We (Paz @paz and Gustavo @gpereyrairujo) are writing this because we are worried about some of the latest developments that have been going on regarding this open science hardware community. Here we want to explain why we are worried and hopefully open up the debate. Our worries come from feeling many of these developments are not in accordance to GOSH’s principles stated in the Manifesto. Recently we discussed some of this in a related post, but thought it was better to have a separate post, so hopefully more people will see it. (There were other related posts, like this one in 2020).
During 2020, a US-based non profit NGO called “Gathering for Open Science Hardware, Inc.” was created. At around the same time, a proposal was submitted to a funder which had funded previous GOSH gatherings, and a $575,000 grant was later awarded by them to the GOSH, Inc. NGO. The community was not consulted about any of these decisions before these steps were taken, and was only informed in June 2020 in this forum post.
So we got money, what’s wrong with that?
If the non profit had been named differently maybe we wouldn’t be writing this today. But these actions were carried out using the name of GOSH, and in the name of GOSH, without consulting the rest of the community about it, and we believe that the whole community should have been able to have an open debate and decide about this issue.
Writing a proposal and getting funds is not an easy task, and it’s great to have people in the community who have the chance of doing it. We also agree the activities proposed in this particular grant are actions included in the GOSH Roadmap, and might well contribute to our goals. However, this doesn’t mean that we should not question now how these actions were carried out. We also know that the two people that set up the NGO and got this funding have worked a lot for GOSH during many years, and were very likely key in securing this fund. Does this mean they should represent the whole community and act alone in its name?
What we were (and weren’t) told
When informing the community about the creation of this NGO, no reasons were given for not consulting or informing previously about its creation, the name chosen, or about submitting a grant proposal.
One of the reasons that were given for this action was that “the time seemed right” for GOSH to have an entity that “could be governed by the community”. But a pandemic year proved to be not the right time for this to happen, since many community members around the world have found themselves in complicated circumstances (especially those who are the most disadvantaged) and we think this has been reflected in limited (and probably biased) participation in the forum and in the governance debates.
Regarding the governance of the NGO, as the time passed, actions carried out by the NGO Board members have shown the NGO is effectively not governed by the community. A lengthy debate about governance has been taking place, as a result of an initiative designed, coordinated and facilitated by the NGO Board. However, everything indicates that the NGO will not be effectively governed by the community (e.g. through the community council), but that it will only let the community decide about certain actions, as determined by the NGO. So far (since June 2020), all the activities carried out by the NGO with the funds awarded to it (or to GOSH?) have been decided by the NGO Board members, and there has not been much information about how those decisions were reached. Including one community council representative in the NGO Board (as discussed in the Governance Working Group) will probably not have any practical effect since current members would still be a majority.
There was also another reason presented for the current composition of the NGO Board: that they had “several years of connection to the funder” and that this made them “able to accept the grant when it was approved”. This sounds worrying, as if the funder had decided who in the community had the right to receive a grant that was requested in the name of the whole community. The two members of the NGO Board, although two very active members of the community, are not their representatives. There has not been a democratic process to elect any representatives of this community yet. They submitted this proposal in the name of GOSH, citing multiple previous achievements by other members of GOSH as reasons to get the funding and proposing activities that would have to be carried out by other GOSH members. If the current “grantholders” had asked for this funding only in their name without mentioning GOSH, would have they been awarded this grant? So, even though the grant was legally awarded to the NGO, we believe that this funding belongs to the GOSH community.
Another reason to justify that this NGO was created was that “other entities may be established elsewhere in the future”. Besides the fact that the whole community never decided to establish such entities (it was debated but without reaching any consensus), “GOSH, Inc.” is not just any entity. It was the first one created for and in the name of GOSH, which allowed it to attract funding that could have been otherwise requested by the whole community or by different groups inside the community. Also, by being the first, having the GOSH name, and being based in a powerful country, it would probably make any other initiatives seem like a “subsidiary”, thus securing a dominant position within the community.
What this means to us
We joined this community because we strongly believe that how science gets done today harms the interests of disadvantaged, oppressed, historically excluded groups and populations. GOSH started off as one of the most progressive and anti-colonial communities in science and technology (even calling for a “revolution” in science). Have the actions mentioned here contributed to the exact opposite? Has creating a US-based entity, run by English-speaking, US-UK-based people who are part of powerful institutions, contributed to further concentrating resources and decision-making power? Has all this contributed to the status quo we are supposed to be fighting against?
In practice, this also means that the endless discussions about governance models and multiple voting systems seem pointless, in the face of who holds the real power in this community. Our Manifesto, that we and other 489 people have signed, says that “GOSH has no high priests”. Do we want power to be concentrated in some people? Or do we want the real power to belong to the community?
We think we should be able to debate and decide on these issues, even if we don’t yet have an elected council. Otherwise, we risk letting some situations become normalized and implicitly validated.
So what next? Some ideas…
As said, the whole community should debate these issues, but we want to share some of our own ideas about what we could (should?) do:
The GOSH Community could request GOSH Inc. to delegate all decisions regarding the grant from the funder, except administrative and legal tasks, to the GOSH Community, and to do it now (without waiting for the council to be elected). This is exactly what was implied in the first announcement of the grant, but was later contradicted by the NGO actions. And also to open up all the board minutes (also as promised) and communications with the funder.
The GOSH Community could request GOSH Inc. to discuss with the funders about the possibility of modifying the activities included in the grant so that they can be outlined and prioritized by the community, if the community decided to do so as a result of open debates and community decision processes. Grant plans are frequently redefined, and the funder would possibly accept that the community might decide to modify some activities (especially in the middle of a pandemic) as a result of governance processes that this same grant aimed to strengthen. This could also include asking for an extension of the grant, to allow for an increased participation of people who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic during 2020-2021.
The GOSH Community could request GOSH Inc. to formally change its name if legally possible. The GOSH Community could later discuss if GOSH Inc. should continue to exist after the current grant expires, if it should be replaced by another entity or entities (e.g. in different countries), or if GOSH is better off without any formal entities.
These suggestions may seem “radical”, but we believe they are key to make all that has been done so far, which led GOSH to getting this important funding, and all that needs to be done in the future, to best contribute to our goals while keeping our values.
As we said, we invite the community to debate this issue and to collectively decide which course of action to take and, whatever the outcome, to also reflect about what it means for us as a community.
Paz Bernaldo & Gustavo Pereyra Irujo