CRW Discussion Archives
- 1 Reform Package 1
- 1.1 Pat Barron
- 1.2 Vance Kochenderfer
- 1.3 Justin Smith
- 1.4 Pat Barron (follow-up 12/13/12)
- 1.5 Vance Kochenderfer (2)
- 1.6 Pat's response (and thanks!) to Vance - 12/13/12
- 1.7 Pat Barron - 12/14/12
- 1.8 Justin Smith 12/14/12
- 1.9 Pat Barron - 12/14/12, part deux
- 1.10 Justin Smith (12/14/12)
- 1.11 Justin Smith (1/1)
- 1.12 Pat Barron (01/04/13)
- 1.13 Pat Barron (01/04/13 - part 2)
- 1.14 Vance Kochenderfer survey comments
- 1.15 Pat Barron (01/07/13)
- 2 Reform Package 2
- 3 Reform Package 3 Ideas
- 3.1 Vance Kochenderfer
- 3.2 Justin Smith
- 3.3 Pat Barron
- 3.3.1 GUMs, Events, and Business Meetings
- 3.3.2 Not enough programming content
- 3.3.3 Too much programming when we do have programming
- 3.3.4 Consistency in event announcements
- 3.3.5 Event planning cycles are much too short
- 3.3.6 Venues - positive and negative
- 3.3.7 Make sure the venue is on board
- 3.3.8 Remember that there is an Event Committee
- 3.4 Vance Kochenderfer (2)
- 3.5 Justin Smith (2)
- 3.6 Pat Barron
Reform Package 1
Section 4.5 (Board Meetings)
Add new paragraph #3, which reads "Members of the Board may waive notice of any meeting by unanimous consent of all of the Directors. Consent may be manifested by roll call conducted during the meeting for which notice is to be waived, may be delivered in writing to the Secretary prior to the start of the meeting for which notice is to be waived, or may be delivered and recorded prior to the start of the meeting for which notice is to be waived by any means specified by rule for this purpose."
RATIONALE: Notice requirements for meetings exist (at least in part) to prevent a subset of the Directors from cutting other Directors out of the governance process, by conducting business at meetings called with unreasonably short notice, deliberately timed such that the disenfranchised Directors would not be able to attend. But in the most recent Board term, this caused us endless frustration - many instances of having us in the same place, at the same time, and needing to take some action - but not being able to because the bylaws require business to be conducted at an in-person meeting held on at least 24 hours notice. WPLUG has evolved into an organization whose Directors are spread out over a fairly wide area, and who have jobs and other responsibilities (not to imply that prior boards have not had such concerns, of course - more that, at least in the last board, members may be in a different place in their lives than previous boards, and may not have this type of flexibility, especially in view of the geographic dispersion --Pat.). So the requirement to travel to an in-person meeting in order to take any action is not conducive to getting things done. It is particularly frustrating when there is an occasion where the Directors find themselves together for other reasons, but can not take any action as a Board at that time because the bylaws don't permit them to conduct an impromptu meeting. The proposed waiver of notice provision solves this problem, while preserving the rights of all of the Directors by requiring unanimous consent to waive notice of the meeting (even if any of the seated Directors are unable to attend the short-notice meeting, they could still agree to waive notice). The last sentence would give us leeway to implement this consent via something like Loomio in the future if we so choose. In my (limited) experience, most organizations operated in this way do implement a provision to waive notice of meetings, I would hope that WPLUG could do so too.
Section 8.4 (Virtual Meetings)
Strike paragraph #1 entirely, or perhaps replace it with something that indicates that either in-person meetings or virtual meetings are equally acceptable, and whether a meeting is to be in-person or virtual is at the discretion of the chair of that meeting.
RATIONALE: This was another huge frustration for us, for similar reasons. Virtual meetings are great for quickly hashing out an urgent topic, if it's not possible or not practical to get everyone together in person. But the bylaws currently require that any virtual meeting be scheduled in advance, during a prior in-person meeting, and requires that consent to a virtual meeting be made by a 2/3 vote (in other words, erects an even higher bar to doing it than the typical majority consent). This effectively makes virtual meetings useless for quick turnaround of urgent issues. I honestly don't understand the rationale for this provision as it stands. My best guess is that it's intended to prevent erecting a barrier to entry to participation - perhaps thinking that all members of the Board, or all members of a Committee, may not have the means or technical knowledge to use one of the allowed virtual meeting technologies, and that the high barrier is designed to protect these people and keep them from being disenfranchised. That may have made sense in 2006. In 2012, I would say that as WPLUG is a technology-focused organization, it is reasonable to expect the leadership of that organization to be comfortable using such technology, and thus virtual meetings should be granted a status equivalent to in-person meetings for all Board and Committee meetings. One thing we did last year was that we implemented another Special Rule of Order that permits virtual meetings via conference call. The rule includes a provision that allows the chair of an in-person meeting, at his/her discretion, to allow someone to an attend an otherwise in-person meeting via conference call; this provision of the rule is technically a circumvention of the bylaws, and fortunately we never had to test it - but we need to clean that up too.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I see my role here as offering interpretation and guidance. It may seem in many cases that I'm trying to throw cold water on people's ideas: sometimes I will be, and at those times I'll explicitly say "that's a bad idea." Otherwise, I am just trying to provide information with no positive or negative judgement implied.
I believe that Robert's Rules (insert reference here when I get my hands on my copy) defines the requirement for notice of a meeting as protecting the rights of absentees. If all members are present at a meeting, then there are no absentees, and therefore no one's rights are violated if a valid notice has not been given. The meeting would be proper, and the business conducted at the meeting is valid. (Note that this applies to any body, whether the Board, a committee, or the full membership.)
In short, I think the proposed rule is unnecessary. I think in such cases it would be a good idea for the Secretary to record in the minutes that all members were present to document that the meeting was valid despite the lack of notice.
There is a lot to say on this subject, and apparently the 11th edition of Robert's Rules discusses it in more depth (previous editions simply stated that in-person meetings are the only ones contemplated by the standard rules, and that bodies wishing to conduct other types of meetings must adopt their own rules for doing so). When I get a copy I'll be able to comment further.
On the 2/3 vote requirement (note that this is 2/3 of those voting at a Board meeting; not that 2/3 of all Board members must vote in favor), that was chosen as a standard supermajority ratio to prevent meetings being held by methods that would disadvantage a particular Board member. The requirement that an in-person meeting be held first is really a bootstrapping problem; once a valid virtual meeting is called, it can (by 2/3 vote) schedule future virtual meetings. However, once this is not done, you have to revert back to at least one in-person meeting.
Items to be considered include:
- How much notice must be given (and by what method)?
- How is a member considered to be "present" at the meeting for determining whether the quorum requirement has been met?
- How are motions made? How are subsidiary motions (such as to amend or postpone the pending question) handled?
- How is debate conducted?
- How is voting handled? (Note that in most online options, secret balloting will not be available, but for Board meetings this is not a great loss. Perhaps Loomio offers this; haven't had a chance to look at it yet.)
You should not feel that a rule needs to be drafted for each one of the points above; in some cases the defaults can be applied sensibly. They just need to be contemplated.
