The Steering Committee Elections Template
|Audience of this HowTo||Audience of The Document||Required by CNCF|
This HowTo is for project maintainers who need Governance documentation for their project. The goal of a GOVERNANCE.md file is to inform contributors about how your project is run, and encourage them to get involved in project leadership.
Great governance docs will:
- Show potential contributors that their contributions will be treated fairly
- Show contributors that leadership positions are attainable
- Provide a framework for decision making and resolving disagreements
- Define a process for promoting contributors and improving maintainer continuity
Fill out the template
Copy the template file into your repository, and rename it
There are instructions for filling out the template that look like the example below:
Some links are specific to your project. Search for the word TODO in the markdown for links that need to be customized. When you finish editing the template, remove the Instruction links that explain how to fill out the template. Also remove any ⚠️ prompts and their explanatory text.
Steering Committee Election Governance
This model of governance is only appropriate for very large open source projects with a complex structure often made up of multiple Special Interest Groups (SIGs), Working Groups (WGs), subprojects, or multiple repos where a steering committee or similar elected body is required to make project-wide decisions that span across multiple groups or to make decisions when multiple groups are in disagreement. In particular, some projects may also benefit from a steering committee to bring cohesion in the project’s direction, structure, and governance across all groups, particularly in areas that are prone to inconsistencies (e.g., software development practices, testing). It may also be used as a way to enforce employer representation limits to ensure that a project has leadership representation from a variety or organizations.
Is This Template For Us?
An election-based steering committee governance model is for you if your project:
- Is organized into distinct groups, like SIGs, WGs, subprojects or multiple repos that might have competing priorities
- Wants to enforce employer representation limits for leadership
- Has a large number of maintainers (20+) who cannot easily attend the same meetings or make rapid decisions
If you don’t yet meet these conditions, we recommend that you start with a simpler governance template, like the Maintainer Council template, and move to this template later when you actually need it. Starting with a complicated governance structure before you need it creates overhead and extra work for project members and maintainers whose time is often better spent on project development, rather than governance.
We strongly recommend that you reach out to TAG Contributor Strategy with questions, assistance, or reviews before you implement this governance structure.
What Do I Need To Know?
There are quite a few things you need to know before creating a governance model of this complexity. Here is a partial list, but there are likely others depending on exactly how your project plans to operate:
- A list of your current maintainers
- Locations of your repositories and files
- Details on your project’s existing developer meetings
- Details on mailing lists or other official communications channels, including both public and private channels for the Maintainers
- Other committees that the Steering Committee may choose to delegate its authority to as-needed (security, code of conduct, etc).
- Steering Committee meeting logistics - how often, when, where meeting notes will be published, etc.
- Contact details for how community members can contact the Steering Committee
- Composition - Number of seats, terms, etc.
- How you will bootstrap the first steering committee
- Eligibility criteria for members to run for seats on the Steering Committee
- Election procedures for timing, election officers, eligibility of voters, etc.
- Employer representation limits
- Procedure for handling vacancies
What Do I Need to Customize?
All sections of this template will likely need to be customized, so we recommend that you review the Knative Steering Committee as an example of how to customize this template.
What Else Is Required?
It assumes that you are using the Contributor Ladder, since it is a good way to provide guidance about eligibility requirements. It is possible to implement this without a Contributor Ladder, but it is not recommended.
Project: Your entire CNCF project, rather than individual repositories or subprojects.
Steering Committee: The overall governing body for your project, and the list of maintainers by CNCF definition.
Maintainers: The actual approvers/technical leadership of the project, which might be different from the membership of the Steering Committee.
CNCF Maintainers: The list of “maintainers” per CNCF rules, as in people who are allowed to make decisions for the project that the CNCF will carry out. In a Steering Committee project, this is the Steering Committee instead of the list of approvers.
Your intro paragraph needs to include a succinct summary of the Steering Committee and the scope of its oversight / decision-making.
