Governance and scarcity.

August 1, 2011

Most of the time when we see contentious debate come up in the Fedora Project is when the community is trying to create, or agree on, the governance or process by which a scarce resource is used or allocated.

Recall the friction a year or two ago regarding how to advertise different spins of Fedora on the website, and whether or not the layout would recommend a default spin, or promote one spin as a first-among-equals. Real estate on the front page of is a scarce resource, which leads to lots of people debating the most efficient way to allocate it.

One of the key responsibilities of Fedora’s leadership is to identify these scarcity points and understand them. It is the job of Fedora’s leaders to understand whether the scarcity in question is real or artificial.

Back to the previous example — Fedora doesn’t have control over the manufacture of computer monitors. The amount of visible space on the main page of Fedora’s website is real scarcity.

I can think of several places where Fedora has taken steps to remove artifical scarcity that could otherwise have caused huge problems.

For instance, if a package needs review or needs to be maintained, it is easy to do so. The process for increasing the total number of packages in Fedora, and the number of folks who can review new packages is relatively simple. It doesn’t depend on another resource such as “money in a budget” or “open headcount for hiring”. From a governance point of view, this is great. Fedora’s leadership says “we need to make sure that packages in Fedora are high quality” and the community was left to solve that problem in a scalable way, and did so.

Many years ago, when I hired Mike to lead Fedora’s infrastructure team, I told him that I would never micromanage his work, because he knew better than I what needed to be done. The only time he would see me poke my nose into his business was if he permitted any artifical scarcity to exist within Fedora Infrastructure.

What does that mean? Building the capacity for an ever-growing number of people to participate in Fedora Infrastructure was the primary objective, and figuring that out while not sacrificing security policy or quality was (and is) a non-trivial problem. Because in a community like Fedora that places value on GETTING STUFF DONE, telling someone “there is no one with time to address your topic and and you are not allowed to do it yourself” is unacceptable.

To put it another way: within the context of Fedora, if you are claiming that people is a scarce resource, you are probably wrong, and people is simply a scapegoat for a different issue. The rollout of the community credit cards is a good example of this point.

Removing scarcity is not the same as removing guidelines or rules. Fedora has very well-written trademark guidelines. These guidelines help us not only build, but also protect, and scale, Fedora’s brand.

Just don’t let the implementation or the following of those guidelines and rules create artificial scarcity.


7 Responses to “Governance and scarcity.”

  1. This is a great summary of why Fedora needs to concentrate on scalability in everything it does. Every time we make something less self-serviceable, it’s less scalable. A motivated person should be able to get a lot done on his or her own.

    Fedora still runs into troublesome issues from time to time with cases more like this: “There is no one with time to address your topic, and you must do it yourself.” A motivated individual who’s picked a worthwhile problem can always build a community around any DIY issue. Making it difficult for them to do so is a bigger problem.

  2. I come away from this blog post wondering what it’s actually about.

    • spevack Says:

      It’s about the fact that you’ve got contributors in the Cloud SIG who are trying to make progress on an image, but who are blocked because POLICY requires certain other parts of Fedora (who admit that they have no time) to be involved. Thus, the POLICY is forcing contributors to use a scarce resource, slowing everything down.

      I was trying to write a blog post at a slightly higher level than that, but it’s basically about advisory-board‘s current topic.

  3. “To put it another way: within the context of Fedora, if you are claiming that people is a scarce resource, you are probably wrong, and people is simply a scapegoat for a different issue.”

    I’d rephrase this subtly:

    “…if you are claiming that people are a scarce resource, you *should be* wrong.”

    Because you’re dead right: Fedora has a history of putting well-intentioned processes in place that serve as a drag because those processes are people-driven, with not enough people to drive them. It was an issue with package reviews for a long time.

    It’s important to do cost/benefit analysis on these kinds of processes frequently. In the case of package reviews, the process has proven to be essential, as it has created both better packages and better packagers. I’m not sure every process in Fedora can claim to be as successful.

  4. Stephen SMoogen Says:

    I am trying to figure out if it is an artificial or real scarcity issue with the current number of sysadmins . For sysadmins it is partially artificial because we don’t just let anyone “get root”. But does that outweigh the real scarcity of individuals who can understand how complex things have become systems wise. And how many barriers do we erect to try and make sure we have a) people that others trust and b) not get in over our heads again.

  5. nicu Says:

    i think there are cases where people DO are a scarce resource, for example there are not enough people inside Fedora able to draw a good steampunk picture to be used as F16’s default background. there are not enough people to write a competent driver, so for wireless on my 3 years old EeePC I don’t have to go to rpmfusion for an upstream-denied, badly written, driver. and the examples can continue.

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