KubeCon + CloudNativeCon San Diego | November 18 – 21 | Learn more

CNCF Technical Principles and Open Governance Success

As CNCF approaches its 4th year anniversary, the community has grown to sustain over 30 projects and 450 members. It has become one of the most successful open source organizations in terms of impact which you can see from the 2018 annual report and the Kubernetes Project Journey Report, published this week.

It’s important to highlight the role of neutral and open governance has had in that impact, especially since research has shown that neutral foundations can promote growth and community better than other approaches.

The CNCF Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) defines a set of principles to steward the technical community of projects. The most important principle is around a minimum viable governance that enables projects to be self-governing. TOC members are available to provide guidance to the projects but do not control them. 

CNCF does not require its hosted projects to follow any specific governance model by default. Instead, CNCF specifies that graduated projects need to “[e]xplicitly define a project governance and committer process.” This differs from other open source organizations like the ASF with the Apache Way or the Eclipse Foundation that has the Eclipse Development Process. This varied and open governance approach has led to different projects defining what is best and optimized for their community: 

These governance documents also aren’t static and evolve over time to meet the needs of their community. For example, when containerd joined the CNCF their governance was geared towards a BDFL approach but over time evolved to a more neutral approach that spread authority across maintainers.

Neither the CNCF Governing Board (GB) nor the TOC is responsible for managing CNCF-hosted projects. Instead, the maintainers of those projects manage them; this includes defining the governance and operations. CNCF offers a variety of services to our hosted projects, but maintainers decide which they want to accept.

At the end of the day, the CNCF believes in building and sustaining healthy open source communities. One of the most important services we offer is neutrality. Specifically, organizations are less willing to adopt and contribute to a project when the trademark, domain, and/or repository – which provide the ultimate control – are owned by another company rather than a foundation. A neutral home increases the willingness of developers from other organizations to collaborate, contribute, and eventually become leaders in the project.