Brussels / 3 & 4 February 2018


Distributions are not democracies

and that's okay

This session will explore many different governance and decision making models in the Distribution world. Few projects aspire to operate under wholly democratic principles. This talk will explore some of the many flaws and problems with this approach, and how projects often struggle to operate democratically and at scale. Alternatively the session will also discuss the benefits, and weaknesses of less democratic governance models, such as Technical Committees, Governing Boards, and Benevolent Dictators for Life. Finally the talk will explore a simple, but scalable model of Distribution governance, empowering, enabling, and supporting the contributors in your project to create an environment where "Those that do, decide".

This talk will go into some detail about the various different governance and decision making processes of various Distribution projects. This will include both technical and organisational decision making within those projects. Examples will include the very democratic processes within the Debian Project, the more dictatorial processes within the Linux Kernel and Ubuntu, and hybrid models like seen in the Fedora Project. Care will be made to not be too judgemental or divisive, but the session will make factual observations about the strengths and weaknesses about each example. Those strengths and weaknesses will focus on both the benefits and problems technically to the project (ie. how well it helps projects put together good code), and socially (ie. how well it helps projects be sustainable communities of hopefully happy people).

It will be the speakers conclusion that both democratic and dictatorial models are ultimately flawed and neither scale well, nor actually provide an engaging environment for new contributors to join a long established project.

The session will then present a model that focuses on the empowerment of contributors, "those that do, decide", explaining how such a model has long, ancient roots in the origins of many open source projects. The talk will briefly hypothesise why the model is rarely found in distribution projects today, but present in some detail the core principles which Open Source projects should embrace from this philosophy, and (using openSUSE as an example), explain how to establish a healthy series of checks and balances to ensure a community following this model is both self sustainable, and relatively insulated to the problems with more democratic or dictatorial governance models often cause over time.


Photo of Richard Brown Richard Brown