Do we need to create a legal entity for the openmod?

I would like to continue a discussion that I kicked‑off during the final session of the Grenoble workshop on 28 March 2024. That last day was not videographed so unfortunately there is no direct record of my remarks. The session was scheduled as the “Future of openmod” on the agenda and started at 11:30.


My suggestion in Grenoble was that now would be a good time to incorporate the Open Energy Modelling Initiative as a civil society organization under law. I’ll come to the detailed rationale and specifics later but first I’ll cover some legal details because they will influence that subsequent discussion.

The main reason for this proposal is that, as this community grows, so does the need for more formalism and oversight. We, collectively, will be increasingly faced with the need to make decisions about resourcing, operations, directions, informal partnerships, media activities, and so forth. And our current decision‑forming processes are increasingly proving inadequate.

And to give an indication of community size, this forum is now approaching 1400 screened participants.[1]

Forming a registered association under German law

The first legal question is where best to incorporate. I suggest that locating in Germany could make sense — aside from the fact that all official interactions would necessarily be in the German language. Board members do not need to be German nationals nor be resident in Germany.

The reason I elected Germany is that the pool of openmoders who could contribute to the management of this proposed entity is larger here than elsewhere. In part because the openmod started in Berlin ten years ago. That said, please propose other jurisdictions if you think viable cases can be made.

The second legal question is what kind of legal structure to adopt. I would suggest an “eingetragener Verein” or “e.V.” or informally “eV” registered with the Charlottenburg Local Court. That particular court house is located in Berlin and specializes in civil society law. Charitable status would not be sought.

The German Wikipedia article provides background on this kind of legal entity (duly translated with DeepL):

A registered association is a non-profit organization that is entered in the register of associations of the relevant local court [based on your address for notices]. Registered associations are legal entities. They have full legal capacity, that is they can be the bearer of rights and obligations as legal entities. They can sue and be sued in court. The executive board represents the association externally.

For a comprehensive review of the legal aspects:

For completeness, other forms of legal entity to consider are foundations, cooperatives, and non‑profit limited liability companies. Trusts, including charitable trusts, do not exist under German law. My impression is that a registered association or eV is the most appropriate.

See also:

Some specifics

The idea would be to provide a vehicle for community administration and policy to serve the wider openmod community. With say about ten people present on the management board (in Germany, the minimum membership is seven at the outset which can later drop to three).

No general membership would be sought, nor would annual fees be charged. So, from the point of view of the wider community, these changes should have little effect on day‑to‑day activities.

I would somewhat favor a different name for this legal entity too — perhaps the “openmod secretariat e.V.” — to underscore that difference with the wider community.

It is worth noting that our formal application is likely to take some months to process.

Once incorporated, we should trademark our name and logo with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).


To my mind, there are two main drivers for forming an eV — each important in its own way:

  • the ability to seek financial support, including for global south outreach
  • improved decision‑making in relation to requests for hosting events and other forms of endorsement

Two other matters that may or may not be seen as in scope — and people are encouraged to indicate what they think in this thread, because these provisions can either be written into or out of the founding documents:

  • the ability to speak on behalf of the community, particularly through social and conventional media
  • the ability to hire administrative staff

Covering each point in turn.

1  The ability to apply for and manage financial support

This would clearly be beneficial. One area could be to seek travel support for global south modelers to attend and present at our workshops when they are held in Europe and North America.

Any number of other possibilities for activities funded by grants are self‑evident.

This is a good place to mention the unsuccessful COST grant that was processed within this community four years ago. A lot of work went into that application.

2  Hosting and co-hosting events and related endorsements

As the openmod grows in terms of participation and visibility, so will the number of requests for the openmod to host, co‑host, endorse, or otherwise lend support to other events, organizations, projects, agendas, and ideas.

A management board is probably the better place to make many of these determinations — and particularly decisions to decline. To date, proactive decisions have largely been made by implied consensus using the mailing list, wiki, and forum. But that process does not scale well and also tends to be sluggish. Instead, a management board could develop guidelines, seek community approval, and then use that policy to make and guide community commitments — while still maintaining engagement on the mailing list and forum where necessary or helpful. Moreover, major questions — such as selecting the organizer and location of the next workshop — would continue be made, as now, by broad engagement and polling.

