[IAEP] [SLOBS] Question about the elections and the Executive Director

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Sun Nov 6 08:24:00 EST 2011

As per your suggestion below, I am CCing IAEP.

On Sat, Nov 5, 2011 at 10:10 PM, Bernie Innocenti <bernie at codewiz.org> wrote:
> I have spoken my mind quite frankly and I was hoping to hear back what
> the other slobs think.
> Do people at least agree that Sugar Labs has a problem of execution of
> some kind? Perhaps people disagree on the solution I proposed? If there
> are alternative ideas, I'd like to hear them too.
> Should we repost this thread on iaep to involve the rest of the
> community? Even if the question of Sugar Labs' organizational structure
> is very controversial, it won't certainly fix itself until we face it.
> On Fri, 2011-11-04 at 01:37 -0400, Bernie Innocenti wrote:
>> On Wed, 2011-11-02 at 11:54 -0400, Walter Bender wrote:
>> > It is all a bit vague. But as far as I know, there is no requirement
>> > that the executive director (ED) role needs to be filled by a SLOBs
>> > member. Personally, I think that SLOBs should reaffirm or reappoint
>> > the ED annually. FWIW, according to the bylaws, the ED role is without
>> > any authority to actually do anything.
>> That's true: it's a peculiarity of Sugar Labs: in any other organization
>> I've seen, the board of directors meets every now and then to approve
>> the budget, review the quarter results, and so on. Sometimes, they meet
>> to vote on extraordinary events. Day to day administration is carried on
>> autonomously by the executive officer/director.
>> Instead, the oversight board of Sugar Labs micro-manages every little
>> funding request, trademark license and all sorts of trivialities. On top
>> of this, we're all  meet on a weekly basis and when we finally do meet,
>> there are always more topics on the agenda than we can possibly discuss
>> in just one hour. Partners and members of our community become
>> frustrated when their activities become blocked for an unbound amount of
>> time by a pending board decision. Volunteers come to Sugar Labs because
>> they want to accomplish something within our framework. If we make their
>> life miserable, they'll simply take their projects elsewhere.
>> Perhaps some of us believe that running every decision through a vote
>> makes us more democratic? Nevertheless, in actual democracies the
>> parliament delegates executive powers to the prime minister, who chairs
>> the government.
>> Even if we can't stand traditional hierarchies there are other ways to
>> distribute authority across the organization (at Google I'm discovering
>> a few interesting ones). I don't know what works best for us, but I
>> seriously doubt that a committee can do a good job at running any
>> organization, no matter how big or small, charity or for-profit.
>> Hopefully, next year's board will choose to delegate things a little
>> more than we did.
> --
>  _ // Bernie Innocenti
>  \X/  http://codewiz.org


You know my opinion on this topic because we have discussed it many
times. When we created Sugar Labs, on paper at least, we purposefully
made it weak in the center (SLOB) and strong in the edges (teams,
local labs, etc.). This was in part a reaction to the way in which the
community felt manipulated by the benevolent dictator who ran OLPC at
the time.

So by definition, there is little for SLOBs to actually do.

In my opinion, the primary purpose of SLOBs is to keep an eye out for
what the community is doing well and to bring attention to it; and to
look for areas we are falling short and try to muster resources.

We have only a very few other concrete tasks:
(1) managing our trademark
(2) managing our meager funds
(3) resolving disputes within the community

Am I missing anything?

Now, as far as how well we do what we do, undoubtedly, there is always
room for improvement. Suggestions welcome. But I really see this as a
bikeshedding exercise.

Dealing with the trademark -- our sole asset -- requires deliberation.
I don't see it as something we can do quickly. But I don't think we
have been so ineffective in discussing it. The most recent request,
OLPC Germany, is complicated and we have had to ask for many
iterations and discussion among the parties. When SLOBs does receive
data, we act with reasonable speed.

Regarding money, as you know, we have a missing link in our
organization: a finance director. As you also know, I think I finally
found someone who can do the job. Also, we gave you authority to make
the small decisions unilaterally and big decisions (we just agreed to
spend ~10% of our funds on the Sugar Camp in Peru) need to be
discussed. We asked for clarification, we discussed, we voted, and we
moves on. Can this be more efficient? Again, undoubtedly. Perhaps our
new FD can help streamline things.

We have had two major disputes within the community (a trademark issue
and a licensing issue). We had long protracted discussions. We came to
consensus. In neither case was a speedy decision important. What was
important was making sure the voice of the community was heard.  I
think we did a reasonable job in that respect.

In the meantime, we have varying degrees of efficiency within the
teams. Some are quite active and doing a great job. For example, we
have a remarkable track record in terms of producing quality releases
and you must admit that the process of submitting and merging patches
is greatly improved (thanks to the efforts of Simon, Sascha, et al.)
Likewise, the Design, Activity, Learning, and Developer teams are all
thriving. And we have some places where we are more mired. The
Marketing team is seemingly running into trouble getting the new
website completed. Other bumps in the road abound. We as SLOBs need to
help. But are these successes and setbacks a reflection on the
efficacy of SLOBs? I don't think so. Educate me as to why you think

You note that we have a lot to talk about and we have trouble
finishing a conversation. I think that we perhaps talk about the wrong
things sometimes. But our role is to have the conversation so that we
create opportunities for the community to engage, not to tell the
community what to do. The on-going dialog is healthy. Some chaos is
healthy as well. This way there is a collision of ideas, new ideas,
new opportunities.



Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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