Recently I had an interesting decision to consider. In an email to the Community Council, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of the Ubuntu project nominated me for a seat on the Community Council, one of our two top-level governance boards, the other being the Ubuntu Technical Board. I was copied into an email from Mark last week informing me of his decision.
Naturally, I was flattered. I never asked to be nominated, nor expected it. Deciding whether to accept and stand for a position on the Community Council was not as simple as feeling flattered and accepting though. I had to consider whether my membership of the Community Council is going to be the best way in which I can serve the Ubuntu community well.
After a considerable amount of mulling over, I decided to kindly decline the nomination. I felt I should share how I came to this conclusion.
When I first joined Canonical as the Ubuntu Community Manager, Mark made it quite clear to me that if I would have applied to join the Community Council, he would have vetoed my application. He told me that this was not because he didn’t have confidence in my abilities to perform well in a position on the council, but that I had to rightly prove myself to the Ubuntu community, and he was also conscious that if I did join, that it could appear like Canonical was pushing forward its own employees onto our community governance bodies. His guidance and advice was absolutely the right thing to do.
That was nearly three years ago. In that time my relationship with both the Community Council and Technical Board has been informal and external, yet supportive of their work. I have subsequently found myself in a position in which I have been able to assist both governance bodies while also being an independent entity. This has resulted in me fulfilling these different roles regarding these governance bodies and the community:
- Assistance – I have had a close but informal relationship with the Community Council. While I am not a member, I am not on their mailing list and I am not copied into their discussions, there has been instances in which the Community Council has reached out to me for assistance to help them achieve a given task or goal. I have served a similar position with the Ubuntu Technical Board: again, while not a member of the board and not on their mailing list or copied into discussions, I have helped the Technical Board to achieve their goals, drive forward actions and otherwise be a useful participant in open discussions.
- Independent Third Party – as a non-member of either governance body but someone tasked with the role of helping to build a thriving participatory community, this has mean’t that I have been able to provide advice and input on the effectiveness of our governance bodies that can be considered by said bodies and if the advice is considered useful, acted upon. A good example of this is the Technical Board Assessment that I performed recently.
- Informal Community Back Channel – Another useful role that I feel I have been able to provide to the community is someone who the community can contact and share their worries and concerns with that is not an official governing body. There has been many incidents in which a community member does not want to escalate something formally to the Community Council or Technical Board but has pinged me as a intermediary to get my thoughts and advice. I really value being in this position with our community. I want to be someone they can approach and reach out to.
When I received the nomination from Mark last week, I considered what impact my membership of the Community Council would have on these roles that have naturally fleshed themselves out over the last few years. While on one hand I felt there were many benefits of me being a member on the council, I was also concerned that my ability to serve the community could regress in the above roles.
I mulled over this quite a bit, my hunch taking me backwards and forwards between accepting and kindly declining the nomination. I gathered advice from my team, my manager, my colleagues, other members of the Community Council, my wife and some community members. While the views were mixed in whether my membership would provide more or less benefit I came to the conclusion that it made most sense to retain my current role in the community and to kindly decline.
So there we have it. I thought it could be useful to share the thought process I went through last week and I want to thank everyone who offered their input to me and to Mark for the original nomination. Thanks everyone!