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Voluntariness vs. Responsibility, which of them should be considered as a priority for the community team?

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Before starting the concern, I want to appreciate and acknowledge the community team for their volunteer efforts to run Codidact and handle its issues as far as they can.

When I sometimes talk to some people about the state of some unhandled issues, I am answered explicitly or implicitly that "the community team are unpaid volunteers", "they have not free time to handle any issue", "Codidact is an open source platform so that anyone can fix a problem", and so on.

I agree that no one should expect a volunteer to do some work, but for an aspiring community there should be a difference between "voluntariness" and "responsibility". In such a community the community team, though they may be unpaid volunteers, try to run the community like that they are paid staff.

The Codidact community team have accepted to be the staff and run the community. So, in my opinion, if Codidact is an aspiring platform, one may expect that they work as paid staff do.

Am I right?


Notice

The initial version of this answer is the accepted and the best answer. You can find the initial version here (Please note the current version of this answer is not original and not valid).

Why should this post be closed?

5 comments

Hit + because if this is not duplicate, it is the first to raise an important point. But no, absolutely not, your expectation is hugely wrong. ‭.                                                .‭ 28 days ago

Something about the default sorting is way off because I don’t think this down voted 11 times to 1 question should be the first one I see when I come to Meta ‭Logician‭ 27 days ago

Yesterday it had less than five downs, I'm fine enough with most active first if that's what's happening. ‭.                                                .‭ 27 days ago

@Logician: You are apparently sorting by activity, not score. This question is at the top because it had the most recent activity. ‭Olin Lathrop‭ 27 days ago

Unless you suggest that Codidact can have a wave of sponsors like StackExchange, I don't expect anyone to make a salary on this website. ‭KingDuken‭ 26 days ago

6 answers

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Working with volunteers is very different to working with paid staff, and if you try to bring the same expectations then you will cause problems.

Paid staff have a contract: the hours and type of work expected from them are explicitly stated, as is their compensation. If they don't see the point of a task that the boss sets them then they will do it, because (a) they still get paid for it, even if it turns out to be pointless; (b) they will cease to be paid if they refuse to do it.

Volunteers often don't have explicitly stated expectations, and derive the compensation for their work from the work itself: perhaps from internal satisfaction of a job well done, satisfaction from the result of doing it, or external satisfaction from pleasant interactions with others brought about by doing it. If they don't see the point of a task and someone above them in the organisation pushes them to do it anyway, they lose motivation and eventually withdraw their effort.

A comparison of the forms of compensation with Maslow's hierarchy of needs will clearly show that anyone who works for a living and also volunteers will necessarily prioritise the work over the volunteering. Some volunteers have plenty of time, but some may be using scraps here and there.

All this means that when working with volunteers, you have to prioritise and distribute tasks differently than when working with employees. You don't have a fixed amount of people-hours per week to do things, because not only might the availability of the people vary from week to week due to external factors, but if you ask them to do things they don't want to then their availability will suddenly go down.

In short, you can expect volunteers to take responsibility for doing the tasks they accept well, but you can't expect them to accept tasks uncritically.

2 comments

Almost. "You can expect volunteers to take responsibility for doing the task they accept well", but have no right to demand such responsibility. ‭.                                                .‭ 28 days ago

@8063, I don't understand what you mean. ‭Peter Taylor‭ 28 days ago

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tl,dr: No.


I'm sorry, but this just isn't possible.

First of all, we all are people with a real life. We all have full-time responsibilities in real life. These responsibilities are unquestionable more important than running a virtual community. For example, I'll have a major change in my life in the next weeks and will have to prepare for it.

And still we are coming here (almost) every day to support our communities. We fix urgent issues, when they arise (sometimes even if real life is calling too).

Also, we all spend a lot of stuff – time, energy and sometimes money (the servers don't pay themselves!) – into Codidact. Because we believe in the project and want it to be successful. We spend this without any form of "compensation".

I'm not saying this to complain, just stating the fact that may not be entirely noticeable to everyone. Y'know, I don't really want to get any compensation for this. It's fun. It's rewarding to get to learn new stuff and new amazing people .

BUT

We CANNOT provide the same 24/7 support as a professional provider. It's just not possible. Neither emotionally nor financially.

Maybe, in a few years from now, we'll be able to employ a person or two to take care of the software and community full-time. Maybe. I don't even know if we really want that. I don't know if we are ever going to have enough money to do this.

But until then it's just not possible. We'll try to support the awesome communities to the best we can as volunteers. But not beyond.

