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# Research protocol document
# Research protocol outline
## Describe the research problem(s) your project addresses.
How do mismatched conceptualizations between upstream maintainers and downstream users of a Free and Open Source (FOSS) digital infrastructure project interact to affect the community health and thus sustainability of such projects?
More specifically: how do developers who maintain commonly-used FOSS projects compare to developers who use those same projects in terms of how they conceptualize:
1. ontologies of an ideal, well-maintained and sustainable FOSS project community, i.e. which elements are present, how they relate, etc.
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This project investigates how the diversity of conceptualizations both helps and hinders efforts to improve FOSS community health. Studying these interacting ontologies can inform how upstreams and downstreams develop shared understandings of what improvements are needed, and can also make-visible what inefficiencies still require intervention after conceptualization and communication gaps have been addressed.
Developing this area of knowledge is of general interest to the software development community and to the many organizations and companies that rely on FOSS infrastructure. Additionally, individual subjects/participants will gain insight into their particular ontologies and the ontologies of their specific project community, which may improve their work.
## Describe the population sample for your project.
### How many subjects will participate in this project?
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We are seeking six (6) participants for the project. We need 3 participants from each of 2 categories: 3 upstream developer-maintainers and 3 downstream developer-users.
### How will these subjects be identified and selected for participation?
Subjects will be identified via response to email and word of mouth recruitment and screened by email to see if they fit the inclusion criteria.
As part of the eligibility screening process, we will also ask participants to email us a few sentences about why they are interested in participating in the project, and to (optionally) point us to a link where we can see some of their public-facing FOSS work related to the project. Having highly visible online portfolios is a common practice among FOSS contributors. See “Recruitment email text."
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The final pool of subjects will be selected by the research team from the pool of eligible participants. One important selection criteria will be the ability to communicate both technical and non-technical information clearly, as gauged from the email sample and their public-facing portfolio. We will also be selecting the final pool to have a diversity of perspectives as much as possible (project role and seniority, age, location, ethnicity, gender, etc.)
### Describe the rationale for inclusion or exclusion of any subpopulation.
The inclusion criteria for the study are as follows:
1. Participant in the selected FOSS project. Rationale: we are studying how perspectival differences appear within the same FOSS project community, so all participants must be involved with that specific community.
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Data collection will be neither anonymous nor confidential.
### Describe your procedures for ensuring anonymity and/or confidentiality
Not applicable, as the data generated will be neither anonymous nor confidential; a fully identifiable public dataset is an integral part of this research methodology. Part of the activity that participants consent to is the recording of interviews that will become part of an open data corpus. In other words, their transcripts will appear with their names attached, and the dataset will be publicly available on the web under an open license. Participants who do not consent to this will not be enrolled in the study.
Data will go through an editing and approval process before being deposited into the open dataset. Specifically, at the end of each interview, the transcript copyright will be fully assigned to the participant (see “Copyright transfer prompt” in appendix). Legally, this means the participant will then have full control over editing and usage of their data; the research team is not allowed to use, post, etc. the transcript without the participant’s approval.
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Once participants have edited (possibly with researcher help) and approved their transcript, they can release it under an open content license (creative commons or similar). This allows the public, including the research team, to use the data in ways specified by the licence (typically with the requirement that the creator be cited, for instance). At this point, the transcript is considered part of a publicly available dataset and may be analyzed by other researchers as such.
### How much time is required of each subject?
Each subject will participate in three (3) interviews of approximately one hour in length each. Additionally, subjects will be asked to review and approve their interview transcripts and make any edits they wish before releasing it for inclusion in the open dataset for analysis and publication; we expect this to take no longer than an additional hour per interview. (Note: in past studies using this methodology, participants were typically able to approve their transcripts in 5 minutes or less).
The total estimated time required of each subject is therefore 6 hours each, but is likely to be much closer to 3 hours each.
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## Potential risks to subjects
### Are the risks physical, psychological, social, legal or other?
There are no risks to subjects beyond minimal risk (see 8b). Inasmuch as there is minimal risk involved, it is primarily social (i.e. reputation-based).
### Assess their likelihood and seriousness to subjects:
Participation in this research is minimal risk, no greater than everyday activities. FOSS project participants already do most of their work and discussion of their work in public and in an identifiable way (that is, FOSS community participants post their work publicly under their own names), so the public nature of this project is in keeping with FOSS cultural norms. Indeed, to do this study in a different (non-transparent) way would be considered a cultural oddity.
### Discuss the potential benefits of the research to the population from which your subjects are drawn:
Potential benefits of this research include building a deeper understanding of participant conceptualizations of FOSS community dynamics. Members of these FOSS communities will gain more knowledge of the different ontologies being used by project stakeholders and have the chance to reflect on their communication choices and ways to possibly reduce miscommunications within a project. Additionally, researchers and organizations working with these populations will be able to make better decisions about resourcing community development using the findings from this research.
### Discuss why the risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to the anticipated benefits to subjects and others, or in relation to the importance of the knowledge to be gained as a result of the proposed research:
Risks are no higher than everyday activities, and are largely mitigated by participants having control of the conversations they participate in and the questions they choose to answer or not answer, as well as the final version of their interview transcripts that will be published and analyzed. The benefits include a greater understanding of FOSS community conceptualizations, as elaborated in (8c) above. Risks are therefore reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits.
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Because of this, no analysis or publication will proceed after the interview until the subject has provided the transcript version (edited or otherwise) they would like to have published online. Subjects may also withdraw transcripts entirely from the study at any time before their publication under an open license.
## Informed consent
### What information will be provided to prospective subjects?
Subjects will receive information about the research project’s objectives (to understand FOSS project conceptualizations among participants) and the people conducting it (researcher and IRB contact information, etc.)
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Subjects will also receive information on the tasks they will do (be interviewed) and an explanation that participation is voluntary, they can stop at any time, they will not be penalized for withdrawing, etc. as well as the potential benefits of the project to both them and society. This information will be made available in written English, and researchers will be available for conversations/questions upon participant request.
### How will you ensure consent is obtained without real or implied coercion?
During the recruitment process (via email), potential subjects can ask questions, get answers, and talk with us about any aspect of the study before signing the consent form (which constitutes enrollment in the study).
Before the start of the first interview session, we will review the consent procedures and the study with subjects to give them an additional opportunity to ask questions. Participants will be reminded at the start of the interview that they are able to stop participating in the study at any time, and asked if they want to proceed before doing so (if consent is obtained).