OpenStack Board needs Consensus Governance

I am humbled by the community support for my election (I finished first in the results) and have been surprised to realize that one of my unlisted credentials, 5 years as Secretary of our local public Community Development Corporation, could also be an important asset. Dealing with Texas Open Government laws around parliamentary minutia such as open discussions, voting, minutes and agendas turns out to translate directly to open source governance (which affects everyone!).

I believe that the OpenStack Board should operate by Consensus rules.

Boards can choose to operate either by Consensus or Majority. A Consensus board typically passes all resolutions unanimously while a Majority board does not need agreement on decisions (see table below).

On first blush, majority process seems more efficient; unfortunately, split votes are divisive and polarizing. The consequence of split votes is the minority positions will seek longer debate, resort to back room politics and procedural overhead. This type of behavior would be destructive for our community.

A Consensus board, which only happens by implied agreement of the members and leadership, works to ensure that decisions can be supported by all the members. This does not mean that all the members agree with the board positions, hold-hands during meetings, or participate in Polynesian drum circles! It does mean that the board as a whole considers minority positions and their motivation before calling a vote. If there is too much difference in opinion, then the majority may defer voting or minority members may abstain from voting. One common aspect of Consensus boards is that members may appear to argue against their own positions to ensure that minority views have been represented.

While the consensus model takes discipline for our Directors, it also takes patience and cooperation from the community that we serve. Board actions may take longer or be less direct than members of the community desire.

I believe that committing to a Consensus board is essential for OpenStack because our board is large (24 members!), our community is diverse and the financial impacts to members are high. So far, I’m proud that we’ve been following that model and will try to ensure we maintain that tradition.

Post Script Table: Consensus vs. Majority Governance Snapshot

Consensus Majority
Voting Unanimous Split
Process Flexible Strict
Position in Discussions Ambiguous Polarized
Controversy Avoided / Postponed Forced / Decisive Wins
Community Encouraged Divided
Minority Interests Incorporated Excluded
Board Unity High Low

6 thoughts on “OpenStack Board needs Consensus Governance

  1. I was raised by Quakers, and watched consensus-based decision making in action there. Required consensus heavily favors the “squeaky wheel”: single actors can stall process, holding it hostage to their particular need. The results go through so many rounds of accommodations that they’re often toothless.

    Raising the threshold beyond simple majority to something like 2/3 majority can gain many of the benefits of consensus, without ceding control of the process to those who complain the most. I’d be in favor of something like that, but not in a full-consensus model.

  2. I was raised by Quakers, and watched consensus-based decision making in action there. Required consensus heavily favors the “squeaky wheel”: single actors can stall process, holding it hostage to their particular need. The results go through so many rounds of accommodations that they’re often toothless.

    Raising the threshold beyond simple majority to something like 2/3 majority can gain many of the benefits of consensus, without ceding control of the process to those who complain the most. I’d be in favor of something like that, but not in a full-consensus model.

  3. Pingback: OSCBM Seeking Community Input for Long Board Meetings and Candlelight Coding Sessions « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  4. Pingback: OpenStack Board Voting Starts! Three thoughts about the board and election « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  5. Pingback: OpenStack Board Elections: What I’ll do in 2014: DefCore, Ops, & Community | Rob Hirschfeld

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