Direction, Decisions, and the Role of Boards and Board Members

February 16, 2020 § Leave a comment

In 2015, I ran for my local school board. In truth, I never had any interest at all in holding public office, and I was generally pleased with the educational opportunities and services provided by my school district. I was also satisfied with the administrative staff and their dedication to creating an environment focused on equity, community engagement, and meaningful learning outcomes. Of course, there was an occasional uproar. Should we have full-day kindergarten? Why did one elementary school get a new playground, and another did not? Redistricting concerns that might shift the boundaries defining elementary schools, and thus where students might attend, always seemed to be a worry. Then, of course, there were local school taxes. Some of these issues gained the attention of other local or state officials or even the local media. Yet the School Board was able to manage and address each through thoughtful and reasoned deliberation, consistent practices, and clearly defined processes through comprehensive and dedicated policies. Trust in the outcomes and thus trust in the education provided, I believe, was due to continuity in policy and not one-off decisions driven by vocal constituents reacting to hot topics.

One evening my wife received a call from a parent asking if either she or I might consider running for the Board of Education. The Board did not have any representatives from families with special needs children (our son is Autistic, and my wife is a physician), and the parent thought it might better serve the entire community with a member who could assess issues related to Special Education. Because my wife answered the phone–and felt it was a great idea–she happily volunteered me to run (If only I had picked up the phone instead of her!).

In considering the possibility of “throwing my hat in the ring,” I was excited about the chance to represent families with special needs in my district. I already was a member of the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA), and active in the school’s programs that my son attended. Here was one more chance to advocate for not only my son but others in similar circumstances.

I was also very pleased and enthused by the reception the current Board of Education, the school administration, the faculty and staff, and other parents were giving me. There was an authentic desire to increase inclusiveness and a commitment to engage everyone in the District. Also, with a twenty-plus year career in educational technology, I thought I might be able to contribute to the teaching and learning technology discussions and decisions facing the schools.

A few months later, I was pleased and honored to be elected by my neighbors and believed my experience as a parent of a special needs child and expertise in educational IT appealed to my fellow citizens. I entered my term in office, excited to contribute my voice in making a positive impact on the District’s special needs programs. I was also confident that my previous leadership roles as a CIO and CTO in higher education would help guide the District’s direction in technology.

After elected, I quickly realized the breadth and depth of issues facing the District–and thus the variety of problems that needed the School Board’s attention–extended beyond those I felt my personal and professional backgrounds best addressed. While Special Education and academic and administrative technology were significant issues (and budgets), they were not the only ones. Other matters included annual budgeting and planning, facilities management, busing and transportation, human resources (recruitment, retention, and retirement), general curriculum, extracurricular activities, and many more.

I also discovered how narrow my experience with Special Education actually was (is), and thus, how narrow my expectations for, and rationale behind, decisions may be. While my son has Autism, as many know, Autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of symptoms, manifestations, interventions, and treatments. My total experience is from a single data point–the interactions and information I have gleaned through the care of my one child. Even similar families with children carrying a similar diagnosis will have far different experiences and expectations–and reasonably probably expect different types of support.

My limited experience also highlights my complete ignorance of issues related to other special needs and the desired educational requirements to support those, including ADD/ADHD, Aphasia/Dysphagia, Apraxia/Dyspraxia, Auditory Processing, Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delays, Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, Emotional/Behavior Disorders, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fragile “X,” Hearing Impaired, Learning Disabilities, Mental Retardation, Neurological Disabilities, Seizure Disorder, Visual Impairment, and many, many more.

The above does not include other educational barriers due to life circumstances, each requiring other interventions and additional support. Those suffering abuse, living in poverty, facing homelessness, confronting malnutrition also need the assistance of the District, and educational accommodations. There is simply no way I, as a parent of one child with one diagnosis, can understand all the considerations affecting these learners and define, then direct, solutions to address needs (oh, and also the metrics to assess success).

On the technology front, when I ran for election, I felt I could make compelling arguments for reassessing current technology use, identifying new tools to expand teaching and learning opportunities, and saving tax-dollars during implementation and management. Of course, the adoption of Open Source Software was going to be a primary focus for me. Lower costs, public-money/public-code, standardization, customization, vendor lock-in, to name a few issues, would all appeal to taxpayers, administrators, faculty, i.e., my constituents.

