Drupal Community Involvement Study, Part 3: Why People Contribute

Why People Contribute

There were two questions in the survey related to the reasons people contribute to Drupal. The first, shown on a separate screen before the second question, was an open ended question: “Please say, in your own words, why you chose to contribute to Drupal.” Qualitative responses to this question were coded using NVivo software for Mac (http://www.qsrinternational.com/products_nvivo-mac.aspx) and compared to responses from the second question, which asked participants to rate the importance of 11 separate factors in relation to their decision to contribute.

Key Motivations

Table 1 shows the breakdown of respondents’ key motivations for contributing. “Bottom 2” represents the percentage of respondents who chose “Not at all important” or “Very Unimportant;” “Top 2” represents the percentage of respondents who chose “Very Important” or “Extremely Important.” The Mean represents the average score for each statement, where 1 = “Not at all important” and 5 = “Extremely Important.”

Why do you contribute to Drupal?

Bottom 2

Top 2

# Responses

Mean (of 5)

I believe that Open Source is the best way to develop software





I needed to write or update a module for a particular project, and decided to contribute that code to the community





I wanted to give something back to the community





I thought it would help to attract employment opportunities





I have fun doing contrib work





I saw it as a way to increase my skills in a particular area of design/code, etc.





I wanted to learn more about how Drupal worked





My employer sponsors me to contribute to Drupal





A friend/colleague wanted me to contribute to Drupal





I wanted to interact with like-minded web developers and designers





I liked the challenge of contributing to a large software project





Table 1. Breakdown of answers to “Please Rate the Importance of the following factors in your decision to contribute to Drupal.”

As these data show, the two most common reasons respondents gave for their contribution was a desire to give back to the community (90%, n = 135), and a belief in Open Source (89%, n = 134). This was reinforced by the qualitative feedback; however, in the case of Open Source ideology, this motivation was rarely stated directly.

Desire to Reciprocate or "Give Back"

Another commonly cited factor was the ability to increase skills, learn more about Drupal, and generally have fun, all of which had over 70% of respondents in the Top 2. Interestingly, however, this motivation was not mentioned as often in qualitative feedback. When it was, it was often mentioned in terms of reciprocity and passing on knowledge that others helped them gain. The comments below are representative of this phenomenon:

“Give and take. Others help me, I help others. And contributing helps sharpening my skills by opening myself to constructive community criticism.” (Survey, P61)

“I have been working and learning with Drupal for some 4 years, I realise how hard it can be to learn how to use some techniques as the Drupal Learning curve can be quite steep. / So I decided to help newbies and my peers solve their own Drupal Problems using my own experience.” (Survey, P67)

“Originally I just wanted to give back what I had built because I thought others could make use of it but now it is mostly about learning Drupal 8 and making sure the project continues - it won't if people don't join in.” (Survey, P153)

From these comments, we see that, while learning Drupal and increasing one’s skills are certainly motivating, that motivation may actually stem from memories of others who helped them, and a desire to pay it forward.

This desire for reciprocity, and the idea of “giving back,” was a common theme among participants. In addition to being the most-cited reason for contributing in the quantitative feedback, it was also featured heavily in the qualitative comments. In many cases, it was mentioned in relation to others who had helped them, e.g. “The community was welcoming and Cathy did not give up on me (Survey, P54).” More commonly, respondents mentioned gratitude for Drupal itself as a product, and wanting to give back as a way of helping it continue improving, e.g.

“I love being part of an open-source community! I wanted to give back to a project that has done so much for me, and help make it even better.” (Survey, P75)

“If we all contribute when/how we can, it makes better software and a better community for everyone who's using Drupal.” (Survey, P18)

Overall, a love of Drupal, and the community that surrounds it, was pervasive in the comments.

Belief in Open Source Ideology

Belief in open source ideology was the second-highest theme participants; however, in comments, specific references to “open source” or “free software” were only made a total of 19 times. Rather, the belief in open source was most typically expressed in terms of a perceived obligation to give back to a community—and a product—that had given them so many personal and financial benefits. Some representative examples:

“Because it's the right thing to do. (Survey, P135; Survey, P121)”

“Come for the software, stay for the community. / Because Drupal is my working tool. / Because I profit from the work of others using free softwares, so I think it's natural to give back help. (Survey, P109)”

“Our company builds systems for customers with it. Of course I'm giving back to the OS community. (Survey, P128)”

