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Re: Should the project hire one or two persons to help the DPL?

Le vendredi, 19 mars 2021, 10.38:08 h CET Raphael Hertzog a écrit :
> There are quite a few software projects that have hired staff to help
> smooth the internal working of organizations, I know at least of Django
> with its fellowship program:
> https://www.djangoproject.com/fundraising/#fellowship-program
> The current resources of Debian means that we can confidently hire at least
> one or two fellows that would work under the direction of the DPL
> and not be in troubles for many years.

Thank you for bringing this topic on the table, I consider it very important 
for the long-term sustainability of the project!

> To the other DD, would you second a GR to allow the DPL to hire one
> or two persons to help him lead the project? What kind of safeguards would
> be needed?

Yes, definitely. (tl; dr: in fact it turns out I rather disagree)

But I liked last year's focus put by Brian about this idea; I don't see the 
whole solution being only "having staff on a payroll", but it's rather a 
larger structural question.

So, to take a (hopefully small) step back, for me the question we shall ask 
ourselves is: what organizational structure, with what roles accountable for 
which areas of responsibility, with what material support or financial 
compensation is best suited to serve our larger organization's purpose and 
long- (and mid-)term goals?

Our constitution has established a "large body of peers, with one elected 
leader delegating power, no financial compensations" structure, which I think 
served us moderately well until some years ago, but not sufficiently well 

From other non-IT/non-Debian experience, I have also witnessed (in my very 
privileged socio-cultural environment, so take that with a grain of salt) that 
the way people spend their volunteer time has also evolved quite a lot in the 
past 10 years: people don't engage in their communities the same way they did 
a decade ago. They don't necessarily spend less time overall, but it's much 
more cluttered, spread among more organizations, causes and concerns. And 
volunteers have different expectations in terms of recognition, of 
compensation, and of commitment. Applying this to our organization, I feel 
that volunteering to be the DPL for a year doesn't have the same meaning as it 
had 10 years ago; the responsibilites, exposure and expected commitment have 
changed, but the "job description" hasn't.

Now, notwithstanding the discussion about making Debian a legal entity world-
wide, I think it's about time for Debian to adopt a "more than just one 
perfect elected individual" leadership structure (I'm well aware it took all 
sorts of names over the years, ranging from DPL Board to DPL advisory 
committee, etc etc). It's really not uncommon for organizations to have 
Boards, with only elected roles, and that's the direction I'd lean into; we 
need a larger body of elected roles to take on the set of tasks currently 
given to the DPL (probably a larger one too). So I think we need to start 
talking concretely about the number of roles, their purpose and 
accountabilities, their names, the length of their mandates, etc etc. THEN, 
with such a body in place, with elected roles filled by volunteers, I think we 
can start talking about hiring.

(OK, that turned out to be a larger step back than I expected, sorry).

If, and when, Debian (likely through the DPL, or directly) opens a paid 
position for a specific role, we need to be abundantly clear about the job 
description, the limits of the role, the reporting expectations, etc etc. I 
would definitely not "allow the DPL to hire to help them lead the project", 
but I would rather "allow the DPL to hire somebody to fill a specific 
(eventually wide) non-leadership support role". In other terms; I don't think 
we want to have paid staff with actual decision powers. I do think we might 
agree to having paid staff *without* actual decision power, but providing 
administrative support for example.

Regarding Ganneff and gregoa's concerns (which I share to some extent); I know 
of many non-IT organizations which have these types of structures, and it 
works usually quite well, because the formal decision powers reside in elected 
volunteers, while loads of administrative, directed, support work is done by 
paid staff. Of course, paid staff ends up spending quite some more time on 
some topics, and gain deeper knowledge, reputation, and can end up 
overshadowing the elected volunteers who can't manage / afford to dive as deep 
in some subjects; so that's exactly why we ought to define the paid staff's 
mandate precisely, with these caveats in mind.

Anyway; in short; I think a project the size of Debian needs reliable and  
accessible administrative support paid staff, to free the leadership (and lots 
of non-leadership) roles from this burden, and to help all volunteers focus on 
what they do best instead of being drowned in administrativia and accounting 


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