SYNHAK's bylaws were discussed once a week for what felt like months. They were to form the bedrock upon which we operated. The mission statement itself took a few weeks:

SYN/HAK provides an environment for people to educate, create, and share amongst themselves and others within the domains of technology, art and science.

The bylaws were kept in a docbook in git from the start. If anyone on the planet wants to base their space off of our bylaws, they can easily fork. Our bylaws are structured in a way that puts the majority of our governance power into the membership, with a set of checks and balances between the three branches: Board of Directors, Officers, and Membership. It is left clear of policy as it intends to not restrict the members, but to restrict the government itself. Through this design, we have a reasonably effective mechanism of community self-governance.

The membership is the group of people who have gone through the membership vetting process and are in good standing, and act as a legislative branch. According to the bylaws, you are only eligible for membership if you have been proposed by another current member and the membership also approves by a vote. This is implemented in our policies through the weekly Tuesday meeting where we conduct an interview session between the applicant and those present, and by requiring two current members to sponsor the applicant. The membership may create any proposal and submit it for a meeting's consideration.

It is my philosophy that you can be "As member as you want to be". Members are not required to attend every meeting to voice their opinion and exercise their right to guide the space's development. Proposals must have at least one week of discussion time: 6 days on the discuss@ mailing list, and one at a meeting. In addition, members may also elect a proxy to represent them during the consensus phase of the proposal section of the meeting if they are unable to attend.

The officers could be considered the executive branch. There can be anywhere from two to four Champions (as determined by the board), along with a Treasurer and a Secretary. The officers are responsible for maintaining a forward direction at the space. The Treasurer collects dues approved by the board in a manner approved by the membership and has the final say on any expenditures of space funds. The membership can pass as many proposals as they want, but if the treasurer's books say we can't afford that new lathe, they have the power to veto any spending. Conversely, the membership may petition the board to remove the Treasurer if they feel that the the treasurer was not acting in good faith.

The Secretary is responsible for maintaining membership records, implementing the transparency clauses of our bylaws and policies, and handling distribution of any security tokens such as door keys or combination locks for bins. They work with the Treasurer to ensure that everyone is a current member.

Champions were purposely left vaguely defined in the bylaws:

The Champions of this Corporation shall be the general managers of the corporation and shall supervise, direct, and control the Corporation's activities, affairs, and lesser officers. Additionally, Champions shall supervise and direct each other in a manner consistent with this corporation's purpose.

This gives Champions oversight of enforcing any policies that the membership has agreed on in addition to limited powers to run the space. In essence, it causes Champions to be responsible for the infrastructure of SYNHAK, but not SYNHAK itself. As a Champion, here's an example what I and Chris have done within the bounds of the bylaws:

  • Signed our lease and ISP contract
  • Dealt with getting the broken water lines in winter fixed by the landlord
  • Registered the domain and got AWS setup
  • Set up the initial bank account
  • Handling the 501(c)3 process
  • Making sure we've got flyers, membership application packets, bylaws, etc at the front desk
  • Organized booths at local events such as Square Fest and the Cleveland Mini Maker Faire
  • Initiated our involvement with the upcoming Akron Mini Maker Faire
  • Worked with the City of Akron to get us involved with the increasing growth of the city
  • Ran the fundraiser to get us our 3d printer from MakerGear

It doesn't give us broad sweeping powers such as inventing new policies, banning members, throwing out piles of "projects" that look suspiciously similar to junk, etc. In order to do that sort of stuff, Champions need to act as members and go through the normal channels of asking the discuss@ list, making a proposal, etc.

Furthermore, each Champion is given a vote on the Board of Directors. In that sense, they provide representation of the membership and officers as a check against the unlimited reserve powers of the board.

The Board of Directors is responsible for ensuring that SYNHAK remains SYNHAK, Inc in a legal sense, in addition to having reserve powers to completely control the organization if needed. They retain exclusive control over the operation of the space. If they wanted, they could craft a policy that all visitors need to go through basic safety training before setting foot in the space regardless of proximity to the machine shop. The membership would be powerless to overturn that. In return, the Champions can exercise their board votes, or the membership can consider a vote to remove that board member.

After our first year of having bylaws, we made a brief amendment to update our address of business, spell out an explicit privacy policy, and clean up vague wording in a few sections. Thanks to git hooks and a makefile written a year prior we wrote 40 lines of docbook markup, pushed it to git, and a new PDF was available on the website.

We have many such self-serving mechanisms at SYNHAK which aim to lower the barrier for entry into the self-governance process. I will detail a few more of those next.