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:

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.

Some metas.

  • 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.

Critical moments.

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.


Meeting tips

  • 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.
  • Recognize when you need to part ways.

Communication tips

  • 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)

Funding tips

  • 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.

Assigning work

  • 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.