Your new governing body

Dear Stan Community,

You are now in possession of a brand new Stan Governing Body (SGB) and Technical Working Group (TWG). Stan is now bigger than its Columbia roots, no longer a scrappy project but a maturing software effort that needs, sorry to say it, formal leadership. Now we have leadership and it exists in service of the Stan community. It is provisional for one year.

Being statisticians we understand that ‘good enough’ is an acceptable compromise and a big compromise was to adopt the ‘Stan Developers Only’ group in discourse as an initial electorate to call into creation the SGB/TWG. It had 32, then 35 people at current count. That electorate built Stan, maintains Stan but it is not nearly all of Stan. We set up a bylaws committee with 7 volunteers from that group of 32 people. That committee came back to the group with a proposal to install the volunteers of the initial committee unioned with the board of NumFOCUS. Since then Tamara has moved on after years of working on the NumFOCUS committee for which we thank her. Below is the text of the vote we put to the electorate:

Stan Developers Only Members:

The committee to create bylaws has come to the conclusion that we should name a provisional Stan Governing Body (SGB) that will operate for 1 year.

We considered elections of individual SGB members but realized that we would end up mostly with who we are proposing anyway so it made sense to vote the group in as a whole. We anticipate that individual elected positions will be the norm after the first year for at least the majority of board positions. So if anyone wants to serve there will be opportunities during the initial year to replace people who leave and after the first year.

The group is the union of this committee and the NumFOCUS board for a total of 10 members.

That includes:

Andrew Gelman, Daniel Lee, Breck Baldwin, Jonah Sol Gabry, Julie Betrand, Michael Betancourt, Sean Talts, Tamara Broderick, Lizzie Wolkovich, Dan Simpson

The below three positions serve at the pleasure of the board, e.g. majority vote can reverse decisions and/or remove the individual.

Andrew Gelman will serve as chairman of the board.

Bob Carpenter, who has specifically asked to not be on the general SGB, will serve as chair of the technical working group (TWG).

Breck Baldwin will serve as executive director to manage the day-to-day operations at the direction of the SGB.

The board will elect a Presiding Officer and a Secretary who need not be board members. Consult Robert’s Rules of Order for what those roles entail.

The mandate for the provisional SGB is:

The scope of the SGB’s authority is all things Stan. That includes ownership/management of trademarks, online resources like discourse and github and membership in the Stan community. Additionally the SGB has authority over current NumFOCUS funds, fundraising in support of Stan, defining the scope of Stan, power to create and dissolve non-profit corporate entities for Stan, authorize and/or run StanCons. The SGB controls licensing requirements for inclusion in Stan, e.g. Columbia University has copyright to much of Stan’s code base but it is released under an open source license so it is part of Stan.

Bob Carpenter is the technical working group (TWG) leader. The TWG is responsible for defining a technical road map for Stan, setting standards for code quality, testing and review. It is also expected to define clear road maps for membership in the developer community, advancement to higher levels of authority and procedures for maintaining these roles.

There are five levels of membership in the developer community:

a) External Contributor: Develops branches on their own fork, submits pull requests from their external repo. Anyone can initiate a pull request.
b) Internal Contributor: Can create branches in the stan-dev repo, is trusted to not merge into the main branch. Determined by Technical Leader for any domain.
c) Merger: Can review and merge pull requests into the main branch, is trusted to not work outside of expertise. Determined by Technical Leader for domain where merges are happening.
d) Technical leader for domain: Has responsibility for a major category of Stan, e.g. math, cmd-stan… Is responsible for their domain. Can make final decisions for their domain, seeks consensus, rarely acts without consensus. May choose to have votes or other methods of decisions making. Appointed by TWG leader.
e) Technical Working Group (TWG) leader: Bob at this point. Override authority on any decisions made by anyone level d) and lower, override should be applied rarely. Cannot be a Technical leader for a domain. Can create, merge or remove domains. Answers to the SGB and can be overruled by SGB. Appointed by SGB.

The TWG is expected to develop a clear path for transitioning from External Contributor to Internal Contributor and Merger. This is more to codify the steps so that developers know what they need to do to advance which we hope will encourage more contributors.

The technical domains and the assigned leaders are:

TWG leader: Bob Carpenter
Math leader: Daniel Lee
Algo leader: Michael Betancourt
Language leader: Was Bob, no longer.
Services leader: ???
CmdStan leader: ???
RStan leader: Ben Goodrich
PyStan leader: Allen Riddell

The SGB is meant to be a transparent body in service of the Stan community and electorate. The definition of electorate is currently membership in the Stan Developers Only topic on The SGB will define an electorate and the governance of joining and participating in an electorate. The SGB is expected to use referendums when appropriate to insure it’s legitimacy. The SGB will publicly post minutes on a regular basis on General category.

The SGB will have at least 7 members. Upon death, resignation or removal the SGB will replace them in the manner of their selection (appointment/election) within 30 days.

The SGB is to advance diversity in under-represented communities in the Stan ecosystem. The SGB will actively develop and implement strategies to improve inclusion and diversity at all levels of the Stan project and will prepare an annual diversity report.

The composition of the non-provisional SGB will be established through half-board elections every year. Any changes to the electorate will be approved by majority vote of the existing electorate.

The SGB will adopt the current SGB Bylaws Committee rules of conduct by custom. “By custom” means that the rules exist by convention and can be overridden by majority vote. Any member of the SGB can require that full Robert’s Rules of Order 11th edition be used for a particular decision.

A request was made to provide more context and I include it below:

We looked at a bunch of existing bylaws, the original goal was to just pick some one else’s bylaws and run with that. The ones I recall were:

Linux Foundation:
Free Software Foundation:
Open Stack:

We shoved them in a google sheet and started doing comparisions:

In the end we realized that grafting another orgs bylaws was not going to work because we needed slightly different things but looking at them revealed some commonalities–they all had a board, they had fairly simple bylaws with items like how do board members get replaced so that was helpful.

We then decided to get some professional help from James Vasile at Open Tech Strategies–Karl Fogel who wrote Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project is his partner. James was super useful in helping draft what you are voting on. Probably the best advice was to stop worrying so much about process of board selection and just get a provisional board in place that can figure it out later. He also thought the best path was to just go ahead and appoint a board that we thought would be good.

At that point it seemed pretty clear that the current committee and the NumFOCUS board (the entity that handles Stan finances) would be good enough as an initial board. The Technical Working Group (TWG) came about because lots of the above bylaws called out a technical committee, we wanted better names so ‘leader’ instead of ‘czar’, ‘working group’ in stead of ‘committee’. We also baked in the authority structure for the TWG to help get it rolling, establish that the board was not the TWG and to give a place for Bob to operate from.

We also wanted this done before StanCon Helsinki, we built in accountability to an electorate, and assume that any mistakes made in what we drafted could be fixed later.

Happy to answer more questions. Also this is my personal take on the process, not the committees.

We are happy to answer questions.