Carpentries Community Conversation with the Executive Council

A summary of the two community conversations with the Carpentries Executive Council in February 2021, facilitated by Serah Njambi Kiburu and Dr. Kari L. Jordan

On Friday, 22 February, 2021, two sessions were held for The Carpentries Community to meet and interact with The Carpentries Executive Council (EC) - to hear from about governance in The Carpentries and the work the EC is currently doing.

The hour- long discussion included (i)guided discussion and a (ii) Q&A session. Here is a summary of the conversation.

Questions and answers from the guided discussion

Provide a brief history of the Executive Council in The Carpentries

When Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry merged on January 1, 2018, it was decided to continue the tradition of a community-led steering council that both organisations had. The name chosen was Executive Council. It was decided to have 9 people on the council, 4 community-elected (any community member can stand for EC election) and 5 council-elected. Nominations for Council elected seats can come from the community, the Council, or Core Team, and the nominees do not necessarily have to be community members. This helps to have a wide range of expertise in the EC. See also this blog post from 2018.

Briefly describe the role of the Executive Council - how far does the EC mandate extend (what is expected of the EC from year to year)? What can the community expect from the EC?

The EC is the highest governance body of The Carpentries, responsible for setting the mission and vision, the bylaws, and organizational and strategic planning. The EC also hires The Carpentries Executive Director. The community can expect the EC to have the best interest of the organisation at hand, and work with the Executive Director, Core Team, community members and others towards furthering its mission, including financial oversight and planning.

How does the EC interact with other roles in The Carpentries - Core Team, committees, Task Forces? This may also be a great opportunity for someone to expound on some of the things the Executive Council is not responsible for. Are there opportunities to work more closely with other roles in The Carpentries towards our mission?

The Executive Council’s Standing Committees have just been set up to help the EC and the Core Team ‘get work done’. Some of these committees may include Core Team or community members. The EC is in the process of more carefully describing ‘where what gets decided’ as also the EC itself is sometimes unsure of what it should, and should not decide upon. In general, the EC sets the direction for the future but is not responsible for the day-to-day running of The Carpentries - that responsibility lies with the Executive Director and the Core Team. The EC has a liaison on the Code of Conduct Committee, and on other Committees and Task Forces as needed. The EC invites Core Team and/or community members into Standing Committees where this would help. The EC is currently in the process of finalizing the internal structure of the Standing Committees. The EC also has committees that interface with the community - for example an EC liaison to the Code of Conduct Committee. The newly established EC’s Standing Committees include: Officers Committee, Governance Committee, Finance Committee, Communications Committee, and Program Committee. A lot of the interactions also happen as the EC liaises for the Core Team.

How does the EC determine what work to prioritise at any given time?

The EC has a Yearly timeline for recurring tasks, such as quarterly financial and transparency reports. Beyond that, the new EC starts by determining the priorities for the year, with input from the outgoing EC and Executive Director. Also, a lot of the EC work is driven by the strategic plan. The plan is long-term, but also divided into what goals will be accomplished by a fiscal year. The long-term strategy is broken down into specific tasks for the year. The plan drives the direction for the overall community and it’s important because it keeps us on track. When you tie what we do as an EC to the strategic plan, the development of the committees helps us parse out the plan and smaller groups of individuals solve and create solutions to the things we’re trying to address over the long term.

What motivates the members to serve on the EC?

Many EC members are very active community members who have a strong belief in the mission and see serving on the council as a great way to help the organisation further. The EC also has members that have experience serving on governing bodies (mostly Boards) of similar organisations, who are motivated to bring this experience to the table.

Is the ‘mentoring of future EC members’ part of the EC’s current mandate? If it is / were to be, what would a good and equitable approach look like?

The Carpentries Handbook has a detailed process for onboarding the new EC members.

Briefly, what do you see as the major difference in role between the EC and the Core Team?

Core Team is the operational part of The Carpentries, they are responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation, and developing the organisation further by implementing the Strategic Plan set by the EC. Core Team members are (mostly) also hired and paid by The Carpentries; EC members are volunteers and do not receive any monetary compensation.

