It has been brought to my attention that several members of our community did not receive an endorsement ballot. This is an unfortunate situation and one I’m dreadfully sorry happened. We tried to build a process for the endorsement period that was robust and fair. Let me recount what has occurred.
Endorsement Period process
Once the NumFOCUS Board of Directors approved a process for selecting the next term’s board members, our staff started surveying all our programs to find people who contributed substantially to our organization. (See our blog post outlining this stage). This included 360 members in project and program committees and 401 donors over the last year. These were delivered to me via several spreadsheets. We knew that there would be individuals who have helped in substantial ways that were not in our databases, so we made the email alias for people to send requests to be included.
To administer the endorsement process, we used the ElectionBuddy service. It has several security features and workflows, e.g. sending reminders and unsubscribing, that help run an online election process in a way that conforms to the complex network of privacy laws governing our international membership. I have used this system in the past without any error and felt it was appropriate for this task.
Unfortunately, I had never created an election with 761 members from ElectionBuddy. One step in the workflow left me unsure: the de-duplication and verification of emails. This step highlighted duplicates from our lists and seemed to erase both sides of the duplicate email rather than just one. I checked a handful of entries and they were not erased, so I moved on.
After the endorsement process was completed, I received two notices from community members who did not receive a ballot. Now I have pulled all the lists into a Python program that analyzes who was duplicated across the lists (32 members) and who did not receive a ballot (5 members). I do not know why these 5 of the 32 didn’t receive a ballot, but it is my assumption that this de-duplication process was the cause. I want to apologize to the members who were excluded from the endorsement process by this error.
While the endorsement totals were tight, I do not believe that an additional 5 endorsements for any candidate would have changed the recommendation. When recommending the next board members, the joint council including the Board of Directors and Advisory Council decided to consider a wider range of candidates than the five top-endorsed candidates. That recommendation was ratified at the subsequent board meeting a few days later. Three more individuals could have been added in the pool considered by the council but none would have had more endorsements than those recommended.
I have received several other complaints about our selection process. I list them here in no particular order:
—People didn’t know to look for an ElectionBuddy email and it could have gone to spam.
This is true. We should amend our process to inform members about the email they should be looking for in the coming weeks. We did blog and tweet that members should email us if they did not receive a ballot, and a handful that were left off the initial list did so. ElectionBuddy did send two reminders and tracked who opened the emails, but there were many unopened emails. 212 of the 761 members did cast a ballot.
That being said, an online election via email is a challenge due to spam filters and spotty delivery of emails. It would be amazing if there was a way to get around this but under the current structure, I think it was the best system we had.
—The process happened too quickly, I was on vacation.
The process took 3 months from end to end. For a small organization with only 6 staff members, it dominated much of our time. Our members were given several weeks to nominate and endorse. The nominees were given just a week to accept their candidacy. This timeline could be changed, of course, but this year represented a huge increase in interest for our board. This made all our processes harder to check and verify. I hope having a better documented process in the future will help members, nominees and candidates participate fully.
—The process happened at the wrong time of the year, everyone is on vacation in August.
We decided to use this time since it corresponds with our annual summit. We would like to have outgoing and incoming board members at the summit to exchange ideas and support. Moving to another month will probably have a similar challenge, but we are amenable to changes.
—This wasn’t an election, it was a vote by the current Board of Directors
We outlined the process and the grounds for using it in a blog post. In hindsight, we should not have used the word “election” anywhere, as many assume that the candidates with the highest vote counts will automatically be selected. We needed to apply a selection step in the process to ensure the resulting board had diversity, members willing to serve as officers, and the right mix of background and expertise to lead a rapidly growing non-profit organization. At the request of our members, we will be discussing this process at the summit. Creating a healthy dialogue around how we choose the leaders of the organization is important and we are interested in creating the best process we can.
How do you participate in the future?
1) When will the next board selection happen and are changes to the process already contemplated?
The next election will occur in one year. Our board has roughly half its members up for election each year.
2) How I can influence board decisions even if I am not on the board?
3) What other ways I can serve NumFOCUS today?
First and foremost is to support and promote our projects. A healthy community is the largest value we have. Second is to advocate for our organization in your sphere of influence, whether it be adding us to a corporate donation platform or introducing us to other collaborative communities. Finally, we will be forming more committees for our various programs after our upcoming Summit, which we will advertising here on this blog.
4) Can you provide any information on board meeting transparency? e.g. are meeting minutes published? are any other board-level decisions and actions public?
We publish annual reports (from 2016 onwards): https://numfocus.org/community/mission/annual-reports
Most important Board decisions have a blog post written about them: https://www.numfocus.org/blog/
5) What is the best way to give feedback and support to the board?
Direct communication with a board member. You can reach me at andy[at]numfocus.org.
Thank you to everyone who raised concerns — we are sorry we let you down and we appreciate you bringing these issues to our attention so that we can do better in future.
My career is built on top of NumFOCUS-sponsored projects.
Patrick Harrison, Supporting Member