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Tuesday, 03 February 2015 09:00

Linux Australia voting numbers down by 30% Featured


The voting numbers for the Linux Australia 2015 election are showing a downward trend, according to the minutes of the organisation's general body meeting, with current numbers down to 70 per cent of the 2014 figure.

The meeting was held on January 12 and the minutes circulated on January 31. During the meeting, the voting numbers (corrected) were claimed to be the same as 2014 by one member, Michael Still, but the outgoing secretary, Kathy Reid, clarified that they were about 70 per cent of 2014.

While Linux Australia claims, on its website, to represent "approximately 5000 Australian users and developers of Free Software and Open Technologies" the number of members is around 3200, according to another member, Tim Serong.

And only 70 people voted in the annual elections, a number that is somewhat similar to 2009 when iTWire's David Williams reported on the election, questioning whether the elected officials actually had the support of an organisation whose numbers at that time were about 5000.

Linux Australia president Joshua Hesketh told iTWire that Williams' article quoted "5000 Australian Linux users and developers" which "is not the number of members. For member numbers over the years I would suggest you look at older secretary reports. Just for example, 2014 saw a four per cent growth in membership on 2013."

The posts of president, secretary and treasurer all saw a single candidate being returned unopposed, according to the minutes, though Hesketh told iTWire there had been two candidates for treasurer. Only the posts of vice-president and those for three committee members were contested.

Obtaining accurate member numbers appears to be an issue because of problems with the software being used for membership management. Hesketh noted in the minutes, in response to a question from Serong as to why there was a low voter turnout, "MemberDB (the database used) did not currently have expiry and renewal functions, and that membership of Linux Australia did not currently expire membership.... records for signing the box on the registration form to be a member of Linux Australia have not been entered manually into the database."

This seems to be a peculiar problem for an organisation that has no lack of technical talent among its membership to tackle an issue of this nature.

Another member, Tomas Miljenovic, pointed out that membership management should be a priority for the Council — the body of elected officials that runs Linux Australia — and asked whether there were any issues with renewal.

According to the minutes, Hesketh "advised that there were some constitutional issues with renewal under the constitution, and agreed that once the membership platform was updated that Linux Australia should then invite people to become members who hadn’t been members previously, and request members to reaffirm their membership, and roll over from there".

The falling member numbers could be tied to the lack of movement on what the existing members want; while Linux Australia has conducted member surveys twice — James Turnbull, who was president for the first six months of 2010, set one in motion, and a second was carried out in November 2013 — it does not appear to have acted on the feedback.

As iTWire reported, the 2010 survey data was not even formally released; trawling through the raw data revealed that the overriding conclusion was that the organisation needed to do some serious self-promotion as it had a very low public profile.

The 2013 survey conclusions were formally reported; the key findings were:

  • there is a previously under-recognised significant population who identify as retired and have needs for basic and introductory information around Linux;
  • there is a poor pipeline of younger and student members that requires attention;
  • Linux Australia's voice for advocacy, influence and promotion requires strengthening;
  • there is a need to promote more vocally what the organisation does. Linux Australia is generally doing well but there is room to do more;
  • the annual Linux conference needs to be kept affordable;
  • there is a strong level of confidence in Council generally but more members would like to know us more;
  • for many members this (i.e. the survey invitation) was the first communication they had received as a member.

The organisation has also been dogged by other problems in recent times. Last year, the annual conference, known as Linux Conference of Australia or LCA, made a loss of $40,000, a massive amount for an organisation whose annual budget is around $60,000. This led to cuts in its activities last year. Perhaps this is what led Still to remark during the AGM that the Tony Breeds, the person taking up the post of treasurer for the coming year, was a "sucker".

The profit from the annual LCA is used by Linux Australia to provide the seed money for teams in various parts of the country, or in New Zealand, to organise the annual conference which normally returns sufficient profit for the organisation's other events. These include backing a number of other conferences for users of Python, Drupal and WordPress, and making grants to various other causes.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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