On the question of the current Audio Conferencing Virtual Meetings Special Rule of Order, I think the only conflict between it and the Bylaws exists in the last sentence. It would be perfectly acceptable under the rule to have an audio conference meeting where all members but one were present in the same room. The last sentence, however, is a problem: Robert's Rules requires exceptions to face-to-face meetings to be authorized by the bylaws, and I don't think the bylaws provide the latitude for the rule's provision that the Chair can permit attendance by phone. The solution may be to simply redefine such a meeting to be an audio conference meeting at which most of the members simply happen to be in the same place.
Some of what I suggest may seem over-the-top to people who are used to hearing conservative suggestions. I'm an idealist; what I say is generally just an open-ended expression of an underlying principle that I wish to convey. I'm always willing to negotiate on the end result.
Section 10: Amendment of Bylaws
If we're interested in electronic voting, we should amend
I believe that our reliance on Robert's Rules contributes to the perception that WPLUG is too formal and structured. We should consider alternatives. Many of my ideas here come from conversations I've had with John.
In many ways, WPLUG operates in accordance with the principles of free software: we allow anyone to come to our meetings, our mailing lists are open to the public, and we use a wiki for our Web site so that everyone can contribute. The principle behind all of this is universal access, and we agree that this is good.
Using the latest edition of Robert's Rules as our parliamentary authority is in direct conflict with universal access. Members are unable to obtain a copy unless they pay for it, and even if they do, they aren't permitted to redistribute it because it is copyrighted. This is the same business model used by proprietary software.
Even if you don't care about the ethical aspect, you cannot deny that it's incredibly inconvenient to not have easy access to WPLUG's fundamental rules. If I want to know what the secretary is responsible for, I can't just look it up in the WPLUG wiki; it refers me to Robert's Rules. I can't even look it up on an e-reader because Robert's Rules isn't available as an e-book. Everyone has to buy and rely on a physical book, which is about as old-fashioned and low-tech as it gets.
Bottom line: everyone should have easy access to WPLUG's rules and the ability to redistribute them.
An organization's rules should be designed with its size in mind.
Robert's Rules is over 800 pages long because it was originally written to be used by the U.S. Congress. WPLUG has less than 30 members. Do we really need so many regulations?
- PROPOSED ALTERNATIVES
1. Replace the outside references to Robert's Rules in our bylaws with actual instructions that are paraphrased from the earlier, public domain editions of Robert's Rules. Place our bylaws under a Creative Commons license. This would solve universal access, but it wouldn't reduce the complexity.
2. Create a hybrid derivative: do everything in Idea 1, but try to tie in material from Open Space (http://www.communitywiki.org/en/OpenSpace) to make a new system of bylaws that is less formal than Robert's Rules (more encouraging of open discussion) but with more structure than pure Open Space (being able to hold group votes, etc). In particular, I'd be interested to try holding part of a GUM under Open Space rules to see if people like it.
3. Replace Robert's Rules with a leaner alternative that supports universal access.
Most of the alternatives seem to be variants on consensus-building. "Consensus," in this context, does not mean unanimous agreement; rather, it means a decision that the group can overwhelmingly "live with." I'm not so sure this would work in our group.
Pat Barron (follow-up 12/13/12)
With regard to waiver of notice of meetings, if there's a well established "no harm, no foul" doctrine that would cover us in this instance, I would be OK with withdrawing this proposal. What I guess I don't understand well enough is, who has standing to raise a complaint about a meeting conducted like this in violation of the bylaws - who has standing to call "foul"? My concern would be the scenario where an impromptu meeting would be held with no notice, but all directors in attendance, where some decision is taken - later, could a non-Board member of the organization raise a complaint that the meeting was invalid, and the actions taken during that meeting void, because it wasn't held with the notice required by the bylaws?
With regard to virtual meetings, my ultimate goal would be to have there be absolutely no distinction between virtual meetings and in-person meetings - and in fact, that the norm might be "hybrid meetings", where some parties may attend in person, and some parties may attend from a distance. The bootstrap requirement that says virtual meetings must be announced at a prior meeting limits the usefulness of virtual meetings in one of the very circumstances where they'd be most useful - when something unexpected comes up. As an example, when I first talked to the folks at Hack Pittsburgh about holding a joint event with them, they would have really liked to have an answer that very day, if possible - but there was no practical way to get them an answer until the next in-person board meeting. The last clause in the audioconference Special Rule of Order was put in in an attempt to "save" meetings where people might not be able to show up at the last minute due to extenuating circumstances, like weather. As an example, I just plain don't drive anywhere if it's snowing, conditions in my neighborhood get too dangerous. But there could also be other circustances where someone could potentially "attend" virtually, but perhaps have had to travel out of the area for work on no notice. As the bylaws are currently written, the only real alternatives seem to be to postpone the meeting (delaying any pending business), or let it carry on without the input of the affected Director (even though they'd be willing and able to contribute, if they could do so from the location they happened to be in at the time). Ultimately, I'd like to see WPLUG's processes get a lot more agile, where in the typical case things can be dealt with within hours, rather than days or weeks - if I identify an unplanned issue at 4:00pm on some given day, and can get in touch with all of the Directors, I'd like to be able to be on an IRC chat with everyone at 6:00pm, and have it resolved by 7:00pm, that day - and ultimately, I'd like to see that become the norm as far as how the Board conducts business (in addition to having regularly scheduled meetings, virtual or in person, to make sure we're all executing on plan and getting things done). This overall goal is probably out of scope for what we're doing in the short term, but I think we can get there by incremental improvements.
With respect to online voting, I don't think Section 10 of the bylaws would need to be amended. What would need to change, however, would be the Special Rule of Order regarding Absentee Ballotting.
I had the same thought as Justin expresses above, that Robert's Rules of Order is simply too "heavyweight" of a process for an organization like WPLUG to use to govern it's operations. I also looked up the size of the latest edition on Amazon last night - 816 pages, and I also discovered last night (as Justin mentions above) that it is only available in "dead trees" format. We would have to be careful if we tried to create a lightweight derivative and publish it under a Creative Commons license, given that we don't have IP rights to the source material. I also agree that the governance documents should be self-contained and should not "incorporate by reference" any materials not present on the WPLUG wiki, though I don't have any kind of plan at the moment for how that could be accomplished. I have been trying to look at the governance documents for other groups with similar goals to WPLUG, though. So far, I've looked at Hack Pittsburgh's "Constitution", and the bylaws of PACS (the Philadelphia Area Computer Society). Both are organizations with much more activity than WPLUG currently has, that process a lot more funds through their treasuries than WPLUG does. The Hack Pittsburgh "Constitution" is literally about 20 lines, total. The PACS bylaws are 20 pages - of which about 4 pages are change history, and there are a few pages of administrivia they're required to deal with because they're a 501(c)3 organization. But both are completely self-contained. I don't necessarily hold them up as shining examples to be followed, I just point out that they get a lot done (and PACS in particular is very large, having a few hundred members as far as I'm aware), and their governance is fairly lightweight. On the other hand, I observe that two other groups that are very active, the Pittsburgh Ruby Users Group, and PLUG (the Philadelphia Linux Users Group) have no formal governance whatsoever, and I don't necessarily think that's such a great idea either - but both of these groups get an awful lot done. I believe that instituting a more lightweight, agile form of goverance would not only make WPLUG more effective, but would also get more members interested in participating in the leadership of WPLUG (remember, we only had 5 candidates total who ran for election in the most recent Board of Directors election), but would also get more people interested in pariticpating in WPLUG activities in general. Sadly, I have no solution to offer at the moment, but it's something I'm glad we're thinking about.
