Mailinglist Archive: opensuse-project (59 mails)

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[opensuse-project] Proposal: Reforming openSUSE Membership To Better Reflect Our Ethos
  • From: Richard Brown <RBrownCCB@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2018 18:06:28 +0100
  • Message-id: <CAA0b23yqBL83rwLu97Ny6JQhyoZEovde8ufd-=Gb4aB8174egA@mail.gmail.com>
Hi Project,

The Board has been considering the state of the current openSUSE
Membership system and it's role in the Project's governance.

For those who are unaware, openSUSE Members are the individuals who
have voting rights in openSUSE Board elections, so directly elect 5
out of the 6 people in the projects senior conflict resolution &
leadership body.

Currently, to become a member, an openSUSE contributor must first
contribute to the Project.
After contributing in a "sustained and substantial" manner, they can
Apply to become a member.
This application requires the applicant to fill in the 'Contributions'
section in their connect.opensuse.org profile and applying to the
openSUSE Members group.
A Membership committee then reviews those applications, confirms
whether or not the claimed contributions are valid and meet the
criteria of "sustained and substantial".
This requires that the balance of votes of the committee reaches at
least 3 positive votes. (eg. 4 positive votes and 1 negative vote
results in the Applicant being approved. 5 positive votes and 3
negative votes results in the Applicant not approved).

Approved members then receive @opensuse.org email addresses and IRC
cloaks, and are eligible to run in openSUSE Board elections.

Besides that, an openSUSE Member really isn't any different from any
other contributor - we're not a project where you need to be a Member
in order to be able to contribute to the Project in any meaningful
way.
In addition to the above, openSUSE Members have the capability of
recalling the Board, causing a re-election of the Board if 20% of the
membership believe they are not correctly being served by their
current Board.

Members remain members until they no longer wish to be members.
Membership lapsing used to be entirely on a voluntary basis.
Recently we have experimented with using bots to identify activity of Members.
If a member is no longer visibly active in the Project in any way, we
have recently begun repeatedly asking (using the contact details
available) whether they wish to remain a member.
Any answer, guarantees that membership remains. Failure to answer
removes that contributor's status as an openSUSE Member. It can be
re-instated at any time upon request.

So, that is the status quo, why has the Board been thinking about this?

Well, your Board collectively feels that this system currently has a
number of practical and philosophical flaws, which we would like to
see addressed by the Project.

The primary issue of concern is the one which led to the 'activity
check' and 'ask if users want to remain a Member, if no activity
detected' approach introduced over the last year.
The Board feels it's really important that it is accountable to the Project.

In it's primary role as arbitrators of disputes in the Project, or as
decision-makers of last resort, it's capability to act effectively in
that role is compromised if it is perceived to not represent the
Project at large.
That is why we have that rule that 20% of the Members can recall the Board.
It's designed to be so low, so the Board can be seen to be so directly
accountable to the Membership (and by proxy, the Project at large).

Before we have the 'activity check', our Membership list included a
great deal of former contributors who had no longer any interest in
the Project.
This made reaching this 20% threshold harder and harder, undermining
the whole point of that low threshold.

The removal of Members who are no longer part of the Project has made
it easier for the Membership to recall the Board.
But the Board feels this is not enough.

Over the years, especially recent ones, openSUSE has appealed to a new
generation of contributors.
Our distributions are significantly larger than ever before, moving at
a pace of hundreds of changes a week.
openSUSE is home to a growing family of sub-projects, beyond just
Linux distributions.
openSUSE has strong contribution bases in more and more countries, as
demonstrated by examples like our openSUSE Asia summits.

And yet, the number of openSUSE Members remains at best relatively
static, or shrinking as a result of the 'activity check'.

In short, there is a strong case to be made that the Membership
scheme, in it's current form, can not possibly reflect the Project at
large.

The Board have identified a number of practical reasons for this
stagnation in the membership scheme.

1) Connect is a pain to use - It's unmaintained, and our openSUSE
Heroes infra team very much want to stop running the server.
2) Connect is a REAL pain to use - a significant percentage of
membership requests do not include any claimed contributions, so the
committee cannot verify those contributions and have no choice but to
reject them.
3) Connect is an ABSOLUTE pain to use - the membership committee never
get notified when there is new application, meaning that applications
can often linger for weeks or months before enough vote positively or
negatively to accept an application.
4) Connect is an UNGODLY pain to use - anyone reapplying for
membership immediately shows up the committees queue with their
previous voting score - which has on way too many occasions led to
instant-deapproval when the committee didn't realise the person was
applying for a second time. (I'm pretty sure this even happened to me,
back in the day).

