History | Last updated by David Eads, 8 years ago

FreeGeek/Chicago Governance Proposal

Original written and proposed by David Eads.

Overview and background

As of August, 2009, and for most of the past year, there's been some doubt about FreeGeek/Chicago's governance structure. What is our decision-making mechanism? What roles are available to FreeGeek/Chicago participants to contribute to the decision making process? How can staff and volunteers be held accountable for their duties and responsibilities?

Ostensibly, FreeGeek/Chicago has always been and continues to govern itself with a "staff board" consisting of active staff members and a few people with special dispensations -- two founders left Chicago and came back to staff positions at various points (Nick Keiser and Ben Buckley), and one person because of personal reasons, is unable to attend during open hours, but has contributed significantly to our organizational development (Howard Fosdick). The staff board operates by  consensus, with each member allowed one "veto" for their life with the organization.

We have also, for most of our existence, recognized the existence of a special species of volunteer, the "Super Volunteer". Super volunteers go above and beyond the call of duty to help FreeGeek in a variety of ways. The definition is fairly loose, but our most consistent super volunteers have logged upwards of 50 hours in space (over 300, for our most dedicated volunteer).

Staff members are added at the invitation of the active staff. There has been attrition over the years -- founders and others have left for personal reasons, like work, school, relocation, and burnout, and others have simply drifted away from leadership.

Current active staff are David Newcum, Taylor Hales, David Eads, and Scott Lewis (to the extent he is available over the coming months). Howard Fosdick is also on staff, but probably doesn't count as "active staff" because of his lack of involvement in day-to-day operations, at least during programming hours.

The questions here are multivalent -- they concern how we designate certain roles within the organization, and what is expected of people who fill those roles. My overall suggestion is to

  • Renew our commitment to the consensus process, potentially with modification to the "one veto for life" rule.
  • Define and formalize the staff role by providing a mechanism for choosing staff, providing a "term limit" for staff members, and setting standards for participation.
  • Define and formalize the working of a "staff board" along the lines of our current configuration.
  • Formalize the "super volunteer" role by providing standards for participation and creating a new body within the organization where super volunteers can contribute to and influence the decision-making process.
  • Account for the possibility of paid staff at some point in the future

"Community Council"

The community council will be a distinct entity which will discuss issues of interest to FreeGeek and provide a forum for volunteers to express their concerns and provide feedback.

The community council will meet monthly after our Sunday hours. The community council will send a representative once a month to the FreeGeek board meeting, and a board members should reasonably attempt to be present at community council meetings.

Any volunteer may attend a community council meeting, but to have a voice in the consensus process, volunteers should attend 3 out of each 5 meetings and showing up 1 out of 4 Sundays or making 1 out of 3 meetings and showing up 3 out of 4 Sundays). This participation metric would be the fundamental definition of a "super volunteer". A super volunteer is active on the community council and meets the participation requirements.

The community council will:

  • Discuss issues affecting FreeGeek/Chicago and provide the staff board with recommendations and resources for tackling proposed projects, to be reported to staff at staff meetings.
  • Make decisions, raised by any super volunteer as a formal proposal, via a consensus process, with one veto granted after 40 hours of service. If a veto is used, the volunteer may be active on the community council, but will not be eligible to use a veto for the next three years, at which point they may again fulfill the participation requirements.
  • Formal proposals will be considered and approved by the staff board. The mechanism for staff board decision making is described in detail below, but the general idea is that each staff board member will have one veto per term to use on community council proposals.
  • Elect staff/board members. Described below, the general idea here is that the community council will use a super-majority vote to consider a qualifying volunteer for a staff position.
  • Determine the following month's calendar -- developing a volunteer and staff schedule, as well as special projects and events.

Staff / Staff board

The staff board will consist of a group of "key holders" who manage finances, day to day operations, and FreeGeek infrastructure. Key holders are expected to attend all staff meetings and will constitute the primary decision-making body for FreeGeek. The group use the standard Portland consensus model for decision making. For the time being, the board will only be made up of "key holders", culled from the active pool of volunteers and super volunteers, but we should consider the possibility of a board or board members along the lines of a more traditional advisory board, consisting of people outside the organization picked for their strategic knowledge and personal talents.

To be staff, one must have logged at least 60 hours of volunteer service for FreeGeek, and must make approximately 70% or more of all staff meetings in a given year. Current staff will be subject to "grandfather" clauses which make exceptions to the term limits and participation guidelines, provided that they fulfill their staff duties going forward.

In all events, staff will:

  • Serve three year terms. Because life is unpredictable, a "term" in this case is really a limit -- terms may be discontinuous or shortened.
  • Have one staff proposal veto and one community council proposal veto granted per term.
  • Staff must wait one year after each term to be re-considered for the position.
  • Candidates for staff will be proposed by the acting staff board, who must reach consensus on any potential candidates, and candidates will only be approved with an additional super-majority vote of the community council.

The staff board will:

  • Consist of an odd number of members, numbering no less than 3 and no more than 7. If the board should be 3 members, the community council and staff board will make all efforts to add two more staff, to keep the size of the staff board at 5.

In the event that we start paying anyone in a staff role, staff may no longer be board members, and we will need to immediately split the staff and board into two distinct entities. There is no reason that it may not continue with the people serving on it at that time, but it would no longer be a "staff board" and its members would not longer be designated as "staff".


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History | Last updated by David Eads, 8 years ago