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About transparent decision-making and open discussions on the occasion of moving to .NET Foundation

Topics: Announcements
Nov 20, 2014 at 1:51 PM
As you may have heard, Orchard has been recently transferred from Outercurve Foundation to .NET Foundation. The decision was made by the Steering Committee in secret.

Although I agree with the decision and think that Orchard being under the .NET Foundation serves Orchard's good I find the way the decision was made against how Orchard's intended to work: open and "community-focused".

While the immediate consequences of this change are minimal (licenses to change, some CLAs to re-sign) the broader implications can't be greater: it's about who owns Orchard. Is there any bigger decision where it would matter what the community has to say?

I find it alarming that such a decision was made by the Steering Committee without disclosing anything in advance, yet opening the discussion with the community. Remember that this is the same Orchard project where we have weeks-long debates about changing Orchard's source control, defining the feature set of a new built-in module, the aims of the new home page or a new data-access API. Why do we do this? Because Orchard is open-source. Orchard is nothing is itself but a living thing with its community. Take the community away and nothing remains: having public discussions and transparent decisions is the key to have a real community-driven project, that everybody who wants to be involved can feel themselves. You do have read somewhere that this or that was created by "The Orchard Team", right? Guess what: there is really no The Orchard Team. It's you and everybody who contributes to the project in any way.

The rights and obligations of the Steering Committee aren't defined anywhere. Especially those grew up in the English-speaking part of the world can tell that if there are no well-defined rules then what matters most is precedence. And the precedence was that until now, the Steering Committee has worked openly. Even the mailing list of the Steering Committee where internal discussions are supposed to be made (that is unused lately) is public. In the rare occasions when a decision was made by the Committee in form of a voting, that voting was mostly carried out during the weekly Community Meeting while everybody watched. And none of these decisions were remotely that important as transferring the ownership of the project to another entity. By being elected the Steering Committee, despite not having a rigorously defined role, still doesn't receive a blank cheque from the community.

As Sebastien told on the last Community Meeting not to announce this publicly in advance was asked by Outercurve as well as .NET Foundation. Still, making this decision was not forced by any outer circumstances, it was not to avoid immediate danger. Thus there is no justification for not starting a discussion about it: even without mentioning .NET Foundation it could have been announced that there is an option to transfer Orchard's IP rights to another foundation because <reasons>. Anybody who cares about this can join a non-public mailing list to debate it, after promising not to disclose the information to the wider audience. Does this make the discussion public? No. Does it allow those community members who care enough for this question to be involved? Yes. As Piotr mentioned on the Community Meeting, the Steering Committee talked about this "for months". Then there was no time pressure either.

Bertrand mentioned on Tuesday's meeting that we've otherwise proven that we're one of the most open projects out there. Does one of the most open projects should set the example by transferring its ownership in secret? I don't think so.
Nov 20, 2014 at 6:29 PM
Edited Nov 20, 2014 at 6:32 PM
Personal opinion (I do not represent the rest of the committee):

The .NET Foundation does not own Orchard any more than Outercurve did. Foundations work for open-source projects by holding the copyright hot potato: they function as a legal lightning rod. They get sued so that you don't. Anybody is still free to fork the project and take the community with them. Actually, examples of that abound: OpenOffice, MySQL, etc. That is the great promise of open-source: nobody owns the projects but those who build it, and that is irrevocable. Did you ever feel like Outercurve made any decision for us? Of course not, that is simply not what foundations do. What they do on the other hand, in addition to the legal protection I mentioned, is promote projects and provide them necessary tools for their success. We believe that the .NET Foundation will achieve all that brilliantly. If it doesn't, we can take our stuff elsewhere. Guess who will take that decision if it comes to that.

The steering committee is elected by the community (and there are elections coming: wink wink nudge nudge) precisely to take that sort of decision. It is here to represent the community wherever and whenever necessary. I'm sorry this one could not be disclosed: we were not the only ones involved, and when you have to work with others, you have to make compromises between the rules of all parties involved, you just cannot impose your own. We would have loved to make that decision in the open, and we of course asked for it to be the case, but it just wasn't an option. Partial disclosure like you suggest is unrealistic: it would have been a dead giveaway, and a big PR problem for the foundations. I'm sorry it had to happen this way. We're all still 100% committed to an open governance model, when we have a choice.

You are entirely right that the role of the committee should be defined more precisely. Maybe that could be one of the first tasks of the new committee?
Marked as answer by sfmskywalker on 11/20/2014 at 11:11 AM
Nov 20, 2014 at 9:27 PM
I know I am a new to this project but see so much potential that I have made several personal choices based on being involved with this project, I am betting on Orchard! I hope to be more involved as I learn the ropes. I am happy with the foundation changes but was perhaps ignorant about how these things have to take place. I know that when you have a lot of personal financial risk based on a product it can raise the level of fear around how things are done verses the casual user. Many people choose open source projects so you can have control and input in the direction of the project. If needed you can always fork the code base and maintain it yourself. Watching what is happening with Angular right now is a good example of how this process works, it will be interesting to see how things end up with version 2. So as someone who is concerned but not significant, I agree that having defined roles and how things should work going forward will prevent problems.

