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FSF expands process for associate members to nominate new members of the board

by Free Software Foundation Contributions Published on Jan 18, 2022 04:49 PM

The board of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) announced today that associate members of the FSF will be able to nominate and evaluate candidates for the nonprofit's board of directors for the first time in the organization's 37-year history. FSF currently has just over 5,000 associate members.

Under new procedures adopted by the FSF board on January 17 and summarized here, the organization will proactively engage associate members with a sufficient history of association with the FSF in the recruiting process by inviting them to suggest board nominees and then research collectively those nominees' suitability for a position on the board, including most importantly their record of commitment to free software ideals.

The new community engagement process is a key result of a six-month consultant-led review designed to help make FSF governance and recruitment practices more transparent and participatory, while more systematically ensuring their commitment to the FSF's values and principles.

Following the new procedures, voting members (which include all current directors and are listed here) can start a process to recruit new directors, or a modified process to reconsider existing directors. To understand further the relationship between voting members and directors, see the FSF Board Frequently Asked Questions.

The FSF intends to first add several new directors in 2022, utilizing these new procedures, and then begin a review of existing directors. The FSF staff and board have made this expanded engagement process a high priority and are working together to put in place the necessary infrastructure to support it, with a target to activate it within the first quarter of 2022. The FSF will publicly announce each stage in the process.

"Opening the director recruitment process to our associate members is a historic and welcome milestone for the FSF," said FSF president Geoffrey Knauth. "We are pleased to engage the free software community in attracting new talent to our leadership who will keep the freedoms."

Voting members will review the community's nominations. A nominee may be removed from consideration if at least two voting members vote to do so without opposition from other voting members.

The voting members will discuss the candidates and decide which should move forward in the process next. The FSF's associate members will then review each nominee's application, then evaluate and comment on those nominees in a private, staff-moderated discussion forum.

Voting members will review this input and privately interview the finalists to assess their candidacy, ideals, and commitment to free software, then vote on their appointment.

Finalists who receive a majority vote of the voting members will be invited to join the board as trial directors for three months and asked to sign the newly adopted Board Member Agreement. During the trial period, trial directors will be invited to all meetings and be privy to all board information but will not be able to vote. A trial director is appointed as a full director by a majority of the voting members after the trial period. The voting members can shorten or extend a trial director's trial period if necessary.

After the new directors are selected, a similar review process will be run for all previously sitting directors who wish to continue their service. The review process for existing directors will not include a nomination or trial period.

The process is designed such that new iterations for both recruiting new directors and reviewing existing directors can be run whenever the need arises in the future.

Today's announcement of this community engagement process for board recruitment and review follows the FSF's recent implementation of two new measures designed to help improve FSF governance -- a Board Member Agreement that enumerates the responsibilities of directors, and a Code of Ethics that lays out principles to guide their decision-making and activities.

"We have worked hard to strengthen governance standards at the FSF and to create a transparent leadership recruitment process. We look forward to tackling new challenges and opportunities this year." Knauth said. "Our next steps are to publish the forms for board candidate nominations and applications, and to host an online discussion forum to foster community engagement around the nominees."

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