In it for the long haul: A model for long-term free software campaigns
What is your favorite FSF campaign? How long has it been around, and when was the last time you heard about a victory in that area of the FSF's work? These questions came to mind as I begin to integrate the recommendations of the High Priority Projects (HPP) committee, and it got me thinking about how our three-person campaigns team can evaluate and sustain long-term free software activism. See for the committee's analysis, and for the list.
The HPP campaign launched in 2005 to foster work on projects that are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software. For the first few years, the list was maintained by FSF staff and board members, based on our own research and on feedback occasionally sent in by interested people. In 2014, we formed a committee of free software community leaders, who have done the work of reevaluating and refining the list based on suggestions from the free software community, the changing landscape of software and hardware (and consequently, of restrictions on computer user freedom), and the achievements and failures of projects. The most recent revision, which is currently underway, includes the introduction of four criteria that define what needs are important for the list.
But how can we maximize the usefulness of this list – or any of our campaigns? In the case of this campaign, we have identified projects that are critical to the advancement and adoption of free software. But if nobody steps up to work on these projects, if nobody hears about them, they will never get done. The campaigns team helps by acting as a project manager for the committee, publicizing the list, recommending ways the community can help get the work done, celebrating victories, and reevaluating the work regularly – essentially, we must continue our advocacy indefinitely.
How exhausting! No wonder activists suffer from burnout. And we cannot stop until we have achieved a world where all software is free.
So, how do we keep up our momentum in a years-long effort like the HPP list? Here are a few thoughts:
Small wins add up over time. The aims of the HPP list are impossible to achieve in one fell swoop, but over time we can chip away at them, bit by bit. Once we have updated the list, we will be sure to celebrate progress made toward the fulfillment of any of these High Priorities. You will hear about it on fsf.org, in the Free Software Supporter, on social media sites, and in the press.
Revisit and challenge. The list has been revised several times – extensively, in the most recent round. This is because software has changed – and the world's needs have changed. At one point, Flash dominated the Web, so the list recommended a Flash replacement – now we are focused on free phones, decentralization, and other issues. By revisiting the project regularly – and soliciting ideas from the community when we do – we keep the work relevant.
Patience and perseverance. If we fail, what do we do? We can start by reevaluating the project. But it may be that we simply need to try again. When change is truly important, actions that energize people can benefit from their failure by observing what went wrong, and what might be needed to lead to success next time. Some people at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) were dismissive of our campaign calling for selfies against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on the Web – but it got their attention and led to conversation in the press and between the W3C and our movement – conversation that those who favor DRM would prefer to avoid.
Celebrate and share your successes. When an HPP need is met, we will announce to you and the rest of the world about it. And we will celebrate you when you help. To keep up motivation, we will share conversations with the people who are working hard to help check a priority free software project off the list. We will also be clear about how you can help – whether that is through coding, testing and bug reports, documentation, advocacy, or funding.
This is the kind of work the FSF campaigns team facilitates and champions. We've had some successes along the way: Six years ago, we recommended CiviCRM, because it met the requirements of the HPP need for a fully featured donor and contact management system for nonprofits. More recently, we announced that the GNU PDF project was completed, thanks to libpoppler's ability to support newer PDF features like annotations and forms.
Wins like these add up, but we cannot do it alone. Everybody in the free software community can help make the world more free by participating in our campaigns – check out all of our campaigns for ways to help.