SciPy project governance

The purpose of this document is to formalize the governance process used by the SciPy project in both ordinary and extraordinary situations, and to clarify how decisions are made and how the various elements of our community interact, including the relationship between open source collaborative development and work that may be funded by for-profit or non-profit entities.

The Project

The SciPy Project (The Project) is an open source software project. The goal of The Project is to develop open source software for scientific computing in Python, and in particular the scipy package. The Software developed by The Project is released under the BSD (or similar) open source license, developed openly and hosted on public GitHub repositories under the scipy GitHub organization.

The Project is developed by a team of distributed developers, called Contributors. Contributors are individuals who have contributed code, documentation, designs or other work to the Project. Anyone can be a Contributor. Contributors can be affiliated with any legal entity or none. Contributors participate in the project by submitting, reviewing and discussing GitHub Pull Requests and Issues and participating in open and public Project discussions on GitHub, mailing lists, and other channels. The foundation of Project participation is openness and transparency.

The Project Community consists of all Contributors and Users of the Project. Contributors work on behalf of and are responsible to the larger Project Community and we strive to keep the barrier between Contributors and Users as low as possible.

The Project is not a legal entity, nor does it currently have any formal relationships with legal entities.


This section describes the governance and leadership model of The Project.

The foundations of Project governance are:

  • Openness & Transparency
  • Active Contribution
  • Institutional Neutrality

Traditionally, Project leadership was provided by a subset of Contributors, called Core Developers, whose active and consistent contributions have been recognized by their receiving “commit rights” to the Project GitHub repositories. In general all Project decisions are made through consensus among the Core Developers with input from the Community.

While this approach has served us well, as the Project grows we see a need for a more formal governance model. The SciPy Core Developers expressed a preference for a leadership model which includes a BDFL (Benevolent Dictator for Life). Therefore, moving forward The Project leadership will consist of a BDFL and Steering Council.


The Project will have a BDFL (Benevolent Dictator for Life), who is currently Pauli Virtanen. As Dictator, the BDFL has the authority to make all final decisions for The Project. As Benevolent, the BDFL, in practice chooses to defer that authority to the consensus of the community discussion channels and the Steering Council (see below). It is expected, and in the past has been the case, that the BDFL will only rarely assert his/her final authority. Because rarely used, we refer to BDFL’s final authority as a “special” or “overriding” vote. When it does occur, the BDFL override typically happens in situations where there is a deadlock in the Steering Council or if the Steering Council asks the BDFL to make a decision on a specific matter. To ensure the benevolence of the BDFL, The Project encourages others to fork the project if they disagree with the overall direction the BDFL is taking. The BDFL may delegate his/her authority on a particular decision or set of decisions to any other Council member at his/her discretion.

The BDFL can appoint his/her successor, but it is expected that the Steering Council would be consulted on this decision. If the BDFL is unable to appoint a successor, the Steering Council will make this decision - preferably by consensus, but if needed by a majority vote.

Note that the BDFL can step down at any time, and acting in good faith, will also listen to serious calls to do so. Also note that the BDFL is more a role for fallback decision making rather than that of a director/CEO.

Steering Council

The Project will have a Steering Council that consists of Project Contributors who have produced contributions that are substantial in quality and quantity, and sustained over at least one year. The overall role of the Council is to ensure, through working with the BDFL and taking input from the Community, the long-term well-being of the project, both technically and as a community.

The Council will have a Chair, who is tasked with keeping the organisational aspects of the functioning of the Council and the Project on track. The Council will also appoint a Release Manager for the Project, who has final responsibility for one or more releases.

During the everyday project activities, council members participate in all discussions, code review and other project activities as peers with all other Contributors and the Community. In these everyday activities, Council Members do not have any special power or privilege through their membership on the Council. However, it is expected that because of the quality and quantity of their contributions and their expert knowledge of the Project Software and Services that Council Members will provide useful guidance, both technical and in terms of project direction, to potentially less experienced contributors.

