wiki:projects/leadership-committee/democracy/2013-03-14

Version 3 (modified by Daniel Kahn Gillmor, 6 years ago) (diff)

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LC democracy subcommittee meeting 2013-03-14

Who: Dana, dkg, Jack, Jamie, rasha

Summary

Discussed the working groups proposal that came up at the LC meeting. Jamie raised concerns by proxy from other LC members about accountability, diversity, democracy. Jack and dkg both agreed with concerns, but consider them relevant for the current structure.

Decided we'd come up with two proposals for comparison, discuss them together, and then try to bring them to the broader LC (and anyone else interested?) to get more direct feedback about people's concerns:

  • one proposal documents the "working groups proposal" and tries to address the raised concerns
  • the other documents the "LC proposal" (roughly, how we (think we) work now) and also tries to address the raised concerns

jack and dkg will collaborate on writing up the "WG proposal". Jamie got assigned to write up the "LC proposal". We expect collaboration across these assignments as well, since we're all focused on figuring out how to make the organization better.

The democracy subcommittee will meet again on Thursday 2013-04-11 at 5pm NYC time to discuss what we have written up by then. Work should be coordinated from the subcommittee page.

Transcript

originally recorded here

  • Jamie: start by reviewing concerns we got back after our proposal presentation at the LC meeting
  • Jamie: one concern voiced by Mallory at the meeting: if we eliminate the LC and have the people doing most of the work making most of the decisions, it would result in a group mostly run by white men (based on who's doing most of the work in MF/PL now) in comparison to the diversity of the LC currently
  • Jamie: concerns from both Alfredo and Enrique: removing LC eliminates the democratic process so that if there are decisions made by people doing the work and not by the membership as a whole (or people elected by the membership), those people are not accountable to the membership in a democratic way; this undermines the democracy of the organization.
  • dkg: idea that removing the LC eliminates the democratic process makes assumptions about what democracy is, specifically informed by a representative electoral democracy concept. Democracy could be bigger than that; I'm wary to engage on that terminology.
  • Jamie: rephrasing: if decisions are made by people doing the work without any accountability or connection to the membership, that eliminates the ability for the membership to be able to influence and run the organizations; certain decisions will be unaccountable to the membership/.
  • dkg: still seems problematic; assumes that the groups doing the work will be closed groups that rebuff entry from other members. If that were the case that would be really bad, but part of the proposal was that the boundaries are porous; members can join the groups, be part of the discussion if they want.
  • Jamie: the concern is that many groups won't have the capacity to join in doing the work; they should still have some influence over the decisions that are being made. There are many members who use and depend on the technology every day, don't have capacity or resources to participate in working groups, but still have opinions about how the organization.
  • jack: i don't think that the LC as it has been so far is much better at that. there are annual elections, but people aren't that informed about what people are going to do, if they did what they promised last time, etc. the election of the LC feels a little fake in terms of informed and engaged membership. I also think there is not a really strong system of accountability for LC members. the LC hasn't been particularly accountable, but there should be accountability to membership. the LC isn't the only path to that (and doesn't necessarily offer it anyway).
  • jamie: it's useful to distinguish between how we want the organization to run and how it's running now. I agree with what jack said, but it takes time to build democratic institutions and mf/pl is in its infancy. i don't want to get rid of something that has a path to accountability. i'd rather see us find a way to increase that accountability and feedback to improve the democracy of the organization.
  • jack: i don't think that an LC assures democracy and accountability, and i don't think that lack of an LC assures lack of democracy and accountability.
  • Jamie: with the system that's proposed--I depend on the tech, I use the tech, I need it to work and have opinions; my organization doesn't have capacity to join a working group. How do I hold them accountable? What's the process? There's not one for this process; for the LC, the process isn't perfect but there IS a process.
  • dkg: in this hypothetical scenario, would an organization that doesn't have capacity to participate in a working group, would they have capacity to organize an LC member to do what they want?
  • jamie: they'd have the ability to elect the LC
