The Council and the Community

A new Council election is in progress and we have a few candidates. Most of them have written a manifesto. For some of them this is one of the few mails they sent to the public mailing lists recently. For one of them this is the only one. Do we want to elect people who do not participate actively in the Community? Does such election even make sense?

Gentoo is an open, free community. While the Developer Community is not really open (joining consumes a lot of time), the discussion media were always open to non-developer comments and ideas. Most of the people working on Gentoo are volunteers, doing all the work in their free time or between other tasks.

While we have formal rules, leaders and projects, all of them have very limited power. The rules pretty much boil down to being «do not»s. You can try to convince developer to follow your vision but you can’t force him to. If you try too hard, the best you can get is losing a valuable contributor. And I’m not talking about the extremes like rage quits; the person will simply no longer be interested in working on a particular project.

Most of the mailing list (and bug) discussions are about that. Finding possible solutions, discussing their technical merits and finding an agreement. It is not enough to choose a solution which is considered best by a majority or a team. It is about agreeing on a solution that is good and that comes with people willing to work on it. Otherwise, you end up with no solution because what has been chosen is not being implemented.

Consider the late games team policy thread. The games team and their supporter believes their solutions to have technical merit. Without getting into debating this, we can easily see the effects. The team is barely getting any contributions, mostly thanks to a few (three?) persistent out-of-team developers that are willing to overcome all the difficulties. And even those contributors support the idea of abolishing the current policy.

So, what’s the purpose of all the teams, their leads and the Council in all this? As I see it, teams are the people who know the particular area better than others, and have valuable experience. Yet teams need to be open to the Community, to listen to their feedback, to provide valuable points to the discussion and to guide it towards a consensus.

The teams may need to make a final decision if a mailing list discussion doesn’t end in a clear agreement. However, they need to weigh it carefully, to foresee the outcome. It is not enough to discuss the merits in a semi-open meeting, and it is not enough to consider only the technical aspect. The teams need to predict how the decision will affect the Community, how it will affect the users and the contributors.

The Council is not very different from those teams, albeit more formal in its proceedings. Likewise, it needs to listen to the Community, especially if it is called specifically to revise a team’s decision (or lack of action).

Now, how could the Council determine what’s best for Gentoo without actively participating in the proceedings of the Community? Non-active candidates, do you expect to start participating after being elected? Or do you think that grepping through the threads five minutes before the meeting is enough?

Well, I hope that the next Council will be up to the task. That it will listen to the Community and weigh their decisions carefully. That it will breed action and support ideas backed by technical merits and willing people, rather than decisions that discourage further contribution.