Allied to this point is the extent to which — if at all — the openmod aligns itself with selected third parties for administrative, legal, and/or facilities support. One or two people have suggested to me that the openmod could seek shelter within their commercial or academic organizations. Such relationships would need to be navigated with care because the openmod currently provides a genuinely neutral space for discussions — one of its primary benefits, I would argue, and an attribiute that can all too easily be compromised. What do others think?

Two recent concrete examples follow — and I am sorry that I am not able to be more explicit with names.

A person within the openmod (not me) was recently approached to provide a letter of support for an organization similar to the openmod, but in North America and more focused on data. That organization was in the process of applying for grants from philanthropic and federal sources. This seemingly straightforward inquiry raises a number of policy issues that are difficult to resolve under current arrangements.

There is also now clear interest in growing the openmod in North America. And something that will need dealing with in some way as a community.

3  Speaking on behalf or not

Another reason for forming a management board is to develop policy on what kind of media engagement — if any — should be adopted. On one side, those responsible for the various social media accounts would have a clearer idea of what they may say. And on the other side, unsolicited statements could be more easily sanctioned.

It may be that only operational matters, like the notification of upcoming events, are deemed acceptable as media pronouncements.

To observe that, in the past, openmod infrastructure has been used to develop open letters and public submissions, but that the resulting documents are submitted solely in the names of those who have signed on. That practice has proved workable to date.

4  Ability to hire

It could be useful to keep open the option to employ staff in the future. But this would require that the management board becomes an employer with all the complexities that entails.

New constitution

The constitution of this new legal entity will need to be developed with skill and care. That document will need to define clearly what the openmod entity both is and is not.

The openmod has a founding manifesto written in 2014 that should be used as the basis for development. More background on the openmod on wikipedia.

Similar organizations that have incorporated

There are several organizations similar to the openmod that have recently incorporated. If anyone wants to post their experiences to this thread, that might be helpful?

There are also risks and concerns when incorporating — and it would be interesting to hear what these were for others, whether these concerns materialized, and how they were handled. People sometimes worry about creating a two‑tier organization, with those on the management board having more status and influence than others, for instance.

Next steps

Some next steps are to:

  • gain some indication as to whether to proceed
  • reach some agreement on the process for developing a constitution
  • write the various founding documents and seek consensus
  • make progress on the formal legal issues

Creating an informal group to oversee these tasks would seem useful too.


I would be happy to shepherd this process through the various administrative hoops. Equally, if others wish to contribute or even take the lead, I would willingly step back.

I think it fair to say that the reception to the idea of incorporating at the recent Grenoble workshop was favorable. So I look forward to building on that initial response.

To add that I have experience administering not‑for‑profit organizations, both informal and incorporated under law. And have attended training from the Wellington Community Law Centre on both counts.

I was on the management committee and employed half‑time as an administrator for the Sustainable Energy Forum Inc (SEF) in Wellington, New Zealand in the mid‑1990s. SEF was structured as the equivalent of an eV under New Zealand law.

In the early‑1990s, I was on the board of the PlaNet Wellington charitable trust — an early ethics‑driven social media provider running on NNTP. We had to litigate to defend our organization against co‑option in 1995 — so I know how low things can get. I sat next to our pro‑bono barrister in court for two days shuffling papers and then typed out our favorable settlement agreement on a laptop in a nearby pub. Litigation for a small non‑profit requires a huge effort but is sometimes an existential necessity.

Image 1: The brick of a laptop used to prepare the PlaNet settlement agreement explained above (here to provide some visual interest for this otherwise dull posting).

Please add your comments, views, observations, and objections below. It is vital that this dialog actively engages a good chunk of this community. TIA, R

  1. That filtering process requires that someone either use their institutional email address or write a paragraph on their interests. About 15% of applicants fail to provide that additional information. ↩︎

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With 1000+ people nominally involved in the forum and the email list, and close to a decade of workshops and conferences on multiple continents, it seems like it’s definitely not too early to create a more explicit system of governance and a legal organization!

Maybe you’ve already come across it, but Nathan Schneider (who I happen to know from co-op stuff in Colorado and also from our Mastodon instance) has a new book out about creating democratic communities online entitled Governable Spaces, and the eBook is available for download under a Creative Commons license.

Lots of food for thought in the context of creating a more intentional, formalized structure for OpenMod.