State of the AFFS

Introduction

This is a summary of where I think AFFS is now and a description of what I've done for AFFS, in my own words, now that I'm definitely not restricted any more. I'm not restricted because I've resigned. You can read my resignation announcement on lists.gnu.org (only the hostnames are shown in the text, but links are to the actual pages).

Where is AFFS now?

How well is the AFFS doing against its 5 main aims? They are:

1. to promote and advance the knowledge, development, use and application of Free Software pioneered by the Free Software Foundation and others.

Not bad. Grants are promoting development and could promote use/application too. To make more grants, we need more donations. What is needed to encourage more donations?

2. to facilitate the exchange of information and views on the use and development of Free Software.

There's FLOSSIE (co-sponsored) and AFFSAC (organised). Should we be hosting or sponsoring things online and in print too?

3. to inform upon the subject of Free Software.

There are some events AFFS is attending routinely, but are we still going to UKUUG? Are we involved much in things like the LUG computer fair infopoints? Or LUGs in general? I don't think ctte have spoken to many LUGs recently. How are we getting information out to members who want to use it?

I failed to get AFFS active in more general copyright debates, too.

4. to encourage internationalisation and localisation of Free Software.

I can't think of what we're doing here. I didn't get agreement to list local localisation projects on the AFFS web site. I don't think ctte cares enough about this. We have good opportunities, but miss them.

5. to ensure the continued legal existence of Free Software within the United Kingdom.

We're lobbying directly and giving some money to FFII and FSFE, but this is the time-consuming hard work IMO.

The other questions that bug me are: 1. how can members and supporters get actively involved? 2. would an ordinary member have the information to make this sort of evaluation, or only six-month-old minutes and some carefully vetted statements?

Summer 2004 - from AGM to newsletter trouble

After being re-elected at May's AGM, I attended ctte's meeting in July. The minutes of these are published at www.affs.org.uk www.affs.org.uk and I think they're fairly accurate. After the AGM, I was determined to plug the most urgent holes in the standing orders before they bit us again, so I tried to do it in the simplest way possible with short rules for email resolutions and meetings. You can find them on www.affs.org.uk

At July's meeting, I asked to split the Treasury and Membership work and Ian offered to take on Membership, so I updated the description of how I handle memberships (and have done so even more since). In the event, Schoolforge-UK and Ingots both took off for Ian, so that handover didn't happen. I'm quite happy with that, as I wasn't able to do other AFFS work that I wanted anyway (see below) and it's great to see Ian helping free software make inroads in education.

We agreed to trial a ticketing system for enquiry emails. Unfortunately, we didn't set a SMART target (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-limited) and the sysadmins weren't at the meeting. Sysadmins don't seem to report to full ctte very often, so the vague decision caused trouble (below).

We also agreed to start handling donations for FSFE, to take the edge off currency conversion and international bank transfers for UK donors. We've agreed the details with FSFE and I have sent two batches so far, shown in the treasury pages. www.affs.org.uk

I edited the July 2004 newsletter (the last one currently available on the web site) and attended the training day arranged by Tom Chance. That was a great help for other things I do (thanks Tom!), but I've not been able to get AFFS using it.

My editing of the August 2004 newsletter was blocked because I strongly believed we should include a call for members to influence the government's "Music Manifesto" which seemed likely to send proprietary and pro-DRRT/DRM copyright propaganda into schools. During the course of this, it was suggested that ctte should move to decision-making by veto for some things. I posted a small public notice about the delay to this list in lists.gnu.org and I was criticised for that.

Autumn/Winter 2004 - ESF and Gagging

In October, I spoke about so-called "copy control" or DRRT/DRM at a session about "New Enclosures" at the European Social Forum. I'd attended East Anglian Social Forum meetings before, but ESF was a whole larger scale, as you'd expect, with a bit more structure and a lot more chaos. You might be able to hear the 10min talk at www.affs.org.uk (2.5Mb).

The "lightweight" grants programme was announced by Kevin in September in a "soft launch." That was criticised a little and I think that and my newsletter statement motivated a suggested process for public relations. I voted against because it's unnecessary red tape and it had serious practical problems.

A resolution gagging unapproved committee statements to public mailing lists was passed at a committee meeting on 6 October. That meeting had been postponed from September and moved from Crewe to London. Kevin didn't attend and the meeting didn't deal with the concerns he had emailed in. The resolution text wasn't written beforehand (which was what we agreed to do at July's meeting) and there's 4 or so alternate wordings, which is partly why the minutes of that meeting haven't been agreed. Kevin resigned from ctte on 17 November. I suspect it's because of that, but he didn't give reasons in his resignation.