  • dkg: if none of the LC members are doing what they want they're still in the same position. Flipping to the working group model, if no one in a working group is aligned with what a given member wants and they can't even send anyone to have a discussion with a working group, then they're SOL. But if they have allies with the working group, or can send someone to just talk, if the communications channels are open and the goal is to have communicaiton btwn working groups and other members and across the whole organization, then that's the accountability process--open channels of communication where it's clear what's happening in the organization.
  • jamie: what if they have the time, they make their case, and then nothing changes? what then?
  • jack: what about the same situation in the LC?
  • dkg: people might think that the members can always vote LC members out at the next election; that's an accountability mechanism that they've heard of, understand, have been told how democracy works. is that the kind of mechanism that the LC framework offers, or is there some other mechanism besides that?
  • jamie: it's more than a mechanism; as someone who's put in labor for this organization for five years without having an elected LC and for two years has one, it changes the way I think about this organization and my actions. When I know that I've put my name out there to be voted on and people have voted for me to take this role in the organization, it gives me a concrete sense of responsibility that was absent before that happened. I think it's a very different experience and relationship with the organization when you've gone through that process and have been elected than when you show up to a meeting with 5-10 people working on a particular project. That creates an environment for a different kind of accountability that's important for any membership or any organization to follow.
  • jamie: the proposal as it stands now bears a very striking resemblance to the way the organization has been run: a small group of people put in a lot of labor and make a lot of decisions for the organization. I've been working to change that. I want to be held accountable by the diversity of our organization, want them to be informed... membership understanding of the process has slowly been changing as people understand the idea behind a democratic membership organization. This proposal puts us back to the way it was.
  • jack: the three of us have spoken a lot, i want to ask for feedback and thoughts from dana and rasha
  • Rasha: I don't have many thoughts; I feel very neutral about the particular structure, governance process, accountability or decision-making process should be. I'm happy that MF/Pl exists, admire and appreciate the thoughtfulness and attention to governance processes. There's a variety of processes; I really resonate with one of Jack's statements that whatever structure we choose there's hard work to be done. The question of which system we use needs to be clear to the people participating or the people who could participate in it--members might not understnad the expected or evolving model of engagement for MF/PL. As someone who's been closer and has allies, it's not always clear to me whta the processes are; when I ask about something, someone may say a process exists, but that doesn't mean it's clear to people how to engage with that process. I don't feel like I have a horse in this race about what structure we use; whatever happens, I/Project South are committed in being engaged in this process with MF/PL. One way or another we'll come to something productive that we can all practice.
  • Dana: from the perspective of services ofered through tech, if we're promoting the use of open source, the organization should operate in a similar fashion where it's open for people to participate. That's what's appealing to me; if you have to be elected into participating that feels different than showing up, learning about something, getting involved, find places where people can influence things or participate.
  • jack: in the past, the way that the work was defined was pretty much just the tech support side of things. Part of this proposal involves a serious redefinition of what the work means, and opening this up to those people. People who are good at events, outreach, etc, can do more of that. making it clear that there are different kinds of work involved is a way to get more people involved and to address some of the diversity issues. Also, the proposal makes it clear that there needs to be much clearer communication channels *into* the working groups. That is missing right now -- people don't have a clear way to get their voices heard on the LC or elsewhere.
  • Jamie: i agree with all of that, the more interaction we have the better.
  • Jamie: Mf/PL is growing in not having just techies being involved in the work of MF/PL; there is potential for growing that. MF/PL will always be a technology organization; as a result, when you put a group of people together in a room to make decisions for the organization, there will be a tendency for people to defer to the technologists. Even to the extent that we can build more diversity, we run a serious risk of really becoming an organization where the decisions are made by mostly white men in a way that through the LC we'd begun a process of really diversifying the leadership of the organization and the decision making. I think that also provides a strong avenue for continuing and strengthening that work.
