Diversity, Equity and Inclusion principles in open source

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) principles are at the heart of CHAOSS Initiative, a Linux Foundation open source project.

Published on: 16/06/2021

CHAOSS launched the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, which collaborates with public and private organisations to build out diversity-related international standards for open source communities.


Diversity is gaining momentum within the global open source community. Ranging from a significant increase in productivity to higher cross-disciplinary integration and better outcomes for end users and consumers, there are several benefits derived from high diversity in the workplace. Unfortunately, the world of open source lags behind other sectors when it comes to ensuring diversity in the labour force. For instance, according to the associate professor at the University of Tennessee Vandana Singh, women represent less than 3% of open source communities.


Source: Jennifer Riggins, Open Source Communities Need More Safe Spaces and Codes of Conducts. Now.
Source: Jennifer Riggins, Open Source Communities Need More Safe Spaces and Codes of Conducts. Now.


This is why organisations across the world launch projects and initiatives to tackle the issue. An example of the renewed attention paid to diversity relates to the so-called CHAOSS Initiative, which is an open source project at the Linux Foundation that focuses on understanding community health through metrics. It does this in two ways: on the one hand, it defines metrics and builds out a standard language that the global open source community can use; on the other hand, it builds software for collecting data on open source projects and producing the metrics and insights related to their health. 

With particular reference to the latter, CHAOSS is split into different working groups: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI), Evolution, Common Metrics, Value and Risk. The DEI group was the first one created at CHAOSS, back in 2017, which points out how relevant diversity is seen for the health of a project. It relied on two main works, namely the Gender Diversity Analysis in the OpenStack Community and the Mozilla Research by Emma Irwin. Today, DEI focuses on seven areas: Communication Inclusivity, Contributor Community Diversity, Event Diversity, Governance, Leadership, Project and Community, Recognition of Good Work. Each one of those focus areas aims to help open source public and private organisations identify the degree of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within their communication strategies, their members’ contributions in a community, the events they plan and host, their governance and leadership as well as within each one of their projects.

To do this, the DEI group gathered questions that organisations can use to assess their DEI level in all the aforementioned focus areas. “All the metrics definitions provided are inspirational, they are not definitive. They still need to be tailored to the specific environment of the organisation that is using them” said to OSOR Georg Link, Co-founder and Governing Board Member at CHAOSS. The questions are then often updated based on the feedback collected by those organisations that used and developed them as a result of this tailoring process. 

The main goal of CHAOSS is to provide these resources as a starting point to build out international standards. Therefore, organisations will not have to start from scratch when they want to investigate their communities and the health of their projects. The main stakeholders interested in CHAOSS’s endeavour range from open source foundations to companies and universities, with special reference to the community managers and the Open Source Programme Office (OSPO) managers, who are usually the ones responsible for dedicated communities.

“The broad interest for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion stems from the fact that it focuses on the people who have the hardest to engage with our communities. By making that more welcoming for them to engage in our communities, we make it better for everyone. It does not matter who is in charge of a project. Focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is good for everyone, including governments and universities, and embedding these principles from the beginning helps organisations create much better and healthier open source projects and communities” concluded Georg Link.