Published on
February 9, 2023

A Guide to the 6 Open Source Governance Models

min read

When running an open source project, the type of governance model you choose can significantly impact you. Governance models are the conventions and rules that dictate who gets to do what and how they should do it.

Many open source projects make these models clear, while some may be less obvious at first glance. However, with due diligence, you can identify which people or entities have the authority necessary to help you make meaningful changes to an open source project.

So whether your focus is on individual empowerment, efficient decision-making, or achieving collective ownership, there are 6 open source governance models that you should be aware of.

From Foundation and Company-Led Models to Benevolent Dictator and Permissive Guarded Models, exploring each in more detail may help you determine which model will best fit the needs of your project.

With the help of this blog, finding the right governance structure would become a much easier task.

Open Source Governance

What Is Open Source Governance?

In many conversations around open source projects and community governance, there is a tendency to concentrate on activities or resources such as "representing the project" and "control of the website domain".

As recording these facets is necessary, they have little to do with governance. Conversely, others may be too strongly focused on technical matters such as election regulations, code of conduct, and release plans. Even though these are management instruments, they are disconnected from the subject of governance itself.

What Is Open Source Project Regulation?

Governance refers to the laws or customs by which initiatives determine who can carry out what duties, how those obligations must be fulfilled, and when those should be executed. By considering this definition of supervision, open source societies aiming to advance their leadership frameworks can contemplate thought-provoking inquiries.

Open source governance is an increasingly popular concept that empowers teams to collaborate when creating and maintaining software. It requires all aspects of development, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and code of conduct guidelines, to be open. This ensures that all parties can contribute their insight and be involved in the creation process.

Additionally, it allows a project to become more agile, efficient, and adaptive to respond to changes in the technology landscape rapidly. Finally, by providing online platforms where discussions can take place and changes implemented quickly, open source governance maintains transparency for everyone involved to stay informed about advancements.

Understanding 6 Different Open Source Governance Models

Open source software has become integral to the success of many businesses and organizations, but navigating which style of governance is right for your project is a crucial step. Understanding the six main open source governance models is essential in setting the long-term trajectory of your project’s success.

With the arrival of cloud services and open source software becoming increasingly popular, developers must be knowledgeable about different open source models. Apply these principles to various scenarios in order to effectively manage their projects and reap the rewards of an active, engaged user base. Let's explore them below.

1. Do-Ocracy

Open source projects operating on a do-ocracy governance model highly emphasize the power of consistently contributing members. Decisions are thus based on whose contribution has been the most worthwhile.

Reviews and critiquing by others might take place. However, individual stakeholders often have more recognizable clout regarding matters they've worked on extensively. For this purpose, many assume that such a practice lacks governance, yet, every open source project still upholds its governance.

To get started in an initiative that uses a do-ocracy, the best way to start out is by finding something you can improve within the project and just getting working on it. Reviewing the history of the project will help you get to know the participants whose feedback will be crucial to your contribution's success.

As your effort increasingly gets accepted, so will your influence over decisions increase in the community - but don't expect this to happen too quickly; remember that demonstrating a consistent record of positive contributions is the way to accrue influence here.

2. Founder-Leader

The founder-leader model is most frequently seen with new projects or those with only a small number of contributors. The benefits of this way of governing are evident, as the individual or team who sets up the project also takes responsibility for administration, vision, granting permission to integrate code, and publicly putting forward an official viewpoint.

This management style has earned some leaders of such initiatives the appellation of Benevolent dictator for life. With this approach, power and authority flow directly from the founder-leader, who makes all important decisions regarding the fate of their project.

As an endeavor increases in size and scope, the limitations of a founder-led model become increasingly evident. All too often, the personal proclivities of a single leader mingle with project designs, making it particularly difficult to distinguish between them.

Furthermore, there is the danger that non-founders can begin feeling excluded from decision-making processes. Finally, when disagreements arise, and a gulf develops between those behind a venture, there is potential for it to fracture or even fizzle out if – due to exhaustion or other plans – its chief champion departs from the project.

To begin working on one of these managed projects, the best thing to do is to discover the project's originators and leaders by browsing mailing lists or forums. If you have questions regarding contribution or involvement, direct them to those creators and directors through community communication channels. The founders and leaders typically understand the project's needs, so they can clarify where your contributions could be put to best use.