We COULD just fix connect to address the problems above, but they've
been known for a long while and no contributor has stepped up to fix
them.
Even if they were resolved, would remain logistical issues

1) The Membership committee, by design has to a small group of trusted
individuals.
With the Project as diverse as it is now, it's practically impossible
for that small group to have an oversight of contributions across the
whole Project.
This makes it very hard for them to judge whether the contributions
are "sustained and substantial" under the current system.

2) Even with notifications addressing the fact the committee do not
know when applications are waiting, the "+3 on balance" requirement
often means that an application can be deadlocked by just a few
individuals voting down a potential member.
"Sustained and Substantial" is a subjective measurement, which is
always going to lead to differences of opinions.

It's not all about practicalities, like I said, the Board have
identified a number of philosophical problems with the Membership
scheme in it's current form also

As a project, we generally operate with a mindset of 'those that do, decide'.
Committees, permission, and other such obstacles, are things we
actively avoid when establishing processes in the Project.
We have a strong ethos of empowering anyone to contribute and not
having barriers to entry.
The Board currently feels the Membership scheme in it's current form
runs counter to this mindset and ultimately undermines it.
No matter how well meaning the individuals in the committee are,
ultimately some committee currently decides if your contributions are
'good enough' to be a Member.

We'll let a random person off the street contribute patches to core
parts of our software, but they're not good enough to have an opinion
on how the project is led?

We're not great at putting down our collective philosophy, but I think
it's not too bold to say that it's not a very "openSUSE" way of
thinking.
(For more of my thoughts on how our ethos and "those that do, decide"
makes us special, you can watch my FOSDEM talk from last weekend [1])

The Board would therefore like to propose a much streamlined
Membership scheme for the future. The structure we propose would be
something like:

* openSUSE Members will retain all of the rights, benefits, and
responsibilities they do today (Voting, Emails/Cloaks Recalling the
Board, etc)
* Any openSUSE contributor can apply to be a Member
* The threshold for Membership will be reduced from "sustained and
substantial contribution" to "a contribution and a desire to be a
Member" (ie. not every contributor should feel compelled to engage
with the Project in this way).
* If the contribution can be automatically verified, they will
automatically become a Member. (New tooling here will be required, but
for example, a quick parse of the public mailinglists would be able to
verify a good number of contributions, be they through bug reporting,
package contributions, or support on the mailinglists)
* If they cannot be automatically verified, they need to be manually
verified, but only require a single +1 vote from the Membership
committee.
* Once becoming a Member, they can remain a member as long as they
have an interest in the Project. - If ongoing contributions cease or
the contributions cannot be automatically detected, Members will be
asked by a bot if they wish to remain a Member.

Obviously this new system has some risks which the old system does not.
In theory "bad actors" could sign up to become openSUSE members, and
collectively sway Board elections and such to install inappropriate
people into the Board.
The Board understands this was a fear which was a major consideration
leading to the original structure and requirement for "sustained and
substantial" contributions.
However, the Board feels this is an unlikely risk in this day and age.
Even if that risk is realised, it should be sufficiently mitigated by
boards rule preventing 40% of Board members being employed by the same
company. Worse case, our healthier Membership scheme could trigger a
re-election if 20% of the Membership collectively feel things are
going in the wrong direction.

So on balance we feel this is the best way forward to ensure openSUSE
Membership is easy, engaging, and enables the Membership to more
accurately reflect the Project as a whole.

Given the nature of this change, the Board would like the feedback and
consensus of the Project as a whole.
If the overwhelming responses to this post is approval of this
approach, then we'd like to see the Project start implementing it
post-haste, possibly even before the upcoming next election.

However, of course, if there is a significant debate to be had, the
right way of resolving this might be a vote by the current Membership
- this is one of the reasons why this proposal is announced today;
After the election problems we had with connect.opensuse.org last year
the Board wanted to be sure we had an alternative voting platform
available if we need it.
Our awesome openSUSE Heroes have just completed confidence tests of
one such system, so if we need it, it's available.

Thanks and have a lot of fun,

Richard Brown
on behalf of the openSUSE Board {Christian Boltz, Richard Brown, Tomas
Chvatal, Sarah Julia Kriesch, Gertjan Lettink, Bryan Lunduke}

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5YKBS-KUe8
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