Archive:Debate

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Revision as of 03:12, 16 April 2009 by Cducruet (talk | contribs) (Christina Ducruet responds)
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Each Board candidate gets to ask a question, and each question will have an answer from each candidate below it.

Nelson Pavlosky's Question

What action needs to be taken to make sure SFC survives for the next several years, and how will you go about securing SFC's future?

Nelson Pavlosky responds

I think that the number one thing SFC needs to survive in the long term is one or more paid employees, to ensure reliability. [Longer answer will go here]

Ben Moskowitz responds

SFC will survive in some form as long as there are members that care about the issues. That said, the global organization seriously risks irrelevance if we don't regularly meet and set a direction for SFC. A paid coordinator may be the way to go, but more than that: we need dedicated individuals to put a lot of time and effort in to set the tone of discussion, set reasonable goals, and strengthen the group's infrastructure. I believe these are tasks for the board—at this point, continuity of leadership is moot if we don't revitalize the organization.

Donovan responds

SFC isn't going anywhere, but as for maintaining relevance, it may be that a salaried employee could help manage some duties. Or, this could come from a highly engaged board that motivates individuals and chapters to create replicable, prominent projects that both encourage positive change and garner increased attention (and thus membership).

Christina Ducruet responds

I think SFC can ensure its long term growth and success by setting long term goals that span the life cycles of chapters so there is always something for people to work towards in the context of a big picture organizational effort. I think we need to work on the organizational structure so we build in accountability and focus which is essential to realizing any goals - short and long term. I do not think a paid "coordinator" would solve all of our problems as it would still be another group's job to hold them accountable. I think this idea needs to be debated in the coming year by the new board. It only makes sense that we would pay someone for particular services (perhaps to carry some of the service load web team currently owns) but not for general work.

Driscoll responds

Students for Free Culture is as alive as its chapters. To survive into the future, students must feel that SFC represents a relevant set of concerns and suggests inspiring solutions. As a board member, I think the best thing I can do is to communicate with chapters, learn about their work, and amplify their successes in communication with other chapters. Rather than set an agenda, the board should be doing its best to locate overlapping areas of interest and concern resonating strongest in SFC chapters. I believe that the success of the Wheeler conversations in Berkeley lay in the shared experiences of students across institutions.

Parker Higgins responds

In order for SFC to survive for several more years, we have to increase both our membership numbers and our member effectiveness. We should be making our organization much more accessible and encourage the foundation of more chapters of interested students. Our members will be more effective when we can encourage coordinated inter-chapter actions with the same clarity and enthusiasm as the Open University Campaign promised. If we are a large student group collectively pursuing broad goals through specific actions, I don't doubt that we will continue to exist and thrive, but that we will also be making a difference in the issues we care about.

Kevin Donovan's Question

Why was Students for Free Culture not a signatory or involved with this letter encouraging Obama to pick a reasonable IP Czar?

Ben Moskowitz responds

The short answer is that there's no functional decision-making process at the national level right now. Part of the problem is that we don't have wide-open and accessible channels for communication. IMHO, the first step towards concerted coordination is migrating discussion from the email list to a web-based forum. Web-based forums allow anyone to easily access the discussion archives and join in. Not only will a discussion forum focus our energies, it will be publicly indexed so potential members and others can see what we're up to. Email is too impermanent and non-inclusive; it's not very user-friendly for non-techies, and the problem is worsened by the toxic tone our list has acquired.

Donovan Responds

Short answer: because we are not a thought-leader on the issues we care about. This stems from the fact that we are students with other commitments, but it is also, in my opinion, due to a lack of accountability and specialization. Personally, I pay far more attention to some issues than others - I should be responsible for those issues and drafting SFC posts about updates. The same goes for others who are active on other issues. Also, we need to have stronger ties to organizations - EFF and PK know who we are, but they need to think of us.

Christina Ducruet responds

For better or worse, SFC is not poised to react to current events. While I agree that it would be great for SFC to be able to act swiftly and as a unit to emerging situations, this is not an agreed upon responsibility of the board or chapters. If we aimed to ready our stance for this type of action, the board would need to be responsible for staying abreast of opportunities to position and demonstrate SFC as a thought leader or to enable chapters to take action. This would involve monitoring the legislative and media landscape for opportunities to play a role or engage, being alerted as soon as possible when these opportunities emerge, having a clearly developed plan for responding to situations or empowering chapters to respond. Basically, it would be subpar to simply react - the results would be (are) inconsistent and weak. We will need to build a machine that is geared towards this type of swift and coordinated action.

