Reflections of FSFE GA & Mission Impact

Over the weekend, I participated in the FSFE general assembly for its staff and members of the board. I’ve been a member of the board for the organisation since it’s founding in 2001 so it carries a special place in my heart. Aside from the official assembly, which took place on Sunday afternoon, the weekend was filled with strategic planning and considerations about the future work of the organisation.

Inspiration for this came from the book Mission Impact: Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits by Robert M. Sheehan. It outlines in part a process through which an organisation can work through to elaborate or develop its mission, organisational structure, goals and measures.

Together with Karsten Gerloff (president), Henrik Sandklef (vice president) and Matthias Kirschner, we spent most of Friday stepping through the process ourselves. Drafting a mission statement, discussing it, revising it, and all through this talking about how the process can run in a single day in a larger group and what methods to use for moderating the process. We had some success at this and on Saturday, Matthias and Karsten put the process in motion for a first trial run  involving the entire participating board and staff. Additional work on strategy will be part of our work for 2014.

What I feel we can learn from our first run of the process is:

  • Working through a process to define a strategy is a highly iterative process. In the later steps of the process, we often felt a need to go back and revise the mission statement, and other details and decisions that we’d taken.
  • Keep an eye on your focus! Are you doing X, because it leads to Y, or are you working towards Y, and that’s why you’re doing X. It’s subtle details like this that could actually overturn your entire thinking.
  • Sticky notes are good. Yay sticky notes!
  • It’s hard being creative — us scheduling a 20 minute walk (in pairs) after lunch was a really good idea and could be extended. 30 minutes is probably good.
  • Removing all tables and power extensions from the room efficiently enforces a no laptop policy.
  • It’s really difficult to moderate a large group of people and to come to rough consensus around difficult questions. In our first run, it helped that Matthias and Karsten broke some deadlocks by forcing us to continue working even if we didn’t have consensus on some previous steps of the process. In a larger process, with similar creative sessions, having a professional moderator familiar with the work and expected outcomes would definitely contribute positively.

With #fuelingthefuture, the Linux Foundation asks “What year did you start using Linux?” - something that led me to think, and to try to remember details that I’ve forgotten.

In the summer of 1993, I was a 15 year old student between the 9th grade of school and the first year of a Swedish gymnasium (grades 10-12). As part of my summer that year I went on an English language course.. to Wales. Can you say Llanfairpwllgwyngyll? Anyway, it was an interesting experience and I spent a fair amount of time in the Swansea University book store, as well as in their computer labs. I came back to Sweden with a suitcase full of rocks (yes, Welsh rocks), books (mostly Sherlock Holmes) and about 60 or so floppy disks.

The latter contained, in part, a Linux-based distribution downloaded either from the FTP archive of the University of Wasa or FUNET. Once I came home from Wales, I had the darndest time getting things to work. But it did! So in 1993, I would say I started using Linux-based systems. But what was it that I actually used? That question plagues me now: I would like to say Slackware, but the first version of Slackware was released on the 17th of July 1993. While the timing works, I’m doubtful that I would’ve heard about Slackware so soon afterwards, nor that FUNET or the University of Wasa would have carried it in their FTP archives so soon.

That leaves me with either SLS or Yggdrasil. I’m sceptical about Yggdrasil as I don’t remember it ever being offered on floppy disks through FTP. So I’ll assume it was SLS, though the version completely escapes me. Though there is still a possibility that the University of Wasa or FUNET carried Slackware at the time - if you have historic records, I’d love to know :)

As a Brit living in America, every time I have to deal with a plug socket I feel ever so slightly like I’m about to electrocute myself.

Jennie Lees

In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power.

Paul Valéry

We must expect great innovation to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.

Paul Valéry

The face value of art

Here’s a quick text on the face value of art that I put together for our Indiegogo campaign. What do you think? Is the analogy with the face value of fiat currencies sound, or does it need work?

What’s the relation between creative works and money? A bank note is generally valuable. Not because the paper it’s printed on is valuable (it’s not), nor because it’s unique. It’s valuable because it is backed by a government that guarantees your ability to pay taxes and other debts with its face value. If there’s some level of trust in the government and its central bank, people will generally that the value of a bank note or coin is its face value. Internationally, the reputation of a government and its people reflects the ability of a government to borrow money. When there’s a lack of trust in either direction, things tend to go from bad to worse.

Similarly, a work of art doesn’t have an intrinsic value in the digital world: the bits it’s composed of are not expensive, and every work can be easily replicated at the wink of an eye for practically no cost. Yet, a work of art has a face value, a value that’s separate from it’s physical form. It has a value to its’ creator because the work builds the creators reputation. It can lead to more people discovering the creators art, commissions, donations, grants, and other advantages.

That’s why attribution is important: it adds to the face value of a work of art and contributes to the global artistic reputation system. Thank you for your contribution to our activities encouraging attribution!

Making money with metadata

One of the advantages of being able to uniquely identify a work and its creator is that it make a number of mechanisms available that can be used to further support individual creators. One of those mechanisms is micropayments and other ways of also giving monetary rewards to the creators you like and whose work you use. Having an agreed upon standard for metadata formats and unique identifiers would make it significantly easier to use those formats to also convey information about payment options, as well as enable the tools that we use to create a virtual tipping jar which we can flip a coin into when we use digital works.