Open community architecture explained

A community stands in front of the barn walls they have just helped raise. Image is stylistic, being remade from an old photograph and tinted as a monochromatic medium blue.

This page is an explainer for two aspects:

    • What is meant by “Open” and “Community Architecture“?
    • What is a community architect and how does this relate to the methodology for Open Community Architects?

Trust and reliability in Open Source software comes from the process. The process of Open Source development endures and can be curated and supported by a community.

In Open Source, trust the process, not the people.

– Someone smart and wise

The definition of Open community architecture

For Open Collaboration, the community architecture comprises all of the tangible and intangible components that begin or grow organically to support community members in getting things done collaboratively and according to the Open ethos.

Open Community Architecture Definition v0.1beta

Breaking down the definition

We use the capitalized word Open to refer to a particular definition of the word “open” from the Open Knowledge Foundation, which reads:

Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).”

The Open Definition,

By combining Open with an object from a domain of work or practice, we get Open Source software, Open Science research, Open Data repositories and practices, Open Design principles, and so forth. The way of seeing an Open collaboration often drives explicit uses of Open, such as the Four Opens of the OpenInfra Foundation

The second definition is for community architecture and the role of the community architect, which started being used in parallel in the middle 2000s. That was an early growth time for the recognition that communities of users and participants were far more important to a business than previously understood. Recognizing the relationship to an Open Source community is an asset with all the associated risks, and thus a number of professional roles have arisen around understanding, creating, and taking care of these assets, or rather, collaborations.

For an Open Source collaboration to be successful, in needs to eventually have many elements and components, some arrived at organically, others considered from the start. These elements and components comprise the community architecture and include:

  • The infrastructure of participation, such as mailing lists, version control, chat spaces, documentation collaboration tools, and software testing tools.
  • The creation and maintenance of trusted processes, which requires there to be iterative agreements between collaborating humans. This is how they create and maintain trust among themselves going forward. For example, growth and changes in the people involved in a community tend to bring shifts in trust if the communal web of trust is not actively maintained. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem that is solved by someone knowing what would be a good community architecture process to start things off, that includes a model for the community to update itself.
  • Governance, from the strictly written to the loosely understood and ephemeral. A good community architecture has a good-enough-to-start governance model that is inclusive, accessible, and able to be iterated on into the future. The architecture should also support the discovery of reasons to iterate on the governance before problems begin from stagnancy.
  • Caretaking of the people involved, which is best run as a collective effort. For example, having a strong culture of mentorship spreads the caretaking duties while having far more positive effect on everyone than just one or a few people doing all the mentoring.

The person who creates, curates, and maintains this perspective on the community architecture is not always called an architect. There has been a steady rise in job roles with similar architect-functions for different types of Open communities: community manager, developer advocate, and community project lead are all titles and roles that may be within the skillset of an individual community architect.

An Open community architect is someone who can create a strategy with detailed plans and roadmaps for an Open Source or similar collaboration. And just like a building architect is hands-on for a construction project, a community architect is often seen working directly in the Open community. This is a core way to build relationships, trust, and a reputation in that community, which is necessary to obtain and sustain alignment on complex projects over space and time.

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