Driscoll responds

As it is presently organized, there is no clear nor transparent way for SFC to sign on to things or act as a collective entity. I generally believe that this is a good thing. This does not mean that we could not be involved with such work. For example, a chapter might sign on to a letter or suggest a reasonable candidate and then work through the SFC network to garner support. At the moment, of course, our communications infrastructure makes such propagation very difficult.

With particular attention to the question of U.S. policy and government, I believe that SFC will be involved only to the extent that such issues strike a chord with chapter members. It is my feeling that we are at our best when we work on our own campuses and in our local communities. However, this example does suggest that there may be a need for an organization other than SFC to represent free culture interests in Washington. Perhaps a project for future SFC alumni?

Parker Higgins responds

The most important reason is that there is no real channel of communication on an organization-wide scale. Practically speaking, we don't have a means to determine whether it is something our members would support, and the bylaws don't clearly grant the board power to sign in the name of the organization. As we develop as an organization, and when we become known as the student voice on issues such as this one, I absolutely support the idea of signing onto letters such as this one.


Ben Moskowitz's Question

What role do you see SFC playing five years from now?

Ben Moskowitz responds

I hesitate to say it, but SFC is less a national organization than an great idea surrounded by impenetrable walls. It's almost impossible for anyone to peer in and see what's going on. Potential members are discouraged by how hard it is to participate, then scared away by the free software dogma that constitutes the list and IRC. While free software is a very important part of our work, it's not the whole enchilada—otherwise we'd be called Students for Free Software.

We can do better than that. Five years from now, I'd like to see us a playing a major role in public discussions about technology and policy. We need to take stances like the ones Kevin Donovan has been advocating. We need to build strong partnerships with organizations that have a direct hand in the formation of policy. We need to have measurable successes in opening up our universities. The vision I have for SFC is a vibrant, university based advocacy group for promoting the public interest in technology. In five years, I'd like to see the number of chapters doubled, the existing chapters strengthened, and SFC recognized at the university level as a kind of salon for young digerati.

Donovan responds

Outreach and advocacy are two important roles that we will have in 5 years. SFC can make these issues approachable to a wide variety of people - we have to because our constituency (students) are a wide variety of people. And given our young nature, we can advocate like no other group (besides maybe blind people, whose motivation is impressive).

One major change in 5 years, though, will be the internationalization of our efforts. As the entire world is wired, the issues that have been around for years in the USA will become relevant around the world, and SFC needs to be there.

Christina Ducruet responds

In 5 years, more than one person's college career, the entire organization will have changed as all the constituents will be new. I simply hope that the organizing principles and values have remained to support this new community. I also hope that we have evolved gracefully to realize the goals that we have now such as enabling SFC to act as a coordinated whole both in long term campaigns and in playing a role in emerging issues.

Driscoll responds

In five years, I expect that SFC will be as engaged with social and cultural concerns, e.g. free speech, fair use, access to knowledge, as legal and technical tensions. Attending this expanded scope will be a greater diversity among the chapters. I anticipate more chapters popping up in schools with strong arts, humanities, and social science programs. SFC chapters will be provide the student voice in on-campus debates about the impact of the internet on the academy. In particular, they will face questions about privacy, transparency, filtering, academic honesty, equity, and security.

I am less certain, though more hopeful that SFC chapters will work together with human rights organizations in the future to address the role that the internetworked university plays in establishing, supporting, and/or challenging harmful structures of global power.

Parker Higgins responds

Realistically, we won't last another five years unless we establish a clearer collective identity and reputation. Reading the e-mails, IRC chats, and blog posts of members of this group, I don't doubt that we have the talent to achieve that goal. Ideally it won't take five years for us to reorganize ourselves to function that much more effectively.


Christina Ducruet's Question

How should SFC approach engendering an organizational culture/personality that supports and celebrates the wide range of interests and values that define our community? What can the board do to play a role in setting the tone in the future?

Christina Ducruet responds

More later.

Ben Moskowitz responds

I think the answer is expansion. The board should be actively working to cultivate new partners and chapters. Ultimately, the best way to bring in new voices is direct communication with folks that are likely interested in the SFC mission. This should be one of the first priorities for the new board IMHO.

Donovan responds

Tone and diversity matter. If, as it seems, we agree that SFC needs more public stances and projects, those need to be constructed as to be approachable to everyone. They must pass the "mother test" - would your mom understand? Would she care? We cannot assume people understand why FOSS matters? We cannot assume they care about free vs. open source, but we need to make them care about the values of those debates. And we need to reach out to other organizations and include them in our functions to hear their voices and beliefs.

Driscoll responds

One thing that we must do (and I type this in vi) is to "de-geek" our infrastructure. Speaking as a geek deeply invested in the arts and education, I've seen our shared stakes be misread as niche concerns about tech or law rather than issues with broad cultural implications. We've done a great job with the Wheeler Declaration at identifying issues that will resonate with students from a variety of backgrounds. However, we can make material changes to how and with what we speak to each other that will make those students feel more welcome to participate.

