[Linux-aus] Refactoring Linux Australia

Jonathan Oxer jon at ivt.com.au
Thu Dec 8 20:30:03 UTC 2005

Hi LA,

You may recall the long running discussion following my email to
linux-aus titled "Can Linux Australia survive?" The purpose of that
email was to encourage the community to think about how Linux
Australia can be sustainable as an organisation. The discussion on
sustainability and reorganising even made it into the press, which is
quite a compliment for a small volunteer organisation!

That whole discussion came out of questions about refactoring the
organisational structure of LA so it can continue to grow and prosper.
In the last 18 months or so there has been a dramatic increase in the
number of activities that LA is involved in, and being a volunteer
organisation we need to make sure people don't burn out and decide
they've had enough. Volunteers are scarce enough to begin with and
putting pressure on them isn't a great way to keep things moving

With that in mind, a large part of my role as President is to look
ahead and articulate the vision for where the organisation can go and
then make sure the necessary structures are put in place to allow it
to be achieved without placing undue pressure on LA members.

The committee and I have spent some time looking at other
organisations and associations to understand how they are structured
and whether their approach can be applied to LA. We've also looked at
organisations that have had problems, hopefully so we can avoid making
the same mistakes. I'd love to hear from you about experiences you've
had with other organisations.

One organisation in particular which has many parallels to LA is
Bicycle Victoria, or BV. In the early days of BV a major focus was
running the annual Great Victorian Bike Ride, an annual event which
runs for about a week and makes heavy use of volunteer labour to
organise and run. Other early areas of focus included lobbying and
various educational projects, so with the Great Vic ride being
analogous to linux.conf.au you can see that they faced a lot of the
same organisational issues as LA. LA is currently a lot like BV was 20
years ago.

While I don't necessarily intend to turn Linux Australia into a clone
of Bicycle Victoria, its early similarities definitely make it a very
interesting case study. You can find out more about BV from their
website, such as the "About Bicycle Victoria" page at:


Their 2005 Financial Report also makes interesting reading:


To summarise their situation, though, in the last couple of years they
have had very strong growth with currently around 40k members and
almost $10 million annual revenue. Unlike LA they charge for
membership, and for reference their current fee structure is:

Concession: $75.00  (pensioner, fulltime student, unwaged - proof required)
Individual:   $85.00
Family of 2: $99.00   (a couple or 1parent and 1 child <21 or
full-time student <25)
Family 3+:   $110.00 (a couple or single parent with any number of
children <21 or  full-time student <25)

The organisation is governed by a voluntary Council consisting of
members elected by other members to represent them, forming a
9-position Council with staggered 3 year terms. The Council make
collective decisions in the best interests of the organisation and the
members. Its main roles are to set the strategic direction of the
organisation and to supervise the senior staff who are responsible for
the day-to-day running of the organisation.

Under the Council works the General Manager along with 20 permanent
staff + contractors.

Bicycle Victoria has four main departments:

    * Corporate: (5 staff: General Manager, Business Manager,
Accountant, Corporate Relations Manager, Business Systems Manager)
    * Campaigns
    * Events
    * Membership (3 staff)

There are obvious parallels here:

"Membership" is largely automated for us thanks to Steward.

"Events" could be equivalent to the LCA team.

"Campaigns" is somewhat like most of our other sub-committees bundled together.

"Corporate", however, is where we currently differ: LA has the
Committee, which straddles both the "Council" (oversight) and
"Corporate" (execution) roles. If there's one thing we need to fix
about our current organisational structure that's probably it, but
I'll get back to that later (probably another email - this is getting
long already!).

Right now we have some pressing organisational needs: someone to help
out with financial matters, for example, since Mark has stated that
his intention has been to get the finances in order but not continue
as treasurer after the coming election. But underlying those needs is
the necessity to get our organisational structure right so we're not
just putting a new volunteer into a high-pressure situation when we
could be doing things in a more efficient way.

We have an election and an AGM coming up so if we want to make
structural changes to the organisation now is the time to do it,
particularly if we need to make constitutional changes.

Cheers   :-)

Jonathan Oxer

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