“Because I felt it was important to give back since the community supplies us with so much. We are able to build solutions for our clients for reasonable amount of money due to everyone else's contribution.” (Survey, P101)

The fact that Drupal, as a framework, provides avenues for respondents to make their living, tackle interesting challenges, and do so with fewer resources than would be required for many bespoke software or website projects appears to be a more common motivator than direct belief in the Open Source development model. This finding could reflect a change in motivation over time; for example, Shah (Shah, 2006) found that own-use reasons (e.g. “I needed to fix something and contributed the fix back”) were often initial motivations for contribution, but the ability to have fun and increase skills became a primary motivator as a contributor continued working with the product. Fang and Neufeld (Fang & Neufeld, 2009) similarly found that, while use value is often a primary initial motivator for contribution, the learning and positive interactions with community members that contributors experience over time can give contributors a sense of identification with the community, spurring future participation.

Financial or Career Benefits

While the financial benefits of open source participation are often noted in the context of employer sponsorship, e.g. David, Waterman & Arora (2003), participants in this study generally listed that this factor was neutral or unimportant in terms of their motivation to contribute. This finding is supported by Shah (2006), who reported that financial benefits gained from open source were rarely mentioned as a primary motivation, but often mentioned in passing. Meanwhile, the concept of contributing as a result of fixing one’s own problem is a common motivator in several studies, e.g. (Fang & Neufeld, 2009; Krogh, Haefliger, Spaeth, & Wallin, 2012; Shah, 2006), and was reflected in the comments for this survey.

“I create, enhance and patch wherever I come across needs. / Mostly in the context of customer projects. / The philosophy behind this is to provide our customers and also ourselves sustainable solutions. / This is what makes open source great. /” (Survey, P66)

While employer sponsorship wasn’t mentioned often in the comments, for some respondents, it could make or break the person’s ability to contribute:

“Using Drupal at my job: so sometimes "contributing" bug reports is in my own best interest, but also contributing back patches to help the community. Also my employer has now sponsored some modules.” (Survey, P31)

“Most of the Drupal work I perform is on behalf of my employer, so I need their encouragement AND permission to release code to the public.” (Survey, P23)

Own-Use: Fixing a bug in the context of work

Participants’ financial ties to Drupal were also reflected in comments that discussed the own-use benefits of contributing, e.g. “add value to modules as a way of giving back, and to ensure I don't have to maintain separate sets of patches to modules to be managed when taking upgrades” (Survey, P71). 65% of respondents listed contributing fixes or patches they had to make to a particular module as an important motivator for contribution; qualitative comments from several contributors seemed to indicate that this was their primary means of contribution. For example:

“Had to fix things in contributed modules and it made sense to give the patches back to the maintainers.” (Survey, P14)

“I’ve recently started (only having worked with Drupal for just under 3 years) contributing on my own time, but that is still rather limited. I do very little core issue queue work, in stead, I choose to focus on issue queues for the modules which have benefitted me personally.” (Survey, P23)

Comments also seemed to indicate a shift in motivation, as participants began contributing:

“Eventually, I hit a roadblock in something I was doing for my day job (a bug or missing feature) and needed to modify the code for Drupal or one of its components. The feature I wanted (or bug I needed fixed) seemed generally useful, so I contributed the patch back up. / / Once you get the ball rolling, you can't really stop (you start to think, "Joe can I solve this problem in a way that benefits the most people?" Then build it and contribute it.” (Survey, P28)

Motivation is Multi-Faceted

While much of the findings in this survey seem to reinforce motivations that already exist in the open source literature, two interesting patterns were noticed in the comments:

  1. Motivation appears to change over time. While someone may start contributing because they need to fix a bug in a module or theme they use, their motivation can change over time, based on their experiences contributing, and with other community members.
  2. Motivation appears to be multifaceted. Most comments referenced more than one motivation for contributing. Most often, comments referenced a love of the Drupal community, as well as a perceived obligation to “give back” as a result of being able to use the Drupal software in their daily work for free.


Fang, Y., & Neufeld, D. (2009). Understanding sustained participation in open source software projects. Journal of Management Information Systems. doi:10.2753/MIS0742-1222250401

Krogh, von, G., Haefliger, S., Spaeth, S., & Wallin, M. W. (2012). Carrots and Rainbows: Motivation and Social Practice in Open Source Software Development. MIS Quarterly, 36(2), 649–676.

Shah, S. K. (2006). Motivation, governance, and the viability of hybrid forms in open source software development. Management Science. doi:10.1287/mnsc.1060.0553

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