Effective Free Software advocacy

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Explaining Free Software is an important but sometimes difficult task. Complex ideas and terminology, subtle variations and an intensely political history can all get in the way of effective advocacy. These guidelines aim to help you to communicate clearly and consistently, and present yourself and what you're saying in a compelling and credible light.

Do: Talk about Free Software freely and frequently with your friends and associates

Don't: Criticise others for their lack of interest or understanding of Free Software. Try to understand people who don't agree with you, and don't attempt to force them to adopt your views. Free Software is an important and enlightening topic in its own right; if one particular person cannot see its value then wait until you find somebody else that does to continue your discussion.

Do: Give real examples of problems that non-Free Software causes in a constructive way. Referring to "the vendor" can be as effective as reffering to a company by name.

Don't: Focus your criticism of proprietary software on just one company. If you need to mention a company by name, try and give several examples of different companies to show that the problem affects more than one organisation. The most serious problems relating to non-Free Software are broad and generic. Referring to logical problems affecting a market or practice will give greater impact to your statements and help avoid bias.

Do: Cite your facts and sources wherever possible, and be clear about where your information comes from. If you can't remember the reference for something that you mention in conversation, consider making a note to email the reference later when you have time to find it.

Don't: Base your arguments on information that you cannot remember clearly or easily verify. Stick to the facts and save guesswork, generalisations, and broad assumptions for the rare occasions when they're really appropriate.

Do: Carefully pitch your arguments to your own level of understanding, and that of your audience. Focus on themes that you know well and have personal experience with (even if they're not as topical, or as high impact), and which your audience will be able to personally relate to.

Don't: Be overly technical or philosophical if you can tell that this is inappropriate for your audience. It's easy to talk at length about your favorite project or principles, but remember that if your goal is communicating effectively about Free Software then you must determine the interests and technical level of your audience and approach them accordingly.

Do: Be patient, calm, reasonable, and objective in your communications. Ignore challenging behaviour if possible, and attempt to de-escalate if not.

Don't: Be hurried, angry, or personal in your communications. You have nothing to prove and Free Software will continue to thrive regardless of the opinion of any one person or group, so don't get involved in non-constructive debates.

Do: Work hard to meet and discuss with people who have expressed an interest in Free Software. Chase up these contacts and try to provide them with the information that they request (within reason).

Don't: Spend your time contacting people who have clearly expressed their lack of interest. Your efforts can be more productive elsewhere.

Do: Give demonstrations of good Free Software, especially if you are using it yourself. Seeing is believing, and showing how you are benefiting from Free Software "today" can be more intriguing to some people than any philosophical argument.

Don't: Promise or imply things that Free Software can't deliver. You can do an enormous number of things with Free Software, but not everything, and pretending that this isn't the case will only falsely raise expectations and lead to frustration and disappointment.

Do: Find ways to invite new contacts to meet other Free Software advocates and attend local community groups. Meeting like-minded people with shared interests is an excellent way to foster a new interest in Free Software.

Don't: Expect everyone you meet to be interested in attending your local Free Software user group or hackerspace. Most people will only come once or more to a social or community event if it accommodates them and their level of interest and understanding. Even when this is the case, expect to have to be welcoming and patient, and for only a few of your contacts to be prepared to spend their free time coming to such an event.