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Debian as a social group and how to develop it better

I have been reading books about group development and would like
to share the thoughts about appling this to debian.

The book identified several different, interconnected "state
variables" for groups:

empowering leadership
gift-oriented cooperation and work
enthusiasm for the group's goal
functional structures
holistic small groups
need-oriented advocacy
loving relationships
inspiring meetings

groups that rate high in all of these areas have been found to be
growing and thriving. They are much fitter then groups where one
or more of these areas are underdeveloped. This approach can also
be used to identify and remove the bottleneck for further growth.
the most effective way to grow (both in quality and quantity) is
usally to remove this bottleneck by finding ways/strategies to
develop this minimum factor.

I would like to go through these "state variables", explain them
a little further, apply them to debian and give examples.

Empowering leadership

It is obviously more important that leaders are good planners,
communicators and people persons then that they are excellent
technicans. The most distinct difference between good and less
good leaders is their ability to enable the others to do their
job well and give them authority in their area of responsibility.
They coach and councel the few who they are leading directly, not
micro-managing each and every one. It is important to notice
that there are several leaders in big groups on different levels,
not just one, above all others.

Debian seemed to have elected mostly technical persons as their
DPL, with the result that their success to innovate and
reach their goals was limited. In other areas delegates of the
DPL try to let no one interfere with their area of competence,
while they, as leaders themself, would be wise to find others
interested in their center of competence and in turn educate,
train and empower them. (here the keyring management comes to my
Other delegates do just that and they seem to have better success
to recute new people and the result is some self-organizing and
much more resiliant structure. In the case of people resigning
from thier job, there are others taking up the tasks, being
trained on the job since long. (the listmaster group seems to
work along these lines.)

talent/gifts-oriented cooperation and work

Different people have differnt gifts and knowledge , needs/personal
goals and ways to work. Obviously they will work more dedicated on
tasks where these three come together can be combined and the
results will be better. Not so surprisingly people working this
way feel much greater gratification, too, and will be better
motivated in the future, to do work in this way. It would be the
task of the individual to find out about his own preferences,
talents and goals and the task of the leadership to help finding
the right job for him.

In Debian this is the driving force for most things, i feel.
People fix things that disturb them and package things they need
and get something done for the greater good on the way. Often
people put their emphasis in debian work in areas where they feel
they are especially able and most try to expand their knowledge
even further. THe new maintainer process tries to help along

Enthusiasm for the group's goal

if an individual burns for something and is excited about it,
that helps to compensate for some shortcomings in other areas. it
mobilizes additional engery and makes live more enjoyable. If a
whole group does this together and has a common goal, and tries
to fan the flames (no flamewares now!) or at least tries to keep
the enthusiasm from subsiding, this can develop great long-time
persistancy and motivation. This increases the attractivness of
the group to the outside, too.

During the NM process the understanding of the social contract
and the GNU part of Debian is checked for. it is hard, but not
impossible to check for the actual enthusiasm of people. What
debian has not managed well in my point of view is keep
enthusiasm alive or newly create it. You can see that in the
large number of people who became Debain developers and dropped
out over time. some Debian longtimers are beginning to show signs
of burn-out. the technical commitee is one example. If someone
quits and says: "i have not enough time for debian anymore" he
actually is stating that the priority which he gives debian is no
longer high enough and that he is not excited about it anymore.

functional structures

This point deals with the official and inoffical ways how work is
done, how information flowes, how decisions are reached etc. The
more scaleable and flexible these structures are and how well
they fit the needs to cope with reality indicates how well a
group is at this point. Do the existing structures make the work
that needs to be done easier, or do they create friction? Groups
that managed to create a good leadership with sub-leaders and
sub-sub-leaders are normally better scaleable (self organizing).
Groups that seem to be sluggish and traditional tend do do less
well then dynamic, adaptive groups.

