[Noisebridge-discuss] catching up with "what's wrong with discussing things at the Tuesday meeting"
tdfischer at hackerbots.net
Thu Mar 27 12:15:07 UTC 2014
On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 22:51:21 Al Sweigart wrote:
> I think a lot of people who sit through the frustrating, lengthy, and often
> vitriolic weekly meetings would agree that much more would be needed to
> improve the policy process than just a "minus 1" or "minus 2" addendum. And
> even for that much, I haven't seen any proposal for such a change to
> consensus ever come from the folks who are pro-consensus.
> But coming up with policy and process is work, and boring work to boot.
> It's easy to put off when the "people just need to be excellent and
> consensus will work" placebo is available.
> If there are some practical process suggestions for how to conduct meetings
> and decision making (not just abstract guidelines or ideaology) that would
> improve Noisebridge, I'm all ears.
Hi, Al and Noisebridge.
I believe that I am watching an incredibly fascinating situation develop at
Noisebridge. It is fascinating to me because of how incredibly similar it is
to what SYNHAK is (was?) going through over the last few months. I hate to
keep bringing up SYNHAK, SYNHAK, SYNHAK, but I really do feel that I have some
useful suggestions that can come out of these parallels.
This is going to be a *very* lengthy e-mail with links to even longer emails
on our own mailing lists. Sorry, but I feel that I need to explain my point of
view before any concrete suggestions pop up. I will visibly note these
I want to note though, that I'm only here as an observer. I last visited NB
back in January and ended up picking up an Associate Membership and CNC milled
a key in response to a challenge that JC gave. Regardless, Noisebridge has
been a big inspiration for us synhakkers. Its a bit like our parents are
fighting and we're scared and probably can't help much but we want to stop it
oh please just stop its so scary and uncertain ;_;
First, some background about me:
I'm a software engineer who works in the FOSS world. I help write GStreamer,
made some patches to Tracker, did a lot of work for KDE back in the day. I've
been active in KDE and FOSS development since early 2008, but actively
involved in the whole ecosystem since 2001. I feel that I know what it takes
to build an open source project from the ground up and the mechanisms it takes
to keep it running smoothly.
Second, some background about us:
* We've grown from a crazy idea to create a Noisebridge of the midwest in Ohio
to a bustling hub of 20+ members in the last two years.
* Since the outset, we've tried to adopt a mixture of various governance
patterns, such as Noisebridge's triumvirate of Do-ocracy, Consensus, and
* On top of that, we adopted a few other systems such as the Apache
Foundation's rule of "If it didn't happen on the mailing list, it didn't
* On top of /that/, we've got some actual space rules that were decided upon
in Ye Age of Myth, much like when NB finally decided to write down their house
rules in github.
* Back in January, we officially consensed to use Noisebridge's consensus
process, though we didn't write down all the details.
* We grew a *lot* faster than we were able to scale, which means that our
bylaws and rules and such had a lot of loopholes.
The meat and potatoes.
Sometime in December, a board member had mentioned entertaining a sublease
with another member's DJ company to lease out 250 square feet of our new 4,000
square foot space. I immediately jumped on that since it is antiethical to a
hackerspace to do that by contacting a lawyer and proving that the lease
didn't happen, and also calling for the removal of the members involved:
On Feb 28th, the new SYNHAK board assumed office.
Shortly thereafter, a board meeting was called by one of the officers with the
intent to retroactively approve the lease.
A few days later, the person in question announced that the board was going to
be voting on a Drug Policy:
We already had a general feeling of what was and wasn't acceptable behavior.
However, the bylaws and other governance documents didn't say that the board's
agenda had to be spelled out before anyone voted on it. The membership started
to revolt, and I ended up putting discuss@ in moderation for the weekend to
cool things down.
The board meeting finally happened. During the meeting, the discussion quickly
devolved into "we need to vote on this stuff now because we need to solve
these problems". Some of the board felt an urgent need to do *something*, but
didn't want to spend time asking the membership. I do not have a board vote,
so I was actually told by those involved in the sublease debacle that I could
not give any feedback or participate. That was quickly shot down. However, I
could not motion to have any of these items moved back to the general
membership for discussion. One of the Champions was sympathetic to my pleading
and eventually no vote happened. Everything was decided to be sent back to the
The next three meetings after that were absolute hell. I actually ended up
screaming at someone because they interrupted me, claiming that "We've always
used majority voting!" Again, there was documentation that we've always used
consensus. I even got accused of directly editing the mediawiki mysql database
to fit my agenda. It was sad and petty.
