A guide to Gna! governance

Gna! is a horizontal collective bootstrapped in March 2022 and governed by rules. It takes less than ten minutes for any newcomer to read, understand the manifesto and decide if they are OK with it.

It will take a longer to figure out how these rules influence the actions of members. Since there is no spokesperson, who should answer questions about Gna!? Since there is no hierarchy, how can it be funded? Community members are expected to behave according to the Code of Conduct but what happens if they do not?

According to Wikipedia,

“a flat organization (also known as horizontal organization or flat hierarchy) has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between staff and executives.”

It is worth mentioning that Gna! is horizontal in the sense that it has no levels of middle management. A horizontal collective with even one level of management would be like claiming that a surface is horizontal when it is at a 5° angle.

The most common objection to establish a horizontal collective is the claim that it is subject to the tyranny of structurlessness. But it does not compare because Gna! has a structure and a well defined decision process. In 1970, the seminal article explains that

“… the women’s liberation movement has been taking shape, a great emphasis has been placed on what are called leaderless, structureless groups as the main – if not sole – organizational form of the movement.”

and articulates the negative outcome of this choice. It further concludes that:

“For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit. The rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone, and this can happen only if they are formalized.” (Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”)

Gna! has a transparent, clearly defined and formalized decision making process that is open to all members. And although it has no hierarchy it has a set of rules that gives it a structure.

There is no definitive and unambiguous document explaining how the governance of Gna! is derived from the rules found in the manifesto. But will be examples to show how they were interpreted in the past.

Becoming a Gna! member

Members of the Gna! collective are people or organizations who agree follow the rules established by the governance by adding themselves to the Gna! members group.

The access to Gna! exclusive resources such as the DNS or the hardware running the service. Is restricted to the most active members of the collective. The general idea is that Gna! is run by people who actively work to make it happen at a given point in time and not by people who were involved in the past but no longer have time to devote to it.

Decision making process

A member can propose a decision by creating a new topic in the governance category of the forum and wait for a consensus period of at least two weeks to give a chance to other members to raise their concerns and object.

Four of the rules in the Gna! manifesto are related to decision making:

  • An action that has no impact on others can be carried out unilaterally
  • An action impacting others is advertised in advance and carried out if there is a consensus (or a favorable majority vote of the voters if there is no consensus)
  • Any member impacted by an action is entitled to call for a vote
  • Members respect consensus and vote results

Writing a series of articles published on the Gna! forum is a trivial example of an action that has no impact on others. Engaging in a discussion to explore how a company can participate in Gna! also has no impact on others as long as nobody claims to have authority to decide in the name of Gna! and only speak for themselves. Fostering diversity is also an individual commitment: Gna!, as a collective, works to improve diversity only to the extent that each member of the collective does.

The $500 donation for Gna! to become a Gitea Gold sponsor, although perceived to originate from the Gna! collective, is actually the initiative of a single individual and not a project wide decision.

Mistakes happen and actions that have an impact on others will sometime be made. Whatever the reason for the original mistake, the person who made it can organize a consultation after the fact to get consensus and revert the action if they do not get it.

Talking about Gna!

Since there is no spokesperson, noone can claim to speak in the name of Gna!. Each member of the collective can however talk about Gna!, from their perspective. It boils down to:

  • Using I instead of We when talking or writing about Gna!.
  • Mentioning the name of the authors of messages published via social media or on spaces that are not otherwise associated with the author.

In other words, although there is no spokesperson, it is possible for Gna! to publish a text that is not associated with a given author but with the collective itself. But this is a decision like any other: it requires consensus or a vote.

Funding Gna! members

Since there is no hierarchy, Gna! cannot be represented by an organization. If a democratic non profit or cooperative was created, there would be a board, elected by the members: this would be a single level hierarchy which is the opposite of the absence of hierarchy.

Funding can therefore only be received by individual Gna! members, it cannot be received by an organization that would then distribute the funds to Gna! members. This has a few consequences when applying for funding:

  • Gna! members can only apply in their own name
  • the grant applicant cannot claim to have any power to decide in the name of Gna!

For instance a 5,000€ contract was received by an individual, in their own name. The deliverables of this contract were designed to contribute to Gna! but there was no guarantee they would actually be accepted by the Gna! community: a vote could decide otherwise.

Donating to Gna!

In the absence of hierarchy, it is not possible to donate money to Gna!. It is however possible for a person to pledge to create a grant to be spent by Gna!. For instance, a 2,000€ donation was pledged to Gna! as a way to put the yearly bonus from Easter-Eggs in May 2022. But the money was not actually transferred anywhere when the pledge was made.

Revenue sharing model in practice

When Gna! members file expenses or income, they do so as follows:

  • Create an issue in the organization tracker
  • Assign the issue to themselves
  • Set the Income or Expense label
  • In case of an expense, set one of the following labels (only one):
  • Set the number of hours work to reflect the amount (1€ == 1 minute)
  • Set the due date to the date the expense was made or the income received
  • Attach invoices for expenses
  • Add URLs in the description that allow for a transparent audit of the expense or income

If the expense is not disputed within the delay set by the revenue sharing model, the amount is due.

If an expense is disputed, the Dispute label is set.

On a regular basis the income is shared between Gna! members. An issue with the label Shared is created and the Assignee is required to pay the amount matching the number of hours (1€ == 1 minute) to the Gna! member listed in the issue description by the due date.

Expenses are rounded to the upper euro (i.e. 1.53€ is counted as 2 minutes, therefore 2€) and income is is truncated to the lower euro (i.e. 1.53€ is counted as 1 minute, therefore 1€).

A declaration of interest is created as an issue with the label Declaration of interest.

Exclusive resources and people with access

Gna! members with access to an exclusive resource are listed publicly because there currently is no way for a collective such as Gna! to run without them. They are a challenge because they are an obstacle to the benefits of horizontality.

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