Designing an open-source Community Award

I had the pleasure to announce the Vaadin Community Award during Vaadin Dev Day Spring 2021. This award is a way to recognize members of the Vaadin Community who actively participate and help others through forums, social media, events, code, and more. The Vaadin Community has been growing rapidly over the past years and more and more individuals have become extremely active online and in conferences. In the Community Team at Vaadin, we figured it only makes sense to officially reward those who constantly help developers and decided to create that Vaadin Community Award (VCA).

I lead the effort by looking into other similar programs in the software industry. Companies such as Google, Oracle, Red Hat, Microsoft, and others have multiple programs to recognize the efforts of their community members. From ways to select the winners and promote the program to the program's name, we quickly made adjustments from the initial idea using the findings from others. For example, initially, we proposed the name Most Valuable Professional. However, the acronym didn't play well for a company that produces web frameworks—MVP is easily understood as Model View Presenter by web developers, or even worst, as Minimum Viable Product! From there, we proposed alternatives and selected the name Vaadin Community Award.

A brief description of what the program intends to achieve is always useful. So I wrote one that describes the essence of the program:

The Vaadin Community Award (VCA) is a program that recognizes community members with an exceptional track record on community participation. The VCA is given to members that actively lead online and local Vaadin communities, speak at conferences or Java User Groups, create and maintain Vaadin Directory add-ons, publish articles and videos, engage in social media, Discord, and Stack Overflow discussions, and in general, passionately help other members of the community.

This helps the team and the community understand what the program is about concretely. It helps to give examples of things that community members should do to win the award. I left the benefits out since this is better explained with bullet points, and it shouldn't be (and it usually is not) the main motivator for members to be actively engaged in the community. Often, the driving factor is to get recognition and experience to show that they are proficient or have the passion for working on technical projects or communities around open-source software.

Coming up with a set of benefits is important nevertheless. From officially receiving the recognition to getting tangible prizes, a good set of benefits have the potential to keep the winners engaged in the community and inspire others to join the selected group. At first, the idea was to give a certificate that the winners can download plus extra powers in the Vaadin Discord server (chat). This combination works well as it officially recognizes the title and gives more tools to the winner to continue to help the community. We later added a physical recognition token that we would send to the winners, like a trophy that they can put in their homes to remind them how valuable they are to the Vaadin Community. We also decided to create a web page with information about the program and a list of winners to boost the recognition part. I proposed to give them a one-year subscription to the Pro offer of Vaadin for free—if someone has been helping the community to the point of earning this award, they should definitively have all the tools Vaadin develops in their belt. And to complete the package, we added the possibility to be interviewed for the Community Spotlight series.

Another aspect to consider when designing a community award is how to select the winners. Who nominates members, and who picks the winners? How many of them and for how long do they retain the title? For the VCA program, we decided that previous winners should nominate new candidates and the whole community select the winners through voting. By doing this, Vaadin yields control of the program to the community. We initially decided to give the award for a period of one year, allowing winners to be nominated and win the award in subsequent years. The goal was to encourage previous winners to continue to work for the community. However, if previous winners are the ones nominating new ones, this wouldn't make much sense, so we discarded the idea. When the program starts, there are no winners yet, so we decided to select the initial ones internally at Vaadin to get a good starting team.

In summary, come up with a good name and description, select a good set of benefits, and come up with a good way to select the winners avoiding situations like "you have to do this specific thing to win." Let the community participate in the process as much as possible.

Developer Relations
July 02, 2021


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