- 22 May 2006
- Request For Comment
- Proposal for running FSF User Groups
(This proposal was written before Libre Planet was chosen as the group network name. The proposed name FUGA should be replaced with Libre Planet, similarly UG (User Group) should be replaced with LP. Although I have since improved my ideas, the essentials I proposed remain valid. You may append comments at the end. This page should be moved to Project:LibrePlanet/Development/Proposal/Group)
- 1 User Group Proposal
User Group Proposal
This paper briefly outlines a simple and straightforward answer to what FSF User Groups can do to support the FSF. In summary, the proposal in point form follows:
Name : Free Software Foundation User Group Association Abbreviation : Free User Group Acronym : FUGA Mission : Global freedom to use, alter, copy, and distribute software Objective : Create and maintain FUGA User Groups Category : Not for profit Society Structure : hierarchy, ten members per group, each in a different group Icons : A GNU derivative and localised icons, or similar Slogan : The General Public License, or similar
The name captures the essence that FSF User Groups have their own identity and also have a common need to form a larger more comprehensive organisation to meet serious and disturbing global challenges. By forming an Assoication of User Groups, individual groups no longer face local issues alone, but enjoy the solidarity and resources offered by the Association. The proposal provides a single, common, and powerful grass-roots political force with one voice and one purpose world wide - Freedom Software.
The Information Technology industry is at a moral cross-road and it will take more than a loose collection of Users to stem the onslaught facing legislators from economic dictatorships. The decay from personal autonomy to serving an archaic economic view is increasingly clear. Rather than having technology providing us with greater freedom to express ourselves, it is being used to limit our action and impose a moral value system on us.
We do need to unite, and to unite very strongly, firmly, and with uncompromising certainty. An Association means User Groups have a single political and moral view regarding software, not that they all operate and function the same way. Some prefer seminars and public functions, others distribute software, or one-on-one discussions, or engage in direct political activities.
There is, however, a pressing need to get the public involved in stopping this insidious attack on everyone's individuality. It is not enough to make people aware, or concerned - but motivated to act against techical lockdown and restrictive software. The proposed Free Software Foundation User Group Association is designed to do exactly that. By combining individual User Groups the FSF has the means to create a real and effective Movement to regain and maintain Freedom Software.
The acronym FUGA avoids the disaproved LUG and GLUG words with their associated meaning.
The Association brings divergent peoples, cultures, and languages together to not only defend against pending restrictive legislation, but also to neutralise future efforts against Free Software. It is not enough to travel the world giving seminars and creating public awareness while companies continue to plan and replan alternative ways to stamp out Free Software. They have a specific goal which we need to know, identify, and defeat. They have already spent large sums of money on these projects and have NO intention of cancelling them. What appears in the media is certainly not the complete picture. Since the full scale of their operations is unknown, FUGA should provide a comprehensive intelligence network to uncover as much of it as possible. This allows the FSF a better chance to find the weaknesses and exploit them. It will also allow the FSF to strengthen its vulnerabilities and keep it focused on the real issues, not on media hype and FUD.
The Association's mission, then, is to expose the real reasons ecomomic dictatorships want restrictive software and how Free Software benefits both businesses and users alike.
Free Software is in crisis, from media attacks, open source, and some parts of the IT industry. Many entities proclaim open software is better than proprietary, but increasingly include the same copyright, patent, and non-disclosure agreements found in most commercial programs. FUGA needs to correct these misrepresentations and provide the public with a clear message. No patents. No copyright restrictions. Full source disclosure. To do this, it is proposed that FUGA take root in local communities and grow outward as a universal culture and with moral sense. Wherever software is used, there FUGA should be also.
While it is possible to build large monolithic User Groups numbering thousands that certainly do seem a formidable opposition, the larger the group, the less personal it becomes and therefore less able to address individual needs. It is also harder to motivate and keep large User Groups focused on changing issues.
The proposal for FUGA is a different beast to the usual idea of a User Group - a collection of people that use something. FUGA is more than that, it is designed to combat the pervading myths about software and its Users. It is intended to be politically agile, responsive to social pressures, and quick to anticipate future threats. It is a movement that expands from local area to local area, forming a complex unity that covers wide geographical areas.