3 comments

Exactly. I'm a relatively busy person; I'm an athlete-in-training as well as a sports coach; I'm being drafted into the military next month; I have family and community obligations, plus, y'know, I like to have some time for myself. I contribute to Codidact because I enjoy it and want it to succeed, but it can't be my #1 priority. ‭Mithical‭ 28 days ago

Likewise for me. I work 12 hour shifts handling emergency calls. When I'm doing that I have no time in the day for anything else; when I'm not, I can spend some time on Codidact, but I have other things to do as well and I like some time off. ‭‮edoCfOtrA‭ 27 days ago

"The Codidact community team have accepted to be the staff and run the community. So, in my opinion, if Codidact is an aspiring platform, one may expect that they work as paid staff do." We will work as paid staff when we get paid staff wages. // And same, I'm a full time accountant with family and professional duties. I help when I can. ‭Sigma‭ 27 days ago

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The Codidact community team have accepted to be the staff and run the community. So, in my opinion, if Codidact is an aspiring platform, one may expect that they work as paid staff do.

Am I right?

I see two very different issues of:

Productivity

As noted by others, the volunteers have limited time for this (or any other) volunteer project, so unless they feel a particular feature is important enough to spend the time on, it won't get done. That is normal for a volunteer project. This has a major impact on feature requests.

Professionalism

This covers two areas:

  • Quality of Code

As with any open source project, quality of code will vary a lot. But, within certain limits, adding more people to the project will increase code quality as there are more people reviewing code and helping to improve it. The truth is, commercial code varies quite a bit in quality too - most people just never see it.

  • Interactions within the Project and with the Public

While hard to enforce - not so easy to kick someone out for misbehaving when anyone can volunteer and no money is involved - this is most definitely a goal in Codidact. Volunteers are expected to treat each other with respect and to treat the end users (i.e., people actively making use of Codidact but not contributing to the code or other core parts of the project) with respect. This is, of course, a two-way street. If users are not themselves respectful of the Codidact volunteers (developers and moderators) then they may get an (unfortunate) bit of disrespect back, though part of the goal of moderation is to minimize such issues and, using tools such as closing questions and removing user privileges, to keep the overall conversation polite, respectful and, by certain definitions, professional.

Back to the original question: If the issue is "volunteers should treat users and user requests professionally" (i.e., with respect, politeness, etc.) then I agree. If the issue is "volunteers should handle all feature requests quickly simply because I know they are important and will improve the system" - no, that is not a reasonable expectation for an all-volunteer project.

0 comments

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I agree that no one should expect a volunteer to do some work

Full-stop.

The Codidact community team have accepted to be the staff

This is the basic, incorrect assumption at the root of your thesis. As you yourself have heard both explicitly and implicitly, the Codidact team are volunteers. Their roles are important to the project, but they aren't staff just because you want or imagine them to be.

0 comments

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If you wish the staff to start acting like paid employees, maybe you should discuss how you can pay them. Maybe set up some kind of foundation that funds Codidact servers and pays the wages of a staff member or two. To remain consistent with the community-based approach of Codidact, the members, maybe via some kind of representation, should have control over the foundation.

I suggest you start discussions with the staff about how to set up such a foundation and how much money you are willing to put into it.

2 comments

We're currently working on setting up a non-profit organization of some sort, that will be able to accept donations and fund any expenses (yes, such as the servers). I don't think we're going to have enough money coming in at any point in the near future to even consider paying real wages for staff, though. ‭Mithical‭ 27 days ago

@Mithical plus all the other challenges that come with paying people, conflicts of interest, resulting strife... Someday the Codidact project might have both the need and the means to hire people for certain roles (I'm guessing a role that keeps the servers running and happy would top the list), this is something that would have to be thought out very carefully by the board and community. ‭Monica Cellio‭ 27 days ago

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Since the other answers did not satisfactorily address my concerns, I'll post my answer to the question.

If we want to have a successful community, then its community managers (team) should work as paid staff do. There is a (somewhat harsh to some people) fact stating: If you want to have a successful project, you need to consider it as your first priority.

For example, if a mathematician want to solve an open problem, they should not view it as a secondary goal and spend their free time and energy on the problem. In real life, no successful project you can find that has been achieved by viewing it as a secondary priority, hobby, or ... .


However, there are some points in the other answers which need to be responded to:

  • I never expected from the Codidact volunteers to work as paid staff. I said

In my opinion, if Codidact is an aspiring platform, one may expect that they work as paid staff do. I did not mean that the Codidact volunteers should prioritize their volunteering over their work. I only meant that if we want the community to be successful, its community team should consider it as their first priority; I agree with this opinion as I explained above. But, if Codidact is just a hobby, then the community team can continue their way because it is right for such a goal.

2 comments

"If you want to have a successful project, you need to consider it as your first priority." This is why I downvoted this answer. This statement seems to say "no person in the world can ever work on two different projects and be successful in both of them." That is patently false. Whether or not the labor expended by any person or group is enough to make a venture successful varies. But there are countless counter-examples of "2nd priority a success" in the world. ‭manassehkatz‭ 25 days ago

We don't yet have the ability to lock posts, so if you edit that back in again we will have to delete the post again. Please find more appropriate ways to express yourself, and please stop pretending to be someone other than the author of the question. ‭Monica Cellio‭ 24 days ago

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