Friday, 3 May 2019

Thoughts on Diversity Inclusion & Holacracy at DrupalCon

DrupalConDiversity & InclusionHolacracyAgileDrupal

I had the privilege to visit DrupalCon Seattle to engage with the Drupal Community to hear about the latest in technology, present about Upgrading vs. Upcycling and to see where the "drop" is moving. Some very inspiring speeches triggered me to think more about Diversity & Inclusion. In this article, I lay out a few aspects of what I see Drupal is doing to improve Diversity & Inclusion and how each of us can become active. Furthermore, I'd like to share some thoughts on how Holacracy practices could benefit Drupal.

How Drupal is working on Diversity & Inclusion 

Dries Buytaert, founder of the Drupal project started his keynote on the "State of Drupal" with an acknowledgment that "Free time to contribute to open source is a privilege". Drupal and open source are often perceived as meritocracies, where the best ideas & contributions can make it to the top. But because free time is available to the privileged, underrepresented minorities are contributing to open source even less. This is a problem not only to those who can't contribute but also negatively affects our community and software. For more background information, I would recommend Ashe Dryden's talk on Programming Diversity or this article that explains how women who identify as such get critiqued more in their pull requests. The Drupal project is already doing a lot of good things to support diversity & inclusion:

  • Non-code contributions can also be recognized when attributing issue credits. This is an important mechanism that is illustrated by this example from the A11Y Talks project to attribute those who can contribute to the presentation. Similar strategies could be adapted to attribute credits for presentations at other Drupal events.
  • The values & principles of Drupal clearly express that diversity & inclusion are at the heart of our community. Every person is welcome, not every behavior is welcome. We uphold a code of conduct to make sure that our community is a safe space for everyone both online and in the events we attend.
  • New ideas are welcome. For Drupal core specifically, an idea process has been created to facilitate the discussion of new ideas before they get turned into actionable improvements to the system.

Over the last years, I have been trying to better understand diversity & inclusion myself. An environment that supports working part time to allow me to dedicate time to family but also to dedicate time to free & open source software is crucial for me. I'm becoming more aware of my privileges and I'm trying to elevate the voices of others when I can. An interesting opportunity for me recently is being a subject matter expert for the Drupal Community Working Group. In certain cases, I help translating issues specifically in the DACH region. Supporting diversity & inclusion in some cases also means declining an offer to speak if the conference organizers aren't willing to provide for a diverse & inclusive conference program. For Drupal Mountain Camp this year, we successfully reached additional attendees thanks to diversity supporter tickets. Even if we felt the effort of setting this in the beginning, I'm glad we invested our energy in this important area.

What Drupal can learn from Holacracy

At Drupal Mountain Camp I gave a short session on Holacracy at Unic - A newcomer's perspective. Being a promoter of agile practices for a couple of years, I might be biased but I would like to lay out a few ideas of where I see Holacracy could also benefit the Drupal project: 

  • Roles instead of job descriptions – This is mostly in-line with how Drupal works. In most subsystems, components, modules or initiatives, different people have different roles and usually they don't have a single job title that defines what they can and can't do. One central exception is that Drupal has a benevolent dictator for life who has delegated a lot of responsibilities but ultimately has the authority to appoint many positions. 
  • Circle structure – Holacracy is organized in hierarchical circles that have authority to self-organize to best achieve their goals. They assign members to fulfill their roles, they can change their structure but there's also a clear assignment of purpose and accountabilities by the outer circle. Drupal has a much more fluid structure. For Drupal core, the maintainer.txt transparently explains who is responsible for what but its form is very linear and little explanation comes with the individual roles. Using a systematic approach based on circles, roles and accountabilities could help Drupal to make the structure more explicit so people interested in filling roles would find them in a more accessible format.
  • Governance process – This is where in Holacracy every circle can change its structure: which roles do exist, what accountabilities do we have to best do our work. In a facilitated process, any circle member can propose changes to the structure and following the consent over consensus approach, a proposal can only get rejected if there's a valid objection against the proposal. In order to test new ideas and assume best intentions, we don't try to achieve consensus. Instead we ask for valid objections, so I give you consent to do whatever you think is best without the need for me to agree with the details of your proposals. At the same time, the process makes sure, that feedback can be given.
  • Tactical process – This is where in Holacracy every circle does the work within its given structure. Circle members review the status based on checklists, KPIs and a moderated process allows to process any tensions there might be. This is like a mini-retrospective that makes sure that anything that isn't perceived as it in the ideal state can be raised and the circle works on improving itself.

Having experiences with the Holacracy system for a few months now since my start at Unic in January 2019, I can say that the tactical and governance circle meetings are extremely efficient. There are a lot more aspects I like about Holacracy, e. g. how it enables us to think more in a self-organized way. The fact that decisions are taken by those who carry out the work is really powerful. I don't think it's a blueprint system that can easily be copied especially onto an organic open source community like Drupal. For the free & open source nature of Drupal, Sociocracy 3.0 might even be a better fit. In the end, I'm certain that the practices of responsive organization help people like me who are interested in contributing at many levels to become involved. I also appreciate that the processes help us to distribute power more evenly, that we benefit from the contributions of everyone and that we are able to see new ideas emerge much faster than in traditional hierarchical decision making structures.

Thoughts on Diversity Inclusion & Holacracy at DrupalCon
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