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On Developing Project Governance

Last updated: Sep 20, 2022

While each project and each leadership team is different, some tendencies appear in the ways in which open technology projects approach, start thinking about, or return to their governance model. In the first cohort of the Digital Infrastructure Incubator (2021-2022), we collected some of these observations in the following list. We're sharing them thinking that it might help project leads feel less alone as they carry out the work of governance scoping, deliberating, and building. Be sure to check out the Governance Bibliography for more readings and resources for open source project governance.

1. All teams want prototypes (a la community rule)

Going through prototypes is a good exercise in exploring with your team which models feel natural and which feel like a stretch. Project leads seem to want to make the decision about which type to implement on their own.

2. Despite the enthusiasm about prototypes, much practical work building governance happened around visioning statements and personas/pathways to projects.

3. Governance is intimately connected to financial strategy and network map. 

Ie what kind of oversight do your funders require? Who can help you network with funders or investors and advise on their priorities? Who  can help you build accountability with communities?

4. Most teams end up trying to balance autonomy for pieces of the project with centralized authority.

Trying to copy a model or prototype makes it difficult to tailor structures to the landscape of autonomous players to whom you are accountable. (See point 3)

5. All governance is political. Who makes decisions and how are fundamental questions about power. You cannot have a neutral governance structure. (You can have one where politics are assumed, but that’s not the same thing. It will be necessary to work to identify who is excluded.) (See last point)

6. Identifying bias applies to every project and requires constant attention. Even well-meaning actors need regular help to recognize bias.


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