There’s been a lot of discussion about the role of TPF lately, both at YAPC and on blogs. The most recent discussion is in the comments of a recent blog post by Gabor Szabo asking people to weight in on what TPF should be doing.
In the comments, Casey West says:
It’s a striking sign that The Perl Foundation is expected to pay for open source contributors
Right now TPF is using money to demotivate the Perl Community! It’s killing the Perl [sic].
This is a bold and, in my opinion, incorrect statement.
Casey is no doubt referring to the well-known research suggesting that payment reduces performance by replacing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation. Let’s assume that this research is true for the sake of this blog post.
Does it necessarily follow that TPF grants reduce motivation? I don’t think so. There are a number of ways grants can help people get more work done. In fact, I think there are several ways that grants can boost intrinsic motivation.
When a grant is approved, the recipient is promising to do something with the community’s money. I can’t speak for others, but I know that when my grant was approved, I had made a promise to the Perl community to follow through.
My experience with volunteers suggests that people are more likely to follow through when they make a firm commitment to someone. My understanding is that this is also backed up by modern psychological research.
I think this is one reason why regular grant reports are crucial to the grant process. This follow up makes it clear that the community is paying attention to the grant recipient.
The public nature of the grants should motivate the grant recipient. If the recipient doesn’t find this motivational, I don’t think they should be getting a grant in the first place!
Validation of Competence
Getting a grant can be an external validation of one’s self-worth. I know that I felt good about the fact that my grant proposal got a lot of public support, and was eventually approved. Effectively, the Perl community agreed that my skills were worth $3,000 of their money.
I can’t speak for others, but this sort of ego boost is definitely motivational for me.
A successfully completed grant is a nice bit of resume building. How many developers out there have been paid by their peers to work on a project? I make a point of mentioning the Moose docs grant in my bio, and I would hope that this helps sell my Moose class.
Money = Time
One big obstacle to getting stuff done is lack of time. This is one area where a grant can help, by effectively allowing a person to take unpaid leave from a job, or a sabbatical from self-employment. In practice, most TPF grants don’t do this. The grants program limits grant requests to $3,000, which doesn’t compensate for much time off, at least for people living in a large chunk of the world.
David Mitchell’s grants are a good example of a grant that aims to provide time. His current grant pays for 500 hours of his time at $50/hour. This is probably a lot less than he could earn freelancing, but is definitely enough to allow him to live comfortably while working on the grant.
It’s hard for me to see how a grant like this could be de-motivating. In this case, the grant isn’t about the money per se, it’s about freeing up time that would otherwise have to be spent on paying work.
Forcing Me to Plan
While not directly connected to motivation, I found that the grant proposal process was very useful because it forced me to think about my project. My grant proposal was my project plan after the grant was approved, and it gave me a lot of direction for working on the Moose docs.
I imagine that other grant recipients also benefited from going through a planning process. I’m not sure I would have done as much thinking if I’d written the docs without having to write a proposal first.
In my final grant report for the Moose docs grant, I wrote:
I’d like to thank the Perl Foundation again for sponsoring this work. The grant was motivational for me, because this was a huge amount of work. I might have done some of it over time, but I doubt I would have done all or done it nearly as quickly without the grant.
There are probably other ways that grants affect recipients. I’d love to hear from other grant recipients and/or submitters, either in the comments or on their own blogs.