The Steering Council and its Members play a special role in certain situations. In particular, the Council may:

  • Make decisions about the overall scope, vision and direction of the project.
  • Make decisions about strategic collaborations with other organizations or individuals.
  • Make decisions about specific technical issues, features, bugs and pull requests. They are the primary mechanism of guiding the code review process and merging pull requests.
  • Make decisions about the Services that are run by The Project and manage those Services for the benefit of the Project and Community.
  • Make decisions when regular community discussion does not produce consensus on an issue in a reasonable time frame.
  • Update policy documents such as this one.

Council membership

To become eligible for being a Steering Council Member an individual must be a Project Contributor who has produced contributions that are substantial in quality and quantity, and sustained over at least one year. Potential Council Members are nominated by existing Council members and voted upon by the existing Council after asking if the potential Member is interested and willing to serve in that capacity. The Council will be initially formed from the set of existing Core Developers who, as of January 2017, have been significantly active over the last two years.

When considering potential Members, the Council will look at candidates with a comprehensive view of their contributions. This will include but is not limited to code, code review, infrastructure work, mailing list and chat participation, community help/building, education and outreach, design work, etc. We are deliberately not setting arbitrary quantitative metrics (like “100 commits in this repo”) to avoid encouraging behavior that plays to the metrics rather than the project’s overall well-being. We want to encourage a diverse array of backgrounds, viewpoints and talents in our team, which is why we explicitly do not define code as the sole metric on which council membership will be evaluated.

If a Council member becomes inactive in the project for a period of one year, they will be considered for removal from the Council. Before removal, inactive Member will be approached to see if they plan on returning to active participation. If not they will be removed immediately upon a Council vote. If they plan on returning to active participation soon, they will be given a grace period of one year. If they don’t return to active participation within that time period they will be removed by vote of the Council without further grace period. All former Council members can be considered for membership again at any time in the future, like any other Project Contributor. Retired Council members will be listed on the project website, acknowledging the period during which they were active in the Council.

The Council reserves the right to eject current Members, other than the BDFL, if they are deemed to be actively harmful to the project’s well-being, and attempts at communication and conflict resolution have failed.

A list of current Steering Council Members is maintained at the page Current steering council and institutional partners.

Council Chair

The Chair will be appointed by the Steering Council. The Chair can stay on as long as he/she wants, but may step down at any time and will listen to serious calls to do so (similar to the BDFL role). The Chair will be responsible for:

  • Starting a review of the technical direction of the project (as captured by the SciPy Roadmap) bi-yearly, around mid-April and mid-October.
  • At the same times of the year, summarizing any relevant organisational updates and issues in the preceding period, and asking for feedback/suggestions on the mailing list.
  • Ensuring the composition of the Steering Council stays current.
  • Ensuring matters discussed in private by the Steering Council get summarized on the mailing list to keep the Community informed.
  • Ensuring other important organisational documents (e.g. Code of Conduct, Fiscal Sponsorship Agreement) stay current after they are added.

Release Manager

The Release Manager has final responsibility for making a release. This includes:

  • Proposing of and deciding on the timing of a release.
  • Determining the content of a release in case there is no consensus on a particular change or feature.
  • Creating the release and announcing it on the relevant public channels.

For more details on what those responsibilities look like in practice, see Making a SciPy release.

Conflict of interest

It is expected that the BDFL and Council Members will be employed at a wide range of companies, universities and non-profit organizations. Because of this, it is possible that Members will have conflict of interests. Such conflict of interests include, but are not limited to:

  • Financial interests, such as investments, employment or contracting work, outside of The Project that may influence their work on The Project.
  • Access to proprietary information of their employer that could potentially leak into their work with the Project.

