Thank you for the thought-provoking question. I’m no political scientist (which I don’t think should be a requirement for the role) but I will attempt an answer.
It’s not clear from your request what you think a strong policy around access to information would look like, but my initial sense is that applying and comparing government-level Freedom of Information laws to the GNOME Foundation is too high a bar to expect the staff and volunteers to clear. We are a non-profit corporation, and whilst that obligates us to act (and demonstrate that we are acting) in the public interest, that is significantly different from being a public body ourselves.
To me the most substantive difference is that broadly, the Foundation holds no intrinsic authority over its participants - people are free to decide, independently, whether they participate in the project, support the Foundation’s goals or initiatives, donate time or money, become a member or not, etc. Citizens within a state rarely have any realistic alternatives to being subject to the laws of that state, paying the taxes, relying on public bodies etc and so it’s unavoidable that you become a party to the decisions made by the government. Demanding a very high bar of transparency, down to the “document by document” level of a FOI law, seems commensurate with a citizen’s right to hold these bodies to account as they have no choice but to live with the outcomes.
Secondly, and somewhat related, I struggle with the concept that we should behave like a representative democracy, because unlike an elected legislature, the board of directors lacks “primacy”. The legal duty of the directors is set out in law at the federal and state level, and they are bound to implement the mission of the Foundation as set out in its articles of incorporation and its bylaws. Members are not voting in order to have arbitrary personal views represented, they are voting for directors to perform a specific job in that process, the true authority of which rests elsewhere (primarily the State Attorney General of California). Members exist in the bylaws as a more diverse and neutral mechanism to hold the directors to account on their specific jobs - ie those fiduciary duties, protect the Foundation’s interests and prioritise the allocation of resources in pursuit of the mission.
My concern is that by essentially placing everything “on the record” represents an administrative and cognitive burden on the staff and volunteers. During even the most mundane meetings, any part of the Foundation, including places formerly thought of as informal such as the committees, release teams, etc would have to think about what should and should not be recorded, possible adverse effects of later publication. Staff would need to be trained, legal counsel retained, and time and resources spent (which could otherwise be spent on the mission) to screen and redact materials where publication may have adverse legal, financial or personal consequences. I don’t believe the cost/benefit analysis would support burdening volunteers so, and being subjected to constant and increased scrutiny would surely discourage contributions.
That said, I fully support transparency at the right level and appreciate how that makes it easier for members and potential donors and contributors to decide if and how they wish to participate. It’s well-known and proven that non-profits which are more transparent with how they conduct their purpose, and allocate their resources, are more successful at raising money with potential donors. So, it’s “good business sense” for the Foundation to do this, and as you say, on the whole I think it does a good job:
- Budgets and financial results are published to the members and publicly shortly after the end of each fiscal year.
- The board of directors are readily available for public enquiry both at AGMs and on forums such as this one.
- The minutes of every board meeting are published.
- An annual report to members, donors and the public details the programs that the Foundation has been involved with.
Over the past two board terms where I have been a member, the board has also made steps to improve transparency:
- Publishing the strategy and priorities of the Foundation at the AGM.
- Approving and implementing a policy to ensure the timely and accurate publication of minutes from board meetings.
- Moving matters of the board in to GitLab so that people can submit and inspect items which are in process and under consideration.
- Implementing committee guidelines, including extending the requirements to have a chair who reports back to the board and hold regular minuted meetings of the committees.
- Although not completed, starting up the process to define a clear mission statement for the Foundation, so that the board has a published framework to set and measure the strategy and its effectiveness. (And for holding the ED to account against such goals.)
Based on the above, I don’t feel at present it’s necessary to significantly deviate from the current practice and direction of travel, which is consistent with best practices as set out by other non-profits.