However–and maybe not so quickly–I came to understand the role of a Board Member, and the Board, is not to delve into day-to-day activities (i.e., the special needs programs and planning related to educational activities and outcomes) or set the direction for the District’s operations (e.g., what Learning Management System to use, especially an open source one). The District has qualified staff to identify, develop, and deploy these activities. The most crucial role for the Board is to establish dedicated and comprehensive policies, standards to ensure compliance, metrics for success for the organization (and/or goals), and a budget to back it up. These outputs give staff a framework from which they can work, a mandate to do that work, and criteria for success in which everyone has agreed.

The best way for managing my interests as a concerned citizen and dedicated parent was not personal intervention or “direction from the Board,” but instead investing in the development of policies that enabled the staff to act in line with the vision of the Board. Me mandating the use of Open Source Software, or getting my colleagues to support that decision, was the wrong approach. It was outside my role and authority as a Board Member. Identifying technology, assessing its applicability for teaching and learning, and determining its technical alignment was an operational issue. Instead, the right path was to address the District’s procurement policy. Did the District’s policy require a procurement process that included open source options? Was there an internal controls policy for reviewing existing procurement practices. Was there a policy for periodic review of ongoing contracts and regular vendors to ensure competitiveness?

Regarding my interests in special needs, expecting one type of treatment that may have been beneficial for my family was selfish and shortsighted. Even assumptions around the quality–or lack of quality–I may have had would be unhelpful in developing and/or supporting the entire District’s initiatives. Again, with highly skilled special-ed teachers, in-class aides, nurses, district psychiatrists, and dedicated administrators, the District has the staffing and in-house expertise to define and run relevant and effective programming and meet the greatest needs.

Rather than pushing an initiative to direct and deliver change, setting expectations (i.e., principles) and defining levels for success through policy is best. Policy setting is in a Board’s mandate. It would be wholly inappropriate, in my view, for a Board Member–or even an entire Board–to dictate an outcome of any process that has an established policy. The best one can do as an engaged Board Member committed to an organization, and the mission of that organization is to put in place policies that demand measurable achievement and provide standards of excellence: not direct operations, select tools to use, or direct decisions and outcomes.

However, to be clear, if an organization operates outside policy, then it is indeed the responsibility for the Board to intervene. There may even be part of the organization and/or operations that lack policy. However, such gaps are the Board’s responsibility–and not the fault of the organization or staff. Establishing policy here is the rightful place for direct Board action.

I have been fortunate to work on, with, and directly for a variety of boards throughout my career. I have always found the most successful focus on leading the organization, not operations; developing principles and policies, not programs and practices, and; setting direction not dictating decisions.

“Nope-in Source”

May 3, 2019 § Leave a comment

Main Entry: nope-in source
Pronunciation: /nōp in sôrs/
Function: noun
Etymology: a term invented by Patrick Masson for a presentation at The 15th International Conference on Open Source Systems.
Date: 3 May 2019

: A description of software that invokes (or even claims to advance) open source software and/or development, the open source ethos, or open ideals, but lacks the full freedoms required by the Open Source Definition (specifically Criteria 5 and 6) by placing restrictions on use or users.
synonyms: see fauxpen source, open core,
antonyms: see OSI Approved Open Source License
examples: Commons Clause, Do No Harm, Qabel Public License (QPL),

Do No Harm License Harms Open Source

September 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

HarmI was recently made aware of the Do No Harm software license, which according to its authors is, “a license for developers who write open source code to make the world a better place.” The license is based on the BSD 3-clause license, but with specific exclusions for using the licensed code to promote or profit from:

  • violence, hate and division,
  • environmental destruction,
  • abuse of human rights,
  • the destruction of people’s physical and mental health

Apparently a discussion among the authors broke out on whether or not the label “open source software can be used in conjunction with this license.”

The “Do No Harm” license should not be labeled as an open source license (which to be fair, it does not appear to be referenced as such in the license text), and the software distributed with such a license should not be labeled as, “open source software”, although I fear some future project distributed under the “Do No Harm” license will identify itself as an “open source software project”.

(One interesting note, we had a similar issue with a license written by Qabel).

