Motives for and Barriers to Open Source Participation

Sustainable open source projects rely on attracting and keeping new contributors. However, many newcomers fail to participate beyond their initial post and core members can leave at any moment.

So what drives potential contributors to join or stick with a new project? And what can communities do to attract and retain members? Below I outline several motives and barriers to open source participation along with potential strategies to support newcomers.


  •  Self-promotion: Experienced developers will often join a project to build their own reputation. Communities can motivate these developers by acknowledging and publicly celebrating contributors.
  • Completing coursework: Students enrolled in computer science courses are often required to contribute to an open source project as part of an assignment. Delayed answers can be a major pain point for this group, as they’re often working against a deadline. Responding promptly to communication helps keep students motivated and engaged.
  •  Learning: Improving one’s programming skills and learning a new tool are common motivators. Supporting beginners with clear documentation, learning resources, and “how to start” guides can help foster a supportive learning environment.


  •  Cultural differences: Messages can be misconstrued as rude due to language and cultural differences. Maintaining regional newsletters and connecting members who speak the same language can help mitigate cultural obstacles.
  •  Development environment: Setting up the development environment is a common hurdle experienced by newcomers. Providing preconfigured development environments and step-by-step tutorials may help.
  •  Task selection: Newcomers may find it difficult to choose a task that matches their skill level. Communities can help by providing meaningful direction in the form of mentorship as well as information about task size, required skills, and difficulty level.

To learn about additional contributor motives and barriers checkout the sources below.


Hannebauer, C., Book, M. and Gruhn, V. (2014). An Exploratory Study Of Contribution Barriers Experienced By Newcomers To Open Source Software Projects. Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on CrowdSourcing in Software Engineering, pp.11-14.

Hannebauer, C. and Gruhn, V. (2016). Motivation Of Newcomers To FLOSS Projects. Proceedings of the 12th International Symposium on Open Collaboration.

Shibuya, B. and Tamai, T. (2009). Understanding The Process Of Participating In Open Source Communities. Proceedings of the 2009 ICSE Workshop on Emerging Trends in Free/Libre/Open Source Software Research and Development, pp.1-6.

Steinmacher, Igor et al. (2015). Social Barriers Faced By Newcomers Placing Their First Contribution In Open Source Software Projects. Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. pp.1379-1392.