3. Self-Appointing Council Or Board

The founder-leader governance model is not always ideal for open source projects. A self-appointing council or board is one way to introduce individual roles that manage different areas.

This approach allows for a more effective transition of leadership when the time comes, ensuring constant support and guidance. In addition, various committees, including steering committees, committer councils, technical operations teams, architecture councils, and boards of directors, can be formed to create their own rules of procedure and succession plans.

By introducing such organizational structures, open source projects are better positioned to adapt to changes in direction and establish strong foundations to build.

Joining an open source project with an established governance model can initially be intimidating. But luckily, these projects usually provide extensive resources to help potential contributors figure out how to get started and do their best work. Before getting your hands dirty, familiarize yourself with the getting started documentation--you'll likely find it on the project's website or GitHub page.

After that, you should read the governance documents to learn more about the governing bodies in charge of specific contributions. Finally, depending on the nature of your contribution, you may need to connect with a council or board responsible for overseeing it. They should be able to provide answers to any questions you have along the way!

4. Electoral

Electoral democracy provides a way for open source projects to create governance structures and processes that its members will respect. This approach is often seen in decentralized ecosystems of developers who contribute from around the world. It allows members to vote on who should represent them and lead their project, as well as issues related to the project itself or changes that need to be made.

This type of governance system gives all participants an equal voice in decision-making and encourages involvement in the project’s development. Furthermore, suppose a leader is elected through this process. In that case, they are obligated to serve their fellow contributors loyally, which can help ensure accountability and transparency regarding decisions being made within the project.

Ultimately, this system allows the open source project to be driven by the collective wisdom of its members and gives each contributor a sense of ownership in the direction their project takes.

To get started with an electoral democracy system, you first need to decide on the voting process that will be used. You can then establish rules and guidelines for how decisions will be made based on the results of those votes.

Once that is done, it’s time to start recruiting willing contributors to this new governance model. Finally, after gathering enough participants, you can begin holding regular meetings and elections so that everyone’s voice is heard and respected when it comes to making decisions about the future of your open source project.

5. Single-Vendor

A single-vendor governance model is often seen in projects where a company or organization controls the entire project. This approach involves an established team of individuals tasked with developing and maintaining the software over time while also ensuring it addresses any issues that arise. The vendor responsible for managing the project typically has the final say on all its management and use decisions.

This governance system allows for greater control over the project's direction and use. However, it can also limit community involvement due to restrictions placed by the vendor. Additionally, because this approach is based on a top-down structure, there’s less room for collaboration between developers and other stakeholders.

If you use a single-vendor governance model, it’s important to set clear expectations and rules for managing the project. This includes ensuring that all decisions are made with input from stakeholders while ensuring that everyone has an equal voice in the decision-making process.

Additionally, it’s important to ensure that the vendor is held accountable for any changes and that their decisions are transparent to other community members. With these steps in place, you can ensure greater control over your open source project's direction without sacrificing its members' involvement.

6. Foundation-Backed

In this case, foundation-backed governance is similar to a single-vendor approach, but an independent nonprofit organization is responsible for managing the project. This organization typically has its own board of directors and staff overseeing the development and use of the open source project.

It also provides funding to ensure its continuity over time. The foundation model allows for greater transparency since representatives make decisions across the community rather than just one vendor.

Additionally, it ensures that multiple stakeholders will approve any changes or updates to the project before they can take effect. However, because there is no direct involvement from a vendor in this kind of governance system, it can be difficult to hold people accountable if things don’t go as planned.

Overall, a foundation-backed governance model can effectively manage an open source project since it ensures that decisions are made with input from multiple stakeholders while also allowing for greater transparency and accountability.

To get started, you first need to identify an independent nonprofit organization that can serve as the governing body for your project. You should then set clear rules and expectations for how decisions will be made and how the project will be used. Finally, you’ll need to ensure enough funding is available to keep the project running over time. With these steps in place, you can help ensure a successful future for your open source project.

Roles Within Open Source Governance

Open Source Governance involves the structuring, processes, and decision-making that dictate all elements of an open source project. It affects who, what, and how roles are assigned in a project, who has access to information, and how decisions are made and implemented. By understanding roles within OSG, stakeholders can work together to identify their capabilities and organizational needs to create better solutions.

