FSFE in 2020 / Who are we?

The question

Who are we as an organisation?

The historical question

In 2004, the organisation felt a "need for a document that helps us to express clearer what the Free Software Foundation Europe is and how we perceive ourselves in order to allow others to understand how things work and make our work more transparent".

This became the document Self Conception of the FSFE.

The Self Conception

This documented details the structure of the FSFE, its principles, its stance on paid staff, its commitment to consensus, transparency, pluralism and participation.

Our bible

This document has become sacrosanct and a part of FSFE lore. It has seldom been updated, and when it has been updated, it has been a painstaking and very emotional process to do so.

The problem

Over time, the organisation and its way of working has evolved. The self conception did not.

In early 2016, the document still mentioned that the FSFE has "chapters in the member countries" (which we had not truly had for many years). It also had the archaic idea that employees "do not become part of the general decision finding processes" and that employments are decided on by the members.

Jonas lead the work on changing this, so it's at least mostly factual, but it's still largely a historical document.

Diverging ideas

For people who are new to the FSFE -- volunteers, donors, and supporters -- the Self Conception document is the first link in the "About" section on our web pages.

Our Self Conception has become our Declared Identity: how we express who we are, and what's important to us.

When people enter the FSFE, they might experience another identity, the Experienced Identity: what the organisation really is. If you joined before 2016 and thought that employees were not part of the decision making, you'd be surprised to discover they are. This creates a tension between the different identities which is often difficult to manage.

How we are perceived

To add to the complexity, when asking external stakeholders, they sometimes see the FSFE in a different way than either of these, forming a third Attributed Identity. Sometimes different stakeholders see different things.

People who participate externally in our legal network definitely see the FSFE in a different light than those who meet us at FOSDEM.


When these three dimensions; the Declared Identity, the Experienced Identity and the Attributed Identity, are dispersed, it makes focus and decision-making problematic.

Added complexity

In an added complexity for us, we also see that different people in the FSFE experience our identity in a different way. When describing what the FSFE is, people, even our own coordinators, sometimes have very different ways of expressing this.

FSFE in 2020

With the /FSFE in 2020/ activity, we aim to bring these dispersed identities closer together.

The hard reality

If we take the different identities, and we create an average of them, we'll end up with a declared identity which fits no one. At the same time, regardless of what we establish shall be our guiding principles and our identity going forward, we are going to lose some people.

There will be people who no longer feel comfortable supporting the FSFE.

This is okay. We are often too afraid of losing our existing supporter base and volunteers. But no one should be part of the FSFE if they do not feel comfortable our principles match theirs.

The benefit

If we gather around a new identity, which may look very similar to our old Self Conception document, at least in spirit, it will create a common understanding in our community of who we are.

It's a chance to use that common understanding to build things which now sometimes feel difficult, but which are important for our future development, and for our ability to attract and keep a strong volunteer group:

What we're looking for

In this process, we're looking for the identity attributes which are distinctive (separate us from others), enduring (lasts for a very long time), and central to who we are. We're also looking for key events, tensions, traits which are part of FSFE lore, and so on.

An identity attribute can be:

Our approach

We're conducting interviews which are then transcribed and coded. We go through each interview and mark the places where the interviewee says something we believe is relevant for understanding our identity.

We use the same codes through all documents, so we can cross reference.

We group people into rough categories based on their position within or outside of the organisation, to see if there are commonalities or differences between different groupings.

We also look at documents, presentations given, and other materials which form the basis of our declared identity.


In the first step, we're conducting interviews rather broadly, with almost whoever wants to be heard. They are not long; sometimes just 5-6 minutes long.

Through this we will develop a broad understanding before us which will allow us to move on to the second step.


To get a better understanding of some of the specific attributes found, or questions raised, we will need to do some surveys of our community and stakeholders.

We will also do longer, more targeted interviews, with key people to get a deeper understanding of some attributes or tensions.


In the end, we aim to develop and report to you our understanding of what our declared, experienced, and attributed identity, look like, and what tensions are between them, and if there are internal tensions in how people experience our identity between different parts of our community.


Together with you, we will use this understanding to develop a new document outlining our renewed commitment to an organisational identity.

This will replace our self conception document.

The End Game

This new organisational identity will influence a lot of our further activities.

We will use this as a base to reshape our About sections on our web pages.

We will build training for new volunteers (if our principle is to present facts, not judge, we need to convey this to those who join and who will ultimately be in a position to speak for the FSFE on topics or in their local environment)

And so on.

Our team

Jonas, Kristi. Steering group: Daniel, Mirko, Alessandro, Cryptie, Erik Transcriptions by Jennifer Gibbons (contractor, from Westminster, United States)

Our progress

We have not managed to have our first steering group call yet (was provisionally scheduled for just before the GA).

Kristi has conducted X interviews, mostly from people in her surroundings and on her visit in Z├╝rich.

We've started to code the interviews, developing some feeling for what the different attributes we're dealing with are, but we don't have very many yet.

We've put together a call for people who'd like to be part of our work and be interviewed, and we'll follow up on this after the GA

We'll also start inviting specific people more explicitly to participate and we aim to have this first step of mapping the environment done in 4-5 weeks.

Teams/FSFE-in-2020/Presentation (last edited 2017-10-05 14:08:04 by jonas)