Contributor Model

Matthew Taylor edited this page May 23, 2016 · 15 revisions
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Welcome to the NuPIC project! We look forward to your involvement and participation. We try to keep everything as simple as possible, but we have a few ground rules to help us all work together. Normally these guidelines are not needed - the project just gets on with its day-to-day operation - but they enable everyone to understand how the project operates, what to expect, and, most importantly, how to get involved!

1. Overview

This is a meritocratic, consensus-based community project. Anyone with an interest in the project can join the community, contribute to the project and participate in technical decisions as long as they adhere to the guidelines within this document. This document describes how that participation takes place and how to set about earning merit within the project community.

2. Roles and responsibilities

2.1. Users

Users are community members who have a need for the project. Anyone can be a User; there are no special requirements. Common User contributions include evangelizing the project (e.g., display a link on a website and raise awareness through word-of-mouth), informing developers of strengths and weaknesses from a new user perspective, or providing moral support (a "thank you" goes a long way).

Users who continue to engage with the project and its community will often become more and more involved. Such Users may find themselves becoming Contributors, as described in the next section.

2.2. Contributors

Contributors are community members who contribute in concrete ways to the project, most often in the form of code and/or documentation. Anyone can become a Contributor, and contributions can take many forms. There is no expectation of commitment to the project, no specific skill requirements, and no selection process.

Contributors engage with the project through NuPIC Issue Trackers, the NuPIC Developer Forum, and the Gitter chat room. They submit changes via pull requests, which will be considered for inclusion in the project by existing Committers (see next section). The NuPIC Developer Forum or Gitter chat room are the most appropriate places to ask for help when making that first contribution.

All NuPIC Contributors are required to sign the Contributor License. Why? The CL ensures that everyone who submits a work of authorship to the NuPIC project is contributing work that is their own or for which they can authoritatively speak. This protects the researchers and academics who use NuPIC, all of whom rely on NuPIC's license to appropriately cover their use of the NuPIC code.

As Contributors gain experience and familiarity with the project, their profile within, and commitment to, the community will increase. At some stage, they may find themselves being nominated for committership by an existing Committer.

2.3. Committers

Committers are community members who have shown that they are committed to the continued development of the project through ongoing engagement with the community. Committers must abide by the project's Contribution Standards.

While committership indicates a valued member of the community who has demonstrated a healthy respect for the project's aims and objectives, their work continues to be reviewed by Reviewers (see below) before acceptance in an official release.

To become a Committer, one must have shown a willingness and ability to participate in the project as a team player. Typically, a potential Committer will need to show that they have an understanding of and alignment with the project, its objectives, and its strategy. They will also have provided valuable contributions to the project over a period of time.

New Committers can be nominated by any existing Committer. Once they have been nominated, there will be a vote by the Reviewers (see below). Committer voting is one of the few activities that takes place on the project's private management list. Once the vote has been held, the aggregated voting results are published on the NuPIC Developer Forum. The nominee is entitled to request an explanation of any 'no' votes against them, regardless of the outcome of the vote. This explanation will be provided by the Reviewers (see below) and will be anonymous and constructive in nature.

It is important to recognize that committership is a privilege, not a right. That privilege must be earned and once earned it can be removed by the Reviewers (see next section) in extreme circumstances. However, under normal circumstances committership exists for as long as the Committer wishes to continue engaging with the project.

A Committer who shows an above-average level of contribution to the project, particularly with respect to its strategic direction and long-term health, may be nominated to become a Reviewer, described below.

2.4. Reviewers

Reviewers are individuals identified as "project admins" for the project on GitHub. Reviewers have additional responsibilities over and above those of a Committer. These responsibilities ensure the smooth running of the project. Reviewers are expected to review code contributions, maintain the strategic direction of the project by keeping the Project Roadmap up to date, approve changes to this document, and manage the copyrights within the project outputs.

Reviewers' contributions can be reviewed by other Reviewers, but this is not explicitly required. Reviewers do not have significant authority over other members of the community, although it is the Reviewers that vote on new Committers. They also make decisions when community consensus cannot be reached. In addition, the Reviewers have access to the project's private Reviewers' Forum and its archives. This list is used for sensitive issues, such as votes for new Committers and legal matters that cannot be discussed in public. It is never used for project management, planning, or discussion of technical matters.

A Committer is invited to become a Reviewer by existing Reviewers. A nomination will result in discussion and then a vote by the existing Reviewers.

3. Strategic Direction

The strategic direction of NuPIC is defined in the Roadmap, which is maintained by project Reviewers. This Roadmap defines the initiatives currently open for work in a prioritized list. The Roadmap should provide guidance for contributors about what work needs to be done. Issues that do not align with the priorities defined in the Roadmap will not be prioritized for execution. In addition, pull requests that fix issues outside the scope of the Roadmap are not prioritized for code-review.

