Ad Hoc Governance Tips
This document represents Mad Ball’s notes from their session at the fall 2019 Shuttleworth Foundation gathering – a collection of people with lots of experience with projects like this, in a variety of fields. It may be updated based on feedback! An editable version is here: https://pad.riseup.net/p/adhoc-governance-tips-keep
These are tips for growing governance in projects that start spontaneously, with one or a few people. This format is particularly common in grassroots, decentralized, bottom-up activities. Don’t overkill governance! Typically it’s most efficient to operate with minimal governance and add governance “ad hoc” – that is, as needed.
- Be explicit about a need for decision. If you realize a decision or governance issue should be addressed, note that explicitly.
- Decide how to decide. Decide who gets to decide, and decide how you reach decision (consensus? vote?)
- Deciding vs. input vs. being informed. Don’t give someone an impression they’re making a decision when you just want input.
- Don’t make a rule you won’t follow yourself.
- Don’t assume people have the same expectations.
You don’t need governance until you do. Here’s critical moments in a project’s lifespan to watch out for. You may find yourself making decisions immediately before an expected landmark. In other cases you’re in the midst of it: don’t avoid decisions, recognize the lack of governance, make it when you can. Don’t overreact to create unnecessary governance.
- First content/product. First time something exists that can be “owned”, including licensing and web domains.
- First new person joins. A new person not in the ‘inner circle’.
- First disagreement. (See decision making tips below!)
- First public event/celebration. Communications and messaging.
- First public recognition. How to talk to others about the project.
- First fundraising.
- First funding.
- First hire. Policies need to be in place.
- First F#@&-up.
- Regularly scheduled meetings! This is really important for all stages of a project.
- There should always be something to say. If not, why?
- Assign a chair to keep things on track.
- Take notes and share these the next meeting.
- Have one document or link to find all meeting notes.
Decision making tips
- “Not deciding” is a decision. And not all decisions can be postponed.
- Don’t wait to make sure things are perfect.
- Don’t be imitative. Don’t default to norms: check decisions against your values.
- Attempt consensus, vote otherwise. Voting is contentious.
- Check out Gradients of Agreement for consensus decisions.
- Recognize when you need to part ways.
- Recognize and communicate decisions. Be clear a decision happened and communicate it in writing (esp. to relevant people)
- Transparency in process and communications builds trust, and invites serendipity.
- Don’t broadcast too much or people can’t tell which things matter.
- Introduce people to each other to encourage information flow in natural networks (rather than relying on broadcasting)
- What are you funding for-profit? non-profit? who controls what?
- Be transparent about funding sources when possible or appropriate.
- Decide who gets the funding to spend on for what.
- Public discussion of decisions.
- Centralized planning for fundraising.
- Roles, responsibilities, scope of work agree on these, and explicitly in contracts.
- Don’t delegate and then do yourself.
- Don’t delegate and run. Be sure to check-in.