Thursday May 21, 2009

Help Wanted: OpenSolaris Advocacy Facilitator

I've been the Facilitator for the Advocacy Community for many years now. Since the beginning, actually. And I think it's time for someone else to take over. It's an opportunity to contribute in a substantive way, and in a way that is badly needed. We need more facilitators on the project generally. Anyone interested?

Technically, the OGB is supposed to appoint Facilitators, but if someone is serious about it and wants to jump in I'm sure it would be fine. The initiative would be appreciated, actually, and a fresh perspective would be welcome, too. We'd just have to inform the OGB and the Facilitation Project about the change, and then we'd have to work on some transition items. There can be only one Facilitator, but there is plenty of work for many people to do. If no one is interested, I'll just ping ogb-discuss and inform the OGB of my decision and see if they have anyone in mind to take over.

I'm giving up this role because my job continues to evolve. Plus, I can no longer work the hours I'm working -- especially given the time zone issues I deal with every day. I have visited many hospitals in the past, and I don't intend to visit more in the future. The change is focus I am driving is interesting and planned in detail. The core of my job has been shifting to website transition projects for some time now, and that is the direction I will continue moving as I begin focusing 85% of my time there. Also, my community development work, instead of being general in nature and Advocacy-focused, has been shifting toward direct organizing with multiple communities in Tokyo -- which is a gigantic market with impressive opportunities. Both of these moves are by design, and they are both related to each other as well. I will continue to work on community building projects, but much more from the perspective of my core website development projects. Put simply, I'm focusing directly on where I'm needed most and where I can be most effective for OpenSolaris, so I can move faster in the direction I'm going. Focus is critical. And so is speed.

So, what's involved in being a Facilitator? Well, it depends on the community and it depends on you. Make it your own. Basically, the Facilitator is a Core Contributor who serves as the main communications link between a Community Group and the OpenSolaris Governing Board (OGB). That`s the most important thing. And it`s specified right in the Constitution at sections 7.4 and 7.5.

So you`d maintain the Advocacy governance records -- Contributor and Core Contributor status, basically, which is actually taken care of automatically in the database but it needs someone to follow up on who requested what status and if things were voted on properly and sent to the OGB for processing, etc. You`d facilitate governance discussions related to Advocacy, too, and participate in election planning and implementation (that last part is a very big deal). You`d update web pages, too, and there is a lot of that work that needs doing here. Also, Advocacy endorses a few projects and over 120 user group projects, so you`d have to be on all those lists (yes, all of them) so you can properly communicate with everyone on a moment's notice. Granted, the OSUG leaders are all supposed to be on osug-leaders and advocacy-discuss, but that's not always the case, leaders constantly change, and as Facilitator you simply need to be everywhere. That's my view, anyway. Also, user groups and projects go dormant from time to time, so there is a lot of work to help find new leaders and maintain the leaders grid. Updates to the news page are badly needed, too. You may want to maintain an event's calendar, too, for conferences and user group meetings.

Regarding new projects: I have been setting up user group projects inside Advocacy all along, but the proper place for that task is on the project-setup list so it needs to move there. So you`ll have to interact with people who are proposing new projects and user groups and manage the threads on advocacy-discuss, and then when final voting is done send the approved request in the right format to project-setup. I currently staff project-setup for the creation of all projects on the site, and I will continue to do this. Oh, regarding the advocacy-discuss mailing list: you'd be the new list administrator.

Another issue that comes up from time to time is when Sun sponsors programs to distribute items to the community -- OpenSolaris User Group Starter Kits, basically. There is actually a lot of communications involved with implementing these
programs, and the Facilitator can help a great deal (since you will know everyone since you will be everywhere).

Advocacy is home to about 5,000 people at the moment. It's the largest Community Group on the site, and the potential for growth in the user space around the world is gigantic. So, this is potentially a pretty big deal if someone wants to take it and run with it. You have to be serious and see it as an opportunity, though. Coming and going will not work. You need to be consistent. This is a leadership role. Leaders don't dabble around back. They drive right up front. I`ve certainly taken it as far as I can go given my circumstances and goals and plans, so it`s time for someone new with new ideas and new perspectives. Now, there is no particular process for making a transition like this, so if multiple people are interested we`d have to figure out a simple and fair process to manage that so we can choose.

One last thing: when we start migrating to the new site this summer (which is where I'll be spending all of my time), there will be many issues to consider for Advocacy since the community owns so much real estate on the site. So, we'll be working together closely. And you`ll have to like communicating, too. Facilitation really is communication and implementation. It's project management, basically -- with a healthy dose of leadership tossed in.

Want to give it a shot? Ping advocacy-discuss on this thread.

Monday May 04, 2009

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.

Thursday Nov 15, 2007

Community Facilitators

The OpenSolaris Constitution has a section outlining a role for Community Group (CG) Facilitators:
7.5. Facilitator. The OGB shall appoint for each Community Group a 
Facilitator. The Facilitator shall be responsible for ensuring that
Community Group records are properly maintained, communicating the
Community Group's status to the OGB, ensuring that communication from
the OGB to the Community Group is properly disseminated to participants,
and performing the duties of chair for meetings of the Community Group.
Nominations to the office of Facilitator shall be made by the Core
Contributors of the Community Group, but the OGB shall not be limited in
their appointment to those nominated. The Chair of the OGB shall serve
as the Facilitator for the at-large community.
To me this is yet another opportunity for leadership and contribution within the OpenSolaris Community.

Project managers from within Sun and also from outside Sun can help organize and run their CGs and all of the development projects within their CGs. That's a big deal. And the Sun-badged guys can help open their projects on to opensolairs.org since, presumably, they are already supporting the projects inside. Facilitators can also provide a valuable -- and badly needed right now -- communication channel to the OpenSolaris Governing Board (OGB), which is basically a policy board, not an operational board with the ability to run the entire community. I've advocated that we (at the very least) create a mail list for the Facilitators, so they can be easily found among all 40 or so CGs, and also so they can share information and actually run the OpenSolaris Community from an operational perspective. In other words, the Facilitators can do more than just communicate with the OGB.

We have plenty of process in OpenSolaris, but we have very few people focused on implementing the process in the community. Instead, we just complain about all the process and lack of leadership, while the Constitution quietly articulates all the leadership opportunities. The OpenSolaris Community needs more project management support. That's painfully clear. But there seems to be very little interest in seeing the Facilitator role as serving this purpose even though it's burned right into the Constitution. It will be interesting to see how long we can go not actively running our own community.

There have been some threads about the Facilitators (here, here, here, here) as well.
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