Re: What do you think of the foundation?
- From: Brian Cameron <Brian Cameron Sun COM>
- To: foundation-list gnome org
- Cc: Dave Neary <dneary gnome org>
- Subject: Re: What do you think of the foundation?
- Date: Fri, 29 May 2009 14:45:20 -0500
So - this is perhaps not the best time to start this discussion, but
then again maybe it's absolutely the best time. This is a call to
foundation members who are happy, unhappy or disaffected to say what
they think the foundation should be doing that it isn't, shouldn't be
doing that it is, and generally what you've been unhappy & happy with
over the past number of years.
With elections approaching, I think it is a great time to discuss how to
improve the GNOME Foundation.
I think that the foundation should be more involved in conflict
resolution and policing the tone of the community. I have talked to too
many people who don't read pgo, or have turned off individual blogs,
don't use IRC any more, or avoid certain mailing lists, because they are
unhappy with the tone & content of discussions & posts. If someone is
behaving in a way which is negatively affecting a significant portion of
the GNOME community, the board should be the place to go where you can
complain, and have your complaint publicly recorded (in the minutes of a
board meeting, for example) with anonymity, investigated and evaluated,
and if necessary, have the guilty party censured and/or punished.
Currently, this social policing role has been completely ignored by the
foundation and its leaders.
Aside from yourself, I have not heard a lot of people complaining about
the tone of discussions. I do not think the board has an interest in
playing a policing role, but it is reasonable to expect the Foundation
to get involved if communication is breaking down. Having a place to
complain, and a process for dealing with complaints seems reasonable
However, in any group project, there are going to be some conflicts,
disagreements, and people who do not get along. Some degree of this
should not be a problem in any community. I think the Foundation
needs to be conservative about trying to "fix" these sorts of problems
unless they are really spiraling out of control.
I think that the foundation should be more frugal, and I expect the
board to transmit the frugal values to the membership. I was a supporter
of being much firmer in asking people to pay part of their travel when
being funded by the foundation, or to seek other funding elsewhere (from
conference organisers, for example). I don't think that being funded by
the foundation should be a due or a reward, foundation funds are an enabler.
I agree with you, and also feel the Foundation needs to explore new ways
of bringing in income. With a larger staff, the budget is going to be a
critical issue in the next few years.
I would like to see greater financial and administrative transparency. I
don't see any reason why the foundation's gnucash file should be
private, for example - and if there is, then at the very least there
should be a quarterly financial update summarising everything that's
happened in the last quarter. As a donor, I would like to know where my
money is going, who's had travel funded, for what purpose, and so on. I
want to know that we're planning to spend 15,000 on conference t-shirts
so that I can say "hold on, I know a t-shirt supplier who might be
cheaper - let me get a quote".
Having better transparency is a good idea. To do a really good job of
this, some process changes are probably required. Our current process
of providing timely meeting minutes has been a problem in the past term,
and if we want to transform the Foundation so that all members can more
easily participate in making decisions, then we likely need to change
the existing processes so that information is collected and presented
to people in a more structured way. Perhaps the Foundation should more
regularly vote on issues that are currently handled by the board, for
example. So, it could be a fair bit of work, and require some real
volunteer help to improve our communication.
I want to see seven board members actively communicating, and I want to
see the board be more reactive when a board member is inactive for long
periods. There is no procedure for temporarily replacing an inactive
board member, or if there is, it's never been activated.
In all my boards, there were 1 or 2 board members who just stopped
reading (or at least replying to) board email for periods of months. I
recall one particular occasion where a board member, during a face to
face meeting, revealed that he hadn't read any of a thread which had
been ongoing for 6 weeks on the mailing list, and asked everyone to wait
while he pulled his mail and caught up. This year, at least looking at
the attendance lists of the available minutes, it appears that Jeff was
regularly missing meetings from March on, and he was replaced in early
December. What happened in between? How about the other board members -
how do you feel about your performance this year?
How to deal with these sorts of issues is tricky. Often there are
complicated and personal reasons why such problems develop, and it may
not always be appropriate to escalate such situations quickly. I think
that such issues really need to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
That said, fleshing out some general policies on how to deal with
these sorts of problems might be helpful.
In short, I would like a board of which the community has the ear,
working primarily to improve the social and financial condition of the
project, and doing so in the most complete transparency possible. I
would like not to have a board member who is so busy that they don't
have time to blog, or ask for opinions here, or publish minutes &
meeting agendas in a timely fashion.
It is sometimes a struggle when working with volunteers to have things
work as perfectly as we might like. While there are some blemishes
about the past term, such as with the promptness of releasing meeting
minutes, I think that there has been great progress in the past term
especially since Stormy has gotten involved. This was something that
Jeff Waugh worked particularly hard on and did a lot to make happen.
I believe this was one factor among many why Jeff's attendance issue
was often overlooked.
I would like to see consultation happen in such an informal and regular
fashion that we don't refer to questions from board members as "Requests
for Comments", which make it sound like you have to polish content for
an hour and "publish" the "document", going through board approval
before you go public. I'd like to see the 7 most frequent posters here
be the board members, on lots of topics, related to GUADEC, the Summit,
hackfests, budget, marketing, Friends of GNOME (and I'd like to commend
Stormy on the way she's been leading on this) and more.
Yes, I think it is important for people on the board to be active in a
wide array of GNOME community activities. Many board members are active
on the release-team, marketing-list, and other forums where there is
special focus. However, I think you are right that we should also work
to improve communication on the foundation-list.
I don't want to pick on anyone here - times change, boards too, but what
I feel is that the board (any board) currently doesn't really know what
its role is. Boards take themselves seriously, try to present a united
front, don't fight in public, and publish/announce/... - in short,
broadcast to the membership what they're working on. I would like us to
move more towards a mode where most of the announcements coming out of
the foundation are coming from the membership rather than the board, and
where the entire foundation shares in the difficulties that the board
has borne on their shoulders for the past few years. The GNOME project
is small enough & intimate enough that we can talk freely, no?
I think so. I think that having an effective board is a part of a
larger puzzle. We also need a Foundation community that is interested
in being active and stepping up to volunteer when things need to get
done. The GNOME community is generally good about getting things done,
especially in technical areas. However, non-technical forums such as
marketing and strategic planning too often are not well organized,
focused, or resourced.
It would be good if we could reorganize the Foundation so that it adds
more specific values to members. People who volunteer to help with
GNOME should get more recognition and other incentives to be active.
The Foundation needs to explore new ways to provide services that make
Foundation membership exciting.
Developing a more democratic mechanism of decision making, as you
suggest, could be a part of this also. Perhaps conducting board
meetings in an IRC forum instead of via the phone might be another way
to improve communication.
I hope there is an interest in finding ways to make the Foundation more
useful and transparent. However, if we want to do this, I think we need
to work together and come up with some more concrete proposals on how
we will change things to make such improvements. Dave, you seem to have
a lot of strong opinions about this, so I would be interested to hear
what specific concrete changes you think would be useful. Hopefully
others will join the discussion, since I think change is most likely
if people are in overall agreement about our goals and how to get from
here to there.
The KDE eV solution to this is to make the foundation members list
members-only (private archives) - should we consider doing the same
thing, if that would allow more board business to be conducted on this list?
I prefer transparency when possible, personally. There really are not
so many issues which arise that require privacy. Having a separate
larger, private, forum might be useful for some discussions, though.
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