All members of the Council, BDFL included, shall disclose to the rest of the Council any conflict of interest they may have. Members with a conflict of interest in a particular issue may participate in Council discussions on that issue, but must recuse themselves from voting on the issue. If the BDFL has recused his/herself for a particular decision, the Council will appoint a substitute BDFL for that decision.

Private communications of the Council

Unless specifically required, all Council discussions and activities will be public and done in collaboration and discussion with the Project Contributors and Community. The Council will have a private mailing list that will be used sparingly and only when a specific matter requires privacy. When private communications and decisions are needed, the Council will do its best to summarize those to the Community after removing personal/private/sensitive information that should not be posted to the public internet.

Council decision making

If it becomes necessary for the Steering Council to produce a formal decision, then they will use a form of the Apache Foundation voting process. This is a formalized version of consensus, in which +1 votes indicate agreement, -1 votes are vetoes (and must be accompanied with a rationale, as above), and one can also vote fractionally (e.g. -0.5, +0.5) if one wishes to express an opinion without registering a full veto. These numeric votes are also often used informally as a way of getting a general sense of people’s feelings on some issue, and should not normally be taken as formal votes. A formal vote only occurs if explicitly declared, and if this does occur then the vote should be held open for long enough to give all interested Council Members a chance to respond – at least one week.

In practice, we anticipate that for most Steering Council decisions (e.g., voting in new members) a more informal process will suffice.

Institutional Partners and Funding

The Steering Council is the primary leadership for the project. No outside institution, individual or legal entity has the ability to own, control, usurp or influence the project other than by participating in the Project as Contributors and Council Members. However, because institutions can be an important funding mechanism for the project, it is important to formally acknowledge institutional participation in the project. These are Institutional Partners.

An Institutional Contributor is any individual Project Contributor who contributes to the project as part of their official duties at an Institutional Partner. Likewise, an Institutional Council Member is any Project Steering Council Member who contributes to the project as part of their official duties at an Institutional Partner.

With these definitions, an Institutional Partner is any recognized legal entity in any country that employs at least 1 Institutional Contributor or Institutional Council Member. Institutional Partners can be for-profit or non-profit entities.

Institutions become eligible to become an Institutional Partner by employing individuals who actively contribute to The Project as part of their official duties. To state this another way, the only way for a Partner to influence the project is by actively contributing to the open development of the project, in equal terms to any other member of the community of Contributors and Council Members. Merely using Project Software in institutional context does not allow an entity to become an Institutional Partner. Financial gifts do not enable an entity to become an Institutional Partner. Once an institution becomes eligible for Institutional Partnership, the Steering Council must nominate and approve the Partnership.

If at some point an existing Institutional Partner stops having any contributing employees, then a one year grace period commences. If at the end of this one year period they continue not to have any contributing employees, then their Institutional Partnership will lapse, and resuming it will require going through the normal process for new Partnerships.

An Institutional Partner is free to pursue funding for their work on The Project through any legal means. This could involve a non-profit organization raising money from private foundations and donors or a for-profit company building proprietary products and services that leverage Project Software and Services. Funding acquired by Institutional Partners to work on The Project is called Institutional Funding. However, no funding obtained by an Institutional Partner can override the Steering Council. If a Partner has funding to do SciPy work and the Council decides to not pursue that work as a project, the Partner is free to pursue it on their own. However in this situation, that part of the Partner’s work will not be under the SciPy umbrella and cannot use the Project trademarks in a way that suggests a formal relationship.

Institutional Partner benefits are:

  • Acknowledgement on the SciPy website and in talks.
  • Ability to acknowledge their own funding sources on the SciPy website and in talks.
  • Ability to influence the project through the participation of their Council Member.
  • Council Members invited to SciPy Developer Meetings.

A list of current Institutional Partners is maintained at the page Current steering council and institutional partners.


Substantial portions of this document were adapted from the Jupyter/IPython project’s governance document and NumPy’s governance document.


To the extent possible under law, the authors have waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to the SciPy project governance document, as per the CC-0 public domain dedication / license.