Ducruet responds

1. Re: Driscoll's comments on de-geeking - this is true / I agree. I think the first step could be designating a group to do new chapter on boarding that is sensitive to the wide array of issues a new group would have getting started with SFC.

2. When I asked this question, I was thinking of some recent conflicts in discuss@. In other parts of this debate, I have, and others have, talked about upping the quantity of our communications. I wanted to have an opportunity to say that we need to work on the quality of our communications. This starts with an understanding of what one brings to a given conversation or engagement and ends with what one takes away. While we are all part of SFC for many, many, different reasons and bring different ideas, values, agendas to the table, we ultimately are all trying to learn from each other and find ways to further a cause. There are many ways to reconcile the varied input with this singular output: you could try to streamline or edit what comes in, i.e. what people say, how they say it, where they say it, to whom, or, you can invite these channels to stay open and honest and look at conflict as a rare opportunity to take what is normal for us and engage with it on a deeper level either through justification or inquiry. I think because so many of our communications are virtual and we lose touch with the actual people at the other end of the email, we have at times focused too heavily on style or delivery when the content was truly relevant and as a result, the opportunity to debate and engage on the real issues has been lost. Underlying the vision for SFC I am trying to communicate - one where conflict is ok if it means learning or engaging more deeply as a community- is the prerequisite of mutual consideration and respect. We all need to remember that SFC is a community - not a club or honor society where everyone's goals and ideas are necessarily are exactly the same. It is important that the board sets the tone with this in mind to enable individuals to be productive members of the SFC community, ensuring that we recognize differences in a manner that promotes, not undermines, our goals.

Parker Higgins responds

This is a fantastic question, that really gets to the heart of what we must do to be successful. We need to engender an organizational culture and personality, and we need to do that by pursuing collective goals. The Open University Campaign, in the first few weeks of its conception, gave a taste of how awesome that pursuit can be, and how powerful it can be in bringing out the character of our group. We need to devote ourselves more fully to specific campaigns like Open University. Moreover, we need to dramatically increase the volume and character of communication between chapter members. To that effect, we should have more scheduled online meetings. Also, the recently proposed conference call idea strikes me as brilliant. And where possible, we should encourage meet-ups of different chapters or chapter leadership.


Parker Higgins' Question

What should the relationship between the chapters and the global organization look like? What can be done to improve and expand inter-chapter relations?

Ben Moskowitz responds

The global organization should exist to coordinate the energies of the individual chapters. This includes stuff like arranging meatspace events like conferences and meetups, seeking funding, and coordinating global campaigns. This also includes facilitating inter-chapter communication—on that note, there's two specific things we should do:

1. ensure regular meetings 2. institute a web forum so discussions are archived and newcomers can see what we're working on (there was some webteam talk about integrating this with the email list).

Donovan responds

I'm of the belief that the global organization can speak for itself and provide tools and resources for the chapters. The chapters, too, can speak for themselves while providing bottom-up innovative ideas and projects. The lines of communication need to be open and regular.

Driscoll responds

I believe that the global organization is manifest in the voluntary participation of various chapters. The board should take a more active role in facilitating connections among these chapters. Regular places and times to congregate is a great start and new spaces have like Free Culture News and Twitter have felt very lively. (I haven't used identica yet.) I don't know that there is a single technology that will improve our communications but I believe that the board can be instrumental in guiding new and existing chapter members into spaces where shared conversations are occuring.

Ducruet responds

I think the best thing the board can do for chapters is make sure that they have opportunities to connect and learn from each other. This means enabling open lines of communication and empowering chapters to know how to get help when they need it. Free Culture is rooted in the notion of building on past innovations and successes - we need to realize this core value in the way we communicate and interact. I see the board as a key arbiter of values so I bring this up to underscore how the relationship to chapters should be guided towards success. Additionally, the board needs to continue to take the lions share of the work in bringing people together at least once a year by securing funding and planning our conference. The power of f2f cannot be underestimated and in our widespread, large organization, it is no small task but probably the greatest value we can bring to our relationship with chapters.

Parker Higgins responds

The global organization needs to provide a welcoming environment for new and established chapters, providing a network for people to discuss chapter events and global campaigns. In order to facilitate this, we need to complete the transition to 501(c)3 status and begin to provide some level of material support. Additionally, the global organization should be able to speak on behalf of its members. Students for Free Culture should be an organization of which people are proud to start and run chapters in their own communities. Concerning inter-chapter relations, we should have more frequent online chapter meetings as well as more in person, conference-style meetups.