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[edit] Preface

Since this document was originally written, DebConf orga changed through the introduction of the Teams structure, which aims to establish long-running team with leaders, so-called shadows (backups), and advisors. Each team has a somewhat defined set of tasks/roles, although there are overlaps. No interfaces are defined between teams, or expectations towards each other.

Not all teams are designed to be long-running. Specifically with their proposal of 2015-08-27, the chairs suggest to add teams concerned with local and conference-/venue-specific tasks, such as the facilities and social activities teams. Yet, the concept of a local team is being carefully avoided, due to bad memories associated with the way DebConf local teams have worked separately from the "global team" in the past.

Fundamentally, the idea of these teams is that a bid team is supposed to integrate with these teams and do their work from within. But there are a few problems with this approach:

  1. Every team works differently, and it might take bid team members a long time to understand the workings of the team, how decisions are made, and how ideas are processed, before they can start doing work.
  2. While bid team members have a very concrete motivation to work on their bid around the year, members of long-running teams do not, and may not be available months ahead of the conference, or are not following all developments. This might impede decision-making and also bears the question what benefits the sheathing of the team and the requirement for bid team members to work within existing structures bring.
  3. Bid team members have more information about local conditions and requirements, yet there are no provisions within the teams to incorporate this into decision-making procedures.
  4. There exist no synchronisation points between teams. Another team, the "coordination team" is supposed to coordinate between the various sub-teams and provide this, creating a lot of work and indirect communication.

… (still in progress…)

[edit] Introduction

In general, we would like DebConf to be organised like Debian, that is by volunteers in close cooperation, based on individual time/resource availability, consensus-driven, and meritocratically.

However, there exist two fundamental differences between Debian and DebConf organisation:

  1. real-time dependencies (no "we release when we're ready", but fixed dates)
  2. real-world interaction (non-negotiable requirements by venue/city/country, or unforeseen changes)

These two differences require DebConf organisation to be structured differently than meritocratic Debian.

The following proposal aims to address these differences by drawing up a governance structure that deviates from the organisation of Debian, but not deviating from it where not necessary.

My proposal is based on

  • the pre-DC10 tendencies to bestow more power and trust upon the local team for each conference;
  • experiences gathered in this process, as well as during the following DebConfs, in particular DC13;
  • numerous discussions with people closely involved;
  • insights gathered from the organisers of LCA;
  • experience gathered from being involved in multi-national corporations with successful, "loose" (i.e. not top-down, authoritarian) governance models.

This is not about the past, this is about the future. Don't read anything here as an attack if you feel personally addressed!

[edit] The problem this is trying to solve

I always write introductions at the end. If the above is not enough for you, then please give me some more time. One of the reasons I did not start with the problem definition is because I don't want to revisit what has happened in the past at this point.

In abstract terms, here are some issues I am trying to achieve:

  • clearly define roles and associated powers around DebConf;
  • communicate in advance, so that when the time has come, those in charge can make decisions and represent DebConf to the outside world without having to seek clearance or enter further discussions;
  • motivate everyone within their role to do as best as they can, and foster an environment where it's perfectly reasonable to ask for feedback, but still be able to make a decision at any time.
  • provide fertile ground to new ideas. They might not grow, but we want them.

As said, I shall probably expand this section. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

[edit] Organisational entities

In general, the `debconf-team` mailing list continues to exist (although it could be renamed to `debconf-orga`). This is an open list, and it's the main platform for all organisational entities to exchange information in a transparent way, but not necessarily for discussions about all decisions that need to be made. Discussions also take place bilaterally and in dedicated sub-channels, e.g. for sponsors, local issues, PR, etc..

The following is a first shot at defining the powers of the individual entities. The goal is to facilitate decision-making by building on trust that we are all working towards a shared goal and know when to ask. Decision-making is crucial and must not stall. First, we cannot afford to have lengthy discussions (in public), when the real world is waiting for an answer. And second, when a decision has to be made under time pressure, then there is no guarantee that those previously involved in the preparation, or with experience, are currently online. Instead, this discussion should take place *ahead* of time, result in the clear definition of powers, and thus enable people to make decisions under time pressure — within their competence.

When a non-trivial decision is made, the rest of the team should be informed via the mailing list, with motivation and rationale. It needs not be a lengthy analysis, but it needs to let other people participate post-hoc. Such a summary should not be written with the fear of it being challenged. It can be assumed that the decision had to be made, and was made all things and involved people's opinions considered. Sometimes that does not mean consensus.

