Governance

Governance is the over-arching topic of how communities manage processes, conflict escalation, and in some cases decisions and direction. There are many different governance styles and approaches that are suitable in different settings and there is no single recommended approach that maps to all communities.

Overview

While governance infrastructure and processes are not always required in communities (many smaller communities have none to speak of), governance invariable required when the following attributes apply to a community:

  • A large and diverse community with multiple contributors and skill-sets.
  • A primary commercial stakeholder that is funding much of the community and infrastructure.
  • Multiple commercial organizations playing a role in the community.
  • A divisive or controversial history of decision-making and direction.

The different governance styles and methods are outlined in the section below with examples.

Importantly, any governance process should be well documentation and codified so anyone in the community can get a clear idea of how it works. This can be as simple as a web page or more expansive governance manifesto. This is particularly important for governance approaches that involve elections and voting; this clarity of process is important to ensure the governance is fairly setup and administered.

Aside from providing leadership functions, governance can also play a useful role in making complex decisions. If a governance body is trusted by the community as being independent, their decisions will hold more weight than those who seemingly have bias. Likewise, governance often plays a useful conflict escalation in which community members can use the governance body as an independent “judge” to reconcile complex situations.

Approaches

There are multiple governance models available, and we will outline each below so you can apply them as you see fit.

Dictatorial

This method effectively means that an individual or group of individuals are in charge; they make the decisions and the decision is invariably final. This is a method that has worked well in many large communities. Examples include Linux and Python.

Constructing a dictatorial governance model is often as simple as clearly determining who is the dictator and outlining their roles and responsibilities.

Advantages of this model is that decisions are often made quickly and easily, it is clear where leadership comes from, conflict is easily resolved by the dictator, and other benefits.

Disadvantages of this model are that those who disagree with the dictator can feel left out, there is limited opportunity for growth in leadership, and the dictator can be overwhelmed with work.

Leaderless

This governance model effectively means that there is no formal leader or leadership body. This model doesn't mean anarchy, it invariably means that decisions are made in a meritocratic manner in which those with strong reputations make decisions and move the community forward.

Advantages of this model include the ability for almost anyone to have an opportunity to influence the community, governance is not bureaucratic, and the community can flourish in many directions.

Disadvantages of this model are that decisions can take a long time to get made, the cult of personality can play a role, and some communities can suffer from a lack of directional shift.

A good example of this model is the KDE project.

Delegated

With this model an elected council is put together that makes decisions on behalf of the community. Different governance bodies take different approaches to the requirements for these council members and the scope of their work. For example, some communities with a commercial stake-holder require seats for employees of the company whereas as others allow entirely volunteer positions.

Many communities use this model for governance including Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenStack.

When using this model of governance we recommend the following:

  • Determine the role and scope of the council. Should the council focus on manage process, conflict escalation, setting direction, managing different roles (e.g. membership or developer roles in technical communities)?
  • Determine how many seats should be on the council (we recommend 5 - 7; an odd number should be used if decisions are made by voting), how decisions are made (typically voting), and how new seats are sourced (typically open elections).
  • Determine the characteristics of what a council seat requires. This can include requirements in terms of experience and participation, how long each member should serve as a term, term limits.
  • Based on these determinations document this in a codified document. A good example of this is this one from Ubuntu: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/ForumsGovernance
  • For your first council, pick a set of members to “grandfather” into the council. They will serve the first term before you refresh the council at the end of their term via whichever method you choose (e.g. elections).

Pitfalls To Avoid

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Tips and Tricks

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Further Reading

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