Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On Community Governance

Recently the Community Council formally requested Jonathan Riddell to step away from his leadership role in the Kubuntu community. For many people this came as a shock. Who are the community council? Why would they have authority over Kubuntu and Jonathan? And what did he do to deserve this?

These are all valid questions! To be clear, despite being a part of the community team at Canonical, I was not a part of this decision. Nor were my fellow team members apart from Daniel and Michael who serve on the CC. It's important to remember this decision came from the Community Council.

For my part, I'd like to talk a little about the governance structure of ubuntu as I think it's important. Regardless of what you think about the decision, Johnathan, Kubuntu, or Canonical, I think it's a good idea we answer the questions of just who is the Community Council and what authority they have within the project. I've tried to present the facts about governance as clearly as possible here to the best of my ability, but I am happily corrected.

Who are the community council?
The are a group of volunteers who were elected by all of us who are community members. Mark sits as a permanent member and acts as SABDFL. He does vet out candidates, but anyone can be nominated. The elections are open and the most recent had several candidates to choose from. At the moment, two of the seven elected members (with Mark being the permanent 8th member) are Canonical employees.

What does the community council do?
One of the biggest responsibilities of the council are to act as a mediator and arbitrator for conflict between folks within the community. In addition, they help oversee the other councils, delegate responsibilities and ensure the community upholds the Code of Conduct.

Why do we need a community council?
The community council exists to help ensure the community has a way of dealing with conflicts, resolving disputes and making hard decisions when there is otherwise no clear majority or easy answer. They also are one of the primary ways the Code of Conduct is enforced.

Should the community council have authority in this matter?
In a nutshell, yes. As the ultimate upholders in Code of Conduct violations, the community council should have authority for any such violation.

Should I blindly trust the community council?
Of course not! They are a like any other elected official and abuse of power is something we have to deal with as humans. Respect the position and authority of leaders, but never grant them a free pass. And make sure you vote!

So what about this decision?
The decision made by the CC in this case is not an easy one. That said, while I don't agree with how this decision was communicated, I do respect the authority and position of the council to weigh in on these matters. This is important! These folks deserve our respect as volunteers who freely give their time to help ubuntu!

I empathize greatly with the Kubuntu Council and community as such a decision seemingly has a large perceived effect. Perhaps the actual ramifications aren't as great as they appear? Perhaps not. I hope and trust Johnathan will continue working on KDE and kubuntu. My hope for Kubuntu is they emerge as a stronger community and continue to produce an awesome distro.

And as for my opinion on if the CC should have made this decision? Remember being a sideline observer in matters like this that you intrinsically don't have all the facts. It's easy to point fingers and assume things. Hindsight also makes it easy to say you would have made a different decision or went about it a different way. I don't envy the position of anyone in the community council. As I've not personally had the pleasure of working with Johnathan anywhere near the extent these folks have I can honestly say I don't know. But the reality is my opinion doesn't matter here. Keep in mind ubuntu is a meritocracy, and while all opinions are welcomed, not all cast equal weight.

So please respect the authority of our community governance structure. Respect those who serve on both councils. Not satisfied? We vote again on Community Council members this year! Think we should tweak/enhance/change our governance structure? I welcome the discussion! I enjoyed learning more about ubuntu governance and I challenge you to do the same before you let your emotions run with your decisions.


  1. In the maelstrom of a contentious decision, this is a viewpoint no one can disagree with. Great post!

    1. I find a problem with the community council being able to arbitrate about itself. There was no third party involved, which speaks to the fact that it cannot act as the judge as well as prosecution.

      I had something far more intelligent to say, but while logging in I didn't copy/paste my question.

      If it absolutely frustrates and demoralizes you that a community council felt scared to produce results, or felt stressed that other parts of the community weren't under ropes, that's not an "open" community. Openness should involve people who aren't scared of passing the torch on.

      :-( Nick... Explain...

  2. what does "vet out" candidates imply? if he choses candidates that people can vote on, the voting process seems more like an illusion of choice and a farce, tbh.

    and how can one expect the CC to act in an objective manner when they are one of the parties in a conflict?

    lastly, you say that the CC just "weigh in" on issues, which is clearly not what has happened here?

    1. On "vetting out" candidates, it seems Mark has retained the ability to filter the nominees. I imagine he simply removes those who are entirely unsuitable (not members, no involvement, trolls). That said from my perspective, I've seen what I would consider poor candidates on the list to be voted upon. So I don't see a heavy-handedness in his filtering. Since anyone can suggest a candidate, and I've not seen or heard of someone legitimately being barred from participating, I don't feel the current CC is suspect. That doesn't mean the process is perfect and Mark's ability to filter candidates is something to discuss. I think it's probably unnecessary.

      Since the CC is one of the parties in the conflict, indeed that puts them in a tricky situation. In cases like this, I think falling back to SABDFL is the way to go. Indeed, the governance supports this idea. See the SABDFL section on Ultimately someone has to make a decision. I think this is the first time the CC has been such a direct part of the conflict.

      I'm not sure what you mean by weigh in on the issues. The CC is charged with upholding the CoC, and they have stated there has been a violation of the CoC. Regardless of what you think of the CC or the violation, it's clear this is within their mandate.

    2. thanks for the clarifications!

      re: the SABDFL, it seems like he didn't look into the case much, just deferred to the CC? wouldn't it be better if he actually participated in the case and arbited between the parties? and probably not get involved as long after the fact as it was (when the damage already was done).

      as for the weighing in; they just decided on their own to kick out Jonathan, not just weigh in on a discussion. that's what I meant, sorry if it didn't come through clearly.