[okfn-coord] Some business plans for discussion at next week's meeting

Jo Walsh jo at frot.org
Fri Jun 12 20:02:42 UTC 2009

dear Becky, all,

On Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 12:10 PM, Becky Hogge<becky.hogge at gmail.com> wrote:
> These are not intended to be either final or prescriptive, they are merely a
> starting point for conversation about where we want to guide OKFN in
> the future, and how we might eventually finance a full time community
> coordinator. If they are not helpful, there's no need to pursue them,
> however, I hope at least that they can start an interesting
> discussion.

I'd like to write a bit more about the experience of the OSGeo Foundation
over the last few years, as I don't want to ramble on about this in the telecon
but i find a lot of common ground here.

Three years ago OSGeo hired a fulltime Executive Director to be in a
"community coordinator"-like role (some open source foundations have a
"Community Manager" - mostly labelling, with a lot of job description overlap)
Our core sponsors wanted to have a central point of contact, to see a face
as a "brand ambassador", and were confused by a many-headed entity.
They would be covering the ED salary and expenses outright, so why not?

At the time, Arnulf Christl (now the OSGeo president) had deep reservations
about taking on one full-time person and came up with an German folk saying
along the lines of "the energy flows round the edge of the centre,
and when you fill the centre, what happens to the energy."

I would definitely say that when since we have taken on a full-time ED/CC,
there's been a real drop-off in volunteer involvement - particularly with
maintaining the website, doing outreach at events, planning and running
the conference each year. Now, some of this is just due to the passage
of time - a big burst of early enthusiasm fading out. But some of it is due
to the (mostly erroneous) assumption on the part of members that
"there is someone to take care of it", for a lot of values of "it".

So our staffer has ended up being lumped with a lot of administrivia
that really oughtn't be his job (tax filings, accounts preparation, editing)
and of course has only had time to focus on some activities of the
Foundation's community - (marketing, user groups, the conference)
at the expense of others (education materials and data packaging)
because there is much more than one person can coordinate.

It's also been hard for a large, busy Board of volunteers to really
offer feedback and oversight and review to a fulltime staffer.
It's a big timesink, so it either doesn't happen or uses up the time/energy
of Board members which could be going straight to the foundation's work.
(Those of you involved with ORG know much more about this, I'm sure :) )

OSGeo's core sponsor's agreement was to sustain the foundation for 3 years
and then re-assess their commitment. Other good prospects for sponsors
have vanished in "la crisis", so our ED is likely to lose his job by 2010. :(
It has to be a very conscious decision to become funder-supported
at this kind of scale, and it really seems to change the flavour of a
volunteer-driven organisation.

While OSGeo was having a long debate about scaling up, and the pressures
of having to maintain funding year-on-year, i kept thinking of OKFN
as a prime example of the rootsy, flexible way of doing things (and still do).

I like Becky's 3-phase budget a lot but i would like to think of it in terms
of creative ways to spend money on more projects (like opentextbook,
which could have a lot of potential with the right partners).

If we are lucky enough to find ourselves in phase 2 or 3, i would like
to see that money used to hire several people to work part-time on
different aspects of OKFN's work, rather than one full-timer.
Simply by communicating with each other they would communicate
with the rest of us, and if harder times or personal difficulties come along,
it's easier to down-scale again.



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