Our First Community Discussion and Vote: Haidra
We wanted to thank our members for voicing their concerns and questions about the recently announced Haidra project. It became very evident that we missed the mark for communications that our members would have liked to receive. For that, we apologize and strive to do better. We also think it is a great opportunity to put in place what our members tell us they need and want to see.
We have been collecting the questions that members have been asking while preparing this post. As we’ve been watching the discourse, we’ve noticed a few categories for questions: questions for deeper details about Haidra as a project, questions about how to participate in governance relevant to member projects, and broader Nivenly questions.
To respond to this, we are going to be making a series of three posts that will target each category of questions:
- A post about how to create and participate in member discussions and elections (this post)
- A post that answers questions about Haidra
- A post that answers questions about Nivenly
As Nivenly formed we called out our core governance that we believed would help in situations like this. We feel it is time to put our governance to the test, and we need our members’ help and participation to do so. In order to help our members help us, we prioritized this post first. The rest of this post is dedicated to sharing information relevant to creating and participating in discussions about Haidra and how to arrive at consensus.
A Quick Co-Op Refresher
Since we are a co-op, that means that co-op members have the ability to have a direct voice and impact the organization, as well as work together both as individual member types and across the Foundation. The way that members participate in decision making and their outcome is by engaging with us and each other. Our goal is to create an organization where people can learn and grow and can, relevantly, experience graceful failure modes. (For a deeper discussion about co-ops, and our reasoning, please see our Announcement blog post from March.)
The way that co-op members exercise their voice and enact change is via discussions and governance. In this case, that means that Nivenly co-op members can discuss and use their votes to impact decision making. Ensuring that members are easily able to request what they need, and participate to the degree they wish, is both how we want Nivenly to grow as a community as well as how we want to handle growth and improvement from failure.
The Application Process and the Nivenly Covenant
There are two main parts to consider with member projects: the application and its process and The Nivenly Covenant. The latter is an adaption of the well known Contributor Covenant, and governs baseline expectations for community involvement, safety standards, and enforcement of those standards. Just like Nivenly has a community at the org level, including people maintaining and volunteering to help Nivenly, each member project also has its own community of people building, maintaining, and using the project. In order to ensure that everyone in the project’s community feels safe and enabled to participate with that project, each project is expected to maintain high safety and moderation standards.
The other aspect of the project involves the project’s application, providing deeper clarification, and so forth. Our application template is designed to be lightweight so that it can provide the framework for what we need projects to answer. Projects may supply more or less detail depending on age / maturity of the project, complexity of the project, and so forth.
Haidra’s application is here. Haidra originally submitted under the name of AI Horde, but in clarifying follow up Q&A it was established that Haidra was the umbrella for AI Horde, not vice versa, so the project is accepted as Haidra. We will provide more information about Haidra’s application process in the Nivenly Q&A follow up post mentioned earlier in this blog post.
Community Enablement and Goals
As the first request for a General Member election, we need to outline the initial process and goals. Since process is goal oriented, goals first:
- Information needs to be provided to General Members so they can have a deep understanding about what Haidra is, and isn’t, and how it is implemented and with what constraints.
- Determine if Nivenly General Members agree with the board that Haidra is compliant with the goals and outcomes that Nivenly and its members want to build together.
- Use that to inform next steps (continued discussion or election) for what needs to happen.
In order to support these goals there will be:
- A question gathering period: questions will be gathered to be answered by the Haidra maintainer or Nivenly (depending on to whom the question is directed toward).
- Note that this process has already begun.
- Two separate follow up blog posts, one from the Haidra maintainer and one from Nivenly, answering the questions directed at each group.
- If still requested, a General Election.
The outcome of the General Election will determine next steps. For example, if part of the discussion raises the need to change a Nivenly process, like our Covenant or the application process, then a parallel process to the above will be triggered to make those amendments. If it is found that Haidra can make small changes that will put it in alignment with member expectations, we can explore all of that at that time.
Since the “where do we go from here” will be heavily contingent on the outcomes of the discussions and election, we’ll provide more updates about that at that time.
Expectation setting: while Nivenly and its member projects are small, the volunteers supporting each will need time to work their day jobs while ensuring that the answers provided to questions are clear and complete. General Members also often have their own jobs and commitments, and will need time to include their questions and thoughts. In order to facilitate this, here is the Discussion and Election timeline:
- Question gathering: til next Tuesday, 8 Aug 2023
- Follow up blog posts will be posted by Monday, 14 August, at the latest.
