who has time for the GA? (was: terminating memberships responsibly)

Bernhard E. Reiter bernhard at fsfe.org
Fri Aug 31 07:22:37 UTC 2018


Am Donnerstag 30 August 2018 17:28:50 schrieb Mirko Boehm:
> > On 30. Aug 2018, at 07:34, Carsten Agger <agger at modspil.dk> wrote:

> > Many NGOs that I know of are run as traditional associations, with a
> > yearly general assembly as te highest authority, a board elected by the
> > participants at the general assembly; with all members being eligible to
> > attend the general assembly and run for the board, and membership being
> > open to everyone (maybe with well-defined limitations, such as a
> > profession or geographical area) willing to pay membership dues.

even those organisations have internal power structures that would not allow 
some people to get to the top of the organisation (Unless many people join 
having a clear plan of taking over the organisation. There are some examples 
in history when this has happend, like to political parties. Where I believe 
it was okay.)

When doing my share helping to build FSFE, I found that some of the bigger 
NGOs where having problems pursing their missions and taking good decisions. 
They were very close to large consensus within their group, making this a 
problem. The idea with FSFE was to take an approach for a longer term. And to 
be able to hold and protect assets even if a large majority of people did not 
see the need for this. Yes, this was influenced by how Richard Stallman was 
able to set up a lighthourse for Free Software for decades.

Times have been changing since then, but some of the drawbacks of 
the "traditional way" of running a large membership organisation remain, we 
would be much less effective than we are now (in my current opinion).

> What you describe as a norm is almost exactly the model Shane and I (and
> Jonas earlier on) suggested as a blueprint for how FSFE should operate. We
> suggested this for approval during the 2017 agenda. The proposal was
> accepted. Implementation is outstanding.

In my memory the creation of a proposal was approved in 2017, which means to 
get a plan and be able t better evaluate how the pros and cons would work out 
in the details as preparation for a decision to implement.

> It is apparent that some of the old guard free software organisations are
> set up in an intransparent, autocratic model that is tailored to protecting
> the position of the figure heads.

Whether this is true and whether this is a good or bad thing aside: It was not 
the case for FSFE, as we did not have "figure heads" in the classical sense. 
We'd pushed the burden of being an anchor person on some of us. One reason is 
that the world of politics and lobbying, which we outset to change towards 
Free Software, in many aspects runs on personal connections and agendas. 
To "hack" this world, we needed someone to "pose" as a figurehead. But it 
never was about the figure heads. (Evidence to this is that the anchor person 
has changed two times already in less than 20 years.)

> It is also apparent that all these organisation struggle with renewal and
> maintaining relevance and a contributor base. 
> This is a fate I we should avoid for FSFE. 

Many organisations face the challenge, actually each one I know, so I agree 
that we want a good solution for FSFE. However what is a good path forward?
This has been subject to intense debates throughout all levels of FSFE, 
already leading to improvements here and there. Naturally this process we 
also did not implement many suggestions as they seemed to be less 

While doing all this the FSFE has mainly done many things for Free Software 
(most of you will be aware of, like helping the first mainstream documentary 
about Free Software and contractual problems with major proprietary software 
solutions to appear on maintream televison, convincing more than 18 thousand 
people code paid by public money should be published as Free Software and 
much more).

> I don’t think inaction is a good approach.

A radical shift of structure (like moving to a "large membership" model) may 
promise some advantages down the road, but it may also could dimish the good 
work going on, for instance when we need to put significant energy aside for 
changing and running the structure. So it is not an easy decision.

Best Regards,

FSFE -- Founding Member     Support our work for Free Software: 
blogs.fsfe.org/bernhard     https://fsfe.org/donate | contribute
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