Question to candidates: Transparency and community involvement in the Foundation

Hello everyone,

Huge thanks to the 11 candidates who are volunteering your free time running for the Foundation board, it’s much appreciated by all of us.

I noticed a theme in a number of the candidacies posted this year. More than half of you mention “transparency” and connection with the community.

Allan Day:

Then there are issues around transparency and the role of Foundation staff.

Julian Sparber:

The foundation has been very disconnected from its members for years, which has been a cause of inefficiency and conflicts.

Julian Hofer:

The Foundation’s executive organs work isolated from the community. Interactions between the staff and the community are very limited. We need to work as one and not against each other.

Manuel Genovés:

The foundation has suffered from a lack of involvement by members for years, both on the board and in support structures such as committees (e.g. travel, CoC, Circle, and so on).

Jonas Dreßler:

My main goal running for the board would be to improve the frayed relationship between the community of GNOME contributors and the GNOME Foundation. I think it’s crucial for the board to include actual community members, and I believe that as a community we have a responsibility to also take care of the legal structures that are needed to support our project.

Sammy Fung:

The board should find out what is (the definition/guideline of) transparency that the foundation members are requesting. I think most of us love to have transparency as much as possible, but it seems the “transparency” talked about by foundation members is slightly or many different.

Sammy makes an important point - we don’t know exactly what “Transparency” means here.

Here’s my question: can you provide some examples of when, in your opinion, the Foundation did successfully work transparently and in collaboration with the community?


Thanks for asking this question Sam. It is indeed much easier to point out the failures of the Foundation than acknowledging the situations were it acted well and transparently.

For me, the transition to Matrix comes to mind. It included a user survey which clearly showed that the community favored Matrix over other solution. Every step that followed was clearly communicated to the community. And with all of Matrix’ problems, our chat room situation is now much better than it was four years ago. Newcomers enjoy a messenger that behaves as expected, and even a few sceptics could be convinced in the meantime. More details can be found at Adopting Matrix at the GNOME Foundation


Thanks for Sam’s question and for highlighting my comments.

I think that it is not about how the Foundation did “successfully” work transparently, and it is more about how we should improve it in the future?.

Maybe I mentioned it previously in another post, and please let me share it again.

Expanding board size and letting non-voting officers access the board level

I think expanding the board size and doing more formal processes helps the improvement of transparency.

Board members are bound to not disclose the board discussion and what we know at the board level, which limits what we can express our personal views and opinions to the foundation members and the public, even the truth are always have 2/multi sides of the story.

Therefore, I wish that we can expand the board to a large size as soon as possible, and we should have more committees formed by both of elected directors and non-voting members, and the representative of each committee should sign the NDA as other elected directors to join the board meetings and access to board level information, so they can go back to each committee and help the committee to know what happens.

The board already passed to expand to 9 and add non-voting officer seats, and I hope the future board can take it seriously and continue to expand the board aka leadership level, and achieve more transparency.

Constructive communication between members (no matter a board member / staff / developer / volunteer /…) is always help to improve the transparency.

Using constructive communication is always the best and healthy for the GNOME community, and in the past, before I was elected as a board member, I did see that people were leaving because unconstructive communication from the board to a committee, and committee leader/members kept silent (and felt angry) and then walk out, then we lost valuable volunteers. Constructive communication is not just done by the board members and also by everyone in the GNOME community.

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Thanks for the question Sam! It is in general certainly easier to see problems, than it is to think about solutions and things that are done right.

From my perspective and experience, one great success in collaborating with the community is GUADEC and other events. Specifically for GUADEC, there was a call to not have it only in Europe, that the Foundation coordinated and helped with. Similarly, there was then a call to allow for decentralized events for multiple reasons, and the foundation has worked with the community to make it possible. Each GUADEC is organized as a partnership between a local community and the foundation, that provides support and organizes some events as part of it. In addition, every year the Foundation does a call for locations, and provides the results well in advance, ensuring everybody is aware and can plan with time. I believe this collaboration and continuous information exchange is exactly what we need to in every other part of the project, when coordination between the foundation and the community is necessary.

Thanks for the question, @sthursfield . This is does seem to be turning into the transparency election, doesn’t it? :slightly_smiling_face:

The main positive examples of transparency and community engagement that I can think of are:

  • Rob’s blog and discourse posts.
  • The AGMs at GUADEC.
  • Staff members working as part of the community - the sysadmin team being the main example.
  • Board elections - this year especially I think we’re seeing how the elections can be an effective mechanism for the community to raise concerns.

No doubt all of those things could be improved, but they are not nothing, and it’s worth remembering that everyone has limited time and is trying their best, and that the Foundation Board has constraints in terms of its remit and mode operation.

In terms of how to improve things, more regular updates would obviously be beneficial. I’m also interested in exploring how more foundation work can happen in a way that’s embedded in the community. Some decisions and activities have to happen at the board level, or can’t easily happen in the open (like managing the bank accounts, or legal issues), but there are also a bunch of things that currently happen behind closed doors and probably don’t need to.


Personally I did not bring up transparency directly, and I don’t think it’s even the most important part of what people have found lacking about the foundation in recent years.

The disconnect between the foundation and its members would not be magically fixed if the yearly reports were more detailed, or the staff posted weekly updates on what they’re doing (though it probably wouldn’t hurt).

To me, the primary issue is a lack of trust between the parties, and I don’t think that any new process can quickly or easily fix this. Fundamentally it’s a people and relationship problem, so that’s where I’d start in addressing it. We need healthy relationships of trust between members, foundation staff, and the board.

In the short term, the easiest way to improve this would be to get more people from the community involved in support structures (running for the board, serving on committees, etc.) and focus on hiring support roles from the membership. I don’t think this would solve everything, but it would be a great start.

As for good examples of transparency, I really liked the Mastodon annual report linked in Pablo’s blog post compared to ours. It’s simple and digestible, but provides a lot more useful detail than ours.