[edit] Bid team

Related (existing) entities
local team

The bid team is the team behind a bid. It may later become the #DebConfN team, or the bid team may be modified by the advisory board to constitute the DebConfN team. Details to follow further down…

[edit] DebConfN team

Related (existing) entities
local team
Alternative names
just "DebConf team"

To be discussed further down, but in a nutshell: the DebConfN team is the team responsible for the organisation of DebConfN. As such, it has all powers to make decisions and use (budgeted) funds, unless limited by or delegated to another team by this governance structure.

The DebConfN team is not just the local team. There are many topics about DCN that require people from last years and the next bid.

This is mainly motivated by the fact that the DebConfN team acts "at the front line", probably knows best anything to do with the venue, host country and how things are generally done, also relating to DebConf. These often needs to make decisions under time pressure.

The final DebConfN team may well be different from the winning #Bid team, e.g. in case of insufficient experience or knowledge among the bid team members. The #Advisory board constitutes the final team.

[edit] Bid selection committee

Related (existing) entities
DebConf committee

The bid selection committee's sole job is to assess all bids that have been submitted by the deadline and to make a decision between them. They may also be available to the bidding teams during preparation, and they will become active again should serious problems arise between a bid decision and the associated conference.

Rather than having the bid selection team be made up of representatives of all "competencies", the bid selection team should be small and should rely on information from the other teams during valuation of the bids.

There will be a close cooperation between the bid selection committee and the #Advisory board before and during the bid decision-making.

And it remains to be seen how bid mentors fit into this, if they even have to be.

[edit] Advisory board

Related (existing) entities
global team, DebConf chairs
Alternative names
"ghosts", "elders", "wizards"

The advisory board has the following functions:

  1. Defining and enacting long-term DebConf vision and strategy (whatever this may mean);
  2. Representing DebConf towards the Debian project (accountability);
  3. Framing location-independent requirements for each conference (max. funds available, number of attendees estimated, special attendees (press, sponsors, etc.))
  4. Assisting potential teams during the bid process (together with bid selection committee, possibly mentors);
  5. Assisting the bid selection committee in the evaluation of the bids, especially with respect to the capabilities and organisation of the teams behind the bids;
  6. Constituting the DebConfN team and setting them off during an on-site visit, once a decision has been cast;
  7. Assisting the DebConfN team in setting up local legal entities;
  8. Monitoring the DebConfN team's progress, receiving reports, potentially making personell changes;
  9. Signing off the proposed budget, clearing the choice of venue, and other decisions of similar weight;
  10. Deciding over the use of money left-over, as well as deciding on the way to cover debts;
  11. Tie-breaking of decisions within the DebConfN team;
  12. Possibly: delegating other team leads, e.g. budget team leader.

The advisory board would also be empowered with an emergency brake, use of which could result in a bid decision to be reverted, or DebConfN cancelled.

The ideal role of the advisory board would be

  • to be in charge of DebConf as a whole;
  • to be free of most things to do with a particular DebConfN;
  • to be available to the organisers of DebConfN for advice;
  • to feel good about this.

The advisory board would be made up of the DebConf chairs, as well as members of former DebConfN teams, e.g. one member from DebConfN-3, one from DebConfN-2 and one from DebConfN-1 as soon as DebConfN-1 over. The DebConfN-3 member leaves the advisory board when DebConfN is over. Additional seats could be given to an auditor for financials, etc.. Or any other composition, really. It's the experience that counts, and you might not be able to select for it explicitly.

The following are the underlying ideas:

  1. Through "constituting" the team, subsequent monitoring, the power of being able to make personell changes, and the emergency brake, the advisory board is the most powerful body behind DebConf. As such, being on the advisory board is an honorable position for those who have gathered experience and maintain an interest in the longevity of the conference series;
  2. Further respect is paid to the advisory board members by giving them arbitration powers, e.g. if (half of? a third of?) the DebConfN team approaches them and asks them to make a final call on an unresolvable issue (cf. technical committee in Debian);
  3. In general, I think it's safe to assume that those with experience like to be asked questions, which they'll gladly answer. Anyone who comes at them with questions should still feel humble and thankful for being able to access this knowledge and experience, though. If the DebConfN team finally decides to do things differently — provided that it is within the realm of their powers — then there will be a really good reason and it's doubtful that the advisory board member will feel stepped-over, ignored, or useless. Compare this to the situation where global team members "offer advice" without being asked for it.
  4. Although decision powers relating to most aspects of the conference organisation are delegated to the DebConfN team, critical aspects of the conference, such as money, budget, venue, and bid decision, still rest with the experienced.
  5. All advisory board members are always fully sponsored.

