This past weekend, I participated in a training for "Skogsmulle" leaders and it gave me a first hand view of why focusing on leadership of free and open projects is exactly the right thing to do. To give you some context before I talk about why this is relevant for free and open source projects -- and indeed many other projects and organisations as well -- I will need to share the Swedish outdoors with you. "Friluftsfrämjandet" is the largest outdoor association in Sweden and present in almost every nook and cranny of the country.
One of the activities they arrange, for which they're most famous, is "Skogsmulle" and "Skogsknytte", groups of children aged about 5-6 and 3-4 years old respectively. For about two hours during 6-10 occasions, children get to experience the magic of the outdoors. They learn about nature, the right of public access, and what it means in terms of showing respect and care for the outdoors, for other people and animals under the motto of "don't disturb - don't destroy."
One favorite activity has always been to take a number of different objects (plastic, organic, metal, etc), nail them to a board and place it in a known location in the forest. Visiting this board every other occasion, the children are invited to talk and reflect about what happens to the different objects when we leave them in the forest.
What I believe makes this whole machinery work, and why the association has been so successful, is its attention to educating its leaders. In order to be eligible to organise a group of "Skogsmulle", I was asked to participate in a three day course and to listen to a screencast of the associations' fundamental values.
The course consisted of everything you need to know to carry out an activity with children: we learned the songs to sing, the rhymes to.. rhyme, the games to play, cooking on portable stoves, erecting wind shelters, and more. When I look back on these three days I believe I can easily count about 19 different games we played outside. I'm told it was quite a sight to see a group of 18 adult men and women play games designed for 3-6 year olds!
But the course wasn't only about what you need to do with the children. It also contained sessions about how to behave as a leader, what the values of the association are that you represent, how to plan your activities, the policies around the right of public access to nature, how the association works politically to affect change and what those policy goals are, how you evaluate and develop your own leadership, how the participants are insured, safety and security for participants, policies about the right to privacy (photographs, social media, etc), and what to do and how to act when accidents happen.
Participating in this, and reflecting on the fact that a lot of other organisations I've been part of also had similar leadership programs, makes me wonder: why don't we? Why don't we as free and open source projects, and why don't we in the Free Software Foundation Europe offer this to our participants?
Reflecting on this, it seems almost absurd that we ask someone to coordinate a local group without sharing with them the values of the organisation we're asking them to represent. That we don't pass on to them the activities we've seen work in other local groups, and that we don't give them the tools to improve themselves in their role as coordinator.
On this, I believe we have some work to do, and I believe the organisation will only be stronger once we do. Not only will we pass on the knowledge and experience needed to lead our volunteer activities, we'll also help our leaders associate with the organisation, to learn more about its values, it's beliefs and our policies, so they in turn can be more effective in spreading our message to the broader public.