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Tag Archive for 'Leadership Circle'

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It’s A Scam!


Deconstructing the Leadership Circle

Wow. Within a week of launching OpenCouchSurfing, we’ve seen an immediate upgrade to the CS DB (resulting in the site being down for 18 hours). They (*) have announced upgrading the webservers as well (to reduce the current security risks). The “Leadership Team” has finally been made official. Now, some of these things have been announced before (the DB upgrade and Leadership circle), but it seems like to much of a coïncidence that all this happens in one week. So, this effort seems to have good and positive effects which strengthens us to continue to improve things.

What I wanted to talk about is the Leadership Team. At first view, it seems like it is indeed a step in the right directon. At second view it actually makes matters worse and formalizes the closed culture of CS. Let’s have a look, shall we? The most important sections to pay attention to:

  1. To become a new member of the leadership team (after May 2007), a volunteer must have been an ambassador in good standing for at least one year.
  2. To become a new member of the leadership team (after May 2007), a volunteer must be approved by consensus (unanimously) by existing leaders.
  3. [For a leader to remain active, he/she must] produce a biannual departmental progress report and goals for the coming semester.
  4. Ambassadors may officially censure any one or more leaders. Censure requires:
    - a petition of specific grievances endorsed by a simple majority of ambassadors
    - the leaders to immediately make a public statement regarding the planned course of action to correct the grievances.

What does this mean in practice? A boys club. You are not allowed in unless you are in good standing with the Leadership group, because they hold each and every means to allow or disallow you. Dissenting ambassadors are explicitely discouraged from even trying to apply (“in good standing”), not that they could get in anyway. Oh, wait. There is no application process defined. Never mind. But there’s no official end to a Leadership position anyway, so we don’t actually need candidates. But hey! Ambassadors can censure a leader, right? Uhm. No. Leaders are only required to make a public statement regarding the “planned action” to address this. Case closed. There is no way in and no way to get anyone out. A proper way to do it would have been to let the ambassadors actually vote for their “leaders” every year or so, but I guess that is too threatening for the existing power structure. The current state of affairs is just outrageous.

Transparancy by biannual reports? This is not transparancy, this is PR. We need insight into the decision making process and there need to be tools in place to ensure accountability, not just promises of “focussing on the mission”. We don’t need binannual PR reports.

Funny intermezzo: Look at the Leadership Qualities page. Now have a look at the self-evaluation form for level B registered nurses. E.g. “Teamwork: Interacts effectively and builds respectful relationships among individuals and in teams” (leader) versus “Teamwork: Interacts effectively and builds respectful relationships within and between units and among individuals.” (nurse). Some requirements are copied almost verbatim. So, are we getting leaders or nurses? On a more serious note, this is indicative of the increasing use of marketing speak coming from the Leadership Circle. They’re not talking, they’re making announcements/press releases. This is no way to treat a community run by volunteers. And it doesn’t speak well for the effort put into this document that parts are just copied of the net, it definitely makes it seem like a rushed PR job.

What is all of this lacking?

  1. Real transparancy. Where is the agenda/meeting notes section for the Leadership Circle? Where is any serious timeframe for anything? Biannual? When? In 6 months? Tomorrow? These people have consistently shown an unwillingness to commit to any kind of deadline, which is plain bad leadership. Slipping deadlines? Fine, worst case for that is a bunch of angry people and a bit of stress. No deadline? Not acceptable.
  2. Real representation. Not another boys club system please.
  3. Where the hell is the new NDA? It was announced half a year before the Leadership Circle was even mentioned. It shows you where the priorities are. (Hint: Power, not your average volunteering developer)

Say no to the circle of level B nurses**. Write to them and demand direct representation, transparancy and accountability. Help us make CS more Open and Free.
*: There has been a lot of complaining about using “us vs. them” language, which is just annoying. Raise your hand if you don’t know who “they” are. You’ll know when you’re not part of “them”.
**: It’s called humor people.