In this way, open source governance is a powerful tool for collaboration, enabling individuals to come together for mutual benefit. So, let's dive deeper into the roles within Open Source governance.

1. Maintainer

The maintainer or owner is the most important role in open source governance. They are responsible for leading and maintaining the project, setting goals and objectives, making decisions about development direction, solving technical issues, and collaborating with others to ensure all stakeholders’ needs are met. Maintainers should be selected based on their skill set, experience, and dedication to the project.

2. Contributor

Contributors are individuals who contribute directly to the project, from coding to documentation to testing. They can be paid or volunteer contributors but must adhere to the guidelines set forth by the maintainer/owner of the project. In addition to these direct contributions, contributors may also help promote awareness of the open source project through public speaking and other activities.

3. Committer

A committer is a person who has access to the project’s source code and can make changes directly to it. This role is typically reserved for those with more advanced technical skills, as they are responsible for implementing changes and resolving conflicts that arise within the project’s codebase.

By understanding these roles within Open Source governance, stakeholders can better collaborate on open source projects and ensure their success. With clear roles and expectations, everyone can work together to create better solutions that benefit the entire community.

Ways To Protect Your Open Source Project

You can take several steps to ensure that your project is secure and well-functioning. These measures will go a long way in keeping your open source project safe, from developing a secure coding process to using backup methods. Let's find out more about it in the below-suggested ways.

1. Have A Clear License

One of the most important things you can do to protect your open source project is to have a clear license. A license is a legal document that specifies the terms under which someone is allowed to use your software.

Without a license, people would be free to use your software however they wanted, including making changes and selling it without giving you any credit. By specifying the terms under which someone is allowed to use your software, you can help to ensure that your project remains open and accessible to everyone.

2. Use A Version Control System

Another way to protect your open source project is to use a version control system. A version control system is a tool that helps you keep track of all the changes made to your code over time. This is important because it allows you to roll back changes if something goes wrong easily. It also makes it easy for others to contribute to your project without worrying about breaking things.

3. Keep Your Dependencies Up-To-Date

Another important way to protect your open source project is to keep your dependencies up-to-date. Dependencies are other software that your project relies on to function. By keeping them up-to-date, you can help to ensure that they remain compatible with your code and that any security vulnerabilities are patched promptly.

4. Write Tests

Writing tests is another great way to protect your open source project. Tests are small pieces of code that exercise specific parts of your codebase and verify that they work as expected. By writing tests, you can ensure that new changes don't break existing functionality and that any bugs are caught early on.

5. Be Responsive To Issues And Pull Requests

Finally, it's important to be responsive to issues and pull requests from others. Issues are problems that people have found with your code, while pull requests are proposed changes or additions that people have made to your code. By being responsive to both, you can ensure that people feel welcome and supported when contributing to your project.

When To Implement Governance?

Good governance helps to ensure that all stakeholders have a voice in the decision-making process and can help to prevent conflicts. However, it is important to think carefully before implementing any changes, as they could disrupt the dynamics among contributors.

The timing of when to implement governance largely depends on the size and scope of the project. Small projects can operate without formal governance structures, while larger or more complex projects may benefit from having clear policies from the beginning.

It also depends on who will be contributing to your project. If you anticipate many people working together, it might be a good idea to have some structure early on so everyone knows their roles and decisions. On the other hand, formal governance may not be as important if just a few people work together.

Ultimately, deciding when to implement governance should be made case-by-case basis. However, taking the time to consider your project’s scope and stakeholders can help ensure that you make the right decisions for your open-source project.

Test Your Open Source Project With Scantist


Using Scantist regularly can help you take proactive steps to protect your open source project and ensure its users have access to secure and reliable code. Following these five tips, you can better protect your open source project from malicious actors and other threats.

Of course, it’s important to remember that no system is infallible - but taking the right steps can help reduce the risk of security breaches, data loss, and other issues. With effort and forethought, you can ensure that your open source project stays safe and secure.

Bottom Line!

Securing an open source project requires effort, but it is essential to ensure the safety and reliability of your code.


So start scanning your open source projects with Scantist today!

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