We’ve entered the new fiscal year in which we’re facing a lot of changes and new things. No, I’m not talking about GNOME 4 or systemd 2🙂 I mean changes in governance of Fedora Ambassadors. In FAmSCo, we worked on one of the biggest changes in how Fedora Ambassadors (and other contributors, too, because they’re not excluded) can spend money. But before I start explaining all the changes, let me state problems we were facing and reasons why we did the changes:
- Our spending was decreasing. It sounds like something good, but in fact, it meant that we were doing less and less activities. Financial deporting wasn’t good (it was something we couldn’t really influence) and the whole community including FAmSCo lived in uncertainty how much money we have spent and how much we still can spend. So we rather didn’t spend. And because the classic corporate rule says “if you don’t spend it, you’ll lose it”, Fedora’s budget was shrinking.
- FAmSCo evaluated almost all funding requests, so instead of focusing on “big” problems, we were dealing with day-to-day problems which is something a steering committee is not for.
- Decision-making was pretty centralized and local communities were not so involved.
And here are the changes:
- BUDGETING – first we wanted to remove the uncertainty which caused that we were afraid to spend money and do activities. Before that, FAmSCo was just approving requests and kept asking CommArch/OSAS if we still have money left and mostly we didn’t get any answer because of slow financial reporting. Now, we actually do budget planning and ask OSAS for an annual budget for the upcoming year. It has two positive outcomes: 1. we actually know how much we can spend and if we properly track our expenses we don’t even have to rely on Red Hat’s financial reporting and know how much money we have left. 2. if you’re making a budget and asking for money, you have to have an idea how to spend them. So instead of planning just expenses you actually plan activities on which you spend money. Of course, you can’t plan everything. There are always unexpected activities, new opportunities. We don’t want to turn them down just because we don’t have them in the budget. That’s why there is a treasurer/budget wrangler in each region that adjust and balance the budget. Budgeting is new to us, so this fiscal year is going to be a lot about gaining experience.
- POWER TO REGIONS! we also believe that the power should be closer to community members. So we decided that the overall budget would be divided into 4 regional budgets: NA, EMEA, LATAM APAC. Each region had to think about what activities they’d do this fiscal year and how to fund them. It really helped some regions because until then they had hardly done any planning and had problems to spend money allocated to them. And I must say it helped all regions in the end. Now, regions are responsible for their budgets and they also evaluate and approve funding requests that belong to the region.
- NEW APPROVAL PROCESS – because we gave regional communities the right to approve requests, we had to change the approval process. It was really difficult to find rules that would be applicable in all regions. We really didn’t want to damage what was working well for regions. So we decided to give them freedom within some boundaries and provide referenced rules. The boundary is $2000 limit per request. If it’s higher it needs to be approved by FAmSCo. The referenced rules are that expenses up to $500 can be approved on peer-review level (by a FAmSCo member, or community credit card holder), and expenses between $500 and $2000 needs to be approved by the local community (votes from 5 ambassadors at a regional meeting). Those limits and rules are not enforced by FAmSCo, regions can set whatever they want as long as they ask FAmSCo about requests over $2000, stay within their budget, and do everything transparently.
On the picture above, you can see the overall process. First step is budget planning. Regional community members have to get together and plan what they’d like to do in the next year and how much money they will need for it. Once their plan is approved by Fedora budget owner, they have a budget and know what events/activities/… they have money for, e.g. $2000 for FOSDEM. The approval process is about decisions how exactly they’d like to spend the money. How much do we need for swag at the booth at FOSDEM, is this contributor worth sponsoring airfare to the conference? All those requests should be in separate tickets and approved separately. The third step is payment itself. If it’s reimbursement it’s where community credit card holders come to the stage. They should make sure that all conditions under which the expense was approved were met and make the payment happen.
I’m a community credit card holder, trusted by Red Hat to make payments. Why do I have to ask for an approval?
You surely are trusted by Red Hat to make payments, but payments are not expenses. Payments are done from a bank credit, expenses are done from a budget. Every payment has to match a budget expense in the end. You can find different budgets to make expenses from, but if your payment should end up as an expense in one of the regional budgets, in other words, become their expense, it’s fair to play according to their rules.
FAmSCo is taking power from us!
In fact, FAmSCo has given up a lot of power. We no longer approve most requests. FAmSCo now mainly serves as a supervisor making sure the whole system works and no one abuses it. Most of the power is now in the regional communities, much closer to community members.
Why should FAmSCo dictate us how to spend Fedora Project’s money? It’s not the emperor of Fedora Project, it only takes care of the Fedora Ambassadors program.
The whole governance and budget system I’m talking about applies to the regional support budget which has always been handled by ambassadors. But that doesn’t mean other contributors are excluded. They have an equal right to ask for funding from this budget as long as they follow the rules.
Why do we need rules anyway? We’re a community of Fedora enthusiasts. Good intentions should be enough.
Well, you’re a community of hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Such big communities can’t work without rules. That’s a fact. The governance and budget system helps us plan, prioritize with limited resources and make sure money is spent wisely. All our expenses also end up in RH accounting which has to follow many rules and legal restrictions. We tried to design the system to be as least bureaucracy as possible and we’re open to improvements if you think that there is too much red tape in some processes.