Why I'm voting for whom I'm voting for in the Drupal Association election

old voting machine

For those who don't know: I served on the DA Board in 2010-2011, and was on the Governance Committee that developed the new structures. Before that I was in the General Assembly. I'm currently on the Advisory Board.

But I share my opinions here as a long-time member of the Drupal community who cares about the future of Drupal.

Criteria: more than good intentions

Last year, the Nominating Committee (on which I served) considered many aspects when evaluating potential candidates for the Drupal Association Board, including (in no particular order):

  • Skill sets. (We needed people with diverse areas of expertise, be it financial, legal, organizational....)
  • Competence in their field. (We wanted A players.)
  • Industry. (We did not want to have a Board comprised of mostly Drupal consultants, for example. Given that consultants as a whole tend to be more active in Drupal than others, this is an issue we will always face. Even so, the perspectives of various sectors are valuable — government, publishing, education, not-for-profit, corporate, etc.)
  • Company. (We had a rule that we didn't want any one company represented by more than one Board member. This eliminated a handful of otherwise very qualified candidates. We made an "exception" with Angie Byron, because of her fabulous community leadership and because Dries, under the Bylaws, automatically has a seat on the Board.)
  • Geographic diversity. (We knew we had to reach out worldwide. This made for a challenge, because of the greater travel requirements that come from having Board members scattered across the globe, but considered it worth trying.)
  • Drupal Ecosystem. (We wanted the various perspectives of the members of our community: volunteers, small shops, large shops, large integrators, in-house teams, designers, end-users, etc.)
  • Outside perspectives. (We needed to reach outside of our own Drupal echo chamber so we could draw upon knowledge and expertise from, e.g., other FOSS organizations who faced similar challenges already.)

I am looking at the same things when considering the nominees who have put up their names for at-large Board members in 2013, but here are a few criteria that, for me, weigh higher than the others this year:

  • Skill sets and expertise. And in this, I mean awesome track record, not impressive resumes. Whether elected by the community or recruited through the Nominating Committee process, all of our Board members need to be A-players, not well-meaning B- or C-players. We should expect nothing but excellence from our elected Directors.
  • Geographic diversity. The DA is clearly still very heavily weighted towards a North American perspective. To me, the long-term viability of the Drupal Association depends upon geographic diversity of its decision makers, and right now I feel non-North American voices are needed. We're a global community, but how that's reflected in the DA Board is ... incomplete. I'm looking at non-North American candidates first.

However, with all that said, criteria for selection are only half of the equation. It behooves us all to consider....

The business of the Drupal Association

I feel it's best if those of us voting consider what the Drupal Association is doing, and what very real challenges the Board faces, before weighing the candidates to the above criteria (or whatever criteria you bring to bear). Here are just a few items.

DrupalCons are the bulk of the "business" of the DA

Just look at the financials to understand how the DA lives and dies by the financial success of DrupalCons. All of the other things the DA does, such as supporting the Drupal.org infrastructure, migrating project repositories from ancient and crappy CVS to Git, and the ongoing improvements of our tools available on Drupal.org... all of these are dependent on DrupalCons' ongoing success.

How to make DrupalCons more successful is an open question. But consider:

  1. The rapid growth of DrupalCons has been a huge challenge for what has been a grassroots community event. Look at the History of the DA to understand something of how we got here. The huge popularity of DrupalCons is a great problem to have, but it's still a problem – a very real problem.
  2. The DA has put on only 2 DrupalCons a year, and because of size, each event effectively puts the entire organization at risk. With 7-figure budgets, risk can't be avoided. This means that an imperative must be put on institutional knowledge, best practices, very sound financial management, and always keeping an eye on protecting the DA. If there were a major failure of a DrupalCon, suddenly the resources earmarked for the next DrupalCon would be compromised, money to back Drupal.org improvements is put at risk, and the resources the DA brings to all of its endeavors are threatened.
  3. Adding a third DrupalCon represents roughly a 50% increase in activity, risk, challenges. Things didn't come together for São Paolo (and why is an open and valid question worth examination to find lessons to learn), but seem to be coming together for Sydney. The DA is obviously striving to expand the geographic diversity of major events, but that's not easy. Simply wanting more DrupalCons on more continents isn't enough. One conversation questioning how DrupalCons happen has started but that's not enough. For any such dialog to yield results, it needs to involve the Board, the Advisory Board, a lot of community members, sponsors, attendees.... And there's much to weigh in consideration.
  4. Large-scale Drupal events require significant financial commitment — much more than what your average local community group can afford. Balancing community initiative and organization against DA financial resources and risk management is always going to be a challenge on the big events.
  5. Finding ways the DA can support regional summits and DrupalCamps has been on the agenda for the Board and the Executive Director for some time now. There have been pilot programs, but there's more that can be explored. And all of these involve more than simply providing a "rubber stamp of approval".

Diversifying revenue is a gradual process

Growing other components of the DA's revenue sources, such as through DA memberships, is an imperative, but these things take time. The DA started as a way to manage DrupalCons, but our mission grew to broader support of the Drupal community. And yet, right now, DrupalCons demand the majority of DA resources and vast bulk of the DA Board's and staff's attention. DrupalCons are the tail wagging the dog. This means the great pressure on the success of DrupalCons is not going away soon. How do we grow other revenue streams to counterbalance revenues from the insanely popular DrupalCons? How do we do it without compromising the values of the Drupal community?

The DA is young — very young

Although the DA has been in existence for many years, it is very young in terms of the new governance rules. What has happened so far should not be indicative of a mature policy developed over several years. We're just getting started!

This means that whoever gets elected will be joining a small group of people who have a very heavy workload. When I was on the Board, there was always too much to fit on meeting agendas. I think it's fair to assume that has not changed at all.

Governance does not mean doing

The time for marching orders is past. The whole restructuring to the new governance model was to get away from the volunteer-doer-Board-member paradigm, because that was simply too inefficient. There's a staff of paid professionals and committed volunteers to lead implementation. What we need on the Board are people who think outside of the box, who are thought leaders, who can build consensus, who can see the big picture, who can collaborate, who can herd cats — and who have a track record being awesome at it.

In conclusion

That's all. No, I'm not going to be publicly endorsing anyone. You can decide for yourself. So have you voted yet?