Community and Inc relationship

Andy, Chris, and I spoke earlier in the week, to talk about Andy’s concerns around the current org structure proposal; I’ll try to summarize:

(First, Chris proposes that we should consider a more traditional/familiar org structure, as a thought exercise at least. He’ll share this soon, and I won’t go into it here.)

Andy’s underlying concerns:

  1. Some groups won’t be willing to contribute to the community financially, if they have no direct involvement in the decision-making process. (Similar to when someone invests in a company, and wants a board seat.)
  2. We must clearly define how overlapping roles that are both in the Inc and the community leadership work.

Moving on to how to address these in an OpenMRS-y way, we like the principle of a “fluid org structure”:

“Execution of leadership within the community should not be stagnant based on an org structure, but rather should be driven by objectives and operational plans that have been presented to the board”

Trying to apply this more concretely to the relationship between community leadership and the Inc means that, fundamentally:

  1. the (community) OpenMRS Leadership Team decides on objectives (and implicitly takes on the responsibility of carrying those out).
  • The Leadership Team’s primary goal is to carry out the operational plan made of objectives
  1. the (community) OpenMRS Leadership Team may choose to ask the Inc to support those objectives via financial resources, either paying for time of existing leads/roles, or by asking for additional personnel.
  2. the Inc’s board can respond by funding positions to carry out objectives, and those positions should generally be a voting members of the Leadership Team (to satisfy the board’s fiduciary responsibilities). (This is appropriate, as those positions are responsible for carrying out the OpenMRS community leadership’s stated objectives.)

Practically, applying this to our evolving Leadership Team structure, we think it means:

  1. Voting members of the Leadership team need to include Activity Leads (e.g. Lead of Objective 4 - Education), and not just Directors (e.g. Director of Software Engineering)
  • This seems consistent with the newest version of the diagram I see from Terry
  • We should be explicit about this “flow of control” between the (community) Leadership Team and the Inc.

-Darius, Andy, and Chris, pairing

[This is just Darius now; we didn’t discuss this detail together.] I think the explicit flow of control is:

  1. the (community) Leadership team proposes an operational plan, which is predicated on a mix of
  • (a) effort from volunteer and seconded community members
  • (b) activity following from formal partnerships between OpenMRS Inc and partners/funders
  • (c) activity funded by the Inc (out of general funds +/- fundraising)
  • the Inc’s board has to approve (b) and (c), so the “whole plan” must be approved by the Inc’s board. But the board has no direct authority over (a).
  • In the case of (b) and (c) the Inc’s board may satisfy its fiduciary responsibilities by funding part/all of the time of objective/activity leads (who would be voting members of the community Leadership Team due to the fact that they are leading an objective/activity)
  • Also, some objectives/activities may be proposed by the Inc to the Leadership Team, e.g. originating in conversations about partnerships and fundraising; they would still be dependent on the community Leadership Team to agree it wants to carry out the objective/activity. (This bullet doesn’t necessarily need to be explicitly called out.)

@michael asked me to join into this conversation. Thanks. As always I’m impressed by the way(s) that you all work together. But I don’t see any reason why a mere lawyer like me could complain about any of this. Congratulations to OpenMRS. I’ll watch but not speak…

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@lrosen, this is a very special community. I believe it’s a great model for Humanitarian Free Libre Open Source Software (HFLOSS) projects to follow. I am honored to dedicate my energy to OpenMRS.

Thanks @jthomas for pinging me to respond with some feedback to this well thought-out post from @darius et al. I hope others will respond too; I think it’s important.

Since OpenMRS Inc. is not chartered to manage technical operations of the open source project, but rather to be a public charity that ensures its resources are going to a public good (that public good being providing support to the OpenMRS community) … I don’t see this as an issue. Other open source projects seem to handle this just fine. We also see horrible things happening lately when financial contributors attempt to buy influence in open source projects through a 3rd party “foundations”.

