Creating Strategies for Effective & Inclusive Group Communication in the Drupal Community

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One of the chartered responsibilities of the Drupal Community Working Group (CWG) is to work to develop and support community initiatives that promote the health of the Drupal community and help to prevent conflict and burnout. One of the ways that we do this is by organizing workshops designed to provide community leaders with the knowledge, tools, and resources they need to help keep our community a friendly and welcoming place.

Following feedback from last year’s Teamwork and Leadership workshop at DrupalCon Nashville, we decided to narrow the focus and audience for our next workshop. One of the things we’ve observed over the last year in the Drupal community is that many of the issues we’ve seen have had to do with communication breakdowns between various individuals and groups. Following internal discussion in late 2018, we decided that one way to begin addressing this issue was by bringing together leaders in the community representing different groups and interests for a workshop focused on communication skills at DrupalCon Seattle.

In early 2019, we interviewed a number of potential facilitators suggested by Drupal Association board chair Adam Goodman and selected Megan Bernard, a professor of communication studies who specializes in promoting meaningful and inclusive learning and collaboration. Based on Prof. Bernard’s recommendation, we decided to spread this year’s workshop out over two days (April 10-11) in a dedicated meeting room provided by the Drupal Association, who generously covered all fees and expenses.

After finalizing the logistics, we then reached out to those who had attended last year’s workshop, as well as additional community members involved with community governance, camp organizing, core and contrib maintainers, the Drupal Security Team, Drupal Diversity & Inclusion, and the Drupal Association. The workshop facilitator suggested that we keep the size of the workshop to around 20 people, focusing on individuals who are well-connected in the community in hopes that they can help distribute the lessons learned in the workshop. 17 people attended some or all of the first day of the workshop, and 18 attended some or all of the second. In total, community members from 10 different countries spread across 4 different continents were represented.

Day one of the workshop included introductions, a discussion of needs, assets, and challenges faced by various groups within the Drupal community, and a discussion of shared context and perspective. We talked about different ways that other online communities help communicate context about their users, such as identifying the primary language, pronouns, and location in comment threads. During our discussion, Neil Drumm pointed out there was already an active issue led by justafish and others to allow users to display this kind of information, and one of the first action items we agreed on was helping it get implemented on Drupal.org as quickly as possible.

Another topic of discussion centered around creating pre-written template responses that maintainers and/or other privileged users could use in issue threads to “nudge” users in the right direction and realign communication when conversations start trending away from our community standards. We discussed badges and other ways to promote positive communication in our issues threads and other community spaces. In addition, we also talked about better ways to on-board new members into the project and foster an ongoing sense of community. One insight was that small cohorts of 6-8 people are far more effective than 1:1 mentoring at building community engagement.

In our second day, we dug more deeply into the concepts of emotional intelligence, de-escalation practices, and different forms of conflict. One of our exercises was a case study challenge, where different groups were tasked with finding different ways to resolve typical kinds of conflicts often seen in Drupal and other open source communities.

We also spent time talking about different ways to apply some of the things we had learned to our own community, and next steps. We agreed as a group to focus on three main areas:

  1. Setting context in issue queues. This work had already been mostly completed in https://www.drupal.org/node/2961229 so it was really just a matter of working with DA staff to get it implemented on Drupal.org.

  2. Nudges. A group of us decided to do more research into pre-written templates to use in issue queues, forums, and Slack to gently steer things back in the right direction when conversations were starting to go in a negative direction.

  3. Improving Drupal.org user on-boarding and cohorts. In addition to better identifying new users on the site, we agreed to look into various ways to help community members join small cohorts, organized by industry, technology, geography, or other criteria. We felt it was important that this be an opportunity that’s open to existing community members as well as new ones.

The folks assigned to each area agreed to find a time to meet in the coming weeks and to involve other interested community members as well. The CWG also identified several opportunities to improve and streamline its internal processes and communication practices.

By developing and communicating best practices that can be shared across the community, the hope is that we can help build structures for self-guided conflict resolution among community members and support more effective communication overall.

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