Transparency: the elephant in the room


Transparency can simply be defined as the ability for everyone to observe facts (redacted for privacy). And while everyone claim to talk about transparency, conversations are most often about digested, transformed information that is, at best, translucent. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, transparency is among us and never really part of the Free Software culture.

Since this forum is about sustainability, funding opportunities are a great example where we can do better in terms of transparency. While a few organizations and projects advertise they obtained funding, only a handful are transparent about the process, the contacts, the difficulties, the solutions. How are we, as a community, to overcome the sustainability challenge if we persist on being secretive about funding?

About two years ago I embarked into fundraising for a Free Software project dear to my heart: transforming software forges from a centralized paradigm into a constellation of federated forges talking to each other. That was my first attempt and since I was not able to find any help publicly available anywhere, I just published everything, from the draft up to the conclusion of the funding as well as all the conversations… properly redacted to protect the privacy of people who did not agree to be publicly exposed in this way, of course :wink:

I have since been told that the examples published were a useful guide for inexperienced Free Software developers to dare apply for funding. They were a good way to figure out how much work was involved, what was the administrative overhead, how much networking was required etc. I have since applied for a dozen of grants and got something precious to me in return: reviews and input from the Free Software community that made my grant applications better. And it was also less of a solitary journey. This transparency inspired others to follow this path. Maybe not all the way but at the very least they chose to transition from being opaque into being translucent.

Since fundraising is essentially a competitive activity, helping others is a self-defeating proposition. The funding organizations may be grateful because it raises the quality of the submissions they receive. But it also means that it raises the bar for everyone to get accepted. For the Free Software movement as a whole it is a win though: a quick look a the grants awarded in 2020 by the DAPSI fund is enough to realize the bar was very low.

Transparency, real transparency, may be too much to ask when it comes to funding. But maybe that’s just what we, as a community, need for everything else and not just the content of the VCS. Let’s bring down the walls behind which private conversations happen for no reason. Let’s publish everything there is without asking if or when it will be useful. Let privacy and security be the exception and not a excuse to raise walls.

Why not?