Version 3 (modified by Daniel Kahn Gillmor, 8 years ago) (diff)

fleshing out concerns and a bit o' wordsmithing

Working Group Democracy Proposal

This is a living document. for collaborative/synchronous work, please work on it using a pad.


The main goal of this proposal is to see MF/PL structured as a set of overlapping, empowered and engaged working groups that set organizational policy on the condition that they are transparent to and open to participation and guidance from the entire membership.

  • staff -- these are members with daily or weekly work commitments to the organization.
  • working groups -- these are collections of members interested in and working on specific parts of the organization. for example:
    • i18n
    • support-team
    • organizational development
    • others as needs arise... (how do members form a new working group?)

Setting up any working group needs to include defining the scope for that WG.

The term "core membership" refers to all people who are either on staff or in any working group.

Working Group Responsibilities

Each working group has a set of responsibilities:

  • regular reportbacks to the lowdown about ongoing work
  • maintain an easily-accessible way for members to find out what the working groups are, and how to contact them. This allows members to interact with and guide a working group without needing to commit to full participation in it.
  • Each working group should maintain a publicly-archived mailing list.

Working group membership

How does a member join a working group?

Different models have different advantages, and we may not want to prescribe a single approach for all working groups. Factors that need consideration are:

  • we want to avoid working groups dominated by traditional majorities (cisgendered English-speaking white men)
  • a careful and thoughtful WG membership process tends to create mutual commitment from all parties involved instead of fly-by-night flakiness
  • but barriers to entry discourage participation
  • isolated cabals are bad

Staff membership

open questions:

  • how do we decide who is on staff?
  • should each working group need to have a participating staff member?
  • should each staff member need to participate in at least one working group?

Decision Making and Conflict Resolution

We don't currently have a clear breakdown of how decisions get made at MF/PL. We need one. It should include:

  • What different types of decisions are being made
  • who initiates a given type of decision
  • who needs to be consulted
  • who needs to approve
  • who needs to be informed?

Each working group should make decisions within its scope.

There are a set of shared MF/PL guidelines that we expect all WGs to adhere to:

  • respectful communication
  • working groups need to listen to the concerns of MF/PL members who are not WG participants
  • we strive for consensus, and presume that is the baseline for decision-making, WGs may choose their specific implementation of consensus

Conflict resolution:

  • we need to plan out a conflict resolution approach both between and within WGs: decision-making should be how it normally works, and conflict-resolution is for when decision-making process breaks down


There should be at least one annual in-person meeting for the entire core.

the core should have regular (monthly?) synchronous meetings where WGs report back on new commitments formed and progress on outstanding commitments.

We encourage individual working groups to schedule in-person meetings when possible.

Staff has a regular weekly meeting.

There should be an annual membership meeting that takes place in multiple locations simultaneously and is available over the internet where possible.



how do we make sure that MF/PL as a membership organization reflects the diversity of our membership? In particular, we are concerned about having decisions made predominately by white men and technologists, who are often in positions of power.

  • Organizational structure alone can't solve entrenched oppressions.
  • A working group structure allows for easier deep engagement with the organization and provides an entryway for more members to become actively engaged in decision-making processes.
  • As an organization we need to decide what our goals are around diversity and inclusion
  • A flatter organization, where people are explicitly expected to interact as equals helps to break down common mechanisms of oppression.
  • Restructuring the organization into working grousp gives us an opportunity to create entryways for involvement in the organization that are more likely to engage a wider swath of membership.
  • different WGs can experiment with different ways to engage in the wider membership and share what they learn with each other.


how can MF/PL membership hold decision-makers accountable for their promises and their actions? What does this mean for members? For workers? For decision-makers?

  • Transparency (see below) is one of the primary mechanisms of accountability
  • The core membership should be well-enough informed of what each working group is taking on to be able to hold each working group to their commitments.


how can MF/PL members (and allies, and prospective members) be aware of what is happening in the organization? how does the organization engage members so that they want to know?

  • WGs have public discussions and clear feedback channels so that the wider membership knows what they are doing.
  • Lower barriers to becoming involved in a working group (no elections, no yearlong commitment) gives members direct access to what is going on.


how can MF/PL members make sure their voices are heard and respected during the decision-making process? how does the organization actively encourage members to make suggestions, advocate for positions, give feedback, or participate more generally?

  • having a clear and well-publicized list of working groups, their scope, and their contact info encourages direct feedback from members who have input but not enough time to be full participants
  • having a clear path to full WG participation encourages members to join
  • working group mailing lists should be publicly archived
  • minutes should be published
  • reports in the Lowdown
  • reportbacks at the annual membership meeting


how do MF/PL members get a voice in the operation of the organization? What should a member who is unhappy with things do to improve matters? How does the organization respond to the needs and politics of its members, including (especially?) those members who are short on money, time and other resources?

  • members who are unhappy with the direction can join the relevant working group and shape its course
  • unhappy members who are short on time know who to communicate with to have their concerns heard; active participants in a working group have the responsibility to address those concerns.
  • the membership meeting serves an important purpose as a forum for members to hear what's going on and give their feedback, and for WGs to encourage the participation of new members