But, I’d rather deal with that problem if and when it happens rather than be paralyzed by it before we ever get to the point to give it a chance. :slightly_smiling:

I am not aware of any roles that exist within both organizations. (Executive director, fundraising/business development people, legal, accounting, ???)

Since the project’s Leadership Team is designed to be formed of people who are actually leading work within the community, I agree and think this should be a “given”. That said, I’m not sure what an “Activity Lead” means. Are you referring to the people who volunteered at Camp to write up the strategic goals? If so, I think we were pretty clear that we were not asking those people to actually do the work. On the other hand, if you’re simply referring to the leaders within the project who are leading up strategic activities, then yes, I’d generally agree that those people should be part of the Leadership Team. (There may be some cases for exceptions.)

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Thanks @michael for replying! Some clarifications:

As I understand it, our 2016 Op Plan proposes that we will fundraise and pay some salaries, in order to carry out that plan. And the “simplest” place for fundraising and hiring to happen will be via OpenMRS Inc, right? (So, Andy’s point is relevant in that we would be asking XYZ Foundation to grant $$ to OpenMRS Inc, in exchange for certain activities happening. And XYZ Foundation will want to see some mechanism by which OpenMRS Inc can ensure that those activities happen.)

We’ve been paralyzed by not getting funding to do things, and Andy feels this is going to be a prerequisite to getting that funding. (I find his argument pretty convincing.)

To be clear: this is based on the idea that OpenMRS Inc will pay staff to carry out activities, and place these staff within the community to carry out there roles. (E.g. OpenMRS Inc hires a Project Manager for the Distributions objective, or funds Saptarshi part-time to work on the Education objective.) These is what Andy means by “overlapping roles that are both in the Inc and the community leadership work.”

Sorry, I see that I used a bit different terminology in the top and bottom half of my post.

I was using “Activity Leads” first, and “objective/activity leads” later, to refer to someone who is the lead of a significant OpenMRS operation. That would include both: (a) the “Platform lead” (objective 1) (b) the leader OpenMRS Inc hires for some some hypothetical funded project for “case surveillance in West Africa.”

For (a) I don’t mean the specific people who volunteered at Camp, but I do expect that each objective is going to have a non-temporary lead starting when we embark on the Operational Plan, so for 6 objectives there will be 6 Objective Leads.

Key point we’re making: those who are both (a) leaders within the project for strategic activities and (b) who are funded to do this by OpenMRS Inc, really need to be voting members of the leadership team.

(I guess there may be some exceptions, but generally the takeaway from our discussion was that if OpenMRS Inc takes funds to do X, it may pay some salary for the lead of X, and that person should be a voting member of the community Leadership Team. And there’s nothing worrying about this; it’s consistent with the discussions we’ve been having.)


Fundraising, yes. In open source “foundations”, the standard model for staffing is some variation on a payment of stipends by the NPO to volunteers as directed by the project’s leadership.

I would hope, in the best case, we would be asking for unrestricted donations to OpenMRS Inc. Those donors can and should make those donation decisions based on our documented past performance and published strategic plans.

This is because we haven’t asked for funding, not because we’ve asked and people haven’t been satisfied with the model. There is an “industry standard” in how to get funding for open source projects. We should follow it; it is not a problem for which we need to invent a solution.

See my above statement regarding current standards for incentivization and compensation for open source contributors. :arrow_up: They may receive funding from the NPO, but they would/should be solely accountable to the open source project leadership.

This is not normally how strategic objectives are approached in organizations. Rather, they are adopted as strategic by the entire organization, and various parts of the organization work together to accomplish those results in their unique ways. There is rarely any one person with sole accountability for a strategic goal; leaders in the organization are evaluated on how effectively their work is in support of the strategic goals. There may appear to be exceptions when a strategic goal such as “get product X to market” or “increase efficiency of Y process” align extremely closely with an existing area of the org, but there’s still an important but subtle difference.

This I agree with 99.9% for the reasons you mention. :slightly_smiling: