When Inkscape was started, it was a loose coalition of folks that met on the Internet. We weren’t really focused on things like governance, the governance was mostly who was an admin on SourceForge (it was better back then). We got some donated server time for a website and we had a few monetary donations that Bryce handled mostly with his personal banking. Probably one of our most valuable assets, our domain, was registered to and paid for by Mentalguy himself.

Realizing that wasn’t going to last forever we started to look into ways to become a legal entity as well as a great graphics program. We decided to join the (then much smaller) Software Freedom Conservancy which has allowed us to take donations as a non-profit and connected us to legal and other services to ensure that all the details are taken care of behind the scenes. As part of joining The Conservancy we setup a project charter, and we needed some governance to go along with that. This is where we officially established what we call “The Inkscape Board” and The Conservancy calls the Project Leadership Committee. We needed a way to elect that board, for which we turned to the AUTHORS file in the Inkscape source code repository.

Today it is clear that the AUTHORS file doesn’t represent all the contributors to Inkscape. It hasn’t for a long time and realistically didn’t when we established it. But it was easy. What makes Inkscape great isn’t that it is a bunch of programmers in the corner doing programmer stuff, but that it is a collaboration between people with a variety of skill sets bringing those perspectives together to make something they couldn’t build themselves.

Who got left out? We chose a method that had a vocational bias, it preferred people who are inclined to and enjoy computer programming. As a result translators, designers, technical writers, article authors, moderators, and others were left out of our governance. And because of societal trends we picked up both a racial and gender bias in our governance. Our board has never been anything other than a group of white men.

We are now taking specific actions to correct this in the Inkscape charter and starting to officially recognize the contributions that have been slighted by this oversight.

Our core of recognizing contributors has always been about peer-review with a rule we’ve called the “two patch rule.” It means that with two meaningful patches that are peer-reviewed and committed you’re allowed to have commit rights to the repository and added to the AUTHORS file. We want to keep this same spirit as we start recognize a wider range of contributions so we’re looking to make it the “two peers rule.” Here we’ll add someone to the list of contributors if two peers who are contributors say the individual has made significant contributions. Outside of the charter we expect each group of contributors will make a list of what they consider to be a significant contribution so that potential contributors know what to expect. For instance, for developers it will likely remain as patches.

We’re also taking the opportunity to build a process for contributors who move on to other projects. Life happens, interests change, and that’s a natural cycle of projects. But our old process which focused more on copyright of the code didn’t allow for contributors to be marked as retired. We will start to track who voted in elections (board members, charter changes, about screens, etc.) and contributors who fail to vote in two consecutive elections will be marked as retired. A retired contributor can return to active status by simply going through the “two peers rule.”

These are ideas to start the discussion, but we always want more input and ideas. Martin Owens will be hosting a video chat to talk about ideas surrounding how to update the Inkscape charter. Also, we welcome anyone to post on the mailing list for Inkscape governance.

As a founder it pains me to think of all the contributions that have gone unrecognized. Sure there were “thank yous” and beers at sprints, but that’s not enough. I hope this new era for Inkscape will see these contributions recognized and amplified so that Inkscape can continue to grow. The need for Free Software has only grown throughout Inkscape’s lifetime and we need to keep up!

posted Sep 8, 2021 | permanent link