With respect to Open Space, I will admit (and this is primarily a matter of taste), I am not much of a fan of the Open Space philosophy. There is a group in Pittsburgh that operates according to Open Space guidelines, and I've attended some events, and have been left unsatisfied. Primarily, I think, because if I'm going to commit the time to participate in an event, I prefer to see an agenda published in advance (rather than the Open Space "build the agenda as you go" strategy). That being said, WPLUG did at one point in the past host an "un-conference" type event in conjunction with a GUM. The results were mixed, primaily I think because it wasn't heavily attended. It is something we could try again if there is sufficient interest.
Vance Kochenderfer (2)
The 11th edition of Robert's Rules apparently makes it explicit that if there are no absentees, then a rule protecting absentees (such as notice of a meeting) cannot be violated. This was only implied in the 10th edition.
Decision-making Is Too Cumbersome under Robert's Rules
Yes, the full edition is over 800 pages. The In Brief version of Robert's Rules can be read in an hour and covers 90%+ of the situations you will encounter. It is also available for the Kindle (but apparently no other e-book formats).
Pat's example of a joint event with HackPittsburgh is a good one to use. I'll add another hypothetical example: the coffee maker breaks at an installfest, and the Treasurer buys a new one for $100 without approval since there's no membership or Board meeting that day and we really need coffee at the installfest.
For the HackPittsburgh example, what is the decision being undertaken? Really, it's just putting WPLUG's name on an event. No organizational business is going to be transacted at the event. There are three bodies which could approve this: the Program Committee, which has been delegated responsibility for making arrangements for events by section 7.2 of the bylaws; the Board of Directors; or the membership. Were I in Pat's shoes, I would have called the other Board members to see if they agreed with holding such an event. If most of them were in favor, I'd call HackPittsburgh back and say we were on board. Then at the next Board meeting, I'd report on the action and make a motion to ratify it, which as a main motion requires only a majority vote for adoption.
For the coffee maker example, the decision is to spend $100 on a coffee maker for WPLUG events. If there is already $100 in the refreshment fund, the Treasurer could just use that, since it's already been created for this purpose. If there's only $50 in the fund, then he could spend that plus $50 out of his own pocket if he's feeling generous. In both cases, no further approval is needed since the action taken has already been approved.
Suppose, however, that the Treasurer buys the coffee maker using the WPLUG debit card, spending $100 from the checking account. He could then go to the Board or the membership to seek ratification for the expense. In the worst case, the motion would be defeated, and the Treasurer would be personally liable to WPLUG for $100. (As consolation, he'd get to keep the coffee maker.) Or maybe it would be amended, and only approved for $75, in which case the Treasurer would face a decision: pay WPLUG $100 and keep the machine, or pay WPLUG $25 and turn over the machine to WPLUG.
Depending on the decision being made, there may be more flexibility available than you think.
Alternatives to Robert's Rules
Writing our own rulebook is a lot like saying "PHP is too bloated and ugly; let's create our own web scripting language instead." The new language starts out lean and efficient, and then you start adding missing features, and realize there are corner cases that need to be covered, and eventually you end up with something that's worse than what you set out to replace.
It is absolutely true that the current Robert's Rules is non-Free (as in freedom) documentation. (I will point out that you can buy copies of both the full and "in brief" editions for less than it costs to join WPLUG for a year.) Back when we were working on the 2005 bylaws, I considered writing a parliamentary procedure manual, putting it under the GFDL, and setting it up as a community project. The scope of making such a project complete and properly maintaining it proved too daunting, however. Many non-Free knock-offs of Robert's Rules have been published, every one of which I looked at being inferior. In the end, I accepted that while a Free set of rules would be desirable, I was not the person with the brains or the energy to undertake such a project. I would refer anyone who wants to try to the public domain 1876 edition or 1915 edition as a starting point. Note that they are relatively slim, but a century of necessary interpretations has resulted in the current version.
Pat mentioned a couple of other organizations. The PACS bylaws (Article XI, Section 4) reference Robert's Rules as the parliamentary authority (without calling it that). The HackPittsburgh constitution isn't really self-contained, it just leaves a lot of things unspecified. If a legal dispute arose concerning a HackPittsburgh decision, the courts would apply the general parliamentary law. The most common codification being -- you guessed it -- Robert's Rules (the only real alternative being AIP's Standard Code). If HackPittsburgh had specified an alternative parliamentary authority, then that would be used for interpretation, but any ambiguities would probably be resolved using one of the above.
Jumping back to my "let's write a new web scripting language" remark, sometimes there are valid reasons for doing so. Maybe you want something like Python with a completely different syntax and data model. Maybe you want your language to be under a different license than PHP. But "let's do the same thing, just simpler" is rarely a good idea, as over time you're going to accumulate all the cruft that PHP has, for the same reasons that PHP has.
To paraphrase the famous Henry Spencer quote: Those who do not understand Robert's Rules are condemned to reinvent them, poorly. I'm happy to help people understand them.
As one of the commenters on that page noted, OpenSpace meetings and Robert's Rules meetings have fundamentally different purposes. We did have one BarCamp after a GUM, which I agree with Pat's recollection was not hugely successful.
My view is that potential attendees want:
- To know when and where the meeting will be held
- To know what the topic will be (and to a lesser extent, who the speaker will be)
- To be informed of these things at least a week, preferably a month in advance of the meeting, so they can plan their schedule accordingly.
Pat's response (and thanks!) to Vance - 12/13/12
I think what I'm seeing (from Vance's examples, and a few other things I've read), is "Use good judgement in exceeding your authority, and bank on later ratification". I guess I just get a little twitchy when I think about things like that - (There was something I looked at a little while ago in some kind of Robert's Rules FAQ or something, where the author of the FAQ made a statement like, "A procedure violation not cited is not a violation" - I wish I could find it again right now - that kind of thing makes me nervous too). I will admit, part of that is probably from coming from involvment in things with compliance requirements, where you can get raked over the coals simply by circumventing a requirement, regardless of whether it was "the right thing to do" or not. I'll be the first to admit, maybe there are some old habits I need to unlearn in this context...
I did miss the part in the PACS bylaws where they mention Robert's Rules - though I note, they seem to cite it as kind of an "escape hatch". The exact quote in their bylaws is, "When there is a dispute among the Directors, or during the annual membership meeting, as to procedures, then the current “Roberts Rules of Order” shall be followed." In other words, Robert's Rules only come out in the event of a procedure disagreement. And thinking about it, I could probably actually live with something like that (whether it be Robert's Rules, or some other parliamentary authority). As to the point of Hack Pittsburgh's Constitution leaving a lot of things unspecified - I get the sense that there's a taste for exactly that feature, under the premise that we're all well-meaning, reasonably intelligent, and (in theory) all trying to accomplish the same stuff within a relatively limited sphere, so there's no need to have so much codified ahead of time, as we can figure out what the right thing to do is from context. I mean, I think that's where the ideas of "lightweight" and "agile" eventually lead. I wonder if using the parliamentary authority as an "emergency escape hatch" doesn't accomplish most of the same thing. Need to think about that further... (And admittely, if there were some kind of a legal dispute, in the absence of other guidance, a court would use parliamentary law to resolve it, regardless of what the intent of the framers might have been...) For my own part, I'm less concerned about the "universal access" concerns around using Robert's Rules, and more concerned with just the sheer size of it, when considered along with how much of it would probably ever be applicable to WPLUG.