Specific to the question, “whether the term open source software can be used in conjunction with this license,” it should not.

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Where are my blog posts?

January 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

Wondering why (grateful) I’ve gone silent?

See here.

Comments to the FCC, RE: Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, Proceeding # 14-28

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington D.C. 20554

June 6, 2014

Dear Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai, and O’Reilly:

My name is Patrick Masson and for the past twenty years I have worked in various roles within Information Technology, including as Chief Information Officer at the State University of New York College of Technology at Delhi, Chief Technology Officer within the University of Massachusetts’ Office of the President, and currently as the General Manager, Director and Secretary to the Board of the Open Source Initiative. I am also an elected Board Member of the North Colonie School Board, in Colonie, New York.

It is from this perspective, with over 20 years of experience in technology, but not as a representative of any of my former or current employers, that I write to express my personal support for a free and open Internet. While the FCC has already received letters from dozens of technology and Internet-based corporations opposing rules that “would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them” [1], I write to voice concerns related specifically to the education sector.

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OER Summit 2013

October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

I recently presented at the OER Summit, sponsored by the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, UMassOnline, University of Massachusetts and Mass Colleges Online. Hosted by Dr. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning, Creative Commons, the panel included: Marilyn Billings, Scholarly Communication & Special Initiatives Librarian, UMass Amherst; Paul Dobbs, Library Director, Mass College of Art; Karin Moyano Camihort, Dean of Online Learning & Academic Initiatives, Holyoke Community College, and; Jonathon Sweetin, NCLOR System Administrator, Learning Technology Systems, NCCCS System Office.

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More Starters…

October 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last week I posted a few comments pointing to a frustrating phenomena I’ve seen with the acceptance (dare I say popularity?) of open source software: we’ve got too many new projects (over a million) in categories already inundated with viable options. Rather than joining an existing project, folks are creating their own. I used 230+ open source learning management systems (and apparently at least one open source “authoring tool“) to make my point.

However, the phenomena is not limited to learning management systems (or authoring tools) or, for that matter, even software, as the problem appears to have crossed over into other sectors capitalizing on “openness” (fauxpenness?) as a development and distribution (promotion?) method. The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement suffers as well from the “starters over joiners phenomena.” Thankfully, there is tremendous interest in both the use of OER broadly and, just as importantly, open source’s foundational practices that enable it–OER is all good and I am way for it. Massive Open Online Courses (OK, I’m not too “for it” with MOOCs–but that’s another post), Creative Commons licensed learning objects, open access journals, open courseware, etc., all harness the collaborative and community processes of co-creation first ascribed to open source software.

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Joiners, Not Starters

October 16, 2013 § 3 Comments

In an ongoing theme with this blog (I can’t help myself) I’ve lamented, while the acceptance of open methods for development and distribution has grown across a variety of sectors, the result has been an influx of new projects (i.e. starters), by well meaning converts/proponents, rather than the creation of broader communities of collaborators/contributors (i.e. joiners).

Well another open source LMS announcement was made today by The Adapt Learning Community…

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Linux on the Desktop

August 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

After my previous post, I received a few comments about the “real costs” of open source, a-la, “open source isn’t free,” and “open source actually costs more due to a loss in productivity.”

Basically folks said to run Linux on the desktop, required a high skill set, and that “the average user” could not maintain a Linux-based operation system. These “maintenance cost,” i.e. hours wondering through discussion forums chasing down answers for complex Linux issues, leads to decreased productivity, thus costing folks more in lost time (when they could be earning money), than other “out of the box” options. In addition, folks argued, because open source applications are feature poor compared to commercial options, there are things you just can’t do with open source tools, again reducing productivity.

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It’s “Revise, Remix & Redistribute” not, “Repeat, Redo & Replicate.”

July 29, 2013 § 4 Comments

I just updated my desktop from Ubuntu Lucid Lynx (10.04 LTS) to Precise Pangolin (12.04 LTS) and like always after any new version or functionality from Ubuntu (Linux), excited by the new features, I can’t help but leap up on my soap box (well, to be honest, my “high horse“) to bemoan the lack of awareness and adoption of Linux on the desktop–OK really to chastise and ridicule many in IT (especially decision-makers), but especially those working in and with open communities of practice who don’t eat their own dog food.

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