How FSFE is organised (was: Organisation democracy)

Paul Boddie paul at
Wed Oct 9 13:16:23 UTC 2019

On Tuesday 8. October 2019 17.44.02 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Am Freitag 27 September 2019 18:00:28 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> >
> > Admittedly, the rest of us don't tend to do things like park $100000
> > destined for improving Free Software in a bank account for four years
> This is book-keeping, the association is the formal employer of people
> and because some incomes and costs for FSFE's mission come unplanned,
> we want to make sure there is a reserve so we can be a proper employer.
> Because FSFE is a public charity we must give a reason for the reserve.

I am sorry for the confusion here. In fact, I wasn't referring to the FSFE 
with my remark, but the following crowdfunding campaign promoted on this 
mailing list four years ago by a FSFE General Assembly member:

Some people might remember that although I broadly supported this campaign, I 
was rather annoyed by the suggestion that other people get on board to be part 
of a "community". My own experiences with related projects indicated that 
community-building and working with other projects was not exactly a priority 
amongst the people involved:

Four years on, and I guess I was right to express what I did back then. I feel 
sorry for anyone who put up money and expected to see anything come out of it.


> > and not communicate with the people whose money that was,
> > but apart from small things like that.

Although I wasn't referring to the FSFE, I do wonder whether anyone else feels 
that there are certain common themes involved. For instance, a lack of 
transparency and a lack of responsiveness to genuine concerns. People can 
easily perceive these situations as "thanks for the money so that we can do 
our thing", at which point meaningful engagement ends.

But I presume that many people involved with Free Software advocacy are not 
satisfied with a bunch of other people telling them that "we got this" (that 
is, they will deliver a solution on behalf of everyone else), not least 
because Free Software is a collaborative endeavour.

There is a risk of sending the crude message that "we just want your money" 
(not any expertise you might have) which can also be demotivating and 
disempowering if it anoints a chosen entity to deliver "the solution" and 
relegates everyone else to being the unhelpful "competition". It is even worse 
when the money could have been doing some/more good elsewhere.


> > (Which brings me to the matter of FSFE's opaque legal conference that may
> > or may not be funded by the supporters, out of which they get a list of
> > vague topic headings and reassurances that it was a worthwhile exercise.)
> The conference is mainly a meeting of the legal network, see
> and we report on it each year.
> The main advantage of the meeting that people can exchange themselves,
> so there is no direct aim for a result. (FSFE was criticised before for not
> forcing the agenda, but most people in FSFE believe that we cannot force
> people's opinion, while it is good at the same time to bring people together
> that are genuinely interested in Free Software licensing together.)
> only has a short report
> and it could be longer. The one from 2018 almost seems too long for most
> readers
> Some donors of FSFE specifically sponsor the Legal conference,
> so I'd personally expect this actually to be something that financially
> supports other activies of FSFE. However this probably varies from year to
> year.

The problem when reconciling this activity with an organisation seeking to 
cultivate some kind of membership, community or broad support is in convincing 
this latter group that such an activity, from which they are largely excluded, 
is working in their interests and deserves to be part of the same 

In other words, when told that the organisation has "got this" (meaning that 
it is providing some kind of solution), the supporters can only assume and 
trust that the outcomes will be beneficial to them. Meanwhile, other 
organisations with arguably less "democracy" pursue such activities 
transparently and let their supporters know what they have been saying and 

The impression this leaves is that there is the VIP track, with all the 
benefits and a degree of opacity within which conflicts of interest could 
easily develop, and then there is the ordinary supporter track. The inevitable 
tensions that such distinctions introduce tend to be rather damaging to any 
kind of collaborative endeavour in the long run.


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