Debian has great tools, a great infrastucture, the policy, which
structures the packages, the constitution, which determines the
democratic processes, and the cabal, which determines what
happens. (c: Recent discussions about gentoo seem to indicate
that younger distros with less restictions are more attractive to
some people then debian is. to me it appears to be really
two-fold: the democratic process in debian is having a hard time
to reach valid, usefull decisions due to flamewars and the shere
mass of developers which need to participate. The information
flow within the project has a high noise rate and for people
from the outside it takes a long time to understand how things
work and who is who. It is time consuming and tiring to follow
discussion on debian-devel. Structures like DWN, communication on
IRC and other, more specialized mailing lists like help here but
more are needed. On the other hand is the technical structure
with the builddeamons, the security build queue, policy etc a
indication of technical excellence from which  others could learn
a lot. (c:

holistic small groups

Big groups which manage to form smaller, more personal groups
which manage to meet both peoples technical and even personal
needs help to stabilize the whole group. These groups should be
building blocks of the greater group, they are the handy, hence
easier to maintain and living entities of a limited number of
people, where everyone knows everybody, and a destinct common
interest is the uniting force. While in the bigger group the
individual is likely to get lost, here he should not.  As an
important point of entry to newcomers, these groups are growing
and splitting up to keep below the critical mass for anonymity
(and loosing people again, due to that). They are an improtant
instrument for self-organisation.

In debian there are lots of these small groups: listmaster,
ftpmaster, security team, all the different ports, local debian
user groups, debian-med, debian desktop, irc-channels etc. Not
all have the openness to accept newcomers, some are to big, and
non of them is aware of the task that it is doing beyond the
technical one. Here lies a great potential for debian to become
aware of its small groups, and activly use them for self
orgainisation, fun, education, talent discovery, and getting
technical work done.

Need orientated advocacy

The active, outward growth of a group is important to its
quantitativ gain.  While there are special Debian advocates
(people speaking at conferences, manning booths...) there is also
the rest which is well hidden in the crowd can be just as active.
Statistics indicate that the point in time to close a buisness
deal, make a proposal, offer a service is critical to the success
off the operation. And the best thing a hidden advocate can do is
to wait for the right time and be well prepared to make the offer
at exactly that time in a smooth, easy-to-accept-form when the
other person/partner NEEDS the thing. Constant nagging seems to
be counterproductive.

Debian users/developers do advocate their favourit distribution,
of cause. They might need to learn to spot the right time and the
best way. beeing enthusiastic helps to appear authentic (see
above) and honest. Should debian become more aware of this
helpfull, active advocacy we could have drastic increases in
market and mind share. It helps to focus on the key-people at
work (or where ever), but grassroot revolutions in LUGs (turning
them into DUGs) have proven to be highly effectiv, too.

Loving relationships

Things like the general tone of conduct in groups, the ability to
form friendly personal realtionships, the respect for each other
as well as the number of occasions where friendly(!) jokes and
laughter occure in groups are an indication for how good
individuals feel in these groups. And in groups where one feels
at home and at ease it is much more likely for people to stay and
to thrive. 

In debian i the general tone of conduct in the mailinglists is
very mixed. It is far better then in certain other porjects,
where a very much "down upon others" attitude generate a very
defensive and fearfull atmosphere. Still there are people (B.R.,
C.S.) whoes CapsLock key seems to be stuck and who seem to have
unlimited creativity to find new personal insults for everone and
their dog. Positiv examples do exist. Within the Hurd port there
seems to be a much more positv spirit, perhaps due to the absence
of verbal abuse and a friendly, caring leadership. Comparing the
clientele of the negaive exampel above and the debian community
and the hurd community in particular, there seems to be a
significant difference in general happyness, which in turn is
attractive to outsiders and has stabilizing effects on the whole.

inspiring meetings

At meetings of people who usually meet only virtually, there is a
much increased bandwidth, which includes all of a sudden also
non-verbal language. This is a valueabel opportunity to exchange
and create new ideas and reach decisions but also to sozialize
and get to know people in a new way. For the individual however
it is often most important to be in some way inspired - about the
common goal, new concepts, ideas... This inspiration serves as
motivation for the time alone.

Debian conferences, dinners with other debain developers, DUG
(Debian user group) meetings etc are a great way to be inspired.
It is important to find the right balance between beer drinking,
philosophizing and talks. It is also important to make the
meeting a positiv experience by avoiding frustration, low quality
(of beer, talks, accommodation, moderation, acustics) etc.  It
helps to make the meeting an inspiring one, if relevant topics
(things, which are not just interesting, but one feels a certain
urgency and importantce about) are addressed.  It would be good
for debian if all developers could come to some inspiring
meeting at least once a year. As an example: I have been to two
debian conferences, in bordeaux and in toronto. I (and others i
talked to) felt that bordeaux was better. For me personally that
was due to the talks, which left something to be desired with
regard to public speaking, but also missing "philosophic" topics
like software patents (bordeaux), radically new ones (for me)
(hurd talk in bordeaux) and more good personal interaction.

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