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openSUSE Board Election Comments

September 6th, 2008 by

The first openSUSE board has been appointed a year ago and now the elections are starting.  We have formed an election committee that is organising it (see here for details – thanks to Marko, Andrew, Claas and Vincent for running the elections!).

I had some good discussions with Pascal, Andrew and Marco during hackweek about the board and Pascal and myself have the same vision for the board.  Both Pascal and myself committed to blog about the board elections and Pascal beat me to it (see here and here for his two posts).  I’m not blogging to refute what Pascal wrote, I’m writing this to give my personal view as well – as the current chairman of the board.

How is the board organized?

The board consists of five members: the Novell appointed chairperson, two Novell employees and two non-Novell employees.  All four seats will be elected this year.

Last year the complete board has been appointed by Novell, so this is now the first time the community elects its board.

The board is setup not as a government of openSUSE but more as ultimate escalation point, as a mediator and – I like Pascal’s usage of the word – as ombudsman, and also as a representative of the openSUSE community to speak on behalf of the community.

The board is not going to do any technical decisions about the project or guiding the openSUSE project in a specific technical direction unless it gets asked for this during mediation.

The chairperson has a veto right in any decisions according to the Guiding Principles of openSUSE.  I’m glad that I never had to use it, it’s IMO some kind of last resort and using it would have implied that we would have quite some problem either between Novell and openSUSE or inside the openSUSE project.  We tried instead to reach consensus on all the decisions we made.

We met via IRC – phone conferences were an option as well but something we decided not to do – every couple of weeks and discussed what’s on the agenda.  I took minutes and send them around and I feel guilty of not informing the community more about what was going on – even if it was only deciding membership applications or mediation between people that we did not want to talk about publically.  Looking back I guess it would have been better to state a couple of times something like “The board met last monday, decided on openSUSE membership, discussed how to best mediate some escalations, gave their feedback on some ideas that the Novell guys want to work on etc.” – instead of nothing at all.

Shaping the openSUSE board

I’m part of the first openSUSE board and in my opinion we’re still bootstrapping it and forming it.  Federico mentioned that it took the GNOME board several years until they were really functional – so this shaping of the board is not only in the openSUSE project an evolutionary process that takes time and is influenced by e.g. (constructive) criticism, praise, communication in general, and decisions.

The forming happens in these ways:

  • On the one hand by the community: What kind of issues and questions does the community bring up to the board?  Where do they expect the board to act?  Who will stand up for the next board?  Who will be part of the board?
  • by the board itself: Which kind of issues does the board address and which ones does it delegate?  Where does it mediate in the background and where does it stand up in a public way?
  • by Novell itself: Pascal, Andrew and myself met with Jeff Jaffe – Novell’s CTO – during hackweek and he encouraged the board to give feedback back to Novell – as corporate sponsor of the project – from the openSUSE project and get involved in discussions with Novell.

My ideas for the next board

What would I like to see the next board address better – or would I try to drive inside the current board if there wouldn’t be any elections?

This is nothing I will hold the board accountable to but as I mentioned before the community is shaping the board – so this is one attempt to shape it :-).

  • The board can speak for the community to its cooperate sponsor thus articulating to Novell specific messages or requests.
    This was not done since we had on the one hand nothing on the agenda where we felt the need to speak up as board and on the other hand I handled some smaller things in my role as director and not in myrole as chairperson.
  • The board should encourage active participation into the project thus helping teams to bootstrap with the goal of teams taking ownership of specific parts of the project.
    We have done this a little bit with e.g. the merge of the English speaking forums into forums.opensuse.org where Francis and Pascal where involved in the discussions.  Credit on the other hand goes primarily to the admins of the merged forums and Rupert Horstkötter.
    Btw. if you’re running for the board to get credit, you might be in the wrong place but if you run for the board to encourage others and give them credit, you might get my vote ;)
  • We have many different teams inside the openSUSE project.  Some are active and visible but for others the state is quite unknown.  I think the board should try to see that all teams are working on their part – without losing the big picture – and are visible and accessible by others.

So, what would do I expect from a “perfect” board member?

  • Not necessarily great technical expertise – the board is not doing technical decisions (unlike asked for in mediation).  But a board members is expected to have some technical understanding and be capable to understand some parts of the project.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Be active in some part of the openSUSE project and respected there.
  • Mediation skills and a good network of people: The board should help bringing people together so that they can move the project forward.
  • Time to participate in board activities.
  • Passion for the openSUSE project and Open Source in general.
  • Be a team player: You’re one out of five persons in the board and you want to come up with decisions and ideas that not only the whole board can stand behind but also the openSUSE community will accept.

Some questions

Vincent asked some great questions on the mailing list (I think they come from Bryen) and I’d like to answer them explicitly here again:

Are there meetings? How often?

The board has its own mailing list where we discuss things.  But it’s sometimes easier to discuss directly and we decided early on to have IRC meetings.  They were done at a time that suited everybody (with board members from Germany, Belgium, Great Britain and Mexico): at 7pm UTC on mondays.  We did them as needed, sometimes every other week, sometimes a bit longer.

How are they done? What kind of topics are discussed?

We did them via IRC and I somehow moderated: Collecting topics, asking for votes, moving on to the next one etc.  We discussed whatever was various topics including membership applications, elections and handling of escalations.  I brought also sometimes topics up for discussion of a – at that point – more confidential nature e.g. on what Novell wants to do in openSUSE before we discussed it publically on the lists to give the board members an early heads up and also to get early feedback.

We also chatted about topics that were going on in the teams of the project – or about life in general or our kids.

Does it require a lot of time?

A board member should dedicate some time a week for board activities: handling membership applications and beeing involved in board discussions.  I would expect this takes 2 to 4 hours a week but it really depends on how the board is getting shaped.

Do you need to travel?

None at all but I felt it beneficial that most of us had met before already face to face – and also some of us met during the last year. So, there was no formal face to face meeting setup with the exception of three of the board meeting at FOSDEM.

It’s good to attend conferences and speak about openSUSE – either in presentations or staffing the booth – and I encourage everybody to do so.

I think that key point here is not travel but accessability.  Board members should know what’s going on in the project in general (following the project mailing list, attend regularly the IRC project meetings) and IMHO also a bit more detailed in some specific area – and they should be involved in discussions, e.g. via IRC, on mailing lists or the forum.  Note I’m not saying everywhere and every time ;)

Call for openSUSE Board Members Candidates

If you read so far, then I would encourage you to stand up for the openSUSE board with announcing your application on the opensuse-project and the elections mailing lists – remember we’re looking for four board members from the community: two beeing employed by Novell and two not beeing employed by Novell.

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