Like the other templates, you need to place a list of values here that define what your project strives for. Some of these will be general (like “fairness”) and some will be specific to your problem domain (like “asyncronous operation”). The Values are listed in your governance template because all project leaders are expected to follow these values. Deciding your values is a good topic for a general community meeting.
See our documentation on Charters for some examples.
This section describes the responsibilities and powers belong to the Steering Committee, and should include a list of responsibilites and areas where the Steering Committee is responsible for oversight. Exactly what is in this section varies widely depending on your project structure. The template contains some examples of what you might expect to have in this section.
List all other committees, groups, or other areas where the Steering Committee delegates responsibilities. This may include a security response committee, code of conduct committee, technical oversight committee, etc. For example, you may have a Marketing Committee that handles all work with CNCF marketing, or a different body that handles escalated technical disputes.
You need to explicitly describe where, how, and when the Steering Committee will meet along with details about where the minutes will be published and how community members can contact the Steering Committee or raise issues for discussion.
You should consider setting up a cadence of private vs. public meetings with the private meetings being for sensitive topics that should not be open to the public.
When a steering committee governance model is first implemented, it usually starts with a bootstrap steering committee with members selected by the project based on who is currently making project decisions. This group will be responsible for running the project, but with a set deadline for how they will be replaced by an elected steering committee.
For example, Kubernetes started with a Bootstrap Governance Committee
We recommend using Lazy Consensus as the primary decision-making method, but you will also need to determine the list of things that requires a vote, such as issuing or amending policies, spending, etc. This section will also specify how you determine quorum for voting with recommended language found in the template.
You will need to also come up with a process for documenting these decisions and have a consistent place where the community can get more information about past decisions that were made.
Getting in touch
Your governance document should specify how community members can raise issues to the steering committee for decision. Common ways to do this are via an email alias for the Steering Committee, filing an issue in a specific repository, or posting in a Steering Committee Slack channel.
This section requires some extra work and additional thought put into how you plan to handle election terms and replacing Steering Committee members whose terms are up for election.
We recommend using staggered 2-year terms where only half of the seats are up for election in any given year to maintain continuity. This keeps enough people on the Steering Committee to provide context and onboarding for new members.
If you are starting from scratch with a bootstrapped committee, and need a transition period, but plan to have staggered 2-year terms, we recommend that for the first year of the Steering Committee half of the seats should be elected for a 1-year term, and the other half should be elected for a 2-year term.
While not recommended, an alternative to staggered terms is that you can have all of the members elected at the same time to serve for a specified term. This can introduce hardship on the newly elected members attempting to pick-up where the previous Committee left off if there is no formal overlap or handoff.
Note: CNCF may soon have a better, GitOps-driven, online election tool available. At that time, projects will want to revise portions of this procedure.
The template contains recommended text for timelines, election officers, and eligibiity to vote. These sections are all relatively straightforward, and we recommend using the templated text, but you will need to determine the threshold for voter eligibility and specify where community members can find the list of eligible voters.
You will need to determine what criteria a person needs to meet in order to be eligible to run as a candidate in the election. Some common criteria include: being in a project member role in the Contributor Ladder, listed as an approver in one or more OWNERS files, or similar.
Limitations on Company Representation
We recommend placing limits on company representation, which ensures a more fair and neutral decision-making body that isn’t over-represented by a single vendor. Exactly where you set those limits depends on your current community composition, the number of seats on your Steering Committee, overall employer representation within your community, and other factors. A reasonable guideline is that no company should have representation of more than 1/3 of the committee for steering committees with 7+ members or no more than 2 members for smaller committees.
You will need a process for handling vacancies, and we recommend using the text currently found in the template.
Changes to the charter
Changes to your charter should refer back to the “Decision Process” section and specify how long proposed changes should be available for comment before a vote is called. We recommend at least one week as a minimum, but depending on your community, you might want to give people more time.
Authority, Facilitation, and Decision Making
We recommend making decisions at the lowest possible level within the project, so you will need to provide some context for this based on your project needs. Recommended text can be found in the template.
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