Why the OpenStack community voting process fails and how to fix it

Open source communities offer a lot of democratic participation. The idea that you contribute to a project and have a say in its governance is a powerful one.  When it doesn’t work, those same projects turn their backs on active contributors and discourage newcomers. The most recent OpenStack elections for Individual members to the Board of Directors is a strong example of how community voting fails and how to fix it.

This time I watched the elections from the distance, as much of an outsider as I have ever been. Now that the results are in, I’m very disappointed to see confirmed four Individual board members — half of the total — whose inaction during 2016 should have not granted them reconfirmation.

It’s also extremely sad to see more than a few very active individuals have not been elected.  Of the eight elected, only one works for a smaller company and only one is mostly an OpenStack user (seven are primarily OpenStack vendors). The Individual members of the OpenStack Foundation were added to the bylaws to keep large corporate interests in check, and clearly this doesn’t seem to be working.

The OpenStack community has a huge problem here: good behavior and personal investments to improve the project don’t get rewarded. On the contrary, affiliation with large companies, spammy promotion, and geographic proximity seem to be more effective at granting a seat on the board. This has discouraged participation already, as some backchannel conversations have confirmed. You have to ask yourself, why would someone like Edgar Magana do what he has done for the short time he’s been on the board, when almost-inactive members get the votes?

A couple of immediate actions can be taken to improve the situation. First, acknowledge that an issue exists at the Board level, where too few small organizations and users are represented. Then, stop tolerating abuse of community resources like planet.openstack.org and use of the OpenStack logo. Actions should have followed OpenStack Foundation’s COO Mark Collier reminder to be nice during the campaign. Mark wrote:

With respect to local user groups and web channels, I think they should remain neutral ground that are open to all local community members.

But then the OpenStack logo (that’s another problem, known and unsolved for many years) was used to promote a single candidate as ‘our APAC‘ candidate. Who’s we exactly? OpenStack AU with the logo of the OpenStack Foundation? From my cursory glance at the candidates, there were others in APAC region, but I bet those candidates didn’t have direct access to the OpenStack AU Twitter feed.

OpenStack Australia suggesting to vote for Kavit as 'our APAC candidate'

And the shared Planet OpenStack (which is syndicated to Reddit and other places) was inundated for a week by the same advertising. My attempt to limit the damage to the community and send a signal was blocked.

One more thing: make the pages of the candidates more meaningful. They’re too wordy now, start with the generic bio and offer no link to hard facts. How many of the 3,000 voters actually read their pages (I bet they don’t, and we can easily find out with Google Analytics)? Members pages should show facts, not generic intention to make the world a better place. I always had the vision to collect data from analytics tools and show those in the individual member pages. Stackalytics already offers a pretty comprehensive view of what each person does, not just code-relate but emails, translations, work on bugs, and I bet more can be added from OpenStack Groups portal.

Communities need constant supervision and nurturing, they can’t be left unattended because as quickly as they have formed, they fall apart or at the very least lose critical focus. OpenStack is under tremendous pressure and now more than ever needs dedicated contributors to keep the project at the center of attention.