How CHAOSS Measures Open Source Community Health

In a previous article, we looked at the many aspects of FOSS advocacy, including contributing to open source projects, adopting open source business policies, and mentoring others in the community.

Here, we’ll look at the CHAOSS project, which takes a different approach in its advocacy and helps quantify the health of projects with specific tools and metrics. CHAOSS (which stands for Community Health Analytics Open Source Software) is a Linux Foundation project “focused on creating analytics and metrics to help define community health.” Since it was founded in 2017, the CHAOSS project has grown significantly and now includes various working groups, 40 defined metrics, a new metric platform called Augur, the CHAOSScon international conferences, and a brand-new podcast.


To learn more about the project, we spoke with Dawn Foster, Director of Open Source Community Strategy at VMware and member of the CHAOSS governing board.

FOSSlife: Please give our readers a bit of background on the CHAOSS project. How did it originate and what are its goals?

Dawn Foster: The community was formed as a result of a Birds of a Feather at the Linux Foundation Open Source Leadership Summit in 2017 out of a shared desire to collaborate on ways to measure open source project health. It was officially announced as a Linux Foundation project a few months later at the LF Open Source Summit North America. The idea was to bring together several different analytics tools, like GrimoireLab and cregit, into a coordinated effort while also developing metrics definitions that could be used by any implementation.
FOSSlife: What is your role with the project?

Dawn Foster: I'm on the Governing Board and am a maintainer for CHAOSS. I'm most active in the Common Working Group where we develop metrics definitions that are used by several other working groups or are important for community health, but that do not cleanly fit into one of the other existing working groups. I'm also active in the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group where we find ways to measure diversity and inclusion for open source projects. 
FOSSlife: How does that relate to your career in open source community advocacy? Why is this topic important to you?

Dawn Foster: I learned about the importance of metrics early in my open source career, and I became a passionate advocate for open source metrics projects. As the person responsible for open source community projects within a company, I spent a lot of time justifying my position and explaining why the community was important. The best way to do this was by using metrics and measuring things that were important to the company as a whole. 

By aligning my community strategies with our overall company strategies, I could use metrics to measure whether or not we were successfully achieving our goals and do it in a way that our executives could see how the open source community work supported our corporate goals. This blog post talks more about how I approach community strategy and metrics: I also love playing with data, so in addition to being important for my work, it's just so much fun.
FOSSlife: Can you describe the various metrics the project has developed and how they are used?

Dawn Foster: Our full list of released metrics can be found here, but I'll mention just a few of the metrics that I personally find useful. 

At VMware, I've been putting together some project health metrics to help us find areas where we're doing well and to identify other areas for improvement. I've been using the time to first response metric to help figure out if the open source projects in our GitHub organizations are responding to pull requests within two business days, so that contributors don't feel like we're neglecting their contributions. 

I've also been looking at organizational diversity to better understand which of our open source projects are nurturing a community of contributors that extends beyond our employees with participation from other companies. This indicates that a project has interest and innovation coming from outside of VMware to make the project stronger than it would be if it was an internal project.

The Diversity and Inclusion Working Group has a really robust set of metrics that can be used to help understand how diverse your project is and where you might want to make adjustments to make your project more inclusive and welcoming to a wide variety of contributors. One example of how to use some of these metrics can be found in the OpenStack D&I Report.

FOSSlife: How can people get involved?

Dawn Foster: The best place to start is by joining our mailing list. I also recommend either joining the weekly CHAOSS Community meeting on Tuesdays, if it fits within your time zone, or you can watch past meetings on our YouTube channel. 

I also suggest looking at a few of the working groups and joining a Zoom meeting for one or two that you are interested in. If meetings aren't your thing, have a look at the issues on GitHub for some of the working groups and begin participating there! You can find more information about how to participate on the website.
FOSSlife: What else would you like readers to know?

Dawn Foster: Anyone can participate in the CHAOSS project! I think sometimes people think that CHAOSS is all about software development on the tools we use to gather the metrics, and while that's an important part of what we do, it isn't everything. Most of the time, the working groups are discussing and defining metrics, which is something anyone can do. 

We collaboratively work together in documents to define metrics to better understand what questions they answer and why they are important in addition to talking about what data you might need to collect. In some cases, like with many of the diversity and inclusion metrics, qualitative measurements are an important element of the metrics definitions. We need people from all backgrounds with different skills to help us define metrics in a way that is useful for a variety of people and organizations. 

In addition to the metrics, CHAOSS is a fun community of smart and welcoming people, so it's a place where you can enjoy contributing!