The Return of the OpenSolaris Facilitators

Just when you thought they died, the Facilitators have made quite a  comeback on OpenSolaris. Go figure. In fact, there is a new Facilitation Project on the site to implement the Facilitator role, which is actually pretty well specified in the OpenSolaris Constitution. I've talked a lot about this role over the years because I've always seen it as an opportunity to implement global community building operations at multiple levels -- engineering, marketing, project management, governance, whatever. I think I've been alone with that thought in the past, though. I guess my timing was off. In fact, just last year I actually argued pretty strongly to cut the damn thing due to lack of interest. And I did. I cut the role from all the drafts of proposed new Constitution. No one argued to save it. No one even blinked.

There has always been confusion about where the Facilitators would come from. In reality, according to the Constitution, the OGB should have simply appointed the Facilitators all along. But that didn't happen. So Facilitators came along naturally based on the genuine needs of some of the more active Community Groups themselves. That's fine, of course, but that organic growth wasn't a comprehensive solution initially or even recently, and that led to communication problems between the OGB and the Community Groups -- most recently and most importantly with the low voter turn out this election and the failure to get enough votes to pass the new Constitution we spent most of last year drafting. Although the proposed new Constitution got a majority of votes from the people who voted, it didn't get a majority of the total votes among the OpenSolaris Membership. That means too many people simply didn't vote. And that's a communications problem that Facilitators can help solve.

Facilitators are basically project managers or community organizers or community managers -- pick your term of preference because they are all the pretty much the same thing. OpenSolaris does not have a single community manager or any single leader, for that matter, so it seems to me that the management-oriented functions are best distributed among the Facilitators because the leadership structure of the community is distributed as well. Facilitators can do more or less for their groups based on interest and need, of course, and they can be engineers or non-engineers. It doesn't matter. But there is a minimum level of governance-oriented communications required so the community can function, and that's specified right in the Constitution. It's all very basic stuff. But it's not enough. Let's think bigger than just implementing one Constitutional role. Let's think about how we are building a global community of communities -- not just one community on opensolairs.org. To me, this is a big opportunity for Facilitators -- to help manage the operations on opensolaris.org and then to help connect those operations to other communities around the world. There is no reason why this can't happen because the people on opensolaris.org are already distributed globally, but we don't really view them as global community builders doing local work. Some do it, sure, and those guys are well known. But I'm talking about building a global community development operation with people whose primary role is to build community. Community Organizers, basically. Or Community Managers, if you like that term better. I've always viewed the Facilitators as the foundation of that idea, and I thought that it was convenient that the seed of the idea was actually specified in the Constitution. Otherwise, the perception is that community building operations just rests with Sun exclusively, and I think that's too narrow a focus if we want to grow more rapidly. The community is already too international for it to be centralized around Sun, and that's pretty easy to see living from where I live. I've talked about this on list many times, but strangely, the idea is generally met with silence. Inside, too. That's why I eventually gave up.

Now, personally, I hate the term "facilitator" almost as much as I hate the term "evangelist" so I hope we rename the role to something more substantive in future versions of the Constitution. The word is weak. And that's part of the problem. People were never really interested in it and didn't see it of value, whereas in reality it has always been a needed role in this community. The truth is that we've always had communications issues in the community around governance -- quite literally from day one -- and those problems have not improved much over the years. Granted, the community doesn't experience its previous level of flame warfare these days, but that doesn't mean that communication has improved. It hasn't. What has improved is that some of the core projects have a much more clear focus now, and those guys are generating real results in their projects at their respective local levels. But overall, communication about governance issues and how the community is organized and where it's going as a community is still a missed opportunity. And if I'm being too critical, fine, then let me put it this way: the awareness of this issue is well below where I feel we should be in 2009. Regardless, I can't find anyone who'd disagree we could improve in this area. The Facilitators project is an excellent first step. We've had difficulty implementing or own community processes, so let's get that down and then grow from there.
Comments:

I'm not a fan of facilitators - it's a single point of failure for each community group. I was quite pleased to see it removed in the proposed new constitution. I agree there's an issue with communication generally about various issues, but I think members@opensolaris.org would have been a good replacement for that, along with the idea of a membership committee being able to process grants.

I guess if it works, it works, but I fear it may be a short term effort.

Posted by Glynn Foster on May 04, 2009 at 08:58 PM JST #

Focusers? Enablers? Communers? :) At the SolarisOne Fountain.

Posted by Mark on May 04, 2009 at 09:58 PM JST #

hey ... agree totally with the members@ list and with the membership committee, but I'm less convinced about the single point of failure bit for Facilitators because at present we have no point of failure at all. :) Seriously, the OGB is almost totally disconnected from the community (and that's been true from day one). We have 15,000 people talking on 350 lists in this community, but ogb-discuss has just 200! So, I'm looking for any communications channel I can get my hands on. Now, I don't necessarily want a strong, centralized OGB and governance, either, but when the board makes changes in governance policy that affects everyone they need to communicate those changes to everyone and then they need to implement those new policies. That simply doesn't happen now, so perhaps the Facilitators (hate the word) can help. At this point, I'm not confident we'll see that new constitution any time soon, so that's why I'm thinking along these lines. We'll see. :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on May 05, 2009 at 06:06 AM JST #

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