Last, I would also like to say that the people who have been making this project happen are doing an awesome job and I have learned lots from reading your code and watching how you do things. This group has some talented contributors and I hope that grows as we go forward. Its funny how you feel like you get to know people by pouring over their blogs, video, code and forum comments. In my opinion I think people having passionate feelings about orchard is a good sign, its when people don't care at all that I would be worried.
Nov 21, 2014 at 7:37 PM
Edited Nov 29, 2014 at 9:01 AM
I am taking some distance with Orchard, may be because this community no more brings me the same thrill as before, I will just say that I was surprised when I see the video where I was told that Orchard steering committee has decided by its own and secretely to move Orchard from one Microsoft structure to another.
I don't know the importance of this change, where are the documents ??? Without any clear info it is difficult to say that Orchard is not a Microsoft vehicule.

I must say that I had the same reaction as Zoltan: this decision covered by a secret asked by MS only prooves that Orchard is not an open source community,
This is the new democracy paradigm: elected people do the opposite facts as the one they were elected for, invoking higher level reasons, not understable by the common dev guy.

This community is purely technical, people do a great job inside it, all talented people, even the one saying I am rubish, spending lot of time to improve the piece they use, some of them are paid, the great majority not, is it enough to be Open Source?
I don't think.
So long.
Nov 21, 2014 at 10:35 PM
Edited Nov 22, 2014 at 5:38 AM
I think we all agree that decisions regarding the Orchard Project should be transparent.
But as you shall see, this wasn't a black and white situation where we could simply "do the right thing", because whether we chose A) consult the community or B) not consult the community, it would have been a decision to be made by the committee, and both options would have an impact.
Let me try and clarify.

As we all agree, moving to the .NET Foundation does make perfect sense, since Orchard is an fact an open source .NET project.
Being part of the .NET Foundation strengthens Orchard as well as the .NET ecosystem, which in turn strengthens us. It is mutually beneficial.

With that in mind, consider the following: The .NET Foundation asked us to keep quiet for PR reasons, regardless of our choice.
So, if we ignored their request and went out in public to debate whether or not we should become a member of the .NET Foundation, we would have put them in an awkward position. If this would be hurtful to them, if would be hurtful to us, being a potential .NET Foundation member. And not to mention that if someone comes to you with confidential information, you don't run with it and share it with the rest of the world. That would be impolite and render you untrustworthy.

So what does one do in such a situation? Well, decide what is best for the Orchard Project and its community, of course. Now, you can of course debate what the better decision would have been for the community, but let me ask you this: What would YOU have done if you were to decide? Would you have chosen to do "the right thing" and throw it out in the open, despite the position that the .NET Foundation would have been put in? Would this really benefit all of us?

Regardless of your response to that, I hope you see it was not a simple situation. Whether we chose A or B, it was a decision that had to be made without consulting the community, because the very act of consulting the community would have one effect or the other. We chose what we feel was best for The Orchard Project and its community.

We made a decision that let us move forward.
Now that this is out in the open, there is nothing that prevents us from debating this move and reverse it if we feel that it is better for the project.

In the end, it should be apparent we made the right decision and that we are in a very good, comfortable place right now.
Means are important, but results should matter no less.
Nov 22, 2014 at 3:47 AM
Edited Nov 22, 2014 at 3:50 AM
Nov 22, 2014 at 5:05 AM
Right, and then there's that. :)
Nov 24, 2014 at 3:27 PM
I'd complete the sentence with "the Steering Committee is here to represent the community's will". Since this was a decision unmatched before the Committee could have said that they're uncomfortable making the decision without gathering community feedback in some way. I'm sure .NET Foundation would have understood that as much as the Committee understood the Foundation's PR reasons, even if that would have meant that e.g. Orchard gets under them a round later - or not, because somebody brings up a strong counter-argument nobody thought about before.

Sipke, I didn't say that this question should have been made public by ignoring what Outercurve and .NET Foundation asked. My point in that paragraph is that there is a middle ground between being completely secret and disclosing everything (it's not black and white as you also point out), and there are options to gather community feedback on the question without making it completely public; even the one I mentioned as an example seems unrealistic to Bertrand. Also, again, this was a voluntary decision, not forced from the outside and without time pressure (or am I missing something?), it's not like "we had no choice".

We (i.e. the community) got the usual "Who makes such decisions?" question. Now we got this before, even when something was brought up multiple times on the Community Meeting and the forum, because still, the person asking it felt the decision making wasn't transparent enough. This time even I asked this, although I've taken part on or watched every single meeting and am watching the forum. For me it's very hurtful to see people asking this question because it is specifically what should be crystal clear in a community-driven initiative. Each time somebody asks this we can know that we made a mistake somewhere.

I don't want to get stuck on debating this particular decision because it was already done and we can't change the past (although with a cost things can be reversed). But I'd like to never see "Who makes such decisions?" again. Because of this I'd like to get all existing "well-known" practices and de facto rules we have codified so everybody can know them:

Bertrand I hope you didn't link the license and fork URL to imply that if somebody wants to do it differently they can fork it and make their own Orchard. Here in Hungary we had a prime minister, probably the most hated of all time, who once said "You don't like it? You can go away!" Since then tens of thousands left, taking the advice. In my opinion, and I think this is also the open-source way, it's rather: "You don't like it? Fix it!"
Dec 3, 2014 at 3:34 AM
As I said on the meeting, that wasn't targeted at you, as I think your questions were thoughtful and deserved an answer. And to answer your latest question, no, I don't think at all that it's my way or the highway. What I meant was more along the lines of "yes, this is open source, because the license is open, and anyone is free to fork it. In addition to all the ways this particular project is actually more open than most others", but I'm starting to repeat myself... At the risk of repeating myself even more, I regret things happened this way, and I want to make it clear that this decision can very well be reversed by the next committee. I don't think it should be, but it absolutely can.