SGB statement on formation of groups, transparency and values of the community

Dear Stan community,

The Stan Governing Body (SGB) would like to reflect on a recent incident in the Stan Discourse forum where an exchange took an unhealthy turn. In this particular instance, we thought it was prudent to revisit this incident after requesting feedback from several community members on what the SGB could have done to prevent this situation and what we can do to better support our community’s values. The SGB is also currently reviewing the NumFOCUS Code of Conduct (CoC) as we are planning on raising a violation to the CoC in relation to the behavior of a particular community member on the forums that did not meet the standards of our community.

While there were several constructive responses to the recent proposal to form a user committee, there was also one member of the community whose behavior in response to the proposal treated the community members making the proposal unfairly. This behavior is unacceptable and are the basis for the potential CoC complaint. We heard from many members of the Stan community who were hesitant to share their own thoughts on the proposal because of the tone of that response. If we are going to have a healthy community then we need to ensure that even when there is disagreement the conversation remains civil.

To that end, the goal of this statement is to:

  1. Acknowledge feedback and reflect on how the SGB can increase transparency for future group proposals.
  2. Recognize the shortcomings of a recent user committee proposal.
  3. Restate the values of this community and how we think they should guide the approach to group formation.
  4. Encourage every community member to welcome feedback and be kind when providing it.

One of the common pieces of feedback to the SGB was that the recent proposal to form a user committee lacked transparency to the wider community. When this proposal was brought to our attention, we thought it was appropriate to provide input and iterate on the proposal. However, we want to acknowledge the feedback and the SGB agrees that an open discussion on Discourse from the very beginning should have been a better starting point.

An additional piece of feedback was that the lack of transparency in the discussion made it appear as if this group was mandated by the SGB and had an unnecessarily official status.

The recent proposal to establish a user committee had several problems we would like to highlight as an opportunity for improvement. First, the name “user committee” gave the impression that this committee had official approval to speak on behalf of all Stan users, which is in conflict with our core value of plurality. Additionally, the deadline for volunteers was rushed; even after SGB feedback, the language in the announcement was not consistent with a project involving mostly volunteers, who may or may not consistently check Discourse.

Going forward, we strongly encourage user-led groups to:

  1. Announce their formation publicly on Discourse with some description of an intended purpose. This increases transparency and awareness while offering the community to provide helpful input and feedback.
  2. Abstain from using the word “committee.”

We would also like to restate some of the values that, as an open community, we need to uphold:


Open source projects benefit from a variety of voices and perspectives. The existence of one Stan-affiliated group does not preclude the existence or formation of similar groups. When multiple groups are oriented towards a similar set of goals or issues, we do encourage differentiation in the purpose or operating principles in order to help people decide which group best meets their goals for involvement.


A welcoming community makes for a successful, sustainable project. Groups must abide by the CoC in place for the larger Stan project (currently, the NumFOCUS CoC). The use of open platforms for communication is encouraged, as a way to reduce geographic barriers to participation.

Sustainability through fundraising

Fundraising is an integral part of keeping this project running smoothly. The development of Stan has benefited greatly from the generous financial contributions of dedicated users. We welcome community involvement in raising awareness on this important issue. However, groups must abide by the following principles:

  1. Keep it honest
  • Stan is a free open source tool for our users and and always will be
  • Make it clear that the group, not the SGB or Stan project at large, is responsible for the campaign
  1. Keep it classy
  • Ensure all fundraising communications reflect well on our community
  • Use professional language that adheres to the Code of Conduct
  1. Keep it general purpose
  • Funds raised must be directed through the NumFOCUS account, which means they cannot be reserved for specific projects, individuals or initiatives
  • Groups are not permitted to commit to funding deliverables on behalf of the broader Stan project.

Groups that violate the above principles may lose fundraising privileges or Stan affiliation.


Open source projects are built on relationships and a shared sense of direction. In discussing the formation of a new group, assume positive intentions and keep feedback constructive and civil. When making a proposal, remain open to critical feedback and look for ways to incorporate suggestions for improvement.

We appreciate the honest, constructive input we received on this matter, and we hope this incident can result in a renewed commitment to openness and civility.

Leah, Imad, Jonah, Bill and Sue.


We have an update to the portion of this post that refers to a Code of Conduct investigation. NumFOCUS performed a preliminary review and has suggested that no further action is necessary. All involved parties have been contacted about the matter.

We again reiterate our belief that civil discourse is essential to the health of the project, and we ask that Discourse and other Stan-related communications reflect that this is a project comprised mostly of passionate volunteers working together to achieve common goals.

–The 2020 SGB