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About the Plone Foundation Board

by Martin Aspeli last modified Aug 14, 2011 12:08 PM

Some personal thoughts

Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions. I've neither discussed them with nor run them past anyone else from the Plone Foundation.

Plone has some amazingly mature institutions. Right from the beginning, intellectual property rights have been managed responsibly, and are now owned by the non-profit Plone Foundation. Community members can apply to become Foundation Members, and their case is assessed on the merits of their contributions to Plone. An annually elected Plone Foundation Board represents the Foundation in legal and practical matters, and administers its (limited) funds for things like exhibiting Plone at major events and helping developers afford travel to key sprints.

Recently, however, there seems in some quarters to have developed an "us and them" attitude towards the Board, in particular. This is deeply discouraging.

It is worth remembering that the members of the Board are elected from and by the membership annually. I haven't done any formal polling, but anecdotally, it is the best-respected and most accomplished members of the community who are elected. They then put many hours a week into Board duties for no pay or other reward, simply because they believe the work they do is important to drive Plone forward. We owe them a debt of gratitude for that.

Certainly, the Board is not always perfect. As a youngish organisation, the Plone Foundation is still evolving and learning. But I have no doubt whatsoever that the members of the Board are doing their very best and have only the best intentions. They are not corrupt officials bent on increasing their power. They are not corporate miscreants trying to use the Board to their employers' avantage. They are members of our community, making a contribution that is every bit as important as someone committing code or writing documentation - perhaps more so.

It may be easy to lose perspective and undermine the enthusiasm and determination of the Board members. This can range from "stop energy" to downright poisonous behaviour. Examples may include trying to poke procedural holes in minor points to "catch out" individuals on the Board, demanding action that is excessively time-consuming, implying the Board is corrupt, attempting to extract money or personal benefit from Board's or simply assuming the worst about the Board and any of its actions.

The Board are more open and transparent now that it has ever been, and very recently, they announced further initiatives to be even more open. It is good for the membership to join the discourse and query the Board, but we have to remember that this is not state government: these are not opaquely elected officials with lots of power and money to disburse, nor are they elected from an ideologically divided electorate fighting to shape the future of our community.

Rather, the Board members are people that we have elected to carry out boring, but important work for us, the Plone community, for free. We should treat them with the respect and gratitude they deserve, knowing that we have another chance to vote on the make-up of the Board at the next Plone Conference.

For this is what scares me: If we make Board members subject to personal or general attack, or if they feel that their work is not appreciated, they may simply not stand for election next time. I firmly believe that some of the best, most mature and experienced people in the community as presently on the Board, and that they are doing a fantastic job. We should encourage more people to stand, but not discourage existing members from standing again. If we do, we'll have only ourselves to blame.

So, please:

  • Give the Board members the benefit of the doubt
  • Be courteous and respectful when replying to Board minutes
  • If you email the Board requesting something, ask yourself whether you are asking for something constructive, and something that is within the Board's powers to address
  • Remembers that the Board members are volunteers with limited time, so try to use it wisely
  • Be careful about feeling entitled to action from members of the Board the same way you may feel entitled to action from your democratically elected representative or government. You voted no who you felt would best be able to carry out the Board's duties, not someone who has assumed a great deal of power or influence for which they are indebted to you
  • If you are worried about the performance of a particular member of the Board, the annual election is the right place to address that
  • If you think you could do better, please stand for election yourself. More diverse elections would be a boon to the Plone Foundation's future
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Don't be afraid of criticism

Posted by at Aug 15, 2011 01:51 PM
Hi Martin,

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Just one thought from the perspective of one board member: It's the board's job to be a bit thick-skinned when it comes to the community. I really wouldn't want anyone to hesitate to step in there and criticize us individually or as a group. All of us are competent communicators, and should be able to step in to explain ourselves and to learn from the feedback. If anyone has anything to say to the board, please don't just stew until the next election.

my personal thoughts

Posted by at Aug 17, 2011 02:58 AM

a thoughtful post, I would like to add some personal thoughts on my side as well.

My first impression after reading your article is for which we have a saying in Hungarian - it probably works in English too: you are protecting the Honor of the Uniform.

However the Honor of the Uniform of the Foundation is, in fact, not in danger. The community does not expect that the Foundation works without doing mistakes. On the contrary: if you are doing work you will also make mistakes. If the Foundation is doing a good work, they can admit having made mistakes, and they can adjust their policies to do a better work. If the Community is doing a good work, they will criticize the policies and actions of the Foundation. This is, in my opinion, not something discouraging, but is part of some healthy social dynamics.

You write: "Give the Board members the benefit of the doubt!" - This - the lack of the benefit of the doubt - is not what, in my opinion, happened here. The arguments were triggered by concrete actions of the Foundation, which some people - including me - found incorrect. Giving the advanced trust to the Foundation is important, but that only works as long as people feel that the Foundation deserves their trust, and does not undermine this advanced trust by concrete actions that people cannot identify with.

You write: "For this is what scares me: If we make Board members subject to personal or general attack, or if they feel that their work is not appreciated, they may simply not stand for election next time. " - Right. This is a danger. Those who feel this way should step down and others will step up in their place.

I find it important that the Foundation learns from its mistakes, and I find it encouraging that the Foundation has, actually, made actions already to improve its policies, in order to avoid another fierce argument like the current one, happening in the future.
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