Open Source Governance Models Explained

  • Do-ocracy: Projects that adopt this governance model tend to value those who do the work as those who make the decisions. That is, contributors that invest the most time, energy, and attention to the project have the most authority and influence over decisions in the project. Projects that follow this model claim that they don’t have a governance model, since the model is implicit in the everyday tasks and interactions of contributors.
  • Founder-leader: This is the most common governance model in projects with a small number of contributors. Basically, the individual or group who started the project are those who establish the project visions, and control permissions to merge the code, for example. It is typically clear who has the power and authority, and who are the decision-makers for project matters.
  • Self-appointing council or board: projects governed by this model appoint a number of leadership groups to govern various aspects of a project. Those groups are often called the steering committee, committer council, technical operation committee, board of directors etc. This model might be useful for projects that do not have a sponsoring foundation and establishing electoral mechanisms is difficult.
  • Electoral: this model allows projects to govern through elections. Contributors might vote for candidates to fill out various project roles. Typically, open source communities that follow this model establish and document electoral procedures.
  • Corporate-backed: individual companies may choose to distribute their software under the terms of an open source license as a way of reaching potential developers and users. Under this model, the governing organization may note accept contributions from anyone outside of it, or require a contributor agreement (CLA) to accept a contribution.
  • Foundation-backed: Some projects might choose to be managed by a non-profit or trade association. This model ensures that a single project participant doesn’t have exclusive control of the project’s resources. In some cases, the foundation leadership and project leadership can form a single governance structure that manages all aspects of the open source project. In other cases, the foundation manages some matters such as trademarks and events, but other governance structures such as code approval are handled by the project leaders.



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Isabella Ferreira

Isabella Ferreira


I'm a PhD Candidate in Computer Engineering at PolyMTL. I'm passionated about Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) development.