The Structure of the Carpentries Executive Council

The Executive Council is the main leadership body for The Carpentries. This post introduces the Executive Council’s roles and responsibilities, how the council is structured, and the reasoning behind this approach.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Executive Council

The Carpentries Executive Council is the highest leadership body of The Carpentries organization. It is responsible for strategic and organizational planning, selecting the Executive Director and evaluating their performance, financial oversight, identifying revenue streams and resource development, approving and monitoring The Carpentries programs and services, and enhancing The Carpentries’ public image. Members of the council also serve as advocates and ambassadors for the organization, leveraging their networks to benefit the organization’s reputation and fundraising. The Executive Council executes these responsibilities through a combination of monthly Executive Council meetings and regular correspondence and collaboration via email and online platforms.

Background on Non-profit Governing Boards

Since The Carpentries uses a fiscal sponsor in place of being a formal non-profit, it is not required to have a governing body and cannot have a formal “board”. However, the Executive Council operates like a standard non-profit board and therefore we used the four major types of governing boards as the starting point for Carpentries governance.

  1. Elected Boards - All board members are elected by the members of the organization. This provides the maximum control of governance to the community, but can lead to a lack of stability for the organization and its staff.
  2. Self-Perpetuating Boards - New board members are elected by the existing members of the board. This provides more stability and increased potential for bringing in needed skills or connections, but risks the board becoming insular and isolated from the community it serves.
  3. Appointed - All board members are appointed by some authority outside of the organization. This governance structure typically applies to public institutions like universities.
  4. Hybrid - A combination of two or more of the above approaches. This can provide both the responsiveness to membership of an Elected Board and the stability of a Self-Perpetuating Board, but can result in conflicts if members from different components of the board have different agendas.

Of these four major types, the self-perpetuating board is the most commonly used by non-profits. If you’d like a citation for the ideas above, or just want to read more on non-profit governance models (because who wouldn’t!) we recommend Chapter 3 of Governing and Leading Nonprofit Organizations.

History of Software Carpentry & Data Carpentry Governance

Software Carpentry was originally governed by a benevolent dictator for life (Greg Wilson) before transitioning to an Elected Board in 2015.

Data Carpentry was governed by a Self-Perpetuating Board from its inception in 2014.

The Carpentries Governance Model

When merging the two organizations we took a “best of both worlds” approach by choosing a Hybrid Board structure. The Carpentries Executive Council is a combination of four community-elected members and five council-elected members, all serving two-year terms. This allows us to benefit from both the direct member governance of an Elected Board and the stability of a Self-Perpetuating Board. It also provided a natural way to combine the two organizations’ different governance models. This governance model was originally developed by the merger committee, agreed to by both the Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry steering committees, and reaffirmed by the founding The Carpentries Executive Council.

Creating an Executive Council with both a hybrid structure and an odd number of members (commonly chosen to avoid tied votes) required choosing whether to have an extra member from the community-elected or council-elected group. We chose to have five council-elected members to emphasize stability (for the organization, its staff, and its stakeholders) and to help ensure that the board is diverse and can obtain the experience and skills needed to support the organization most effectively. To facilitate this, the council-elected members of the Executive Council will be chosen after the community-elected slots have been filled, allowing this process to fill gaps resulting from the community election to ensure that the EC fully represents our diverse community. To avoid the risks associated with insularity, the community-elected members of the EC (the sitting members, not the members elect) will participate in the election of council-elected members and nominations for these council-elected positions on the EC will be sought from the entire community. The process for community nominations is currently being developed.

The Carpentries Executive Council serves a key role in the organization, so we’re excited about continuing to develop it for stable and sustainable community-led governance.

Dialogue & Discussion