[edit] Sponsorship and/or budget team

The sponsorship and/or budget is/are (a) long-lived team(s) whose jobs are:

  1. Approaching sponsors, and tracking them
  2. Collecting funds
  3. Providing estimates at regular points in time
  4. Defining other requirements, such as special attendance arrangements for sponsors (e.g. free registration, free conference dinner, but paid accomodation/food for media partners, local politicians, etc.)
  5. Together with the advisory board: signing off on the budget proposed by the DebConfN team
  6. Keeping track of the budget (DebConfN team reports), payment modalities

Obviously, local people will be required to get in touch with local institutions. If such is the case, then those local people do not work in their capacity as DebConfN team members, but work for the sponsorship/budget team(s).

Ideallly, this team would be identical to the Debian fundraising team.

[edit] Press, talks, travel, infrastructure, network, video, accomodation, …

Similarly to the sponsorship/budget team(s), these teams are also self-constituted (or delegated by the advisory board) and do their work independently from the DebConfN teams, while certain processes of interchange must obviously be defined.

For instance, the accomodation team might come into play during the requirements specification, but then rest until they receive the final numbers (attendees, budget) to arrange accomdation. Similarly, the network and video teams might be part of the final venue decision, but be required to submit budget requirements to the budget team.

As before, ideally there won't be duplication between teams around DebConf and Debian, i.e. the Debian publicity team could and should handle DebConf press work as well.

[edit] DebConfN team, reprise

The DebConfN team is responsible for the organisation of DebConfN. All the aforementioned teams are standing by within their defined roles, but in the end it is up to the DebConfN team to make the conference happen.

Furthermore, the DebConfN team is responsible for delivering regular reports to the advisory board. These should probably follow a pre-defined format to allow for short meetings, or be delivered in writing. All problems must be reported.

The DebConfN team must send members to DebConfN-1 to help with the on-site organisation. There will be a "handover" meeting between the two DebConf teams following the conference. The final report of DebConfN-1 *could be* the responsibility of the DebConfN team, because it is primarily relevant to the sponsors of their conference, and the DebConfN-1 team needs a rest by now. However, the DebConfN-1 team is better suited to report on their achievements, and depending on the volume of the report, this need not be such a workload.

Financial and legal responsibility should be buffered through a local, legal entity (profit/non-profit depends on local requirements), which is set up as part of the constitution of the DebConfN team.

The DebConfN team has the power to make all decisions that are not delegated or within the realm of power of the aforementioned teams. In particular, this means that they may make all decisions related to the organisation of the conference incl. day trip and special events, the venue (once decided), the spending of funds within the budget, etc.. These decisions may be limited by limits or negotiation frameworks defined by the advisory board (and/or the sponsorship-/budget team(s)).

Specifically relating to new ideas about the conference, the DebConfN team should be encouraged to try out things. Yet, ideas will need to be vetted for feasibility and compatibility with the DebConf goals. If an initiative was unsuccessful in the past, it doesn't mean it cannot be tried again, but obviously lessons learnt need to be incorporated. It might well make sense to require someone (e.g. advisory board member, or mentor) to sign off an idea before it's implemented. In an innovative culture, it will be easier to accept when an idea is considered unfeasible or incompatible.

The following decisions are explicitly not within the powers of the DebConfN team:

  1. constitution of the team
  2. establishment of local legal entities
  3. personell changes
  4. venue decision
  5. budget approval
  6. usage of funds outside of the budget
  7. […] ?

It is up to the DebConfN team to define their own decision-making processes, and the advisory board will assist to ensure that the team cannot deadlock itself. Due to the time-dependent nature of conference organisation, as well as the real-world overlap, the DebConfN team must sometimes make decisions on-the-fly or under time-pressure. The usual, consensus-driven approach does not work in these cases, and it is paramount that DebConfN team members can act even under those conditions. Therefore, all discussions that could take place in response to a change in the real-world should have been had beforehand to such an extent that the person having to make decisions will have flexible, yet well-defined parameter ranges within which s/he can act at will.

A quick note at this stage regarding "personell changes": DebConfN team members are, just like everyone else in Debian, volunteers. As such, "personell changes" seems like an alien concept. It remains impossible to appoint someone against their will, but it might be necessary to remove someone from the DebConfN team if otherwise the conference will not take place or not meet the DebConf standards. Also, if it's clear that the existing team cannot handle the load, then the advisory board can appoint additional members (with their consent), thereby reconstituting the team. Such a decision is binding and final.

