Sakai Foundation Board Elections

Elections are being held this week for two open seats on the Sakai Foundation Board of Directors. You can see the slate of candidates here. Votes are due in by a week from today. In the interest of transparency, I have invited all candidates to blog about their respective platforms here on e-Literate. Time is tight, so I may not get submissions from everybody, but I hope to get as many candidates as I can to post. I feel strongly that voting decisions should be based more on just, “Hey, I’ve seen that person’s name on list a lot; s/he must be good.”

As a sitting Board member myself, I feel it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual candidates or even advocate specific platform preferences. But I do think it’s worth talking more about how to pick a good Board member in general. I invite members of the Sakai community—particularly past and departing Board members—to respond here in comments with your own suggested criteria, but here are some possible angles to consider when you’re evaluating the candidates:

  • Influence: Sakai doesn’t have a strong central command-and-control structure. At the end of the day, progress depends upon getting various institutions (both schools and commercial affiliates) to step up with resources. It’s important to have members of the Board who can make connections with resource owners, both in their own institution and in others, to encourage greater participation in and commitment to the community.
  • Leadership: Once again, because the Board doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s important to have somebody with both an attractive vision for the future of the community and the ability to articulate that vision in a compelling way. The flip side of this coin is the ability to listen to community members and become a voice for them. Board members should be good communicators.
  • Expertise: At the end of the day, the Board manages a non-profit organization that fosters a community that develops software. This managerial role requires knowledge of finances, legal issues, and open source community management (among other things).
  • Representation: Sometimes it’s important to make sure that a particular institution is at the table because of the resources and/or leadership that it brings to the community. Electing a representative of that institution can be a good way of ensuring continued or even growing commitment.
  • Service: This tends to get over-weighted when people make quick “oh-I’ve-seen-them-on-list-so-they-must-be-good” voting decisions, but on the other hand, service should not be discounted by any means. People who have already demonstrated their commitment to the community are likely to honor their commitments as Board members as well.
  • Diversity: It’s important to have a range of perspectives represented on the Board. Of course, diversity can mean a lot of things. It can mean big schools vs. small. It can mean universities vs. commercial affiliates. It can mean technical vs. non-technical stakeholders. Or international representation. Or gender, race, etc. You have to decide which kinds of diversity are most important to you. But any way you slice it, you’ll want to look at the makeup of the current group as you think about who you want to add to it.

Again, this is just a partial list. I invite you to add your own thoughts in the comments.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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2 Responses to Sakai Foundation Board Elections

  1. As one of Sakai’s co-founders and previous board members, I’ll add a few comments to Michael’s post regarding roles for the Sakai board. Board members should operate in a mode of “informed servant leadership” for the community. The board is more a position of great responsibility than it is of any power or authority, but it is the place where choices are made that can affect the Sakai community for years to come.

    I recall the days when we dealt with the whirlwind of challenges caused by Blackboard’s claimed “invention” patent and unproductive lawsuit. This was a matter of serious concern and possible legal threat as we navigated in the best interest of the community. It required a lot of time and external relationship building from the board, and it required some “informed” expertise in how to navigate the touchy situation.

    As the legal entity that tracks the finances and holds copyright for the Sakai software, board members must show both an aptitude for community service and boldness of leadership when those moments arise. There are times that patience, listening, and waiting to bring an entire community along is what is required, and there are also times when decisions must be made in the timeliness of the opportunity where sound judgment and vision are essential.

    I personally remain deeply proud of the Sakai community and its ongoing tuning of the ideals that launched it in late 2003. It gave higher ed the courage to attempt additional collaborations that will — as a set — have an enduring legacy on our work of education, research, and service. –Brad

  2. Michael Korcuska says:

    As a former Executive Director I’d echo Brad and Michael’s comments. Leadership in Sakai is a very complex concept. The fact that Board Members are also active community members adds to that complexity. It takes a special perspective to be able to look beyond your own deep day-to-day experience and truly integrate the perspective of not only the current community but the hoped-for adopters of Sakai. And getting the most leverage out of the few resources directly present in the Sakai Foundation will continue to be a challenge that requires solid collaboration between the board and ED. So, for me, the goal is to find a group of board members that will work well with Ian. For this reason I wish the voting was for a *slate* of candidates rather than individual candidates.

    On additional comment in response to a blog post by Chuck (I left a comment on his blog but it hasn’t been approved yet) where he discusses the finances of the Foundation. The tax statements are reflective of when bills were paid *not* when decisions to spend money were made. So the negative cash flow in 2008 was, in large part, a result of paying the bills for the December 2007 Newport Beach conference. And the decision to do that conference was made much earlier than December 2007.

    I, personally, think the board acted quite fiscally responsibly during my tenure as director. The decision to go to one conference a year and start charging a nominal amount for members was part of this. We (and that means me) did do less well on the revenue side largely, I think, as a result of the severe financial issues that first hit higher education in 2008. The financial crisis coincided with the expiration of the initial 3-year commitments to the Sakai Foundation and my predictions on renewals fell short. One can argue, which I think is Chuck’s larger point, that we could have been more conservative and I won’t disagree. My main point is that you can’t draw too many conclusions about Board decision-making from the tax statements–they don’t correspond to the timing of decisions.