  • jack: this is feeling like a back-and-forth, where jamie puts forward a reason to keep the LC, and other folks say "this is an issue no matter what the structure is", and then we repeat. These issues are not about whether there is an LC. People deferring to technologists happens with or without an LC; decisions are made by white men also happens without an LC.
  • Jamie: I don't agree with that. I think building an organization in which the leadership represents the diversity of the membership. With an LC I see a path to that; without an LC I don't see a strong path of developing the leadership
  • jack: it sounds like you're saying the LC is the only way to do that. I'm not convinced, but i don't know how to argue with that. i keep saying that the SRLP does this.
  • Jamie: I wouldn't consider SRLP a democratically based membership organization; I consider it a collective organization in which there's strong democratic processes or tendencies.
  • jack: it is true that they're not a membership organization in the same way. but we can still learn from the processes in that organization. it's true, i was thinking of this as a partially collective model, yes.
  • jamie: there's a lot from srlp that is useful for us, i agree, for example organizing work committees, and things like that. It's possible that we may need to go back to the LC for this discussion, because we might need to go back to the LC to try to get better clarity
  • dkg: I'm surprised to hear that you think we need to go back to the LC. we had a meeting in person with almost everyone there in person; we brought this up, there was discussion about it, but I felt by the end of the weekend that what we had proposed, the ideas we were working from, were echoed by the analyses that came up in other LC subcommittees, in particular many proposals from other subcommittees meeting at the same time who came up with similar ideas for more empowered working groups and clearer channels of communication, encouraging people to participate by making things present, lively, engaging. I'm surprised to think we need to go back; obviously we're not going to make any decisions that will be automatic for the whole organization. Maybe I didn't understand what happened at the meeting?
  • jamie: We didn't have time in the meeting for discussion about each of the proposals; I think you're right, those ideas from the proposal are widely supported within the LC. However, the reason I'm raising this is that I've had conversations with other LC members in which they said concerns. (Alfredo, Mallory, Enrique, Hilary, Juan Gerardo.) Removing the LC is the one piece where I wonder if we need more weigh in.
  • jack: i just wanted to point out -- we talked about decisions being made by white men, but there are other ways that power works: this is a little raw, but it sounds like folks who have been around for a while, or who have positions of more concentrated power in MF/PL are the folks expressing concerns with the proposal to not have an LC. I agree with dkg that we obviously will need to bring things back to the LC to make any changes happen. I wonder if we could bring these proposals back to people to get more clarity about what the concerns are for the proposal with or without the LC. We could bring up different proposals, hear the concerns, and then try to come up with ways that those concerns can be addressed.
  • Jamie: I think you're right, the folks who do have concerns are the people who are putting in a lot of the labor; even according to the plan of removing the LC would give us more power in the organization. There is something in that--the people doing a lot of the day to day work want an LC, want an organization that has a clear and more direct line to an elected LC to direct our work. I think that is significant.
  • dkg: Both Dana and I have been fairly supportive of some of these proposals; I have been, and I've done a fair amount of work for the organization and continue to. I acknowledge there's a lot of work I hasn't done as well and that other people do; I certainly don't put in the same amount of time that Jamie does, for example. But I don't know that it's just the people who are doing the day-to-day work who are concerned about the idea of there not being an LC.
  • Jamie: I didn't mean to give that impression.
  • dkg: I think everyone in the LC is in some level putting in a lot of labor for the organization.
  • dkg: If the removal of the LC is the main sticking point, I wonder if there's a way to get some of what seemed to be the benefits of the working group proposal... a way to mix the two, or look at it as a shifting or transition plan? It would be nice to figure out a way to move forward.
  • jamie: i might need to leave sooner than expected, sorry!
  • jack: how about the idea i proposed about asking the LC for specific concerns that they have, with an elected LC, or with a non-elected working group or collective-ish model.
  • jamie: do you think we should do this via e-mail, or are you thinking of a phone meeting?