I'm still quite keen on the idea of converging the concepts of in-person meetings and virtual meetings into just one overarching idea of just "meeting", where participants may have multiple options to attend, and no distinction is made between attendance in person, via audio conference, via video conference, etc. (Of course, it would be very difficult to hold a meeting with both "live" and IRC attendees...) That, along with being able to waive notice of meetings (by bylaw, or just "by default" as discussed earlier) resolves an awful lot of my own concerns.
I certainly agree with Vance's assessment of what the members want out of this. Whatever we end up doing (or just clarifying how the existing infrastructure supports it) has to support the end result of the members having a positive experience.
I very much appreciate Vance taking the time to provide all this information and food for thought!
Pat Barron - 12/14/12
After further review of Vance's comments, and the materials he provided pointers to, I agree that my proposal to amend Section 4.5 of the bylaws is moot, and I withdraw it.
Justin Smith 12/14/12
My research on Robert's Rules alternatives turned up exactly what Vance said. If we rule that out, what remains?
- Create a simplified Robert's Rules derivative based on the 1915 public domain edition (which may, as Vance notes, become just as complex)
- Create our own summary of Robert's Rules that tells WPLUG members most of what they'll need to know
- Do nothing
EDIT: I've changed my mind about the first option. WPLUG needs immediate change; creating a Robert's Rules derivative would take too long.
If Robert's Rules can be summarized, then who's to say we couldn't create our own summary? Even in the existing summary Vance linked to, there's probably a lot of material that the average WPLUG attendee wouldn't need to know. At the botched December 4th board meeting, for instance, Pat gave me a four-page guide to Robert's Rules that he found somewhere on the Internet. That's similar to the kind of "summary" I have in mind.
We wouldn't necessarily have to make our summary a handout, of course. We could just replace some of the wiki's Robert Rules references with instructions that would cover the most common topics.
I think it would be a grave mistake to ignore the negative feedback we've received about our rules. Even if they actually aren't that complicated, if people think they are, that discourages participation, which we need now more than ever. We need to address this.
I brought up Open Space because at least a few members have suggested that they'd like "free" time during meetings to do what they want. I recognize that Open Space would have many deficiencies for a group like ours, which is why I proposed only pulling certain ideas from it: say, we could have a "formal period" for official business and then a "free period" for Open Space.
My overarching goal here is to raise enthusiasm. We need people to want to participate, and if Open Space would do that, I think it's worth exploring.
In the end, none of us really knows what would motivate people because all we have are anecdotal accounts. Why don't we ask those who aren't in CRW to take a survey where they rate their interest in these "simplification" changes that we're throwing around?
Like G.I. Joe said, knowing is half the battle.
Pat Barron - 12/14/12, part deux
After reading Justin's comments above, I'd like to step back and ask a question, and I promise I'm not being flippant here...
Really, what problem are we solving?
Justin mentions the complaints about the organization's complexity, and I've heard those complaints too. But most "user experience" is at GUM's. A typical GUM includes two portions - a business meeting, and a presentation or other event. The presentation/event (which is what most attendees are probably interested in) isn't run according to Robert's Rules of Order. The business meeting portion is run according to RROR, but most of the procedural stuff is handled by the chair of the meeting, and the business meetings generally primarily consist of delivering some reports about WPLUG's current status (financial, member count, upcoming events). Members typically don't need to know anything about RROR, unless there's a proposal to consider, or they want to introduce a proposal themselves. The last time I can remember a proposal being offered at a GUM (and admittedly, I didn't attend all of them, so I could have incomplete information) was when we considered the last amendment to the bylaws. And that was something like two years ago. Most of the parliamentary complexity really affects the Board (and any Committees, though I don't think any of the Committees even held any meetings last year that I'm aware of); members rarely have to think about parliamentary procedure.
So my question is, from the perspective of a member, where is this complexity that they object to? I don't think it's at GUMs. Is it more a perception that the Board is sufficiently tangled up in procedural complexity that they're not getting enough done (and therefore harming the member experience)? Is it just a "gut feel" kind of thing?
I'm truly not trying to obstruct - I just want to make sure that, whatever problem we're addressing, is the right problem to be addressing...
Regarding "free time" at GUMs ... this is kind of where we were going with the "lightning talks" kind of thing. Let everyone who wants to take a few minutes to talk about something they've been working on, or some topic of personal interest related to Linux and open source. I think that's good. If there's a renewal of interest in the Open Spaces style of event, we could do one of those again and see what happens, assuming there's a critical mass of people willing to commit to it. I'd be happy to help facilitate it, in fact. I just want to make sure that we're not going to spend a bunch of time planning something like this, and have three people show up...
Re: a poll. I'd love to do something more "organized" to reach out to our constituency (both members and non-members) to ask what they're looking for from WPLUG. I was actually hoping we'd get there last year, but we never quite got to a point where it happened. Just have to figure out what you want to ask about, and design the poll properly - it's too easy to design a poll with "leading questions", that end up guaranteeing the results you're already looking for....
Justin Smith (12/14/12)
Ultimately, we're trying to improve enthusiasm. Lack of enthusiasm is responsible for why we're losing members, why we have trouble gaining new members, and why our meetings aren't as good as they could be.
There hasn't been enough progress in WPLUG over the past few years. If we can show people that we're at least attempting to address their concerns, rather than just talking about it, they'll probably be more interested in working with us. Since Reform Package 1 will presumably focus on bylaw changes, I thought I'd bring up a common criticism - complexity - and see if we can do something to address it.
But you're right that we don't have a clear sense of what the problem actually is. I say the "complexity" lies in one area, you say it's somewhere else, and maybe a third person has something in mind that neither one of us thinks is complex in the least. If we're going to do this right, we need to know what we're dealing with. I suggest we spend time coming up with a survey during tomorrow's meeting.
January is our deadline for RP1. The later we wait to put out a poll, the more likely people will be away for the holidays, and the less we'll have to work with between now and January.
Justin Smith (1/1)
I'd like us to have the CRW survey ready to go by the January GUM. That's an aggressive deadline, as Pat said on Sunday, but I don't think we can afford to be anything but aggressive if we hope to turn around WPLUG.
The major sticking point is the "general direction" section. There are a vast number of ideas we could discuss; rather than go over them one at a time, I suggest that we start at the most general level and work our way down. Specific ideas will be eliminated in great numbers along the way, and we'll arrive at a basic theme that we can ask about. This will make the CRW survey easier to design and shorter to take.
The most basic question I can think of is whether WPLUG should be primarily a casual or professional group. This decision will influence our events, our relationships, and where our social media home should be (assuming that the group decides to have one).
Just so I'm clear: no matter what we choose, desktop Linux will always be a mainstay.
This is basically where we are right now. There is a market for casual Linux, but we're not taking full advantage of it because we limit ourselves to very specific usage of desktop Linux. Android is growing exponentially. Thanks to Steam, Linux may finally become usable for gamers. In short, there's a lot more that we could be doing.
