community council 2009-2010: midterm assessment

Is the current community council hitting a sophomore slump?

Before I go further, a disclaimer: I’m on it.

A gauntlet… or mild molotov cocktail… is thrown

The impetus for tonight’s analysis was a thought-provoking discussion on the community council mailing list this morning.  I’m not going to replicate who-said-what or plaster this post with immaterial details– what I am going to do is extract some key points and offer my perspective and suggestions on the subject.

The essential compliant posed was that some or all members of the current council are not fulfilling their roles and/or campaign promises.  That perhaps they/we got in over our heads.

I’m going to take issue first with the original complaint, and then cover the known gaps.

Ideally, this would not be an issue

It’s true that there were broad and lofty goals targeted by candidates during the last campaign (if one can actually call it that) but I’m not going to equate them with political promises.  I think such a comparison is, sorry, naive.  Some could in turn counter that it was equally naive for candidates to be so idealistic, but on the other hand, those running did so with a positive, proactive mindset and a true desire to improve  I would rather see 5 idealists run than 5 cynics any day.

And I’ll pre-emptively concede that idealism naturally leads to disillusionment–particularly if too much of that energy is unfulfilled.  And that gets to the core of where I see our current challenges.  More on that shortly.

Backfilling the Grand Canyon

There are a lot of known potholes in the ecosystem, and several came up in the discussion.  I’ll summarize my take on key points/questions as follows:

  1. is the council the right body to lead sprint meetings?
  2. what exactly IS the council’s role?  Has it changed from body to body?
  3. what can be done to smooth council transitions post election?
  4. what can be done to maintain council member interest, focus and energy?
  5. when is the best time to meet?
  6. what can be done to improve communication?
  7. are the right people being elected?

Points for potholes

I’ll try to keep this short and not too sour.

  1. I don’t think the council should be chairing sprint meetings.  Now that the crew has a team lead, and a sharp one at that, I think it makes sense for us to hand over those reins.  The council should still stay involved, but as a stakeholding body and facilitator of certain solutions.
  2. This is the big question, and there’s disagreement on it.  I’ll sum up my sentiments by saying I think our role should be more on the community side than infrastructure side.  I think we need to be much, much closer to the pulse of the people.  In my biased opinion the community outreach program I’ve started is exactly the sort of venture we should drive.  In a nut shell, I see us as the “water-carriers” for the community.
  3. Since we are still relatively new at this, council transitions have been rough.  I have been told by previous office holders that they did not want to interfere.  While I’m not looking for interference, mentoring would be great.  I would like there to be more of a formal process, especially the first month.  In fact I would go so far as to suggest the previous chair act as a co-chair for the incoming council chairperson.  At the very least, there should be some handoff meetings.  We meant to hold one in Amsterdam at Maemo Summit 2009 and it didn’t really happen.  Pity.
  4. The current council stalled a bit in December.  No surprise: holidays and server issues were a big impact.  But beyond that, there are times when I have personally felt frustrated at hitting a wall… especially ones that looked easy to overcome but required a little engagement from certain individuals or the community at large.  One person proposed periodic council meetings and I second the suggestion.  I would also see value in Nokia gathering the council together for a face-to-face midterm meeting to reinvigorate weary members.  The team could participate as well.  Granted there would be an expense, but I believe the council provides value that merits whatever travel costs would be incurred.  Finally, we need more help from Nokia when projects stall– especially since that tends to occur when our legwork is done and we have identified Nokia as the solution provider.
  5. Sprint meetings have been held on weekdays which is not good for the volunteers… although it may work well for  I would like to see more Saturday or Sunday meetings, sprint or otherwise.
  6. There have been comments made suggesting one promised fix to ongoing issues was more communication.  I don’t think increasing the amount of verbiage is a solution for anything other than a sports game cheering section.  Rather, we need more effective communications.  Part of that means recognizing that one size does not fit all.  Sometimes a forum is the best place, sometimes it’s IRC, sometimes it’s email or other… but the need should be met with its particular appropriate venue rather than participants getting religious over their preferred milieu.  We also need to get smarter about “write once read many” and I think we’re making slow progress there.  Along those lines: there was a complaint about few blog postings at the official council blog page.  I see more value in driving feeds from our individual blogs (like this one) there, much like is currently done on Planet Maemo.
  7. This is a tough one.  I’ve seen some people claim we’re not qualified.  Okay, who is?  Should there be official criteria beyond current eligibility requirements?  What do people want?  IQ tests?  Doctorates?  10 page resumés?  I’m being a bit hyperbolic but my underlying intent is serious.  My opinion: people skills are the most important.  Everything else is icing.

I’m hoping this piece provokes some spirited but civil discussion of the points I brought up here.  There was more to the original discussion but, again, these were what I wanted to personally highlight.

I appreciate the patience and support we’ve been shown, though, and look forward to further guidance from the community.  Thanks, and by all means comment!


6 responses to “ community council 2009-2010: midterm assessment

  1. Suggestions I didn’t find room for in the article:

    – This may sound silly, but I still think getting a working grid-style calendar along with supporting insfrastructure (RSS, Vcal, etc) will go far toward resolving some communications/organization issues. It could even be used for server health announcements, a topic that has been a hot one lately.

    – We need to quit trying to invent so much and start using more best practices. The examples are everywhere, so what holds us back? Pride?

    – given that each person’s time is limited, I think we should first identify gaps and then identify champions to address them. For instance, I noticed that community outreach was a big gaping hole, there was no project around it, so I moved to fill it. But note: this activity occupies a significant amount of my time! Once I started on Maemo Greeters, flyers, maemo daemons, Brainstorm, etc there was little time left to do anything else, because people started expecting progress (and rightfully so). I’m fully committed to community outreach and it will remain my project until/unless someone else pries it from my cold dead rat claws. 😀

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  4. Nice article, i was thinking about you the other day. What you wrote is great advice any way that you look at it.

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