- General Member Discussion, 14 - 25 August 2023.
- The purpose of the General Member Discussion is for members to determine if they agree with the board that Haidra is compliant with the goals and desired outcomes of Nivenly and its community.
- This is the reason that we will support the ongoing, public discussion happening prior to the 14th as the Discussion that starts on the 14th is intentionally scoped with a specific outcome.
- General Members will also need to establish if there is consensus that there is a desire to move forward to the election phase.
- General Member Election about Haidra and Nivenly alignment.
The specific date of the General Election will be within one week after the General Member Discussion concludes. We’ll post the specific date during the week of the General Member Discussion, to maximize visibility to participating General Members.
Where Questions Should be Posted
We will be checking the following for questions about Haidra and Nivenly to inform the follow up blog posts:
- Nivenly Community GitHub Discussions
- We are also reviewing the existing open discussion on GitHub for questions.
- Nivenly Community GitHub Issue
- Emails to email@example.com
To prevent questions from being missed, please do not rely on Nivenly’s social media mentions for Q&A. We will do our best to keep track of our notifications and answer questions raised to that account, but the best way to ensure that your questions are visible and received with the intent to be answered in the upcoming blog posts is to use one of the three above methods.
Similar to our social media, we also answer questions on our Discord. Also similar to social media, while we do answer questions we are asking members to use GitHub or email for questions that they specifically want answered in the follow up blog posts.
There are two main reasons we’re restricting the Q&A to these avenues. The first is we don’t want to miss anything in scrollback or the way that threads are handled on Discord. The second is that we want to ensure that posting is happening in a limited number of places so that questions aren’t missed.
Quorum, Consensus, and Participation
We’re going to be making a PR where we will add the full text of our by-laws into our docs. When we do, this paragraph will change to include that link.
In our Hello World announcement blog post, we explained a bit about co-op structures, why we’re building a co-op, why Nivenly is a non-profit, and some other details. What needs to be understood in the context of the Haidra Discussion and Election is:
- As a co-op, only co-op members and Directors have decision making power within Nivenly.
- Elections restricted to specific chambers can only be voted on by members of those member types.
- This means in the case of a General Member Election, only General Members can vote.
- Member discussions can include any member type, though if the purpose of the discussion is to inform a specific chamber’s election process then members of different types can only provide information and support for the chamber trying to reach a decision.
- In simpler words, this means that Nivenly Project Members can participate and answer questions in the Member Discussion to provide information and clarity, but cannot vote in the General Member Election.
While non-members are welcome to ask questions and contribute in the information gathering phase, only co-op members can participate in the General Member Discussion. Anyone participating in conversation in Nivenly spaces, including the GitHub Discussions and Issues, are bound by the Nivenly Covenant - even if you are not participating as a member.
For the election itself, all elections require:
- A quorum
- A consensus
Both are defined as “a simple majority”. This means that:
- A minimum of 51% of Nivenly Members need to vote
- A consensus is 51% or more of the votes
Call for Volunteers to Support Requested Processes
There are two ways that we need members to help support the governance process.
First, as part of the FAQ and General Member Discussion Process, we will need members who have relevant background to help ensure that members have the information they need to make informed decisions.
The other is election tool support. One of the problems that we currently are facing is a lack of tooling for our general elections. We believe that finding a trustworthy way to host a secure, safe, and reliable election is key to making decisions and have been looking at tools like Loomio and NextCloud to this end. Ultimately, we want a tool that doesn’t require our members to have accounts that are a burden for them to keep track of, while also ensuring the right access so that we can ensure that only members are voting.
We have had some conversations with both members and other people in the space about this as well, and have been taking a look at some tools. Since we understand that members want to have a more active participation in some of these decisions, we will open up a Member Discussion about this topic in the Nivenly Community Discussions.
If we end up sticking with GitHub and doing a Discussion poll or similar, we’ll need General Members to help us reconcile their GitHub handles and Open Collective membership so we can restrict participation to members.
Concern About Funding
Although we have a FAQ at the bottom of the post, we have been asked whether Nivenly is funding Haidra, or whether Hachyderm, as a member project of Nivenly, is funding Haidra. We chose to address this here, so it wouldn’t be missed.
To answer the Haidra specific aspect of this question: Haidra is currently self-funded, which means that Haidra’s existing community is funding Haidra. As they mentioned in their application this isn’t true indefinitely, but we can confirm that Haidra is not yet receiving funding from Nivenly and we can commit that that will remain true for the duration of this election cycle.