Development and growth is FUGA's central objective. The proposal asserts small User Groups are more effective in growing FSF's movement and gaining supporters than a few large groups. It is easier to adjust a local User Group's purpose to its members, if the group is small. The proposal also includes connecting groups through Associating Members. These are members who liase between groups to effectively coordinate their efforts. This allows several groups in a local area to formulate strategies and tactics specific to their situation. It also keeps dispersed groups in touch with each other's activities and needs.
The objective contains the basic life-cycle model: birth, growth, reproduction, decay, and death. UGs follow a similar cycle, but as a choice, not subject to external forces. This means that supporters choose to start UGs so they can help others start UGs to do the same. By proliferating UGs throughout the world, the FSF's continued Presence and Existence through them is assured. They are able to counter real threats that impede their development and existence. Members may join and leave, but the UGs survive by splitting and joining with other UGs.
As UGs form entities within the movement, members participate in a social order independent from the surrounding social structure. However, UGs are not introspective, that is, they do not focus on the movement as the reason for being members, but rather contribute to the movement by helping new supporters extend it. The movement is an embracing and expanding one, not static and exclusive. A socially acceptable member is one who enlists new members. When UGs lose too many members, surrounding UGs will include the remaining members to ensure no UG's membership falls below a survival limit. This works because UGs are structured in a way that allows expansion and contraction.
UGs are not cultists in the sense of having a particular belief system outside social norms. The FSF uses the existing legal system (GPL, FDL, etc.) because it believes in its principles, which most people accept as normal. What separates UGs from cults is that UGs support the social norm, rather than subsitute their own. UG members therefore are moral citizens who support their government's rule of law, but not by trading human values for technical ones. They see it as their civic duty to remind legislators what the purpose and intents are for copyright, patents, and proprietary agreements and how these translate into software terms and the impact they have in an information society. This is the overriding reason for categorising UGs as a society and not as strictly political activism.
Consistent with their objective, User Groups (UGs) form a group hierarchy that allows individual UGs to function independently and yet keep them connected to all other UGs. This means control is both centralised in mandating UG policy, strategies, and tactics, but decentralised in adopting and executing the mandates. The structure forms a dynamic tree: one root, several branches, and many leaves. It has a ten to one ratio, the root UG runs ten branch UGs and they each run ten UGs down to leaf UGs which have no child UGs. The root UG co-ordinates with the FSF regarding policy and the movement's SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, Oppotunites, and Threats). This is a standard analysis tool used by a business to evaluate its market position in relation to its competitors. It is not hard to see the similarity between a business trying to gain more customers and UGs trying to gain more members. Similar analysis tools may also be applied to discover available resources and logistics to utilise them effectively. By using business tools, the structure lends itself to various forms of monitoring and control. It also allows the FSF to respond quickly to both local and global issues via intelligence gathering.
These symbolise what UGs represent both locally and globally. The idea here is to have a global icon that represents all the UGs and each UG has an icon that expands its representation in the global icon and also includes the global one. For example, the GNU logo is the global icon as a completed jigsaw puzzle. Each child group's icon is a jigsaw piece with the GNU as well. Thus UGs recognise the part they play in the overall structure, but still have a unique icon. Its unlikely artists will be able to produce one icon that can be replicated in thousands of ways, but at least ten for the continents, or 250 for each nation, might be possible. The purpose of the icons are really psychological, people like to see what they believe. A token of some sort enables people to develop a sense of 'their' identity and a place where they 'belong'.
The icon and slogan basically play the same role as national flag and anthem. They have been used throughout history to keep countries focused and steadfast during troubled times. The GPL may not be a suitable slogan but it has all the essentials a slogan should have. UGs might prefer a song or theme tune. They help build culture and tradition, good values for any movement, when used wisely.
Some detail about the proposed User Group itself is outlined here to clarify what members do in UGs and how they change. An User Group has between five and ten members. Ten was chosen as an easy number to work with and because some managerial research estimate managers can only manage between four and six people well. More than that strains the manager. Since the membership is small, all member contributions are significant and they can work more closely with one another compared to a larger group of fifteen to twenty.