- A general "open culture" event instead of InstallFest
- Linux gaming party (with Android, Steam, Ouya, etc)
- Presentations on how to use your favorite desktop Linux utilities on Android
- The "open culture" movement
- Android users
- Relaunch the Open Pitt as a (regional?) netcast, perhaps as a collaboration with other casual technology groups
- Host an Icecast (Internet radio) station that plays tracks from "open culture" or local/indie artists
Possible social media center
- Google+. Read up on WAG (http://www.wplug.org/wiki/Meeting-20121110#Justin_Smith) for my thoughts on this. G+ seems to be more global than regional, however.
- Facebook. I despise it, but it's casual, has a large audience, and contains many regional groups. We can't afford to ignore any options that would allow us to reach people.
America's business engine could put a lot of people under our roof, particularly if the economy heads south because of the "fiscal cliff" business. People will be eager to network with other professionals and acquire new skills. Work is a higher priority than hobbies for most people; therefore, people who wouldn't come to WPLUG for kicks may come to it if they think it can help them move ahead in their career.
- A representative from a local business gives a presentation about how her company uses open source
- A professional networking event with a well-known featured speaker
- Organize a cram session for people who are studying for some sort of certification test
- Recruiting firms
- Local businesses
- Each other (professional networking)
- Invite local businesses to sponsor WPLUG
- Working together on an open source project like LibreOffice
Possible social media center
- LinkedIn. No ifs, ands, or buts: if you're a professional group, this is where you need to be.
Pat Barron (01/04/13)
Just a few comments...
I don't think our "focus" issue is so much casual users vs. professional users - I think it's more like, committed users vs. those who are just exploring. This is a conversation we've had on and off for a while now - do we focus our efforts towards the interests of those who have already decided to use Linux, or do we focus more on trying to bring "undecided" users into the fold? (That distinction may also overlap a lot with the notion of "casual" vs. "professional" users...) My own opinion is, we should focus primarily on those who've already chosen Linux.
I think brainstorming about any kind of open source-related events is good. We traditionally do something for Software Freedom Day (which is really an "open culture" event), though it didn't happen in 2012 - I think primarily because we really couldn't find anyplace suitable to hold the event. The hardest parts of event organizing for us have really been finding venues, and finding people who are interested enough to help put events together.
I was thinking the same thing about doing some kind of netcast, though admittedly I hadn't thought about recasting The Open Pitt in that way. I don't know enough about Icecast/Shoutcast/etc. streaming type things to really comment on those, other than to say that I find them interesting, but we would need to host them somewhere other than our Linode server (because we actually have a bandwidth cap, or at least a level above which we need to pay extra - we've never hit it with mainly wiki and mailing list use, but I can easily imagine us hitting our cap with audio streaming). And, of course, we'd need to be really, really paranoid about rights and clearances.
WPLUG actually does have a Facebook group already. But, it's hardly used, because hardly anyone knows about it. We really haven't done anything to promote it; the only way people find it right now is that they just sort of stumble across it. I don't think it's even mentioned on our wiki. There are only about 15 members of the group.
We have a Linkedin group too, I'm a member of it, but I will admit that I don't use it (or even look at it) because I find Linkedin's user interface very annoying. I should investigate to see if there's any way to have group messages redirected to e-mail (rather than having to visit their web site to read the group).
I'm working on extracting "our" name out of Twitter. Whatever happens, someone should register a "wplug" community on G+ ASAP, if for no other reason than to avoid a repeat of the Twitter situation (even if we never end up using it).
We need to go full-bore on promoting the heck out of our group via social media. The reason I bring up the existing social media stuff is that all these things are stuff that WPLUG (as an organization) has considered before, and actually started making efforts with - and then, for one reason or another, they dropped on the floor, or were never seen through to completion. We really need to change that.
Pat Barron (01/04/13 - part 2)
Regarding sponsorships: This is actually something we've explored before. We did some "beating the bushes" looking for corporate sponsors last year, and only got one who expressed interest. And the interested organization was looking accommodations that I think our community would have found onerous (for instance, an ad automatically appended to the signature block of each message sent through our mailing lists). I did have some discussions last year with a friend of mine who is a partner in a local venture capital firm, hoping to leverage his connections to the local high-tech community for pointers to potential sponsors, and he had some good advice for me about what to look for in sponsors who might have some synergy with what the group is doing - but ultimately, ending with a conclusion that in his opinion, what WPLUG does would not make a good sponsorship fit with any of the local companies that he's been working with recently. It might be good to have a "fresh set of eyes" looking at this problem from different angles.
Vance Kochenderfer survey comments
Thanks to Justin for putting this together. I was going to e-mail my comments, but figured this was a better place for them.
I was thinking much along the same lines as Justin's comments on where people are coming from. On the first demographics page, it might be worthwhile to ask the following.
What is your interest in Linux and other open source software?
- Entirely professional
- Both personal and professional, but primarily professional
- Equally personal and professional
- Both personal and professional, but primarily personal
- Entirely personal
This would give us an idea of which audience to target with our presentation topics. Pat's note on experience level is also worth asking about; a simple novice/intermediate/expert question would collect data along that axis, or you could get more fancy.
On the second page, I would rephrase the question How effective has the leadership of WPLUG been to date? to something more like How effective has the leadership of WPLUG been over the past three years? This bounds the question to be within the institutional memory of the current Board.
I'm not sure if there was more intended to be put on the third page other than the copyright status of Robert's Rules, but it seems a little lonely on the page by itself. Perhaps a question about whether you would like access to more explanation of the rules?
On the fourth page, we have a general question about the direction of WPLUG, but this needs to be fleshed out so people can give more specific feedback. I'd add the following questions.
What things do you think WPLUG does well? (free-form textbox)
What things do you think WPLUG does poorly? (free-form textbox)
What types of events are you most interested in attending? (multi-select checkboxes)
- Hour-long pre-selected presentations
- OpenSpace-style presentations (shorter, subjects determined on the fly)
- Professional networking events
- Other (textbox)
- (I'm sure you can think of other things to add to the list)
You could also add a question on what subjects are most interesting, but this may duplicate the "technology interests" question on the first page.
I think the idea of an audio netcast can be accommodated; without actually checking, my recollection is that we use a tiny fraction of our 200GB bandwidth allowance each month. There was a previous attempt at this which pre-dated my involvement with WPLUG. Unfortunately, I can't really contribute to such an effort, so it will require finding the people motivated to put it together.
Pat Barron (01/07/13)
I like Vance's suggestions about the survey. I think that for Section 3 and Section 4, we don't necessarily want to get too specific about questions - like, not sure it's the best plan to prompt for specific answers (like, if we ask something like "Are the bylaws too complicated" and we don't phrase it just right, it might look like we're "fishing" for that particular answer - when there could be other things that complicate Life in WPLUG that the user might not describe). Questions of the style Vance suggested, which instead prompt the user to discuss their experiences, "What do you like?", "What do you not like?", types of questions, I suspect are more likely to get us where we really want to be.
Reform Package 2
Justin Smith 1/20
I wasn't able to complete the CRW survey in time for January's GUM, but I will have it done by Monday. I'd like to present its results at the February GUM, either as a running tally (we still leave the survey open for a little while longer) or the final totals.
