What is an Instance Manager? What is the point of the Instance Managers Circle?

We have seen careful and considered exploration of the ideal role of the affiliate instance in OFN’s ecosystem here (which talks about the need and function for the instance managers circle) and here (talking about the significant ongoing core dev and sysadmin resources required from each instance and how that gets paid for). We have also probably seen a section of the OFN User Guide that identifies three main categories of participation in an instance: (1) user support/sysadmin/instance superadmin; (2) sector development, research and consulting; and (3) managing the entity and developing the community. Most instance teams are small and one person will typically fill multiple roles in these three areas.

In addition to the local roles above, the Community Pledge (signed by affiliates) says that affiliates will contribute to the global commons in a number of possible ways, including (not an exhaustive list, but please note that these are active roles):

  • Support other Affiliates and Associates
  • Contribute to the shared costs of maintaining Open Food Network Core Commons in the form of revenue-sharing (recommendation is a minimum 20% of affiliate income)
  • Contribute to management of the Open Food Network Core Commons (meetings, decisions, documentation)
  • Engaging with the community re. code improvements and new features and contributing to the costs of integration where necessary.
  • Proactively seek out funding opportunities and relationships with potential benefit to the whole community
  • Take leadership and responsibility for some roles needed by the community

It seems to me that the instance manager role (held by one or more accountable people per instance) is to provide focus and clarity, and to inspire action in three main areas:

  1. Support of the local instance: this can include (a) user technical support, recruitment, and management; (b) securing and maintaining infrastructure like servers and accounts and troubleshooting/escalating instance level configuration or bug issues, and ( c) user/sector communications and marketing;
  2. Building and maintaining an organization (employees, volunteers, and partners) whose members are aligned with the OFN community’s stated values, vision, and culture; legal administration of the affiliate entity; creating and maintaining partnerships and collaboration with non-OFN organizations; and fundraising to secure money that will sustainably support these activities;
  3. Participate in and support the global community by being part of and contributing to the work and funding of the commons; and by supporting other instance managers and members of the global team with expertise, shared learning, honest and generous communication, thoughtful consideration, and care.

That’s a lot of jobs and a lot of intentional, purposeful work. I am probably leaving things out! I would suggest that each of the three areas above is related, but that they are in order of more tactical and specific (#1) to more strategic and nuanced or ambiguous (#3).

The community of instance managers uses different tools and approaches in getting this work done: Slack is widely-used and thus responsive - it’s a great way to get a quick answer or share some short piece of information, usually for us in the #instance-managers channel but sometimes elsewhere. We love Slack! But it’s not ideal for supporting longer communications, discussions or the evolution of ideas over long periods of time - it’s just not made for that, but this discourse forum you are reading a post in right now is. I can see where the “Instance Managers” category could be used here to learn and document best practices in “running an instance” which is how I might describe the work in #2 above. This makes us all stronger and happier (or at least stronger) and can migrate to our handbook. In my mind a lot of the work described in #3 above, while supported by discourse, may be the raison d’être for the Instance Managers Circle, at least when it comes to interacting with other circles.

One of the most powerful things we as instance managers can do to support the community is to make wise, considered decisions and recommendations that strengthen and support the work of other circles (and our own) in the global community, and I would propose that in our infrequent circle meetings we craft proposals that do just that: drive the decision-making process to its natural end point: a well-made, accepted, and complete decision (hopefully informed by a sociocratic approach as proposed and documented here).

TL;DR: I think Slack is for support, Discourse is for discussions, and the circle meeting is to start a discreet and limited decision making period that results in a documented decision within a specific time frame. Each of these supports a different part of the instance manager role in unique, practical, and indispensable ways.


Thanks @lauriewayne1
I agree that the instnace manager role is crucial. Ideally there would be funding from within the instance to pay for this work. If not I would like to explore how we can find global funding to support instnaces to do this work until they are able to fund it themselves.
Ping @smpavlin

Thanks @lauriewayne1 , I really appreciate all the work you have been doing around ‘Instance Manager’ topic. That helps me to have a better perception of this role and enlightens the path to follow.

I would like to refresh the above thoughts of @NickWeir on exploring how to financially support that role for a period of time. Some instances are struggling more to stand up on their feet for some reasons, and without a proper ‘instance managing’, an instance is so likely to die before it can reach the potential. I have been reading other discussions around that topic and I would be delighted if OFN can find a way to make it happen. OFN TR is launched in summer 2020, this is another story and I know each country has it’s own. As a growing lovely community, with too many things going on, I wanted to bring this forward as well. :slight_smile: sue me

Where is it that we think the global ‘pot’ of money, that we think should pay for instance managers, comes from? It comes from instance managers writing funding proposals in their own countries and building in money for the global ‘pot’. There is no other ‘global’ source of money. Without a strong global pipe - instances will die because users will find other tech. Diluting this pot makes no sense to me. It is already to small to move quickly on the new features, bug fixes… that we know needs to happen. It is true that without supported instance managers - instances will die because they can’t keep up the voluntary contribution forever. Thats why an instance needs to make itself sustainable. I think we need to understand an instance is not a kind of ‘chapter’ of a large global organization with money to give them. An instance is an autonomous self-governing body that works in networked relationship with a community. An instance needs to plan to be self-sustaining in my view. If it can’t it needs to ‘fold’ or ‘wait’ until the opportunity is right.

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This feels like one of our foundation-level assumptions: that an instance needs to support itself and it needs to be successful enough that it is contributing to the global pot too within some unspecified but short amount of time. That’s The Model™.

Without “the product” (the software and technology pieces, which are driven by the real-world experience of the community) OFN will be rightfully abandoned by users and OFN will not meet its mission…and even with a perfect product, if an instance can’t get to some point of momentum in terms of skills, people, users, and funding streams, OFN will fail in that instance as well. I think there are a number of instances that are hanging by a thread for this reason. :eyes: (totally there with you @Bato)

I agree with you @tschumilas - the global pot does not have the resources or carry the intention to act as a fund for directly supporting new or continuing instances.

Has any instance in the past 5 years been successful at “bootstrapping” without some kind of initial funding, or the significant support of a local organization, or having an already-established team with the right skill mix in place? Since seed funding doesn’t come from the global pot for a new instance, it seems like it would be useful for instances to understand where the “tipping point” to sustainability is and what they need to do to prepare for getting there (if things work that way).