Conflicts and the governance model of Free Software

Author: Stefan Merten
Date: 2010-03-20, Virt3C, Hull
Organization: Projekt Oekonux

Peer production and Free Software

Peer production

  • Production process
  • Featuring external and internal openness
  • Based on Selbstentfaltung
    • In short: Having fun individually...
    • ...while maintaining a relationship to society
  • Selbstentfaltung merges individual well-being with societal needs
  • Selbstentfaltung is an important precondition for peer production
  • Expressions of Selbstentfaltung
    • Contributions from volunteers
    • No alienated structural force
Peer production is a new mode of production

Free Software and governance

  • Producing software is complexity everywhere
    • Every project has lots and lots of details, aspects, dependencies, tasks, priorities
    • Big projects have lots and lots of contributions in various forms, contributors, specialists, stakeholders, timing considerations
    • There are lots and lots of Free Software projects
Free Software needs governance or chaos would result

The governance model of Free Software

Governance related aspects in key features

  • Production process
    • Production as a goal
    • Leveraging diversity of specialists
  • External openness
    • Practical and juridical availability of product
    • Transparency of projects
  • Internal openness
    • General openness for contributions from all sides
    • Selection of contributions
A governance model must meet lots of requirements

Cornerstones of the interior governance model

  1. Selbstentfaltung of producers
  2. Need for governance to prevent chaos
  3. Lots of requirements to meet
Under these conditions maintainership emerges


Key features of maintainership

  • Maintainership == non-alienated leadership
    • I.e.: Leadership in duty of the project
  • Maintainership process == modified consensus
    • Consensus-oriented decision making is the rule
    • But: maintainer may cut the Gordian knot
  • Self-appointment of maintainers
    • Acceptance by community
    • Maintainers are also volunteers
    • Often: The founders of the project
    • Often: No formal declaration of maintainership
  • Non-political approach
    • Not: "It should be this way"
    • Instead: "It works best this way"
    • The governance model emerges from the mode of production

Selbstentfaltung and commitment

  • No alienated force bonds volunteers
    • Result: Volunteers can not be commanded
    • Usually they self-select tasks they execute
  • Key question: Why does a project stay together?
  • Volunteers are committed to the goal of the project
    • All volunteers are interested in the goal of the project
    • The individual reasons for this may be different
    • Their own interest makes volunteers commit to the project
    • Following own interests is part of Selbstentfaltung
  • Maintainer is committed to the project goals, too
    • This guarantees non-alienated leadership
All contributors are committed to the project goal

Why maintainership works

  • Power of maintainer is balanced by volunteering
    • Bad maintainers chase away important volunteers
    • A maintainer without volunteers is pointless
  • Volunteers need maintainer
    • To help prevent chaos
    • Maintainer fulfills a special role in the project
    • Like anyone else...
A system of built-in checks and balances

Consensus as governance method

  1. A way to make decisions

    • Short definition: Nobody needs(!) to object
    • Not: Unanimity
  2. A cultural technique

    • Rather unknown in democratic societies
    • Each participant is very powerful
    • Not everyone is good in handling this power carefully
  3. Shapes the process of working together

    • Participation by definition
    • When nobody needs to object at least nobody is against a decision
    • Longer discussions analyze a problem fully
Consensus handles conflicts implicitly

Wrap up


  • Volunteers bonded by commitment to project goals
  • Project goals "align" volunteers
  • Consensus shapes the process
  • Maintainership is a special role helping the process
Humans are not the wolves of humans

Thank you!

StefanMerten/Talks/Virt3CAtHull/FinalSlides (last edited 2010-03-21 18:12:17 by StefanMerten)

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