Announcing The CouchSurfing Leadership Team

Great! Finally! Some tangible (public) information about the Leadership Circle! Mattthew started articles on the CS wiki about the Leadership Team and the Leadership Qualities. I will refrain myself from any comments, since I won’t do any better than Anu:

How about these?

  • Ability for respectful conflict resolution through confrontation rather than avoidance
  • Ability for open, direct and sincere dialog with the community
  • Ability to take in and reflect upon constructive criticism and act on it accordingly
  • Ability to operate in a multi-cultural environment, actively realizing the mission of inter-cultural understanding in accepting varying communication styles and other differences stemming from diverse cultural backgrounds
  • Ability to operate in a largely virtual organization

… then I went to sleep for a couple of hours.
When waking up I was surprised to see that:

To create a bit of balance I then started the Dissident Team.

Silence and misunderstandings

This site has been getting quite a bit of attention so far. Couchsurfers are responding to these issues from all sides, both positively and negatively. Overall, it can be said that the majority of reactions respond positively to the concept of more openness. The main objections are to the style of communication and to individual campaigns.

Why in this (direct and not so subtle) way? Why not through the organisation itself? Why now? Why not wait for … (insert something here)?

The Wiki main page adresses this more thouroughly, but simply put:

  • We believe direct action is needed because there is no real incentive for Casey and/or the admins to change anything or even communicate about these issues. By creating this (deliberate) tension, we at least force a discussion. Open Couchsurfing is not about forcing the changes themselves (all of our campaigns are in a proposal fase), but it is about forcing the dialogue.
  • You might be shocked by some of our disclosures: Security Concerns and Technical Information. Two points to keep in mind: 1) The issues listed in there are in direct contradiction to the Terms of Use and the Privacy statement on 2) I personally don’t consider the NDA as legally binding: it is misrepresentative and not enforcable. In fact, it’s dangerous and (again) in contradiction with the Terms of Use not to disclose this information. Couchsurfing promises to respect your privacy and protect your data and yet is not diligent in this. It is our moral duty to report this kind of thing.
  • There have been many attempts to do this through the organisation itself, by dozens of people. There is an Open Organisation CS group and especially within the tech team, protest has been loud and sustained. It is very logical that the tech team is at the fore-front of this discussion because they are closest to the core team (they see a lot of what happens) and are directly impacted by the closed decisionmaking of the core team, the NDA and all that stuff.
  • We have been waiting for too long.”Wait!” sounds exactly like “No!” at this point.

Things that have been long overdue:

  • A new NDA was promised back in June 2006 (!). There is supposedly a new one, that has been seen at by everyone (lawyers, admins, etc) except for the people it applies to: the developers.
  • First there was talk of a new governing structure to replace the admins, namely “The Leadership Circle” and now appearantly it has been implemented already. Nobody knows what it is, who’s in there, what they do, how it differs from the admin group, etc. But this is the structure that is currently governing the site? Weird.
  • A simple reply from Casey Fenton to So far, only Dan and Leonardo (both admins) have replied and there has been some (private) communication with Aldo (also an admin). The rest? Silent as ever.

On a side note, we’re trying (as per some people’s suggestion) to present the “other side” of the argument as well. Please help us complete the Wiki with pro’s and con’s.

First reactions

As expected, the topics addressed on this site have caused quite a few reactions already. For the sake of Openness, we will try to list as many as possible on the Wiki in Category:Reactions.

A very interesting reaction came from Leonarde Silveira, one of the admins. Most of the conversation was over the phone, but in summary he was definitely not against opening up a dialog. His main concern was a too polarized view on this site, the fact that the “other side” of the discussion is underrepresented. In my opinion this is certainly a valid concern; it is a valuable exercise to add possible reasons for the current situation. I did encourage him (and hereby other admins as well) to also send us their view on some of our topics, which he promised to do. Other than that, logging all of the discussions and different viewpoints seem like a fair and balanced approach.