At the last Mozilla Foundation get together, we had a session thinking about “How to work open”. (Matt Thompson led the session, and has already done his writeup.)
One important distinction that appeared during the discussion was between ‘Being Open’ and ‘Enabling Useful Participation’. If you think in terms of ‘Being Open’, you end up throwing all sorts of half-finished things out into the community and saying “what do you think?”, which normally results in minor feedback or bikeshedding, and a sense of disempowerment in the community when their feedback is ignored because it wasn’t really what you were looking for.
If you instead think about each question through the filter of how you can Enable Useful Participation in your project, you end up not just with much more useful answers, but with much better questions as well. Ask: how can someone else make a useful contribution to what you are doing, and what tools and information do you need to give them in order for them to do that?
‘Being Open’ thinks “we need to publish this half-finished draft of a press release right away, because if we don’t, then we aren’t being open enough.” ‘Enabling Useful Participation’ thinks “Hmm. If people are going to give me useful feedback on this, they need to know what I’m trying to achieve. Let me write up my goals, plus a short list of the bits I’m not sure about yet to direct people’s attention, and then publish.”
‘Being Open’ thinks “stick it in the code repo; now we’re open”. ‘Enabling Useful Participation’ thinks “Can people actually install it? Do I need to write instructions for that? What’s the roadmap? Do people know how to contact me to ask what to work on?”
‘Being Open’ thinks “as long as we publish the results of all our decisions, we are open”. ‘Enabling Useful Participation’ thinks “how can we bring other people into the decision-making circle?”
So, ask yourself today: how can someone who currently knows nothing about my project make a useful contribution, and what tools and information do I need to give them in order for them to do that?