Just last Saturday, the racks were finally moved out. It took three months of
arguing and fighting and yelling and screaming before he gave up. As a trophy,
I have a fantastic letter that says we don't respect democracy through
majority vote (duh) that I will be framing in my office.
During those three months, almost nothing got done. There was no hacking.
Heck, I even refused to show up a few times because the space was so
incredibly unwelcoming. Worst of all, it tore the community apart. There were
some clear divisions. Last week, we had a guest show up during the meeting and
say that we were not being excellent to each other. It had gotten so poisonous
and awful and terrible that people who had never set foot in SYNHAK before
were trying to put out the fires.
= WHAT COULD HAVE AVOIDED ALL OF THIS =
Going back to my experience in FOSS, transparency is *always* required. Don't
even think about doing something without letting everyone know. A board member
signed a sublease that handed out a big chunk of SYNHAK for pennies! There was
apparently someone who thought they could use their position as board member
to unilaterally sell out SYNHAK without a board vote or membership discussion.
I repeatedly brought up the lack of transparency. If this sublease had been
publicly discussed anytime before February, the membership could have given
input and we could have had a fair discussion.
We still use the rule of "If it didn't happen on the mailing list, it didn't
happen". Proposals are required to be sent to discuss@ prior to consensus.
Meeting minutes are sent to discuss@ by a robot so that *everyone* knows whats
up. As treasurer, I'm working on a mechanism where I upload my accounting
workbook to our servers, which is then massaged by a robot to produce a
Adding on to transparency, is complete documentation of everything. We try to
document literally everything. There are two pages in particular on our wiki:
The SYNHAK Manual, and the Unified SYNHAK Code.
The former is a collection of articles about how consensus works, how to
open/close the space, what to do in case of emergency, how the jukebox works,
what it takes to be a sysadmin, our mailing lists, etc, etc, etc.
The later is a painstakingly curated list of everything that we've consensed
on with the exact wording. Everything has a citation that links to the meeting
it happened at. Each meeting lists the complete discussion about any item. I
hope to soon also provide links to mailing list archives, but that is manual
labor that I am working on solving with robots.
= THE CONCRETE SUGGESTIONS =
Talk about everything. If some rules are changing, send it to discuss at . If the
board is going to be voting on *anything* that impacts the membership, send it
to discuss at . If the board sneezes, send a notice to discuss at .
Document everything. Its great that y'all are using github to write down your
actual rules and consensus items. I really like that idea and want to figure
an even easier way for us to use that where nobody has to learn how to git.
Finally, I'd like to explain my moderation style during our Tuesday meeting.
As I mentioned earlier, there were quite a few tense meetings where I ended up
screaming and yelling at people. Others screamed at me. That is a clear
indication of an ineffective moderator.
This past Tuesday, I stepped up and do-ocractically decided that I was going
to fix that by going back to how I first moderated meetings when we had maybe
four crazy people meeting in my garage. Here's a book I had been reading in
Its really great and full of suggestions. Here's a protocol that quickly turns
a "consensus" meeting into a meeting where everyone reaches Consensus. No
voting needed. No yelling. No screaming.
First, make sure the note-taker is able to project the minutes. Everyone needs
to be able to see that their view is accurately represented for all to see.
Second, the moderator needs to be able to jump in and tell people to shut up.
Don't let members talk over the moderator. Make that very clear in the base
rules set at the beginning of the meeting where you tell everyone to Be
Excellent to Each Other (You /do/ mention that, right?)
Third, don't let people jump in on consensus in the middle of the meeting. Its
probably okay if they show up during any announcements, financial report, etc.
As soon as consensus starts happening, lock the doors. They're SOL if they
couldn't plan ahead and get there. Yes, its harsh. But is it in the best
interests of the space to let people interrupt the decision making process?