Every member undergoes leadership training to develop the required skills, confidence, and integrity. Leaders are essential to every movement, and businesses in particular recognise the need for good managers with passion, vision, and charisma. Various leadership qualities and styles have been defined and all are useful in movements. However, leaders themselves often need help, guidance, and assurance from others. To achieve this, members who start their own UG remain members of their existing one. Thus, they can seek counsel from people they know and trust. User Groups therefore are built from existing UGs and remain connected to them, rather than existing in isolation.
Parent and Child Groups
A member belongs to two User Groups: a member to the joined UG and a leader to the started UG. These two UGs will obviously be in close proximity to each other and will face similar situations. A parent UG in an area will be able to run ten child UGs and have direct influence over them. These ten may start a hundred UGs further afield, which in turn may run a thousand UGs reaching other towns and cities.
Since all members are trained to lead, every member is/should be qualified to replace any member who leaves. So any member in the child UG can be promoted to join the parent UG. Effectively, the child UG loses one member. If two or more UGs in a local area both have five or less members, they should join to form one full UG. In this case all but one member will step down as member of the parent UG. If the parent UG now has five or less members, it finds another peer UG to join with, and a leader steps down from its parent UG. This process continues to the root UG, which may disband to form a combined UG from its child UGs.
If an UG already has ten members, it might not be practical for a supporter to join another UG, so the UG will split into two UGs, and the new member join one of them. In this case, a new leader is appointed and joins the parent UG. If the parent UG already has ten members, it similarly divides to accept the new member. This process continues all the way to the root UG, who may likewise split and form a new root UG of two members.
In this way the hierarchy increases and decreases in height while maintaining a suitable membership count in every UG. Continutity is sustained between UGs through leadership training and appointments. Good leaders can move upwards in the hierarchy, although this may involve some UG reshuffling.
There are three types of training proposed: Leadership, Internal, and External.
This deals specifically with building and equiping members with the proper leadership skills and knoweldge to run an UG. It covers the typical, and not so typical, situations UG leaders will encounter from new/existing members. It covers aspects of group psychology and one-on-one encounters. It is a practical, hands-on, no nonsence how to. Drafting an initial manual from the wealth of motivational and managerial material availble (and your personal experience) might be a starting point.
This covers all the movement's beliefs, ideology, and interal regulations. Basically this explains the FUD, word misuse (IP, hacker/cracker) etc. In this way all members get the same info from the same source and share the same knowledge. This is a sensitive area because it is from this kind of training that produce cult movements. Businesses use it to gain employee and brand loyalty. From this springs, pride, superiority, and fanatisim, the so-called 'holy wars' between little-endian verses big-endian, or tcl verses scheme, monolithic kernels verses message-passing micro kernels, open source verses free software - the list is endless. All of them are wasteful and solve nothing. Members should be trained to detect such situations and learn how to avoid them. The objective to produce UGs should take priority, not wasted on useless debates.
Internal training should be factual, rational, and provable. It should allow members to draw their own conclusions, to internalize, and make it personal. It should give members the knowledge to deal with tough issues in a uniform yet personal manner. It should enable members to know what they represent and why.
This covers the political/economic/social ideologies regarding free software. It identifies the common, and not so common, prevailing arguments, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how best to deal with them. Most of this information will come from the UGs themselves as part of their daily activities. UGs serve a useful purpose here in gathering intelligence, by listening, reading, and reporting back. Businesses depend on reliable intellegence to formulate strategies and plans. The FSF similarly benefits from such knowledge. It also includes tools used in selling, the ability to know when a person is ready, when to push, and when to wait. Not all supporters will want to join a UG. Some will perfer contributing in other ways.
The initial effort in getting the proposal off the ground is quite high because the information and knowledge is not readilly available. Fortunately, the proposal adopts an ongoing process where the initial UGs create an User Group framework for subsequent UGs to work on and develop. Because the initial membership is small, they can work informally toward developing the training manuals, UG infrastructure, database, and information requirements. The UGs are not intended to meet personal needs, such as hobbies, or parties, but provides a way to support their action in an organised and lawful manner. It gives them the words to say what they believe.