Fulfilling the Psychological Needs of Open-Source Software Developers: Challenges and Strategies for Effective Human Resource Management

  • Ningwei Ge

Student thesis: Doctor of Business Administration


The open-source software (OSS) landscape has undergone significant transformation in the past decade, giving rise to "OSS ecosystems". These ecosystems facilitate the creation of diverse collective software products and involve non-profit OSS communities, commercial OSS entities (companies) and individual OSS developers. In such ecosystems, commercial OSS companies aim to establish their competitive edge by motivating, attracting and retaining OSS developers. Self-determination theory (SDT) posits that the motivation of workers performing complex cognitive work can be enhanced through fulfilling personal psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Furthermore, person–environment fit theory (P-E fit) suggests that the gratification of these psychological needs is contingent upon the alignment, or lack thereof, between individuals and their work environments. Through the integration of SDT and P-E fit theory, this thesis seeks to elucidate the motivations of OSS developers for participating in OSS development as individuals, members of OSS communities and employees of commercial OSS companies. This research incorporated qualitative data gathered through interviews with OSS developers, line managers and HR managers, along with a case study involving a commercial OSS enterprise. A template analysis was conducted to pinpoint patterns and dynamics of motivations and to identify the (un)fulfilled psychological needs of OSS developers in different settings. Moreover, this study assessed the strategic human resource management (SHRM) tactics employed by a commercial OSS company and discussed the limitations in the effectiveness and efficiency of its practices for motivating, attracting and retaining OSS developers. The findings from this research offer insights into the dynamic interplay between individual motivations and environmental factors, as well as how OSS communities and commercial OSS companies cater to the individual psychological needs of OSS developers for autonomy, competence and relatedness. It proposes effective OSS-related human resource management (HRM) strategies designed to fulfil the psychological needs of OSS developers and enable commercial OSS companies to effectively motivate, attract and retain OSS developers.
Date of Award1 Aug 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAnne Mcbride (Supervisor)


  • Psychological needs
  • Open Source Software

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