Community Sustainer (Moderator) Guide

Community Sustainer (Moderator) Guide

This is an onboarding guide for folks that have signed on to become community sustainers.

We hope for RStudio sustainers to be a part of a wider movement within open-source software to recognize and promote open-source software sustainers. Broadly, sustainers are folks supporting the maintainers, contributions, and users of an OSS project. While the scope of a sustainer may be quite broad (think helping with governance, fundraising, project management, licensing), our implementation centers on sustainer super-users and community guides (read more about SustainOSS here).

Set the Right Tone - a friendly place

First and foremost we’d like to set an example for being a welcoming and kind place for discussions around R, RStudio’s toolchain, and data science.

We’d like to emphasize setting a good tone, being welcoming to people new to R and applied statistics.

We’d like to keep snark, sarcasm, and irony to a minimum, certainly in public threads where inside references are easy to misinterpret.

Documents to be familiar with

There are a few pages I’d love for you to be familiar with and comment on as you see fit.


Understandably, most users are unlikely to ever read our guidelines, FAQs, or Code of Conduct.

Get to know our existing FAQs and Guidelines. Many of these were created in response to common issues that have arisen in the forum. The hope is that these will be great resources to supply for common or tricky issues.

FAQs, Guides, Canned Responses are for Efficiency - These resources hopefully make answering common issue quick and easy. For example, someone asked a really vague coding question, well my friend, here's a guide to improve their question, with a guide (and video) to reprex!

FAQs, Guides, Canned Responses are for Consistency - These resources hopefully make us more consistent in how we help folks. This is particularly important with tricky issues where there's ambiguity about how people should behave. For example, someone posts their homework verbatim to the forums for help, how should we respond to that (FAQ: Homework Policy)?

Please offer feedback

But where do these best practices come from? These resources have originated and been improved largely through sustainer input.

Please give feedback on existing guides and FAQs and suggest any new content where we're lacking. (As an example.) But also, please don’t be offended if others disagree or it takes a while for anything to actually change, it happens. Building consensus takes time.

Feedback Where?

  • Public Discussions - For most of these discussions go to meta.
  • Private Discussions - If there’s some reason keep the topic private (discussions about specific users, for example) then turn to private messages or the Lounge.
  • Flag discussions are usually a great place to offer feedback when something on the forum triggers an idea (some more details below).

What kind of feedback?

  • Is someone exhibiting a pattern of behavior that you think is problematic? Perhaps we should discuss and create have a policy to curb it.
  • Perhaps an existing guideline is too weak or too strong. Perhaps a guideline is too complex.
  • Have you repeated some advice a few times? - let’s chat about creating a guide (or package or video) future people can point to.

Community "Help Assets" vs Outside Content - if a resource should be created with advice specific to this forum, I feel we should host it via a meta wiki. Otherwise, we have a general preference to point to as many outside resources -- preferably created by community members -- as possible.

Who is the point person to get stuff done? - Certainly discuss ideas with many people. But Curtis (at economicurtis or is a good person to get anything necessary done.

Some suggestions for dealing with discussion issues

Recommendations for handling issues and problematic behavior on

  • Reply with suggestions - Initially, please reply publicly with suggestions (e.g. "please ask this as a reprex").
    • This (hopefully) establishes good norms.
    • Canned responses as part of your reply can be handy.
    • There are a number of canned replies with links to FAQs already.
  • Flag - If you’d like someone to take a look, flag the topic and at least Curtis will check it out within a day.
  • Send a private message - Sometimes, for the sake of not distracting attention from the thread’s topic or creating an embarrassing situation, a kind private message can be effective. This may be tedious and may open you up to a difficult conversation. Feel free to suggest Curtis handles this by flagging a topic.
  • Hide/Unlist a topic or reply - If you think it’s really important, you are able to hide a post.
    • Do this by flagging it, and then selecting “agree and hide post” (note that the user can see who has hidden their post).

Features to be familiar with is run on

  • We use discourse to run our forum. Discourse is an open source forum software, we use the hosted service.
  • Discourse was founded by one of the founders of stack overflow, but where SO is focused on the FAQ, answers and incentives around answering questions -- discourse is focused on 1) more free-flowy discussions 2) more focused on users (who have an identity/profile and point of contact).
  • Many discourse threads may turn into solid FAQs that compete with SO answers (or r-help, quora, etc), but the site isn’t really optimized for that as well as SO is. But we should be aware that some threads are ranked high in important search results.

meta and Lounge discussions

We'd like to continuously improve our FAQs, our guidelines, our canned responses, and other documents we push to users frequently.

If you ever have an idea, or some doc strikes you the wrong way, or maybe could be split, let’s talk about it.


Flagging a topic or reply brings it to the attention of other sustainers and the site’s admin staff.

Flagging is an efficient way for you to highlight an issue, while not obligating you to spend a lot of time resolving it.

For example, Does someone repeatedly ignore pointers to our homework policy?, or requests for a reprex?, or misses the tone we’re trying to set? Does a post suggest an issue with some guideline, or the need for a better FAQ or canned response?

Some flag facts:

  • Low flag counts don’t hurt the user.
  • Flagging is (mostly) anonymous. Users can see that they have been flagged, but not by whom.
  • Discuss. Flagging opens a non-public discussion among sustainers. Feel free to offer your two cents. Maybe we need a better policy or resource? Maybe we need to ban this person?

How to Flag

  1. Below the reply to be flagged, click the “...” ellipses to reveal the flag icon.

  1. Click flag

  1. Select “Something Else” and add a note with some context
    Something Else Examples:
    • This thread might violate our HW policy...?
    • This person has been asked about code-formatting (or reprex, or tagging, or improve titles, etc) but this is the 3rd time I've seen them post with that same issue. Please send a friendly direct message.
    • This is a little too snarky for my taste.
    • This post brings up an interesting issue. I've seen this come up a few times but our FAQs and policies don't really address it. I'd suggest you....
    • Our current FAQ / Policy says this, but this thread brings up an interesting point. Maybe we should change....

Canned Responses

Discourse has a canned response tool. This tool is a list of canned-responses from which you may copy-pasta text into your message. It can save a lot of time. You can also contribute to the list.

When you open a Reply Message, or Private Message click the gear icon, then “Canned Responses”.

This opens a canned response menu. You can see other sustainer canned response.

Creating and Editing Canned Responses

In the menu above, you may also create your own canned responses.

  • If you create new canned responses, add your initials as a prefix. (e.g. c: ...)
  • The "title" box is a search box.
  • Check out the Lounge, where all canned responses are periodically posted, along with their uses-count. This is a good place to discuss improving, removed, adding new responses.

Advanced Features

Discourse Moderator Guide

Spread Love and Mana

Likes / Hearts

If you ever feel inclined, click the heart button to like others replies. This signal is used to indicate how helpful folks are on the site. This signal is particularly strong when it comes from you.

Summary Motivation

We are worried about sustainer burnout. We’d hate for you to spend time tediously dealing with problematic people or issues, or feeling obligated to do anything you weren’t otherwise highly inclined to do anyway.

But also, ignoring issues can lead to problematic behaviors becoming norms. Or lead to things not improving here.

Hopefully these features are easy to use, and help fulfill our goal of being a welcoming, kind, and useful place.

Related Literature

Discourse moderation guide: Discourse Moderation Guide - moderators - Discourse Meta

Includes discussions of discourse features, and ideas for additional interventions for problematic behavior.