Worth looking at for organiseing spaces #4opens
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4. The Board

The board exists to make sure the hacker environment survives. The board members are not the leaders of the space, they are the firemen of the space. They make sure the physical space stays available and the members keep loving each other. Apart from that, the board members should be indistinguishable from normal members. The board members don't have any more say over the direction of the space or the projects in the space than any other member.

Specifically, the board has two roles, and for everything that doesn't fall into these roles, the board members are regarded as regular members.

  1. Warden of the physical core infrastructure of the space. This stems from the infrastructure pattern. Provide a room with power, internet, a bar and a kitchen and the hackers will come. An important aspect of this is keeping a good relationship with the surroundings as said in the landlord and neighborhood pattern.
  2. Counselor for the people in the space. When conflict happens that can't be resolved in the group, the board is responsible for resolving the conflict. A great way to do this is the private talk pattern: go talk to the involved parties in private, listen to them and let them know how the group feels.

It's important for the board to communicate openly about what they do.

Both jobs are critically important to the space. Many hackerspaces disbanded because they were kicked out by their landlord and many hackerspaces fell apart because of internal conflict. It is important to get the right people in the board. This is why the board has very little power and only in exceptional circumstances: so it doesn't attract people who want to be in power.

Why is there a board?

There are two reasons why Hackerspace Gent has a board:

  • A Belgian non-profit organization (VZW) requires a board which is legally liable in case something goes wrong. In the past, we had a board on paper, but the space was completely run by consensus. This caused a bunch of issues since the board was legally liable, but it didn't actually have any power to prevent bad things from happening.
  • People don't like conflict and confrontation. If nobody speaks up and nobody actively tries to resolve conflicts, people just ignore it until it explodes, taking down half the space with it. Hackerspace Gent almost disbanded after such an explosion and we vowed to never have it again. Thus, the board is responsible for speaking up and fixing conflicts, even if that is really uncomfortable.

What power does the board have?

The board can temporarily ban people from the space if they think it's necessary for resolving conflict and protecting the space. If they do that, they need to let the members know who is banned and why. In the next meeting, the problem has to be discussed so the members can decide on a permanent solution.

When should I talk to the board?

When there's a fire, you call the fire department to come help you. When you want to light a huge 50 meter bonfire, you check with the fire department to see if they think it's safe.

The same applies to the board, talk to them when there is a big issue and check with them when you do something that's part of their role (warden and counselor).

Here are some examples of when you should check with the board before you do it.

  • If you're spending space money.
  • If you want to make changes to membership fees, the bar, the space shop, ...
  • If you want to make changes to the electricity, and internet.
  • If you want to make changes to the space building that affect fire safety, electrical safety, structural integrity or changes that would make the building collapse.

This isn't necessarily to get their approval, more to give them a chance to stop you if they think it's a bad idea. Note: If something has been decided on a meeting with the board present, you can assume the board doesn't have any objections to it, and you can just do it.

Moreover, if people are abusing the space, people in the space, or you, then it's best to inform the board. You're free to ask help from anyone you feel comfortable with, but it's best to also inform a board member so that they can intervene when someone harasses multiple people in private.

Who should be in the board?

The board does not have any say about what other members are to do, and you want people in the board that like/keep it that way.

  • The "warden" role requires people who are responsible and dependable. The kind of people who say "maybe that's not such a good idea, we might get thrown out if we do that".
  • The "counselor" role requires people who are open communicators, good listeners, and good at defusing a situation.

Both roles require people who are trusted by the members, are open to feedback, and who communicate openly about what they're doing. Since a position with power is controversial (rightly so) in the hacker community, it's incredibly important that the members trust the people in the board. The board will make difficult decisions and the members need to trust that these decisions are the right ones for the space, not just the right ones for the people in the board.

How does the board get elected and expelled?

During a general assembly, the members vote on electing and expelling the board according to the statutes. For more information, refer to the "Meetings" Section.