[Linux-aus] Changing the way Linux Australia operates

Jonathan Oxer jon at ivt.com.au
Mon Feb 14 12:09:01 UTC 2005

Hi everyone,

[Sorry that this email turned into an epic: I'll try not to do that too

On the weekend the new Linux Australia Committee had their first formal
face to face meeting in Sydney. We had a long agenda including some
potentially contentious topics and I think I can safely say that leading
up to the meeting we were all worried that it could turn into a heated
argument over exactly how Linux Australia should be managed.

Over the last two years the committee has increased its activity level
dramatically, and in the process it has settled into a way of doing
things that has tended to put a lot of work on a relatively small number
of people. As a result tempers have understandably started to fray
around the edges at times. However, even with those tense moments the
last two years has been a fantastic experience for everyone involved and
many lessons have been learned - some the easy way, some the hard
way  ;-)

An event like the recent change in Committee leadership is a perfect
opportunity to take the lessons that have been learned and reexamine the
way things are done. If LA is to continue to grow and provide better and
more services to the community we can't allow it to stand still: the
organisation should always be striving to operate more effectively.

Although most LA members outside the Committee wouldn't even be aware of
it, the major point of dissension that has been building up over time
has been the apparently conflicting objectives of decreased
administrative burden versus improved operational transparency and
visible activity (translation from suit-speak: the Committee want less
red tape and to do less work, but to get more done and make it easier
for people to see what's going on). This issue had the potential to blow
the Committee apart with angry people all heading off in different
directions, so it was something the new Committee had to sort out right
up front if the organisation is going to continue getting things done.

In the end we managed to work through our differences to discover that
those objectives aren't actually in conflict at all, and that we can
achieve both simultaneously.

To that end the Committee made some decisions that will change the way
Linux Australia is run. The changes will be immediate and (I hope) very

The changes will:

* Result in less procedural work for the Committee.
* Keep members more informed of what's going on.
* Allow members to actively participate in Committee discussions.
* Empower the Executive to make immediate operational decisions.

One of the most obvious immediate changes will be the way the LA
Committee uses LA mailing lists. You are obviously familiar with this
list, linux-aus, but there is also a private list just for the
Committee. The Committee list has until now been used for pretty much
all Committee business, and at times has seen a decent amount of traffic
and discussion. However, it has been totally opaque to the general LA
membership who may only become aware of issues after a decision has been
made or comment requested on linux-aus. There are many discussions which
take place on the Committee list which ordinary members just have no
access to or even awareness of.

This has helped perpetuate a very unhelpful dichotomy within LA:
Committee||!Committee. There is a general feeling that decisions are
made behind closed doors, that ordinary members are cut out of the loop,
and that if a member has an idea for something LA should be doing it's
very difficult to get the "blessing" of the organisation to undertake
official activities.

I believe it's critical to destroy that perception and to allow all
members of the Linux community within Australia to feel that LA is
*their* organisation, here not only to make sure LCA happens but also as
a vehicle within which we can all operate to get lots of different
things done.

Members need to know that the Committee will not just *allow* them to
get involved in all sorts of different ways but desperately *wants*
everyone to be involved. The Committee is not an elite team put together
to do all the work and make decisions for everyone else and exclude
other input: the Committee is more like an oversight body with authority
to make executive decisions, but it does so on the behalf of members
like yourself. We want people to feel that if they come up with an idea
and want to move ahead with it, they can raise it and become an LA
resource to make it happen.

A perfect example is Planet Linux Australia: Michael Davies thought it
would be cool, raised it with the Committee, set up a temporary location
and just started doing it as a proof-of-concept. The Committee thought
it was a great idea, gave it the thumbs-up and gave Michael the access
he needed to move it to an "official" LA address:
http://planet.linux.org.au/. Lo and behold, a new LA activity / service
is born.

I'm sure there are many other people out there with ideas for activities
they would like to organise under the auspices of Linux Australia, but
feel they can't break into the inner sanctum to get the necessary

So to help break down communication barriers we are going to bring
Committee discussion and general business out into the open, to be
conducted right here in front of you in full living colour on the
linux-aus list.

The Committee will move as much internal communication as possible onto
linux-aus. The private list will remain but it will only be used in
unusual circumstances such as when discussing confidential personal
information or making trivial internal arrangements regarding meeting
venues. Anything of substance will now be discussed on linux-aus and
*all* members are invited to weigh in on issues and to have their say.
We're a community that's all about freedom of choice, free speech, and
being open and accessible when it comes to software, so it makes sense
that we conduct ourselves in the same way when it comes to running our
representative organisation.

Moving Committee business onto the linux-aus list may seem like a
trivial change but I'm hoping it will have a major impact on both
general awareness of LA activity and the level of member involvement.
It's also only the first of several operational changes that will become
apparent in the coming weeks, but this email is way too long already so
I'll leave discussion of other changes for another time.

Finally I'd like to publicly thank the entire LA Committee for their
hard work over the weekend. It was a big sacrifice to give up a weekend
with family and friends to spend it instead thrashing out difficult
issues for the benefit of the Linux community at large. Everyone on the
Committee provided significant input and the changes you will be seeing
over the coming weeks are very much a result of everyone working hard to
arrive at an outcome that we were all happy with. It's also given me
greater appreciation of the sacrifices and efforts of previous Committee
members, and how much we owe them for what we have today.

Cheers   :-)

Jonathan Oxer
Linux Australia

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