Open Source Initiative changing governance

Mission expanded to include individual memberships, new board structure

The organization responsible for ensuring open source licenses of all stripes adhere to the Open Source Definition is adding individual memberships to its roles, which will fundamentally change the way that organization is governed.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is now accepting applications for individual memberships, a move that marks another big step in a shift for the OSI to become a member-governed non-profit.

Since its founding in 1998, the OSI has always been led by a board of directors whose members were nominated and elected by the other board members when vacancies arose. The new individual memberships, along with the OSI's affiliate membership program that was launched at the beginning of the year, will represent a chance to change that governance model, according to OSI President Simon Phipps.

"When the membership is sufficiently large (the Board has yet to set a threshold, but I'd expect it to be mid-high hundreds), a Board seat that's fallen vacant by normal term limits or Director resignation will be made available for filling by a Director chosen by the Individual Members," Phipps responded by e-mail last night. "As the membership grows, I expect the number of Directors appointed this way to grow too."

Besides eventually having a seats available on the board, individual members will also have the the opportunity to participate in working groups that will further the OSI's mission to advocate for open source and manage the plethora of open source licenses that fall under the Open Source Definition.

There is, of course, some fundraising going on. Individual members are being asked to make a (tax deductible) donation of $40 when they join, a fee that will must be renewed annually. The OSI is not committing to exactly what those funds are being used for yet.

"Because this membership program is part of a governance transformation as well as a fundraising campaign, the current Board does not wish to predetermine future decisions. However, we expect that the need we currently see for dedicated, long-term advocacy and organizing (e.g., through permanent staff, fellowship positions, or something similar) will be recognized by the membership and by future boards, and that the money raised through membership fees will help make such sustained efforts possible," the membership page states.

That governance transformation will include yet another membership tier sometime in the future. When describing the future changes for the OSI Board, Phipps also revealed an upcoming change.

"Over time, this will lead to the whole Board being Member selected by the three categories of member we expect to exist (Affiliate, Individual and Corporate)," Phipps wrote. There are no details for the corporate membership yet, but a 2006 proposal from then-Board member Ken Coar suggested these criteria for such a membership:

"c. Corporate membership.

  • "Annual dues TBD (~US$5'000 maybe).
  • "Requires approval by board. (Ratification by membership?)
  • "Permission to use a (to be designed) 'OSI Corporate Sponsor' graphic
  • "Non-binding advisory vote on admission of other corporate members.
  • "No special mailing list access.

For now, all of these changes are very transitional, and won't be formally applied to the OSI's governance rules.

"Note that we're only going to formally change the bylaws once everything is working well, so initially this will actually be the Board appointing a candidate recommended by the membership rather than a formal arrangement," Phipps explained. "However, two of the Board's vacancies this spring were filled in this way with candidates recommended by the new Affiliate membership (Mike Milinkovic of Eclipse and Luis Villa at the suggestion of Mozilla, both with the consensus of the whole membership). If all goes well we'll be able to change the bylaws to make OSI formally a member organization by spring 2014."

With a real budget and a member-driven set of initiatives, the OSI's role within the open source community is about to change dramatically. It will be interesting to see what role the organization will play in the days ahead as open source becomes more mainstream than ever.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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