussions to be publicly available for review and comment. You can, of course, remain selective about what you publish in your notes, so sensitive matters can still be kept private where necessary.

Ask the community

One of the keys to soliciting quality feedback, especially in a public forum like a P2, is to ask the right questions to the right people. With a public place for discussions, you can ask your community for their input on your work and gather input from a variety of sources. When doing so, you need to keep your questions specific and open-ended. You should ask for feedback about individual decisions but ask for further input, rather than simply gathering yes/no answers. This way you will allow your community to be involved in decisions that will affect them, and you will be able to pull together useful and actionable feedback.

Do you have any other tips for how to practise genuine open communication? Share them below!