  • jack: i would say e-mail. give people a reasonable amount of time to provide feedback. It would be good to see if there are common threads of concerns that can be addressed
  • Rasha: it would be helfpul to see a side-by-side analysis, drawbacks and benefits; it would help us get past the conversation only talking about the drawbacks of the alternative models. We can talk about some of the disadvanatages that might be answered by a shift. I don't think I'd have a lot to contribute though I'd pay attention to the responses that folks give and will step forward when things resonate with our hopes for working with MF/PL (at Project South)
  • Dana: I'm not on the LC so I don't know how to participate; I would come at it from a techie and white perspective so I don't want to add to that if that's one of the issues as hand.
  • Rasha: Regardless of what model we choose, I'd hope that if you have feedback that you share that through whatever process we share. If you have thoughts or ideas about one system over another I'm interested in hearing them, because you'll be involved in implementing one or the other and are involved in the work. Whatever principle we choose, that seems like an important element to keep.
  • dkg: seems like to actually do this, we might need to have two specific proposals that shouldn't be treated as the last word on the topic, but as proposals; I'm saying two because I think it would be helpful to look at the LC implementation as one of those, since we do have an LC and we're in our infancy, making this up as we go along. What the tradeoffs are, it's important we realize that all of the questions have been raised here are about how members are engaged, how people doing the work stay in communication with the people we're supporting, how we stay on the right track politically. They need to be answered explicitly both by the status quo and by alternatives. Could we write up a proposal of the current situation that's in some way analagous to the proposal of the working group plan, with the hope that when we end the discussion we can take the best parts of both.
  • Rasha: I appreciate the two-proposal process. As someone still getting oriented to the way MF/PL works I'd hope for clarity about what a vision of building out the LC is if we're going to do it; it might eliminate a lot of things; make a deliberation process clearer.
  • Jamie: sounds good to me. We have a draft of the LC approach which could definitely be tweaked or reworked to fit a format we want. What we're doing now isn't approved; it's a proposal just like anything else (meaning the LC itself.)
  • Jamie: I have to get off the call, I'm happy to take work assignments as long as at least one other person takes some on!
  • Rasha: I'm glad to review proposals, but won't be able to work on drafting one. Is there a particular way of working on the proposals that seems like a good workflow?
  • Jack: use pads as long as we keep editing them. one person take a first shot at a proposal, then period of review in sub-committee, process to give feedback and incorporate feedback. then get a copy of each and send on the LC. Suggest each proposal has a structure that addresses the concerns that have been/are raised. Each proposal respond as much as possible to, examples: accountability, diversity, communications.
  • dkg: reasonable. section to describe the mechanisms, doesn't have to be super formal, but: these are the working groups we imagine, here's how a new one could be formed, here's conflict resolution document, how meetings happen.
  • jack: concern that this is a lot. at palante we haven't hammered out.
  • dkg: doesn't have to be complete or formal.
  • jack: volunteer to draft the working group proposal.
  • dkg: will support if helpful.
  • jack: i will be out all next week and then recovering. timeline for first draft?
  • Rasha: I suggest that Jamie draft/bring to us and reformat a proposal about the LC model for us. (general agreement)
  • dkg: we've been meeting ~1/mo; we agreed to have more full LC meetings, too, but don't know when the next one is. If we come back together as a subcommittee in a month, then that gives a reasonable amount of time to hammer out the baseline proposals. (Jack & Rasha agree)
  • Rasha: earlier is better for me since the southern movement assembly is going to happen in late April. I can respond to a fluid document, hopefully not put too much pressure on the process. If we have a call no later than mid-April I can hopefully be present and contribute; after that would be hard.
  • dkg: later in April would be hard for me too.
  • Thursday April 11 at 5pm - proposed next call for our subcommittee
  • dkg: let's use the democracy subcommittee page https://support.mayfirst.org/wiki/projects/leadership-committee/democracy as a jumping off point; if someone makes a pad, link to it from there. if you're not sure what's been done, pop over to that page.
  • Dana: I'm creating a team section in the wiki where each team/group in MF/PL has a section; once that's up this stuff will be easier.
  • dkg: I'll transfer notes to the wiki and email Jamie with his assignment; I'll try to make some pointers to some stuff from our democracy page to kick-start filling in these proposals.