While most of our "general direction" planning will have to wait until we've seen the survey results, there are a few items we can still take action on in the mean time:
- Using a project management tool so that we don't forget about stuff. Pat recommends using | Trello, which is the virtual equivalent of a corkboard with post-it notes. Trello isn't free (as in freedom) software, but it is extremely simple and, I think, effective. It as a very nice Android app.
- Should the Internet Committee be responsible for going through the wiki every so often and archiving old content? If not, how else should we deal with outdated pages? We can't let them continue to accumulate. If someone clicked on the LiveCD link on the main page, for instance, he'd see that it hasn't been updated since 2007. Problems like that make us looks really bad.
Terry proposed seeing if we could use some sort of script to automatically archive content. I still think a "human touch" is necessary; therefore, I think that a script of that sort should simply produce a list of everything that needs reviewed. It's entirely possible that old pages can be refurbished and used again.
- Is there any possible way we could accept online payments for dues? I know it's been brought up before, but this is important enough to merit another look.
- What can we do to persuade more people to join WPLUG as dues-paying members?
Justin Smith 1/24
IMPORTANT: CRW has released a general user survey designed to help us chart a new path for WPLUG in 2013. Please take the survey if you've got a moment.
Justin Smith 1/28
Some suggestions from the CRW survey I'd like to see implemented:
- Give WPLUG members a "firstname.lastname@example.org" email address that forwards messages to an account of their choice; it advertises our group and provides an incentive for people to renew. Are there privacy advocates among us? If so, maybe they would appreciate being able to have an email account that's not tied to a major provider.
- Web services of some sort. Since $20 per member doesn't give us a lot of cash to work with, offer members exclusive access to services that would be a pain to set up on their own.
- Send people who join WPLUG as members a well-written "thank you" note. Since new members give us a physical address, why not go the extra mile to send an actual letter?
- Give people who join a membership card. When you join the FSF, they give you a cool "credit card" USB drive that's pre-loaded with Linux: http://www.fsf.org/associate/benefits
What if we did that? You can buy blank 2GB credit card drives from eBay for $5 or less, depending on how many you buy: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lot-Blank-Credit-Card-Shape-USB-Flash-Drive-Memory-2-0-2GB-4GB-8GB-16GB-32GB-64G-/310568756176?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&var=&hash=item484f5723d0
I bet people would appreciate being able to take Linux with them in such a convenient way, and every time they'd plug it in, it would be free PR for us. We would need to figure out how to print labels for them, though. Each member would only be given a membership card like that once, so while we make less during their initial year, we'd get the full $20 when they renew.
If we wanted to get really fancy, we could include WPLUG wallpaper or other promotional materials on the distro.
- Try to partner with local organizations for membership discounts. When I talked with Pat about this earlier, he mentioned O'Reilly as a possibility. That's a good start, but there just have to be others. I'll look into this.
- I get the impression that some people aren't satisfied with our current selection of food at meetings. A couple of people mentioned donuts, someone brought up gourmet coffee, and another still talked about catering. I'm not sure we can afford to provide much more with $20 per member, but it's something worth considering.
- We - and by we, I mean the Events Committee - should definitely plan a trip to Ohio Linux Fest.
- There's virtually no support for an "open culture" event, so we're back to the drawing board if we want to replace InstallFests with something else.
- There's a lot of support for group programming events. There's also a decent amount of interest in Android, if we'd care to lift the moratorium on mobile Linux. I'd be willing to work with the Events Committee regarding Android.
- Having a bowling night would be great, but, as one person said, let's do it with other tech groups! Let's face it: we're a social group, but we don't have too many regular attendees. Involving other groups is a good way to compensate.
- Only a few people don't like my idea to re-launch The Open Pitt as a netcast. We've even got a couple of people who are willing to help produce it! I didn't take the survey, but you can count me among them. I've been told that I have an announcer's voice; maybe I could put it to good use. If we broadcasted netcasts live over Google+ Hangouts (live on YouTube), that could tie in with our social media strategy. If CRW supports this idea, I'd like to hold some initial meetings with the people who are interested.
- I put in the question about indie culture on a whim. This comment made me change my mind as soon as I read it: "Linux and groups that support it should refrain from becoming too political one way or another. Stick to the penguin."
- We need to finish our work at Wilkins and get out of there. I'm going to contact everyone I know to see about finding a more suitable location.
- As chair of the PR committee, I'd like us to decide on a social media strategy. My flagging support for Google+ was renewed over this weekend because an article I found stated that it's now the second-largest social media network out there. Most of our respondents use it.
Pat Barron 01/28/13
I have to apologize that I haven't gotten a chance to update this page for a while. Here are some of my thoughts regarding things that have previously been added here.
- The duties of the Internet Committee are laid out in the Bylaws, and I think that making sure the content on WPLUG's web site is current is out of scope for the Internet Committee. If you think about it in terms of a business, the Internet Committee is basically WPLUG's "IT Department", or sysadmins - basically, a technology function, primarily concerned with making sure the content is available and accessible when someone wants to access it, not so much concerned with the creation and maintenance of the content itself. That being said, I certainly do agree that, even though the maintenance of the wiki is supposed to be a distributed effort, there does need to be someone(s) assigned the responisbility to actually keep the content current and relevant. In a business, that would generally be considered a Marketing function. In the context of WPLUG, my opinion is that that responsbility should fall to the Public Relations Committee (though of course the Internet Committee may need to be engaged if something needs to be done that requires Sysop or Bureaucrat permissions on the wiki, such as making a page "disappear" entirely). The Board should solicit more participation in the Public Relations Committee; as with any Committee, this Committee serves at the pleasure of the Board - but I have difficulty believing that the Board would not appoint anyone to the Committee who would express an interest in participating.
- I'm all for enabling online payments - I'll take the blame for the fact that this hasn't moved forward much. I don't think we need to "take another look" at it, in that I think just about everyone is in agreement that it's desirable, and I think we even have a high-level plan. I was supposed to lead this project, and it's really my fault that we're not any closer to a solution now than we were four months ago. Let's do it!
- I like the e-mail forwarder idea. It would be a lot easier to implement this if we got some kind of online member information portal working (which also ties into the online payments issue), so that a person doesn't need to manually edit the aliases DB on the server to add/remove/change someone's forwarder. But I think it's a desirable thing that really doesn't cost anything.
- We've talked about the "give members USB flash drives with Linux on them" idea, though never in the context of making that a membership card too - that's actually a neat idea. Cost has always been the sticking point. With the current membership numbers, WPLUG takes in about $350/year in dues, and has about $625/year in fixed expenses. So we're already operating at a deficit; eventually, we'll have to try to make up the deficits via sponsorship or voluntary donations. Last year, we talked about how we might get sponsors to foot the bill for some of this stuff, though we never really found any plausible solutions.
- Even if it's not a USB flash drive, members should get some kind of membership credential. It's the least we can do, and it opens the door to other types of partnerships. We can't really pursue partnerships where other organizations offer special benefits to our members, when our members have no way to identify themselves. Plus, in any type of dues-based organization, I would say that a hardcopy membership credential of some sort is about the minimum people expect - at the very least, it would serve as a reminder of their expiration date.
- I love the idea of catering meetings, though see above regarding the finances of that... My best guess is that a minimalistic "bagels/donuts and coffee" level of catering would cost at least $30 per meeting. The refreshment fund typically does not collect any more than $4.00 per meeting.
