Council Orientation

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This page is no longer relevant as of June 2011. Council has been disbanded and Free Geek is now governed by one Board of Directors Liliana 00:22, 28 April 2013 (UTC)


Note: There are newer revisions of this text in a PDF-formatted version created for physical distribution. I will update this document soon to reflect those refinements. Please refrain from edits until these updates are made, i don't want to clobber yours. (Or put suggestions in the discussion page.) --Ideath 00:34, 16 April 2009 (UTC)

So you're interested in Council... Thanks for joining us! The Council is an important part of Free Geek's governance, and we try to have people from all parts of our community represented in it. So yes, we want you here.

Underlined terms in the text refer to separate resources. The URLs for those resources are in these boxes.

Free Geek staff:
http://www.freegeek.org/staff

Council email list:
http://lists.freegeek.org/listinfo/council

Free Geek's Bylaws:

http://wiki.freegeek.org/index.php/Bylaws
The Council's purpose (explained more below) is about big-picture decisions. If those things bore you and you're more of a hands-on, immediate-problem person, you may want to look into some of the workgroups that govern various aspects of Free Geek's operations to find your niche. If you have a concern and you're not sure whether you should take it to the Council, ask a staff member about it. They may be able to help you put your idea into action or get your concern addressed even before the Council next meets!

To get a sense of the scope of the Council and what's currently on our plate, check out the email list archives. They contain minutes from past meetings and discussion that occurs between meetings, and are highly recommended (if not required) reading for new council members.

The purpose of Council

From the Bylaws:

The Free Geek Community Council (the "Council") shall be organized from members of the Free Geek community. The function of the Council is to provide general guidance and vision to Free Geek. This includes both short term and long term vision and goals. The Council normally meets on a monthly basis and shall meet to elect members to the Board at least once per year. The Council shall not have the authority to act for or on behalf of the Board.

Despite that last line, the Council actually does some things that are traditionally the job of a board of directors. Importantly, the Council sets the organization's priorities and long-term goals. The Board's role is mainly to ensure that the organization's decisions are financially and legally responsible. Board members are required to participate in the Council in order to help them perform that role, and to make sure they stay in touch with what's going on.

The Council generally tries to stay away from deciding on implementation issues, which are left to the staff to determine in line with the directives of the Council. You will find the staff highly represented at the Council, too, because of the information and responsibilities they have.

Council needs broad input from the FreeGeek community to make decisions. This requires openness to many views and good judgment about how to use meeting time.

What to expect

Despite its importance, the Council is actually a pretty casual group - it's made up of Free Geeks, after all! So no need to wear a tie to the meeting. If you come to a couple of meetings, you may find that the people in attendance will vary. If there are big issues to discuss, you may find more people there. Ideally, those most impacted by a decision will be the ones involved in discussing it. As mentioned above, reading up on the email list is a good way to prepare for your first Council meeting. There's also a document called Doing stuff before meetings, which is a good checklist for later meetings you may attend.

Council meetings have a facilitator to make sure things roll along, and a scribe, to keep a record for those who can't make it and for future reference. These roles rotate among Council members to make sure that one person is not overburdened and so that more people can develop those skills. If you're interested in trying out those roles, observe a few times first, read Meeting Tips, and either volunteer or talk to someone you've seen doing it about volunteering. These roles are common to our meetings, so it's a really good skill to learn.

There will be an agenda (posted to the email list, and usually also written on the whiteboard). That agenda usually starts with introductions and checkin. You may want to say what you normally do at Free Geek, what brought you to Free Geek, why you're interested in the Council, how the weather's been making you feel, or who your favorite Beatle is. It's a chance to get a sense of who's who, and get comfortable talking.

Please note our Conflict of Interest Policy. As a council member, you're a decision-maker, so you should familiarize yourself with this policy. Don't feel like you have to sign anything immediately, but if you become a regular attendee, it would be good to get a signed copy of that policy to a staff member.

Being part of Council

Attendance and Membership

Council meetings are open to guests from the public. Any active Free Geek volunteer, paid worker, or board member is welcome to participate fully except as limited by our conflict of interest policy. Council membership is attained at a member's third consecutive meeting, and is lost if three consecutive meetings are missed. (See the next two sections about participation and member rights.)

Participation and Preparation

Full participation in council meetings includes attending attentively and contributing to conversation. To use time well, participants are expected to prepare for meetings with reading and discussion. If a participant has detailed questions or needs a lot of background information, the facilitator may ask her to refrain from taking meeting time for these needs. Guests (attendees who are not active volunteers, staff or board members) are asked to minimize their speaking time, and not to weigh in strongly on concerns not shared by the rest of the group. In other words, guests should not slow deliberations by being lone representatives of concerns.

Decision making

If you haven't been involved in other groups at Free Geek, you may be new to the decision-making process we use, which is called consensus. It's a method of decision-making intended to make sure that the whole group understands and supports decisions made. In a majority-rule situation, a proposal may be put forward and voted on as it stands: some will win and some will lose. In a consensus situation, we want to hear any concerns or questions that members of the group have so that we can ensure we're not missing an important flaw in the proposal. We won't go forward with a decision until concerns are addressed. That may sound time-consuming, but it actually works pretty well. Because it requires some skill and lots of practice to really do well, we have little trainings at each council meeting to help expand people's understanding.

One important way to keep the discussion from dragging is to avoid saying things that just support or repeat others' points. "Me too!"-ism is a pet peeve of many Council members.

One of the key concepts in consensus-based decision-making is the block, where any member of the group can signal a strongly-held opinion that a proposal is not in the interests of the group. Since the core focus of consensus is finding a path forward that all members can support, blocking is rare, as it effectively signals a conviction that there is no common compromise or approach. We believe there has only been one block in Council history! All attendees at Council meetings are welcome to participate in discussions, but only Council members are permitted to block. Council membership is established by attending three consecutive Council meetings, and is maintained as long as the member does not miss three consecutive meetings.

Commitments

As decisions are made, people will volunteer to take responsibility for making sure they are acted upon. You, too, can volunteer! These commitments will be listed in the minutes, and we'll check in on them at the next meeting. Please feel free to ask for help if you want to commit to something but don't feel like you have all of the knowledge required. Working together is a good way to get to know your fellow Council members.

To keep track of commitments, we often enter them into our to-do software, RT. If you plan on taking on multiple responsibilities and would like an account on RT to keep track of the stuff you're doing at Free Geek, ask a staff member about it.

Resources

Because council only meets once a month and we often have a lot to discuss, we use email a lot to share information and continue discussion. The email list is open to anyone interested, and you can sign up or just read the archives at the URL below.

Other email lists are often mentioned in Council meetings, such as the staff list, the core list (for volunteers who are around all the time; if you think you should be on it, you probably should), and the email lists of various working groups and programs. There are too many to list here, but if you're curious about one or more of them (or if you're told to send your concerns to one!), please ask a fellow council member. One key list you may want to check out is the minutes list, which is just for the minutes of various groups (not discussion). That's one way to get a sense of who's doing what.

The minutes from council meetings, as well as discussion, documentation, and other collaboration, can be found on Free Geek's wiki. If you've never used a wiki before, please feel free to ask someone to help you out. Here are a couple of key points: