This afternoon I've been testing various ways of thinking about the organisation of the FSFE, some of which turned into what looked much like a text based quest game from the early 1980s. The overall question is how we can best shape the work we do in a way which scales, is effective, and which encourages and makes it possible for our volunteers around Europe and elsewhere to make their contribution to free software.
While the FSFE does have some staff, most of our activities involve volunteers, and it's through the volunteer contributions, on all levels, we're able to influence the world around us in a way which is favourable to free software. One of the aspects we must consider is what the staff actually contribute with, and so some of the thinking during the day centered around the paramount rule that staff should concentrate its activities on enabling volunteer to be effective.
A lot of times, this include various coordination activities, helping to broker connections between volunteers and different groups, performing purely administrative functions, or helping a new volunteer orient herself in the organisation.
That last part is an area where we're currently falling short, but it's also an area where there are a lot of low hanging fruit that we can easily pick which will improve the situation. A while ago I started on a work to try to document the working teams within the FSFE: all of which include volunteers in some capacity. A problem has been, and continue to be, that it's very difficult to get an overview of what teams are actually working on what.
Not only do we lack a overview of the teams, we also lack clarity about the authority of them, or what expectations we have of them. But the first part is about establishing the overview of what teams there are, so people can understand how the organisation fits together and where they can make their best contribution.
At the moment I've started to put this information together on our wiki. Some parts of it should eventually move to our web pages, but I'm first trying to structure the information a bit more and looking at what information we need to provide about each team. The first one was our system-hackers team, which is the group responsible for our technical infrastructure. It's telling that a team which has worked continuously since 2001 (though with its members changing over time) has yet to actually be documented in a way which makes it transparent that the team exists.
Continuing this work for other teams will take some time, but it's slowly progressing towards there. This will provide some much needed transparency and clarity to the organisation. It will also help along the way of answering some of the questions of how our staff best can support our volunteers.
Ah yes, what about the 1980s text quest game? As I was going through some of the larger implications about this in my mind, I was starting to come up with scenarios which I need to answer with a process view, and where the answer can help validate whether we're actually inclusive, transparent, supportive and empowering towards our volunteers. I ended up with scenarios such as this:
Surprise! A mail arrives with a speaker's request from Helsinki. The governments wants an intervention on open standards. What do you do?
Help! A small but engaged group in Albania is arranging a seminar on free software tomorrow but their stack of leaflets about the FSFE has burnt up. What do you do?
You've fallen into a trap! The journalist you're talking to quotes you out of context deliberately and suddenly, there's an article in New York Times about how the FSFE is supporting dictators in the middle east. What do you do?
A hollow voice says 'plugh'. You don't know what it means, but suddenly remember a mail from a while back from a big corp wanting legal advice on free software. What do you do? And how can you sleep at night with hollow voices around you?
And there you have it. Of course, that was just a few minutes out of the day, but I found it interesting how many ways one can answer either of those questions (and many more!), and the ways in which you answer them for your organisation can be rather telling about what kind of organisation you are.