2024 Board Candidate: Federico Mena Quintero

Name: Federico Mena Quintero

Email: federico@gnome.org

Corporate affiliation: SUSE

Dear Foundation members,

This is my candidacy statement for the 2024 elections of the GNOME Foundation Board.

I am one of the founders of GNOME, and a previous board member for various periods — the most recent one being two terms during 2018-2020. In that period, I was part of the team that finished writing our Code of Conduct and then set it in place.

My current bid centers on two points, project governance and mental health of the community.

Project governance

Our project has always had a rather informal technical governance: by default, decisions get made by, and coordinated amongst, module maintainers. This worked well when the project was small and tractable, and everyone knew each other.

Nowadays, the project is big and hard to understand as a whole, and people tend to only have a few close acquaintances. This is not bad; it just means that GNOME has grown.

Here is a list of problems that are all related:

  • The release team is overworked, and the scope of its work has drifted from its original stated purpose. While they do the necessary work of coordinating GNOME releases, they are often responsible-by-default for fixing last-minute issues in under-maintained modules.

  • We have a hard time coordinating decisions that touch several modules. The context of past decisions is scattered among GitLab, our minds, and Matrix channels, which makes it difficult for newer contributors to access.

  • There are different forces which sometimes clash with each other: “normal” development and its need to evolve things, downstreams with competing priorities, a design team which wants to present a coherent user experience without micromanaging, marginalized populations whose needs are often forgotten or put as a lower priority. Every one of these actors has a voice that needs to be heard, but…

  • … the lack of diversity in who makes the final decisions affects us all.

  • Maintainers have a hard time balancing the requests of newcomers, their own development concerns, and a unified vision for GNOME.

  • The maintenance load, or the amount of time that one has to dedicate to keep a module running, varies widely among modules. Some modules are difficult to maintain, but this burden could be eased with improvements to their tooling.

  • Talent development. We do not have a mentoring structure to get people from newcomers to regular contributors to maintainers. Is being a maintainer even the last step in one’s evolution, or can we imagine other paths for leadership positions?

Other organizations have clearly-defined governance models. Two well-known examples:

The whole governance for those projects is defined through those kinds of documents, which can then be updated when the project wants to make changes to their governance.

GNOME should do something like this, and we should have a conversation on how to attain it. We are not a programming language community, so our governance model may need to be different from those.

During my term on the Board, I would work with community members in establishing an initial governance process, and if we arrive at something like a technical steering committee (or whatever you want to call it), in making the Board appoint it as official.

This committee needs to be diverse from the start. Women. Blind and disabled people. People who use non-Latin languages. Let’s make other voices heard, too, instead of having all decision-makers be of a homogeneous demographic.

Mental health of the community

While the governance process and organization seems like formalizing whatever it is we do in GNOME, we need to grapple with the effects of our current way of working:

  • People are overworked.
  • There is tension between contributors.
  • Some people just cannot commit the same amount of time to the project as others.
  • Some people get left behind when the project changes its ways; sometimes that’s okay, and sometimes it isn’t.

How can we better take care of each other? How can we assure newcomers that they are entering an environment that cares about their well-being? Can the Foundation dedicate resources to this?

Let’s talk about it.


This candidacy is lacking a +1 from an existing Foundation member, @federico, would you mind making sure someone will acknowledge it within 24h please?

Federico, these are wonderful suggestions and ones that I think can form the basis of some meaningful, actionable ways for the Foundation to better support the community’s work.

Obviously, there are lots of details behind these ideas that would have to be worked out, and lots of room for discussion and input from lots of voices in the community. For example, we will surely want to balance things so that we feel more supported by the Foundation without being overwhelmed by bureaucracy. But I have no doubt that this balance can be found, and with your lifetime of dedication to GNOME, I know you could be an excellent leader helping to make these goals a reality.

Thanks for your candidacy. +1.


+1 to this candidacy

Thanks for this statement, federico! Glad to see you proposing to tackle these two difficult topics

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Strong endorsement of Federico’s candidacy!

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I agree with Federico.

The mental health of the community is important to the current GNOME community. In the last 10 years, in the GNOME Asia committee, I saw that some people left when the foundation board changes. I chose to stay when some other valuable foundation members from Asia left (or use positive wordings: no longer involved or extend their foundation membership).

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And I also participated in Python and Mozilla communities, as Federico said, I always believe that we should refer to governance models of other open-source communities (which established their 501c3) to enhance our foundation and community.

Hi Federico, and thanks for running for the board, that is a solid candidacy!

Yes to all that, it is long overdue for the project. It is also important to acknowledge that this is a huge task.

As a former member of the board and chair, I have struggled with the overall (lack) of engagement of the board. One of the failure modes of the board has been that not much happened between monthly board meetings. What should have been short meetings to discuss the final details and vote turned into meetings to discuss entire topics.

I have two questions related to this program:

  1. Does this governance work have to be carried out by the board? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to set up working group, and submit its conclusion to the board for ratification?
  2. Our board being made up of volunteers, aren’t you concerned that involving everyone on such a large project could cannibalise the board’s attention, at the expense of other pressing topics.

Thanks for the questions! The answers are related to each other but I’ll list them separately.

  1. This governance work definitely does not need to be carried out by the whole board. I do see that other candidates, but not all of them, expressed interest in governance, and anyway, it is a topic that needs to involve community members (e.g. release team, design team, etc.). We should definitely set up a working group for this, especially if we can find people who have worked in the context of the governance process of other projects.
  2. We have had in-board committees with good effect, and I don’t think we need to involve the whole board with the project governance. I don’t know yet if an in-board committee is necessary to ensure that the governance discussion happens; sounds more like having more than one person in the board doing it, along with community members.

I love that there is a great plan around this and 100% for this. Using existing models like PEP that have withstood the test of time is good.

I also think that we need to figure out how we can get more folks involved with the project.