The Metrics of Contributions

When the Five for the Future (5ftF) program was proposed, one of the big questions I found myself considering was how to reconcile participating in a team with specific outcomes and expectations for work when that team contributes to a larger organization that has impact as one of its coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. values. It can feel like impact should be the primary consideration, but for those who are employed, there is always the pressure to quantify contributions over time.

The following notes are from a two part session with current sponsored contributors, to discuss how this tension appears in their day-to-day and how it balances over time.

General Thoughts

  • High impact contributor work in the project usually gets defined and clarified over time (e.g. the reiteration of priorities, the WordPress North Star, posts that outline goals).
    • Is it OK to have aimless or agenda-free contributions?
    • What is the difference between aimless and agenda-free? Or agenda-free and agenda-aligned?
    • If a contributor’s agenda is too clear, that doesn’t feel right—it is in direct conflict with “agenda-free contribution.”
  • Early contributions can be tricky for sponsored contributors as there are expectations from employers, project leadership, and casual contributors.
    • Goal alignment can be a struggle. What is valuable to the company may not be impactful for the project. 
    • How do you balance and align those expectations and responsibilities?
    • How do you reset expectations with casual contributors who become sponsored?
    • Should we have a different or more explicit onboarding process for company-sponsored contributors vs. self-sponsored contributors?
  • Sponsored contributors ensure that someone will track and execute the operations and administrative side of the project.
    • Does anyone even know about this type of work in the project?
    • Do we need a way to identify those who can do less desirable tasks?
    • Should sponsored contributors have an open sourceOpen Source Open Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL. mission statement that makes the project’s internal goals visible to impactful work
  • WordPress project onboarding necessarily has friction, which is a good thing.
    • A clarifying example is that you don’t hand over the keys to the first person who walks into the Red Cross and claims to have the solutions to all the problems.
    • The friction is going to exist if there is growth and transfer of knowledge. 
  • Being a sponsored contributor tends to come with a change in how volunteer contributors perceive you and your work.
    • The weight of your vote can change as goals align more/less over time.
    • Invisible work becomes your responsibility, but is rarely easy to point to let alone quantify.

Question to Contributors:
What are the things that changed when you shifted from a contributor to a sponsored contributor? Answers anonymized. 

  • I am now more willing to take on the less glamorous (administrative) tasks.
  • I am now expected to take on dropped tasks that are important to goals.
  • As a contributor, adding to the project made me feel empowered, and I think even more so now as a sponsored contributor. I felt like I was mainly guessing, whereas now I have familiarity and context. 
  • Sponsored contributors have more direct interaction with project leads, and extra vision and foresight setting than regular contributors have access to. 
  • When you can work full time on the project without the distraction of other work, you can see the patterns and projects more clearly. That exposure comes when you have a lot of time.
  • I started on the fringes, but saw that the onboarding to the space was steep and I didn’t have the time to invest in that. Having a buddy/guide helped.
  • Once you show up more frequently, people are more willing to offer help and guidance.  

Final Thoughts

It comes down to balance:

  • Aimless contribution vs agenda-free contribution (& if working toward goals works against that)
  • WordPress goals vs Company goals (& when they don’t match)
  • WordPress needs vs Company value (& when they don’t match)
  • Project work vs admin work (& setting expectations w/ contributors)

Resolving these conflicts is multi-tiered. We need to get better at welcoming organizations into a Five for the Future arrangement where the stakeholders, impactful work, and responsibilities are made clear at the start. We need the information to be clearly received by 5ftF contributors, while also making sure the same information is readily available to any contributor.

Five Proposed Solutions (+ pros and cons)

  • TagTag Tag is one of the pre-defined taxonomies in WordPress. Users can add tags to their WordPress posts along with categories. However, while a category may cover a broad range of topics, tags are smaller in scope and focused to specific topics. Think of them as keywords used for topics discussed in a particular post. sponsored contributors.
    • We have this tag but it’s unverified (honor-system and self-selected).
    • Can it be reframed to the lens of a contributing vs staff writer.
    • At what point should there be a closed selection component to contribution? 
    • Cons
      • It would be easy for that to carry too much weight/power.
      • We can’t opt-out of certain contributions.
  • Clarify the difference in the expectations. 
    • What are the differences and how do we keep people accountable?
    • When you are clear about what you are doing, it’s easier for people to work alongside you.
    • It can bring stability to sponsored contributors and level set their own expectations.
    • Cons
      • Could alienate other contributors.
      • That level of clarity could feel antithetical to OS methodologies for all contributors. 
  • Clarify the steep learning curve and trust-building for this type of team
    • The work of building trust, context, and rapport should be explicit to support personal and organizational expectations (6-12 mos).
    • Being sponsored does not immediately mean we are trusted with a decision.
    • Cons
      • No cons found.
  • Dedicated 5ftF onboarding process
    • What does that look like?
    • Do we change the metric from hours to perhaps contribution or event participation? 
    • Automated greenhorn system for SlackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at
    • Cons
      • Could alienate other contributors.
      • That level of clarity could feel antithetical to OS methodologies for all contributors. 
  • Should we have a specific 5ftF mission statement?
    • Having one could clarify the expectations for sponsored contributors.
    • Does a mission statement make it clear who can work on what, or is it divisive?
    • Current 5ftF White Paper

But there are so many questions

You might have noticed that there are twice as many unanswered questions as there are answered thoughts in this discussion. And these aren’t even all the questions I have!

Yet, the most important thing to me is how the project can support sponsored teams (and how those sponsored teams can support the project) transparently and with as much care as possible.