I didn't realise it then, but this left "Committee does not have to stick by decisions that it has made" as the dominant view. There were stalemates on pretty much every dispute and no action was beyond criticism. The fall-out meant that I failed to get decisions to do much and it even took three attempts to agree a simple change to the bank account configuration (later done, but Marc Eberhard is still a signatory as I write this, as a set of papers seem to have been lost in the post).

The ticketing trial system called MailManager turned out to be more like a glorified webmail than a bug tracker. It was simplistic, not even wrapping lines on outgoing email at first, and it really gets confused if you try to work via your normal email client. I found it demoralising because emails got a bright red "OVERDUE" symbol on them the first time I saw them (heck, it may as well say "YOU HAVE FAILED" at login), which may be why I don't remember the performance target statistics being reported anywhere much. Membership handling was transferred to it without consulting me and it hindered the way I worked, which was already one of the better-documented and most efficient processes in AFFS. Even though it was approved as a trial in July, some ctte fought any time limit or planned review. We didn't even agree not to transfer more tasks to the webmail system without agreement of those doing the tasks.

Gagging and forced changes to how I work. I felt pretty low about now.

Winter/Spring 2005 - Telephones and Good Governance

Unable to get agreement, I concentrated on doing current tasks better and achieving my main goals. I handled the accounts and membership enquiries more efficiently. I read about developments in charities and recommendations for "good governance." I made any changes within my power. (I also encouraged Software in the Public Interest to take a look at themselves along the same lines, as you can see on www.spi-inc.org.) I suggested changing the layout of the accounts to a more common voluntary/donation-based style, but that was referred for comment and ctte didn't ever comment.

Since January, ctte have been discussing things in telephone conferences. It seems impossible to get these to happen for any reason besides newsletters and there's often been little notice. I also feel that I have been ambushed at least twice, including a really unpleasant discussion about my membership processing not being good enough, apparently only because it isn't done through the ticketing trial system and people don't RTFM I posted. My suggestions for improving these telephone conferences only got positive feedback, but have not been acted upon. (Also, all ctte have my telephone number, but only 2 have spoken with me independently this year and they weren't on the unpleasant call.)

At March's ctte meeting, ctte agreed to make the first grant, to propose constitution amendments which would allow non-AGM elections and to choose election rules before the AGM. Sadly, I couldn't get the disputed mailing lists resolution changed or even clarified.

When dealing with other people and organisations about free software, I have often been able to achieve my aims, but I have usually been working privately, without ctte support. In one case where I did explicitly ask for action, the "political" view was the opposite and seemed to block me, but then the aim was achieved anyway. I feel I was lucky that time, but what's the point of being on ctte if what I do well is not good enough, what I want to do is usually blocked and I'm avoided when I try to change something?

My last proposal was to appoint someone to fill the casual vacancy left by Kevin's resignation. Having 6 ctte members is only just half-strength and I'd already said earlier in the year that I would resign about now, but ctte needs people in order to run a good AGM (and maybe conference). The candidate has committee experience (so I thought they might help to stabilise decision-making), has helped at a conference before and foolishly agreed to help. I couldn't even get that approved, with 3 in favour and 3 abstaining (including chair), so not the required majority. Argh!

Two ctte members seemed to want to consult in a similar way to the proposed co-option of Adam Bower, Ian Lynch and Andrew Savory in 2003. I was quiet during those events, but I'd now like to make it known that I voted for Andrew Savory's appointment, although I noted the reservations. He withdrew his offer before all votes were in and I think that whole episode had mistakes all round.

There was also a discussion about process which I regard as very silly and yet another example of rewriting the rules as they go along. The treasury improvements and the March meeting achieved my minimum and I think it's unlikely I can achieve much more with this ctte, so I resigned, to free up time to work on other projects, and to let me write this, to try to motivate some of you to join AFFS and/or stand for committee and elect a group which will deliver an open efficient association that supports free software in the UK.

Conclusion

I don't think some of the downers would have happened if ctte was subject to more member scrutiny. I apologise for not realising that earlier and acting more strongly about it.

I call for many AFFS members to attend the AGM (details to be announced) and to elect new committee members who will work efficiently and as openly as possible. The main activities AFFS should do seem simple but are important: financing and communicating. Efficiency helps financing and openness helps communicating. Do you think you could do them well?

Please: Nominate and Elect for Efficient Openness!

IIRC, my resignation means that there would be 6 vacancies and only 5 continuing members, so new members will be a majority and I think some of those continuing will support these aims too. Submit your nominations to the secretary via frontdesk@affs.org.uk and email your offered promises to fsfe-uk@gnu.org, please.

K.Lynn, 23 June 2005