- I don't think there's any kind of "moratorium" on mobile Linux, I think it's just more that no one has offered to present on it. Certainly last year, we talked several times about whether we could get the author of Cyanogenmod to come and present, though he's left the area and is probably beyond our reach at this point.
- Whatever the Public Relations Committee decides on as a social media strategy, I think it should still include the "big two" - Facebook, and (especially) Twitter. Twitter in particular because it's a lot easier for people to "accidentally" stumble across your content. We have an existing Facebook group, which has had minimal participation - but I think that is mostly because hardly anyone knows about it.
- I'm all for exploring other options for meeting space, but meeting space is not as easily obtainable as some appear to think. I'm aware that people have made assertions that there are "plenty" of venues that would be "happy" to host us without cost - but I have to say, if those places exist, I'm not aware of who or where they are, particularly if you're looking for a decent place to do a presentation, that has the possibility of using a projector and such... We did have one local technology company tell us that we would be able to meet in their space (which is very nice space, if I do say so) - but that one of their full-time employees would need to be present at all times during events, and that they require a complete list of attendees in advance - for the typical GUM, that doesn't work for us (though it could be OK for special events like presentations that we expect might draw heavy interest).
- Also regarding meeting space, I do notice that pretty much everyone who responded to the survey and expressed an opinion on the subject, suggested that the meeting location be moved to somewhere more centrally located within the actual City of Pittsburgh.
Justin Smith 1/30/13
It makes sense to assign content creation to the PR Committee. I don't want to make a unilateral decision on our social media strategy, but let's just say that I'm leaning strongly toward Google+ as our HQ and Twitter as our secondary.
- Google+ has a lot to offer. It's growing rapidly (it's now the #2 social media network behind Facebook), it would improve our rank in the Google search engine since it's tied to Google, and the possibilities for G+ Hangouts are very promising. Most people who have taken the survey already use it.
- Twitter is growing as well. We could use it to "live tweet" from conferences, etc. that we're at and generally just get our name out there. Since tweets have to be short, Twitter is perfect for simple WPLUG event advertisements.
- In the interest of full disclosure, I think Facebook is a cesspool of idiocy. In more objective terms, Facebook has peaked, and there aren't really any unique qualities that make it stand out like G+ (hangouts) or Twitter (live tweet/event ads) other than the sheer number of users. Is that really an advantage? Maybe not, since most survey respondents who use Facebook also use G+.
- Regarding LinkedIn, the survey results show in no uncertain terms that this is by and large a personal interest group, so it wouldn't make sense for us to spend resources on something that might have limited appeal.
A couple more ideas...
- Decommission the Newsletter Committee since it isn't currently producing anything. Make the secretary responsible for publishing a newsletter-style announcement at the start of each month like what I released today. OR fold the Newsletter Committee into the PR Committee and give them the responsibility of producing such an announcement, perhaps making the secretary an ex officio member.
- Decommission the WSCC Networking Committee since we apparently aren't even working on it in an official capacity any longer. We need to know what's going on with it, too, but that goes without saying. I've written to Ted, but he hasn't responded. Does anyone know him personally?
- Rename committees so that their purpose is crystal clear. Examples: rename the Program Committee to the Events Planning Committee; rename Internet Committee to Technology Maintenance Committee; rename PR Committee to Marketing & Communications Committee
- Assuming that we switch to a CMS, hold a group programming event where we all get together for a day and hack together the new Web site (idea courtesy of someone on the CRW survey)
- Pick an open source project that we want to work on. Hold a study group that teaches people about the required programming language, and work our way up to contributing to the project.
- Produce a short "meet the board" video where we talk about ourselves and describe what we do in our official capacities. We could do this easily over a Google+ Hangout.
Reform Package 3 Ideas
In my view, WPLUG needs to have at least one event per month. Even better is if we can have three or four months with two events (say, September with Software Freedom Day and another event).
Types of events
There need not be a General User Meeting (GUM) each month. I think some variety encourages different types of people to attend. Installfests and social events are acceptable. I do think the GUM is the long-standing "standard" event, and we should probably shoot for at least six of these in a given year.
I really am a fan of the WSCC. I recognize that they charge for room use, and that there are fewer public transportation options. The big difference to me is that we are welcomed there, rather than simply tolerated as was the case at CMU, and it serves as a stable home base. Carnegie Library is OK for occasional events, but AFAIK will not permit us to hold all our meetings there.
A company or university meeting room is a fine location, but relies on having a person connected with that company or university to secure it for us. I'm glad Pat has been able to get us into IBM, but attendance doesn't seem to have been very high there - despite survey comments, I don't think the downtown location is preferred over Regent Square by our audience.
If we are facing cash flow problems with the small amount WSCC charges for rooms, I'm happy to pony up for that, and we can solicit contributions in addition to membership dues.
The way I see it, we've got three main problems.
Too many GUMs
Having formal meetings on a monthly basis is fine if you've got people clamoring to present, but we don't. Therefore, I think we'd do well to have them once every 2-4 months. Since we're not sure how people would react to the social events I presume we'd be filling our off-months with, I recommend taking a conservative approach. Let's start with having GUMs every other month and see how that goes. If it's still too often, we can increase the interval to once every three months.
Event planning takes too long
We should be mindful of how long our event planning takes. Every time we want to hold an event, we have to start planning from scratch because we don't carry over themes from one event to the next. That's inefficient, and it isn't easy on our already-limited resources. Instead, let's split up the year into blocks of two months (or however often we agree to hold GUMs) and agree that all events in a given block will follow a given theme. We can either hold social events that build up to a GUM or hold a GUM and then have social events that build on the idea that was presented.
Not enough cohesion between events
For instance, let's say our theme for the January-February block is running your own Linux server. (This is an example, not a suggestion.) Someone gives a presentation about the uses for a Linux VPS and leaves people with suggestions for providers they can use to get started. (This is also an opportunity for us to earn commissions - just saying!) At the end of January, we hold an IRC chat session where people can come in and talk about how they're doing so far. In February, we hold a "Project Night" at some physical location where people come in and work on VPS stuff together - kind of like we did at the last GUM, except it's more targeted.
Remember how we were talking about holding classes? I still don't think we have the resources to do that, but linking events together might give us some of the same appeal. We'd be taking the time to really drive home particular topics. Maybe that would make people more likely to attend!
GUMs, Events, and Business Meetings
I believe there is some confusion among potential attendees about what they are going to encounter when they attend one of our events - particularly among those potential attendees who aren't fans of a lot of "rules", and don't want to sit through a business meeting. I think there isn't sufficient awareness that we don't hold a business meeting at every GUM (the Bylaws now require us to have only one business meeting per year, though I in no way recommend that - I think we should have a business meeting at least quarterly). Even on occasions when we don't hold a business meeting, I think it should be made completely clear in the schedule when the business meeting starts, and when it ends (and we need to stick to it) - and, we should have a specific committed time when the technical or event programming starts, and emphasize in the meeting announcement that non-members (and members who simply don't want to attend a business meeting) need not arrive until the time designated for the programming to start. Even though this is normally listed in the event schedule, I believe we should actively emphasize it in our meeting announcements.
Not enough programming content
I don't think it's necessarily the case that we hold too many GUMs, and it would certainly be my preference to hold one event per month on a reliably predictable schedule. However, I don't think we should even attempt to hold an event if we don't have some kind of solid programming. If we're coming up on a "normal" GUM date and don't have a solid program already booked, we're probably better off just not having the GUM at all.
