How do we attend to conflicts in the Free Software community?

When a conflict arises in a Free Software project in which you participate,

  • In Matrix or IRC chat,
  • On the Fediverse,
  • In issue comments,
  • Around disagreement about some code/roadmap/policy/design/project decision,

What do you do, how do you attend to the conflict? What are the common results and outcomes?

What do you (or someone else) do that works?

What do you (or someone else) do that doesn’t work?

What’s your dream about how the conflict would be attended, that you’d be proud of?

Who else and where else should I ask these questions?

I’m exploring the possibility and relevance of creating a conflict engagement system for the Free Software community (the Fediverse is also a potential audience - do you find it as important to focus on? Or even more important?). And in the service of that, I’m asking these exploration questions.

This is part of my exploration into bringing nonviolent organizational systems to the Free Software community, supporting us to organize better and thus increase our collective capacity to work towards our humanity-serving purposes and goals.

I also asked these on the Fediverse.


I think the Fediverse is an important audience, yes. There’s so many FOSS + their communities communicating in this same space, and it is also what federation aims to bring closer together (going beyond the shallow Microblogging that don’t fit this domain you are targeting).

You can start a new topic on the “Conflict engagement system” in the #community:ideas category, for brainstorming about it. For instance I can imagine it to be a ‘shared service’ offered by or to a Software Guild.

I also feel that - and a Fediverse comment also alludes to this - that strategies followed greatly vary depending on the situation. Not just size of the project, but many aspects related to the way its FSDL processes are organized. So your prevention, resolutions and management approaches are just as well a pattern library in the domain of Conflict Engagement.

Hi @fr33domlover

I have a ton of thoughts and won’t prioritize spelling them out here. I put so much focus on this in starting that it arguably is one of the things that distracted us from focusing on just launching. I still think launching without any such consideration would be reckless, and I’ve since taken my years of notes and ideas and started organizing them into a FLO project specific to these things rather than as part of Snowdrift.

I have myself mediated successfully many conflicts, some I had nothing to do with, just helping others. I helped resolve the Libreboot/FSF drama for example.

The shortest summary for now is: avoid engaging while constricted/triggered/defensive. Do all that can be done to stop public drama and get people to communicate in private with facilitation. The initial goal should be to get a reply from others of “that’s right, that’s exactly how I feel”. Start with yourself, understanding how you feel. Attune-resolve-review — Attuning is making sense of the experience and your thoughts and sensations. Resolving is doing the minimum to address your immediate feelings, only what’s urgent, and only enough to feel ready to review. Reviewing means checking in hindsight how you did with just that tiny immediate step and whether you now see the situation any differently. Repeat iteratively.

Reliably, whenever I engage from some compulsion and do any more than urgently necessary, it does not work out as well. There are tons of other best-practices.

And in terms of resources and communities, there’s lots. But just check with me in a few months. I think I’ll have the first drafts published of the whole holistic thing I’ve been developing (along with some collaborators). FWIW, what we’re doing is based on some best resources from some executive-coaching stuff except it’s significantly altered as we’ve adapted it and combined it with other resources and personal insights.


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Let me chime in; from the perspective of someone who was banned (not going into details here as irrelevant; both @aschrijver and @fr33domlover knows this), as well as from perspective of owner of (pretty) successful FOSS project (+community around it).

Im in FOSS “business” for around 20 years now, so I pretty much know what Im talking about.

Conflicts are to be expected to pop up out-of-the-blue; in the least expected moment: thats just their “nature”.

How to approach conflicts? Regardless of scale: small, two-person-kind conflict, inter-teams, inter-orgs; the best way is to have well-written (in the way that leaves no doubts), agreed upon, well-discussed CRS (Conflict Resolution Scheme).
Whats there? Basically, good CRS answers 3 questions:

  • what type(s) of conflict may arise in specific work env, work culture, given things like cultural differences, job(s) specs/requirements etc.
  • who to contact in case of conflict (full set of PII of delegated/dedicated officer(s) as well as their office hours)
  • what are meassures of minimizing impact conflict(s) may (and/or will) have when “uncured”

The size of CRS vary from org to org; ours have 60 pages. Printed. Believe me, its worth it.

Not to make this post many pages long, main (tested, working) anwer to how to approach conflicts is to:

  • try to stay as calm as possible,
  • when trying to find resolution treat sides fairly, equally, do side with noone, make notes (or even better: record what both sides say), do not hurry: give yourself/sides considerable ammount if time to speak their hearts, be patient.
  • do not pose/cast threats (!)
  • do not use physical force (!)

If, after investigation, you find guilty side, remember that punishment should:

  • be swift,
  • be fair,
  • be solid in the way for guilty side to learn things, and to make them not repeat their action(s) that led to punishment.

Also, you cannot punish for the same thing more than once. Its solid violation punishable in court (if reported).

Its highly desirable for personel dealing with conflicts to have training in conflict deescalation techniques (CDT).

Remember that CRS applies to any type of business, not only FOSS.