To answer the indirectly asked question: Nivenly can honor donations being made to specific projects to remain with those projects. Since we’re prioritizing the Haidra discussion and election at this time, we can explore this more fully in the Nivenly updates we’re posting after those conclude.
As Nivenly grows, we will use this election, and the lessons we’ve learned about communicating proactively with the community, as the precedent for future project decisions. Our goal is to work with our members to ensure they have the information they need to participate in governance.
What was considered when adopting Haidra as a member project?
The short answer is that we looked into the project itself, its implementation, and how it created and maintained safe community spaces for users and maintainers. The longer answer is going to be included in our Q&A blog post that we mentioned above. Apologies for the delay, as we mentioned at the top we’re trying to answer the three top level categories of questions separately so that they can have the time and attention to detail that they deserve.
Who can participate in member discussions about policy and governance for Nivenly?
Only Nivenly members. This means that someone must be either a Director, General Member, Project Maintainer, or Trade Member.
Who can vote in Nivenly elections?
Only Nivenly members and Directors. In a co-op model, only defined co-op member types participate in governance decisions for a co-op organization. The specifics of what this means is defined by a by-law process.
Which Nivenly members can participate in an election?
Which members are voting depends on the election type. For elections that involve the Nivenly Community, for example, you must be a Nivenly General Member. If there is a decision making process that requires two or more chambers to vote, then only members of each participating chamber can vote.
I’d like to take part in the discussion, or election, but I’m not a member.
Non-members are welcome to participate in open discussions, but only members of the Nivenly co-op can participate in Member Discussions and participate in governance processes. Since Nivenly is focused on OSS governance, and thus in the tech industry, these discussions are currently housed on Nivenly’s GitHub Issues and Discussions.
Do you take feedback from other, non-GitHub, sources?
We do take feedback, and do Q&A, off of GitHub. The common places currently are either our Mastodon account or the Nivenly Community Discord, as well as of course our email.
That said, while again we do receive feedback and do Q&A with non-Nivenly members, only Nivenly Members are empowered to make changes to decisions, processes, and so forth for the Nivenly Foundation. Nivenly members of all member types enact dialog and change through the governance process. If any Nivenly member would like to know how to start a change process, they can reach out to us via email, Discord, or GitHub.
Who is a Nivenly Member?
General Membership can be signed up for on our Open Collective page. Both Project and Trade memberships are handled via application processes.
I’m on Hachyderm - does this make me a Nivenly member?
There are only three paths to membership: signing up to be a General Member, being a maintainer for a Nivenly Project, and being a Trade Member. Using one or more of the projects that Nivenly stewards, Hachyderm or any other projects, is not a path to membership.
One way to conceptualize this is a better known co-op structure: food co-ops. Most grocery-style food co-ops (in the United States anyway) do not require you to be a member to purchase food or other items from their stores. You may, separately, choose to be a member of that co-op which would then entitle you to whatever that means for that co-op, benefits and governance-wise. The same is true here: you do not need to be a Nivenly member to use, participate, or otherwise contribute to any Nivenly project. Likewise, using or participating with a member project, unless you are specifically a project maintainer, is not a path to membership.
I am a member and want to make changes, but am unsure how to engage in governance to start.
We understand! This cycle is a bit ahead of other process releases we’re planning to stage out and has a lot of interim tooling. If this applies to you, please let us know using one of the following:
- Nivenly Community GitHub Discussions
- Nivenly Community GitHub Issue
- Nivenly Community Discord
- Emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
What does this sentence on the governance page mean?
In the early stages of bootstrapping the foundation, the board of directors serves as the main facilitators of due process. At this time the board of directors will reserve total control of the organization.
Succinctly: it means that the board of directors makes decisions in the event that a chamber is still being populated or cannot reach quorum and/or consensus. This is to help keep decisions and discourse unblocked. As Nivenly grows, there will be decisions owned by the directors and/or members, as we work together to keep or change process.
Will Nivenly always rely on GitHub?
Right now we’re relying heavily on GitHub tooling since we are focused on Open Source Software, which means that we expect that those interested in OSS governance will be in the tech industry and have GitHub accounts.
In the interest of facilitating the requested conversations and election regarding Haidra, we are relying on existing GitHub tools to meet member needs. We may choose to keep this longer term, but if not then we’ll be replacing them with more permanent tools.