Too much programming when we do have programming
We shouldn't try to stuff too much programming into a given event. Unless we're doing a lightning talk event (where we really do need to enforce a hard time limit - the entire concept of lightning talks is almost a "game", where you see if you can get enough content into the very limited timeframe available, that's actually part of the fun of it...), I don't think we should ever program more than one speaker or presentation per GUM. This is especially important when we're meeting at a facility like WSCC, where "time is money" and we really do have a hard stop time. Plus, from a speaker perspective, it is not particularly desirable to a potential speaker to have to sit through another speaker's presentation before doing his or her own presentation.
If we find ourselves in the unusual situation where we have multiple presentations that could potentially go on during a given GUM, we should do our best to push the "extra" presentations out to future GUMs.
Consistency in event announcements
There should be an event announcement each month, without fail. Even if the announcement is, "We're not holding an event this month". At least this reassures people that we're still here, and thinking about the event schedule - and reminds them that we do hold events, even if we're not having one during that specific month.
Event planning cycles are much too short
This may just be another way of stating Justin's point about "Event planning takes too long" - it's not that it takes too long, it's that we don't acknowledge how long it really takes. We seem to be in a pattern of not really starting to plan most GUMs until the board meeting immediately preceding that GUM. If the board is sitting in a meeting hashing out, "So, are we going to have a GUM next month, and if so, what should it be?", then we're doing it wrong... My view has long been, at the time we hold a GUM, we should already know what's on the program for the *next* GUM (speaker or program committed, venue booked, program already announced to the membership, etc.) - and, preferably, the one after that too. I know, this is much easier said than done - as has already been noted, we aren't exactly overflowing with programming available to offer. But establishing a longer event planning cycle should be a goal.
Venues - positive and negative
I have some comments about meeting venues that, for various reasons, I think are more appropriate to share outside of this forum. Check your e-mail.
Ultimately, though, the primary advantage I see regarding meeting at WSCC is that providing meeting space is what they do. That's their mission. One of the biggest problems with "borrowed" space is that such space is controlled by organizations who have no investment in WPLUG, and whose primary missions don't align with WPLUG's mission. For all kinds of reasons - for example, we lose our "internal advocate" within that organization, or they just have something come up that's more aligned with their mission - we're always at risk of losing such space on very short notice, or even on no notice at all. We're simply not important to them. Oh, of course, we're not *anti-important* to them, they wish us no ill will or anything. It's just that, they larger organizations who control these spaces don't care about WPLUG, per se - we're not on their radar, at all. At best, such organizations let us use such space on the basis of, "if it's not inconvenient for us". At worst, we may become inconvenient, or even somewhat annoying, to other organizations who permit us to use their space.
Make sure the venue is on board
One thing we need to keep in mind, as we plan alternate events (such as social events and such) that might take place at a public venue - we absolutely must engage with the venue to make sure that we are welcome, and that they are willing to accommodate us, and we need to do this before any announcement is made of the event or the venue. This is a mistake that we made with the failed bowling event, which we don't want to repeat - we showed up unannounced, assuming the venue would surely be happy to accommodate us - and, as it turned out, they weren't.
Remember that there is an Event Committee
Section 7.2 of the Bylaws gives the Event Committee the authority to plan events in the name of the organization. The full board doesn't need to be involved with, and approve, each event. This is, of course, more important in an environment where the Event Committee is not a proper subset of the board (which it now is for the first time, I think, in the last three years), and particularly if we can get more people involved. The reason I point this out is that of late, the event planning cycle has mostly been demarcated by board meetings, and it doesn't need to be that way. The event committee can hold it's own meetings, on it's own schedule, and we should leverage this (especially, as I said, if we can get additional people involved in event planning).
Vance Kochenderfer (2)
Justin - Too many GUMs
I think an every-other-month schedule sounds good for GUMs. Even if we can't decide exactly what will happen in the other months, we should at least develop a plan of what we want to do.
Justin - Not enough cohesion between events
It's a great idea to link events in this way so they build on each other - especially with employing different formats.
Pat - Business meetings
If there are no proposals for the membership to act on, a business meeting should take no more than ten or twenty minutes. I'm more than happy to go over with the board the basics of a meeting agenda, what is necessary and what is extraneous. I think the schedule we put on the wiki page for each meeting makes the distinction between the business meeting and presentation, but if people think it's not clear enough it could be reinforced.
Pat - Event announcements
A thousand times yes - we need to put out notice well in advance. IMO, a wiki page should be created 3 months before the event, and notice sent to wplug-announce 1 month prior. Even if all the details aren't known, we need to send the signal that we're alive and kicking and get on people's calendars.
Pat - Venues
As above, we need to line up meeting space well ahead of time, otherwise we'll either be denied or get a less-preferable selection. IMO, we should try to reserve now all the space we'll need at the WSCC for 2014.
Justin Smith (2)
When I said that event planning taking too long, I wasn't trying to say that we should plan in advance. I'm not opposed to planning in advance, but even if we did that, we still have to come up with events from scratch. Last year, that sometimes took us longer than necessary, IMO. Pairing off events into themed blocks would make everything a bit easier and, as Vance noted, have the more important effect of giving WPLUG more consistent and effective programming.
Limiting GUMs to one speaker seems like a good idea. However, we'd need to have a reliable group of backups ready to go in case the presenter isn't able to come. Since I can't think of any outside parties that would have that level of interest in WPLUG, I think we should consider ourselves the backups. With our combined knowledge, there probably aren't many topics we couldn't fill in for. Let's let others do the heavy lifting in GUMs this year so we can focus on ironing out WPLUG's ongoing problems.
Social events are only as good as the number of people there. Since our turnout isn't quite where we'd like it to be, maybe we can work with other local groups to hold joint social events. For that matter, I don't see anything wrong with planning joint meetings, either. Either way, more people would be there and it might help us get around our venue limitations: we simply use someone else's. For instance, if we wanted to take up Bitcoin again, we could meet the Pittsburgh Bitcoin Users down at the BeerHive.
If the Event Committee is willing to take these ideas and run with them, I'm perfectly fine with that. This is merely a discussion forum.
Posting event notices in advance is a good start, but we have to make sure that people actually read them. Some groups, like SNAPGH, give notice about a month in advance but still manage to attract a respectable audience. What are they doing that we aren't? That's probably a topic for another day.
Don't forget that we can use Twitter for event announcements as well.
Here's an excerpt from my FAQ for the new WordPress site:
Some social groups only use no-cost services or rely on the generosity of a few individuals to pay their bills. Unfortunately, free services and members come and go. We feel that it’s better to offer membership for a low annual fee so that we can afford to deliver consistent quality.
That's why I think we're better off using a paid venue as long as we can afford to do so.
I definitely agree that we should have some "ready to go" backup presentations in our pockets at all times, just in case something goes wrong with a scheduled presentation at the last minute. I have one that I will volunteer to prepare one on OpenAFS (duh! Why didn't I think of that before, I only worked for a company that sold AFS as a product for 10 years... ;-) )
I'm still thinking about ideas for this. One idea for an event that would be good to hold (and would be in line with some of the things we've done in the past) would be a PGP key signing "party".
I like Justin's text, I think something like that should definitely be in our FAQ.