They can talk about it on discuss@ later if they've got issues.
Now, the actual process for reaching consensus:
1. The moderator asks if anyone wishes to raise any issues
2. Each person is given a turn to quickly explain their issue along with a
proposed solution. These are written down by the note-taker.
3. As the note-taker writes it down, the moderator asks the participant to
verify that what is written down is exactly what they want to see
4. The moderator asks for a show of hands of those who wish to block an item
5. Repeat for those who have *any* questions or *any* concerns.
6. Those who did not raise their hands are asked to remain silent while those
with questions and concerns are each given a turn to explain each item.
7. With each item, the participant, note-taker, and moderator all verify that
what is written in the minutes is exactly what they want.
8. After all questions and concerns are written down, the moderator goes
around the room and gives each person a turn to answer any questions or
concerns with new information.
It is very important that it doesn't turn into a back-and-forth dialog! This
is how an adversarial feeling develops between parties. Others start to feel
that their voice is not heard.
9. Repeat steps 4 through 8 until nobody has any concerns or questions.
10. Each blocker is given a chance to explain why they are blocking. It is a
requirement that any block must be in the best interests of the space, and not
for personal or moral reasons.
For example, its okay to block against subleasing a portion of the space,
since it takes away workspace from the group.
It is not okay to block against having sleepers because "they're
neuroatypical". The moderator needs to ask the question of whether or not it
is in the group's best interest to permit neruoatypical folks to sleep there
at the space. Hint: No. It gets in the way of hacking and might break the
11. Repeat steps 4 through 10
12. Collectively write a formally worded proposal
13. Send to discuss@
14. At the next meeting, repeat steps 1 through 10. If the proposal does not
change, you've consensed.
It is of the utmost importance that all of this is documented and that all of
this is made public. Not everyone can come to every meeting. If something
objectionable comes up from a meeting, members have that one week gap before
step 14 to get involved and plan to attend.
Yes, it is slow. Yes, it works.
To scale beyond that, you need to start implementing sub-committees, speaking
time limits, and requiring that most of the discussion happens outside of the
meeting. If something is taking too long, the moderator can jump in and say
"Hey, lets write down where we're at and then we can talk about it outside of
the meeting on discuss@". Thats how Consensus can scale.
On a final note, SYNHAK has 20 members who actively participate in governance.
We have been able to scale it using this. If you're looking for more ideas,
read that book. It really does have a bunch more. I myself am also looking for
more ways to streamline our processes to get our meetings down below an hour.
We're currently at 1.5h. Best of all, STUFF GETS DONE WITHOUT FIGHTING.
> On Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 10:36 PM, rachel lyra hospodar
> <rachelyra at gmail.com>wrote:
> > A broad reaching yet minimalist approach to solving this very specific and
> > real problem might be trying out a consensus minus 1 or minus 2 model.
> > As opposed to majority vote within a secret cabal which is the ultra
> > opposite of consensus.
> > Just saying.
> > On Mar 26, 2014 7:13 PM, "Al Sweigart" <asweigart at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> That's my point though: while in theory consensus is supposed to be more
> >> inclusive, over the last five years it's more often been a way for one or
> >> two people to use blocking as a nuclear option. This protects abusive
> >> people and excludes others who feel unsafe at the space. (See also: the
> >> overwhelming number of people joining Double Union who wouldn't touch
> >> Noisebridge with a ten foot pole)
> >> We've been hearing the "ah, but it's not the TRUE way of consensus" for
> >> literally years. Maybe the reason we haven't found this utopian version
> >> of
> >> consensus is because it doesn't exist.
> >> On Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 10:01 PM, spinach williams <
> >> spinach.williams at gmail.com> wrote:
> >>> On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 09:53:50 PM Al Sweigart wrote:
> >>> > Moving to a more democratic system
> >>> leaving consensus for majority vote isn't "more democratic" -- actually
> >>> practicing consensus (as rachel has been pointing out hasn't been done
> >>> in the
> >>> space in quite some time), however, is.
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> Noisebridge-discuss mailing list
> >> Noisebridge-discuss at lists.noisebridge.net
> >> https://www.noisebridge.net/mailman/listinfo/noisebridge-discuss
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