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Managed Chaos
Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Open Space and Open Source

Both, Open Space Technology (OST)* and Open Source Software (OSS) are structured around volunteerism (.i.e people are the center of the universe). They really encourage people to step up and help. Volunteerism applies at many levels.

  • you can author a piece of software and put it out to help others OR
  • you can join an existing project and contribute to it.
  • you can use the software and give feedback to the authors. Filling in a bug report or requesting an enhancement is a great way to participate in this movement. There are million ways to contribute to OSS, you can write some user document for the project or give a demo to your local user group.

Similarly in OST, you can propose a topic and be a facilitator or participate in a topic proposed by someone else or blog about your thoughts.

With Volunteerism comes responsibilities and rights. You have the right to participate and contribute. If you don’t like the direction in which its going, you have the right to leave or spawn off something that is how you would like it. This very behavior leads to exploration and discovery. Hence leads to innovation. While the participants have all these rights, they are generally good citizens and are very responsible & self-disciplined. You can really see a touch of craftsmanship in their work.

In my experience both these approaches are amazing at how they can involve/engage people. In OST we say,

“Who ever comes it the right people and whatever happens is the best that can happen”.

This holds true for OSS projects as well. You can’t really force somebody to contribute. Based on my experience the core for both is passionate people.

From the outside, both OST and OSS looks very chaotic in nature. One has to act, sense and respond. When someone throws open a piece of software, they have no idea how it would evolve or even if it will interest anyone. They have to act first by putting it out there. After that based on the feedback from the community (sense), the author/s have to respond. Project which are able to do this, see a big user community around it and hence innovation. Same holds good for OST topics.

Even though we try to put some (very limited) structure around them, both OST and OSS by nature are very self-organizing, self-emerging and self-adjusting or self-correcting. They also have a self-filtering nature. Its easy to leave non-passionate and undisciplined people behind. Nor are these hero-centric systems. Also the moment we try to put too much structure or process around them, they tend to break down. They don’t necessarily fail, but evolve into something very different in nature and the kind of people around it. In OST we say,

“It starts when it starts, it ends when it ends”.

Topics in OST and features in OSS evolve over a period of time. One thing influences another and another influences some third thing. This very nature makes it very adaptive. Adaptive systems are here to stay, rigid systems will soon be extinct.

* Don’t get confused with the word Technology in OST. In this context Technology means tool. Its really a meeting/conference format.

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