4. Support

All participants in the community are encouraged to provide support for new Users as a way of growing the community. Those seeking support should recognize that all support activity within the project is voluntary and is therefore provided as and when time allows. A User requiring guaranteed response times or results should therefore seek to purchase a support contract from a community member. However, for those willing to engage with the project on its own terms, and willing to help support other users, the community support channels are ideal.

5. Contribution process

Anyone can contribute to the project, regardless of their skills, as there are many ways to contribute. For instance, a Contributor might be active on the NuPIC Developer Forum and Issue Tracker, or might supply patches via pull requests. The NuPIC Developer Forum is the most appropriate place for a Contributor to ask for help when making their first contribution.

Contributors should review NuPIC's Contribution Standards and get familiar with the project’s Developer Workflow.

We expect our community to self-regulating in a friendly, cooperative, and collaborative manner. We are all here to learn from one another, and disrespectful conduct is unnecessary and unacceptable.

6. Decision making process

Technical discussions are conducted on the NuPIC Developer Forum and within GitHub issues. See Development Process for more details. Occasionally, sensitive discussions may occur on the private Reviewers' Forum.

In order to ensure that the project is not bogged down by endless discussion and continual voting, the project operates a policy of lazy consensus. This allows the majority of decisions to be made without resorting to a formal vote.

6.1. Lazy consensus

Decision making typically involves the following steps:

  • Proposal
  • Discussion
  • Vote (if consensus is not reached through discussion)
  • Decision

Any voting community member (Contributor, Committer, or Reviewer) can make a technical proposal for consideration by the community. If the idea is simpler to explain in code instead of words, it may be appropriate to implement a portion or all of the proposed change in a remote branch on GitHub in addition to posting the idea to the NuPIC Developer Forum. This will allow discussions to reference concrete examples. Doing the up-front work to implement a proposed idea can lead to wasted time and effort, however, if the proposal is denied. For this reason, it is best not to provide a detail and time-consuming reference implementation.

In general, as long as nobody explicitly opposes a proposal or patch, it is recognized as having the support of the community. This is called lazy consensus -- that is, those who have not stated their opinion explicitly have implicitly agreed to the implementation of the proposal. Lazy consensus is a very important concept within the project. It is this process that allows a large group of people to efficiently reach consensus, as someone with no objections to a proposal need not spend time stating their position, and others need not spend time reading such mails.

For lazy consensus to be effective, it is necessary to allow at least 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) before assuming that there are no objections to the proposal. This requirement ensures that everyone is given enough time to read, digest, and respond to the proposal. This time period is chosen so as to be as inclusive as possible of all participants, regardless of their location and time commitments.

If a Reviewer approves a proposal, then the 72 hour waiting period may be waived, at the Reviewer’s discretion.

6.2. Voting

Not all technical decisions can be made using lazy consensus. Larger issues such as those that may affect the strategic direction of the project must gain explicit approval in the form of a vote. This section describes how a vote is conducted. Section 5.4 discusses when a vote is needed.

All Contributors, Committers, and Reviewers have a vote. The project encourages open discussions prior to voting. However, only Committers and Reviewers have binding votes for the purposes of decision making. It is therefore their responsibility to ensure that the opinions of all community members are considered. While only Committers and Reviewers have a binding vote, a well-justified “-1” from a Contributor must be considered by the community, and if appropriate, supported by a binding “-1”.

If a formal vote on a proposal is called (signaled simply by starting a topic on the NuPIC Developer Forum with “[VOTE]” in the title), all participants may express an opinion and vote. They do this by replying to the original “[VOTE]” post:

  • +1: meaning “yes”, “agree”: the voter may also be willing to help bring about the proposed action,
  • -1: meaning “no”, “disagree”: opposes the action’s going forward. The voter should propose an alternative action to address the issue (or a justification for not addressing the issue)

To abstain from the vote, participants simply do not respond to the email.

A “-1” can also indicate a veto, depending on the type of vote and who is using it. Someone without a binding vote cannot veto a proposal, so in their case a “-1” would simply indicate an objection.

When a “[VOTE]” receives a “-1”, it is the responsibility of the community as a whole to address the objection. Such discussion will continue until the objection is either rescinded, overruled (in the case of a non-binding veto), or the proposal itself is altered in order to achieve consensus (possibly by withdrawing it altogether). In the rare circumstance that consensus cannot be achieved, the Reviewers will decide the forward course of action.

In summary:

  • Those who don't agree with the proposal should vote “-1” and offer a counter-proposal.
  • Those who agree should vote “+1”; it is hoped they will actively assist in implementing the proposal.

7. Conclusion

This project is your project. The point of this document is to grow the project by enabling, facilitating, and securing contributions in a manner that satisfies everyone. Let us know through the NuPIC Forum if you have any comments!


This work derivative of Meritocratic Governance Model by Ross Gardler, Gabriel Hanganu at University of Oxford.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.