What kinds of decisions does the EC make versus the Core Team versus the community. Should the community be voting on more matters and not only who sits on the EC?

This is a very good question and one the EC is currently investigating itself. The EC could probably be doing a better job of communicating to the community what it is working on, and involving folks by for example putting out Requests for Comments. We are at least operating in a transparent manner, anyone can read the EC’s meeting minutes and see what motions the EC approved. The EC also has a set of ‘year in review’ documents. The EC makes sure that its programs and offerings are achieving The Carpentries mission and are within The Carpentries vision.

Given the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which, if any, aspects of The Carpentries strategy do you think need to be adjusted? Has the widespread shift to online working and meeting opened up any new opportunities for the organisation?

This is an excellent question that the EC has not asked itself yet. The EC applauds the Core Team for showing great perseverance in making sure our activities continue in these challenging times. The community also came together in a fantastic way to help produce great resources for online teaching (if any community can do this, it is ours!). But the EC still has to sit down and reflect over lessons learned from this situation, and how it can and perhaps should influence the strategic planning.

What has the EC been working on in previous months? What can the community expect to see from the EC over the next year?

  • Every even-numbered year, the EC has to revise and/or re-approve the bylaws, as was done last in 2020. Changes focussed around governance with new policies for the formation of Committees and Task Forces, and adjustments to streamline the Election process. Other changes were around community membership and clarifications of the language or intentions of the bylaws text. The Covid-19 situation also affected many EC members, and this resulted in significant delays with our planned projects around flexible format workshops, the Rubric for Public Statements from The Carpentries, the Succession Plan for when we hire a new Executive Director, and how to set directions for growth in new regions. The EC aims to finish these projects in 2021, as well as clarify decision making transparency, address Lesson Program Governance (including governance of the trainer community), and find more ways to grow financially, for example, through sponsorship programs.
  • The bylaws and the task force policy were a major update. The EC also looked at succession planning for the Executive Director role. The EC also worked on advising the fundraising campaign. The EC started looking at the governance of our Lesson Programs. The EC is working on flexible formats for the workshops so that we can get away from the rigid approach. Rubric for public statements and setting direction for growth in new regions are another one. Looking at programs like the Instructor Training and seeing how to match its governance with the Lesson Program governance. Evaluating the transition from in-person to online workshops and whether we should keep this as an offering.
  • Funding, sponsors and making sure of the sustainability of the core staff

Is the EC interested in hearing from the community from time to time? How can community members raise suggestions, ask questions or initiate discussions with the EC?

The EC is always interested in hearing from the community and can be reached as described below. Beyond that, this should perhaps be the first community call with the EC, and not the last. The Executive Council can be contacted by submitting an issue to their GitHub repository; sending them an email; or by filling this form. Read more about how to contact the Executive Council.

Questions from the community

How does the EC differ from a board?

A board is a legal entity and has defined responsibilities under the law; our fiscal sponsor has a board with those responsibilities, but we can’t and don’t have one. We don’t require the same things of other boards (e.g. financial contributions are not required to be on the board). The specific definition has everything to do with legalese.

How long do the EC members spend on their EC work? What is an on-boarding process?

On average, we spend 1-3 hours per week on EC-related tasks. We have monthly 1-hour meetings. There is an intensive multi-day ‘EC retreat’ meeting either in-person or online once a year. When someone starts on the EC they get a buddy/mentor to help with onboarding. We have intense times where different groups work on a certain topic and relaxed times.

Is there a person who we can send our questions to that can go into an FAQ?

There will be a followup blog post, but opening an issue in the executive-council-info repository would be the best way to get it through. There will be more meetings like this so that we can have more conversations about the role of the EC and how we move forward.

What lessons have been learned from online workshop delivery due to COVID-19 thus far?

Still in the process of finalizing the adjustments. The EC has not started the discussion on this yet. Really hope we can go back to in-person workshops by finding the right model of training delivery.

How has COVID impacted our bottom line?

There were a few institutions that did not renew their memberships. There were 65 memberships pre Covid-19, but now there are 92 memberships. We brought back our bronze Membership, the most economical way to get involved. Going into the pandemic everyone was canceling workshops, but we received so many requests now.

Dialogue & Discussion

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