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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.

News item: not allowed!

It seems obvious that it is important to reach as many Couchsurfers as possible with Open Couchsurfing. If nothing else, it allows us to see the community’s thoughts and opinions on the topic.

For this exact reason, we have proposed a news item on

Mattthew Brauer posted the following in reply: “Constructive criticism is great and needed, but the purpose of the news is to inspire people and promote CouchSurfing, not to highlight the things that may or may not need improving.”

There are couple of things wrong with this attitude:

  1. There is no good way for the community at large to understand what’s going on if this kind of news is effectively shielded from them. While not every discussion is worthy of news, this surely is it seems.
  2. Quite often in Couchsurfing we hear the argument to “not be so negative”. This is certainly one form of that. And certainly, if there were channels where we could get answers to some pressing questions, we would take it there. However “don’t be negative” often just means “shut up”.

Help us publish this news item. Write Mattthew Brauer to show your support.

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.