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Tying threads together.

From:  Robyn Bergeron <rbergero-AT-redhat.com>
To:  Fedora community advisory board <advisory-board-AT-lists.fedoraproject.org>
Subject:  Tying threads together.
Date:  Wed, 15 Feb 2012 10:00:18 -0700
Archive-link:  Article, Thread

In the past, Fedora, as a community, has had a large volume of debate
regarding the usability of Fedora.  Including debating who our primary
audience is, how easy (or difficult) Fedora is to use, how much focus we
should invest in usability, if increased usability results in more
contributors, and if said increased usability diminishes our ability to
deliver forward-thinking, cutting-edge releases - Features, First.

I'm sorry to report that I will not be opening Pandora's Box today to
discuss the usability of Fedora the Distribution.

Instead, I'd like to focus on the usability of Fedora, the project, the
community.

We have two threads right now that I'd like to tie together. One focuses on
the delicate balance of the Board's role as an enabler of progress in the
community, vs. the direction-pointer of progress in the community, and
whether or not the Board should be consulted for advice in various matters,
and if that leads to a precedent where the Board is essentially giving
permission to accomplish anything.  The other focuses on several problem
areas that we have; starting with sponsorship of event attendees, to FAD
occurrence (or lack thereof), to Budget Crisis, and other areas pointed
out.

One of the Board's goals for the F16/F17 timeframe is: "It is
extraordinarily easy to join the Fedora Project."

I would argue that, right now, that it is Extraordinarily Difficult to get
anything DONE in the Fedora Project.

Max mentioned a phrase in a previous mail this week that I think is
incredibly applicable here: Institutional memory.  Many of us have been
around a while; most of the previous respondents to these emails, far
longer than I have.  Those folks participating and contributing to the
aforementioned threads, by and large, know that they can Go Forth and Do
without seeking board blessings; inherently know what resources are
available; more or less have a gut feeling on when they should or shouldn't
apply for funding for an international FUDCon; know who to ask for
resources; etc.

None of this is readily apparent to anyone who shows up on the proverbial
doorstep of the Fedora Community, wanting to actually do something. Most
people who do show up, of course, just want to contribute in some way, but
eventually, many of those folks move beyond smaller contributions, and move
into Bigger Things Territory.

* We do not boldly state that Contributors are Empowered to Do New
Things. We do not boldly state that the Board is not, or is, the
be-all-end-all point of asking permission.
* We do not list resources available in an obvious fashion. Unless you know
that FADs exist, almost nobody will ever think to ask for one.
* In the cases where people do know that resources are available,
particularly financial resources, a whole boatload of problems becomes
uncovered:
** Conflicting and confusing documentation as to how to obtain resources.
** Little to no documentation on who is allowed to ask.
** I won't even get into the Budget Situation. Too early.
* While some of the above may be insinuated in various places, it is not
spelled out, definitively, and obviously, to anyone who might want to do
something.
* And in the cases where some processes are definitively spelled out - 
they are often broken, or not working entirely. Spins, anyone?

While I largely agree with David's previously stated point of view that the
majority of power to direct or effect change in Fedora lies with the people
doing the work, I think that it is certainly in the Board's interest to
ensure that community members are enabled to actually get the work done.

Institutional memory is not going to carry the Fedora project forever. We
are far larger of a community than we used to be, and far more diverse, and
in far more corners of the world, than we have ever been, and we continue
to grow.  I would hope that most Board members hope to never be on the
Board again after they have served the time that they wish to serve -- not
because being on the Board is a horrible, torturous experience, but because
they want to see new contributors come into the project, accomplish things,
and become leaders in their own right.  Enabling accomplishment is what
leads to people blossoming into leaders -- and unless we make it incredibly
obvious, and more permanently stated, how one can accomplish things in
Fedora, and work towards making it EASY to get those things accomplished,
we will be right where we are, for a very long time, same people, same
problems, same debates.

The Board shouldn't be a place of permission. I think it can be and often
is a place of advice, and idea-sharing, and problem-solving. Advice
shouldn't constitute blessing, and I think we are generally clear on such
things.  However: if people don't know where to go, or who to ask, or what
they are allowed do in terms of accomplishing things, at *best* they are
going to be coming to the Board; the worst case is that they move on and
accomplish things elsewhere.  I believe it is in the Board's interest, and
really, the community's interest, to ensure that the Usability of Fedora
the Project - is, and continues to be, functional, or better yet,
user-friendly.   Which means taking a bit more direction.  In many cases,
it means delegation to smaller groups to fix specific problems, or stepping
up in the absence of problem-solvers and solving it.  I don't think this is
something that is heavy-handed of the board, nor does it set the tone of
direction for the project, or give the impression that the Board is the
group that you must come to for anything; I simply see it as the Board, and
anyone else who wants to participate, really, taking a step in the right
direction and enabling people to more easily accomplish things.

The best way to NOT be a place of permission is to clearly state that
contributors are enabled, how they are enabled, and what resources they
have at their disposal, and make this place of information incredibly easy
to understand, well-known, and obvious to newcomers.  And ensure that the
processes that back up the enablement are just as clear, or at least, not
broken, and have clear owners. And ultimately, make sure that we are not a
place simply of Institutional Memory and the Those Who Know How, Can.

I think we, the Board, and the wider community, need to tune in the dial a
little bit and focus on usability of our community.  It's not just "joining
the project" -- it's about thriving once you are in.

Anyone know if we're allowed to have a Project Usability FAD? :) (That was
a joke. Just to be clear.)

Thoughts welcomed. (Note: THIS EMAIL IS NOT A DIRECTIVE, just long-winded.)

-robyn
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