Well, yes and no. I recognise the frustrations being expressed, but disagree with the picture being painted.
I’m not absent. In fact, for the past few years I have set aside all other interests and concerns to help Ubuntu get into a position of long-term sustainability. That has been an amazingly difficult job, but I set my mind to it precisely because I care that Ubuntu as a community has a backbone which is durable. So I am in fact more present than ever, and just as concerned with our community’s interests, and just as appreciative of the great work that many people continue to lead under the banner of Ubuntu in all its forms.
I am rather frustrated at my own team, because I have long allocated headcount for a community lead at Canonical, a post which has not been filled.
It’s necessary to have a dedicated lead for this, not so much because the community needs leadership, but because its self-motivated leaders need support. Think of the role more as community secretary than community advocate, helping to get complicated pieces lined up to empower others to be great. The project has continued to grow in complexity and capability, there are more people than ever working on it, more people than ever making demands on it, so getting things done requires patience and coordination. Helping motivated community leaders to be effective in driving their work forward is important to me.
I care that Canonical conduct its business in such a way that allows other motivated, inspired open source leaders to ride the wave. We run the archive in such a way that other projects can focus just on the piece they are excited about, but still produce a platform for their users which has all the energy and quality that goes into Ubuntu. We have the things we care to get done, but we leave room for other singular leaders and motivated members to get their things done, too.
Fortunately, despite the absence of a community secretary/lead/facilitator/factotum, I have continued to see great people getting great stuff done in the community. People who have energy and a vision have a knack for overcoming obstacles, and those people are very effective in Ubuntu; our processes work, and collaboration works too. Occasionally things have been ropy, but that’s normal in any large organisation, and working nicely together gets things done.
I think it’s important to expect community leaders to be hard working, effective, and collaborative too. I am happy to be of service to others who think of themselves as being of service, too. Occasionally, someone comes along who thinks that the entire project should serve them, and that’s just not how we roll. This is a place for collaboration, that means labouring together. It’s just not all prizes and credits.
So as much as it irks me that we don’t have someone to help you in place, I also don’t think things have fallen apart. I have stepped in whenever I thought there was a real issue that needed addressing. Those have been few and far between, thankfully.
And that’s part of the problem with the CC. As a body, it exists to solve real interpersonal tensions. Over the years, we have had a few difficult things that needed working out. In the early days of Ubuntu we were bringing together wildly different, even constitutionally divergent communities (are there any more implacable frenemies than GNOME and KDE?) and we kept the CC busy with regular questions and disputes. But today, we have lots of established patterns for collaboration between the big parts of the community. Disputes or antisocial behaviour are relatively infrequent, and when they happen, they can be traumatic. Dealing with mental illness in public is awful, but occasionally that’s been the job of the CC. So the CC is weirdly caught between having nothing to do, and having very difficult things to do.
I watched how CC members stopped coming to meetings, stopped organising their meetings, stopped driving activity. This is obviously not a universal picture, there have been harder working and less hard-working CC bodies, and there have been more effective and less effective CC members. I understand it’s hard to put a lot of effort into something that doesn’t seem to correspond directly to a specific project or outcome. But I also saw the CC paralysed when actual tensions flared up, because it is difficult to draw a line on bad behaviour when you are not used to holding people accountable. It would be nice if saying yes to everybody made things effective, but it doesn’t. It would be nice if everybody was constructive and collaborative, but they are not.
Now, it’s indefensible that we haven’t actually put forward candidates for the CC. That’s on me, it’s my responsibility, and I haven’t done it. Partly that’s because I asked someone else to professionalise this work, something I cannot realistically do, and they have let me down. Partly it’s because it’s just not the biggest problem I have to solve for right now. None of that is me being absent, or uncaring, or indifferent. Partly, it’s me being unsure how to restructure a community leadership function that can perform real, satisfying work that requires dedication and judgement, but also generates a reward for those who put in the effort. If the work on the CC were so rewarding, more CC members would have shown up to their meetings. I think we can do better, but we probably need to do it differently.
By all means, continue this thread, I think its interesting to see what others might come up in terms of how we improve community representation and coordination. I don’t think the dispute-resolution function is sufficient to attract high quality people with dedication and focus to the work, so the question is, what will?