Also: "personell" relates to the "core" DebConfN team. If the team bestows tasks (such as running the bar) to third parties, they may freely do so. However, the "core" DebConfN team remains responsible for everything.

[edit] Process

The following is a rough, timeline-based description of the steps leading up to and following a bid decision, up until the end of the corresponding conference:

  1. the advisory board, sponsorship/budget team(s), and the bid decision committee assist all bid teams during bid preparation on-demand;
  2. the advisory board assists the bid decision committee in assessing the capability of the bid teams to act as DebConfN teams. Focus should be foremost on the team, then the bid. The theory here is that a good team can achieve a lot in 16 months of preparation, while it's unfeasible to expect too many definite answers about venue etc. at this point. Possible outcomes may be "yes", "no", or "possible, but needs assistance, i.e. through appointment of a non-local for certain tasks to the DebConfN team";
  3. The bid decision is made
  4. Following the bid decision, the advisory board meets with the bid team, ideally on-site (funds/time permitting). The advisory board constitues the team (helps define structures, if necessary, and decision-making processes, establishes local legal entities, etc.);
  5. The advisory board retains the power to make personell changes in the team, i.e. remove and replace problematic members, or assume certain roles themselves or through delegates;
  6. DebConfN team starts working on venue and budget. Both need to be signed off by the advisory board before commitments can be made. It is likely that DebConfN-1 has to finish first before the other teams (sponsoring, budget, advisory board, etc.) can allocate time to DebConfN. The DebConfN team needs to cater for this, but should not stall;
  7. DebConfN team reports to advisory board every 2 months, or so.
  8. The DebConfN team is expected to participate in the organisation leading up the DebConfN-1. Several eam members should go to DebConfN-1, fully sponsored, to participate at the forefront of on-site organisation and gather experience;
  9. DebConfN-1 takes place, and ideally the dates of DebConfN can be fixed/revealed.
  10. Following the conference, the DebConfN-1 team meets with the DebConfN team for a "hand-over" of resources, exchange of ideas and lessons learnt;
  11. DebConfN website should go live (sponsorship requirement, among other reasons);
  12. The final report of DebConfN-1 is due within two months. This should probably remain the responsibility of the DebConfN-1 team, but if they're too exhausted, then DebConfN must take over in time;
  13. One member of the DebConfN-1 team joins the advisory board, but the DebConfN-3 team member stays on until after DebConfN (if this composition is chosen);
  14. Advisory board, budget/sponsorship team(s) and DebConfN propose preliminary requirements;
  15. DebConfN team presents their budget, which must respect all these requirements, and has to be signed off by the advisory board. There may well be 3–4 iterations of budget approval throughout the year, as more funds become available and more expense categories unlocked.
  16. DebConfN team proposes final venue choice to advisory board and commits to/enters legal contract only after advisory board gave green light;
  17. DebConfN team reports monthly, maybe even biweekly and then weekly as the conference draws closer;
  18. DebConfN takes place
  19. The advisory board member from the DebConfN-3 team leaves the advisory board (if this is the chosen composition of the advisory team);
  20. Lather, rinse, repeat

[edit] Open questions

When does DebConfN organisation start with respect to DebConfN-1 organisation? What can and should the DebConfN team do between bid decision and DebConfN-1, when the advisory board members and other teams have limited resources?
DebConfN organisation should start in September/October. Between bid decision and DebConfN-1, they should join DebConfN organization in order to learn and get experience in how to organize Debconf. N0rman (talk) 04:15, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

[edit] Common questions

How do you deal with unorganised/inexperienced local teams?
It is the responsibility of the advisory board to "constitute the team". This involves ensuring that the team has enough (wo)manpower, or augmenting the (wo)manpower with externals. If such augmentation does not appear possible, the advisory board should veto the bid decision. If problems arise at a later point, the advisory board can remove team members who are causing trouble, or reconstitute the team with additional people (who are willing to help out).
How do you ensure that the local team does not make mistakes?
No-one can. But because the heavy-weight decisions, such as budget and venue, and all other decisions that carry legal and financial, or at least permanent consequences of sorts, have to be signed off by the advisory board, this risk is hopefully minimised.

[edit] Revision history

Date Time Comment
2015-08-29 09:31 CEST final report responsibilities
2015-08-29 00:49 CEST rise of ideas, mentoring, decisions reporting, better wordings
2013-08-26 23:21 CEST feedback from gaudenz: final report motivation, negotiation framework of DebConfN team, team list, local team personell
2013-08-25 20:16 CEST feedback from lucas: what problem are you trying to solve? (work-in-progress)
2013-08-23 16:45 CEST Initial version
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