Democratizing the Wikimedia Foundation

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This page is currently a brainstorming page to find ways to improve and ensure the transparent and participatory character of the Wikimedia Foundation. It aims to suggest ways to codify existing best practices and ways to improve procedures. Note that the WMF Board Governance Committee has set an Agenda 2012-2013.

Steps in the process:

  • Identifying problems & Initial brainstorming
  • Drafting proposals
  • Identifying support (not necessarily a vote)
  • Legal checks
  • Proposal to the Board of Trustees or other ways to adopt

This is not an attempt to re-codify existing procedures that have been codified. Some principles to keep in mind:

  • Community minded
  • Open and transparent procedures
  • Legally possible
  • Not overly bureaucratic

Current phase: Initial brainstorming

Identified improvement areas[edit]

(feel free to jump in and use this section as a discussion section)

Bylaw changes[edit]

  • Changing bylaws happens behind closed doors and generally the community is not consulted. Effeietsanders (talk) 17:50, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
Phoebe's suggestion on wikimedia-l is a good one for the Board Governance Committee to consider in this context. Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
Bishdatta, can you link to or otherwise clarify what "Phoebe's suggestion" is for those who have not closely been following the wikimedia-l discussion please? Craig Franklin (talk) 11:22, 8 November 2012 (UTC).

ARTICLE III - MEMBERSHIP "The Foundation does not have members. (Fla. Stat. Section 617.0601)" - in general memberbased organisations are much more driven by the will and the participation of the crowd than self-referring organisations are. The Foundation should change to a memberbased structure. 93.220.109.186 09:16, 20 November 2012 (UTC)

There are non-obvious legal consequences to having members. It sounds very good on the surface, but I wouldn't recommend it. WhatamIdoing (talk) 11:30, 22 November 2012 (UTC)

Selecting board members[edit]

  • Selection procedure of the board-appointed board seats is opaque and generally the input from the community on criteria and process is not welcomed. Some steps could also be included in appointing chapter-selected and community-selected board members. Effeietsanders (talk) 17:50, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
Since I was the last appointed trustee, I am not familiar with what has been done in the past. However, this is an opportunity to strengthen the process, so any specific suggestions would be welcome, as well as for the chapter-selected and community-elected board members.Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
While you were the last board member that was appointed newly, you were not the last appointed one. I consider extending a term just as well as a decision in this field. Every time such a term is extended, similar questions should be asked: do we have all skills on board that we need, and do these candidates provide them adequately. An extension should in my opinion never be 'automatic'. I am assuming this has also been treated as such within the board. Effeietsanders (talk) 09:56, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
For more background, I think this recent thread might help. --Nemo 11:09, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Some believe that, in community-selected elections, incumbents have too big an advantage; or that the voting system is too favourable to some predetermined whatever; or, in general, that the board has too little turn-over. --Nemo 18:07, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
This sounds like a system bias more than a board governance issue to me. Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
Term limits are a governance issue; and have been on the agenda to be resolved this year. The question of 'who can vote' is a governance issue and one that is usually controlled by a community body (the election committee). In the last election, the board pushed for lower voting requirements. On the other hand communities have tended to raise voting requirements over time, for many institutional positions. SJ talk  20:07, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
  • There have been complaints that the selection process for chapter-selected seats is opaque with very little means for input. --Philippe (talk) 21:30, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
Again, is it possible to make specific suggestions to strengthen this? Are we talking about very little means for community input? Am not clear. Bishdatta (talk)
  • One thing that comes to mind when analyzing the system is that the separate projects do not really have voting power. Board members are elected by chapters (organizations sometimes run by professionals or semi-professionals), or the general community at large (which, in our case, makes the larger projects hugely privileged). There is no, however, representation of projects per se. It may or may not be a flaw, of course. Pundit (talk) 10:35, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
    Just for the record: Chapters are (to-date) all membership organizations. As far as I am aware, it is in most chapters the elected board of the chapter that voices the opinion of that membership organization - I am not aware of any chapter using it's professional staff members (if there are any at all - that is a minority) to make these decisions. Effeietsanders (talk) 13:41, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
    Right, I was making a discursive shortcut. I basically perceive heavily engaged activists (usually leading the chapters, although usually not "professionals") as not necessarily directly representing project communities (basically because doing organizational stuff is essentially different from editing and participating in a virtual community). Many active project members do not feel the need to join chapters, which should be fine, too, but we need to be aware that their influence on the Board composition is limited to direct, worldwide elections. We do not, e.g., have Wikimedia Parliament or Senate. Pundit (talk) 08:20, 18 November 2012 (UTC)
    A Volunteer Council has been proposed in the past. Is that the kind of thing you're looking for? Effeietsanders (talk) 10:26, 18 November 2012 (UTC)
    Yes, pretty much, thanks. Too bad it hasn't flown. Pundit (talk) 11:03, 18 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Wikimedia is Comunity. So alle Board Members should be elected by the Comunity. ALL Board Members! Without the Comunity Wikimedia would be Nothing. And only the Comunity made everything so, that it was getting this success. So we as Comunity should elect our "Leaders" by ourselfs. Marcus Cyron (talk) 13:07, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
    Just to clarify your opinion: could you imagine multiple processes by which such board members could be elected? (to ensure diversity and complementary skill sets) Would it be acceptable for you to have indirect processes? (for example: chapter selection could be considered indirect selection by the community. By a long stretch, even the board-selected board members could be considered as such *if* a majority of the board is community selected, currently not the case). Effeietsanders (talk) 13:44, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

What do you think of the idea of choosing some board members by sortition, or some combination of voting and sortition — e.g. each ballot for a candidate, you put into a jury wheel, and then you keep pulling names out of the wheel until you have enough to fill all the vacancies. So, the more votes you get, the more likely it is that you'll get picked, but it's not guaranteed. It could make things a bit more interesting, and encourage dissidents to run who wouldn't have a chance of getting elected under our current system. Maybe it's just what we need to shake things up a bit and inject some divergent thinkers into the upper echelons of the WMF system. Leucosticte (talk) 08:27, 20 November 2012 (UTC)

Agenda[edit]

  • It's not clear who sets the board's agenda and according to which criteria. The community (or members/sectors thereof) often feel that the board is wasting time on X rather than discussing the more urgent Y. --Nemo 18:07, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
I think we can make the agenda-setting process clearer and more explicit. At the same time, different people will always feel that we are spending too much time on X over Y, and that's fine. The main thing is to make the agenda-setting process clearer and more explicit.Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Agendas and materials are prepared 1-2 weeks in advance of each Board meeting. Currently the agendas are published on Meta, but the materials are not. Some materials are sensitive and contain private information, but others do not; those that have no private information should be published for public review. This would both increase visibility and transparency of the Board's work and allow for richer (public) discussion. While the agendas are open for public discussion and suggestion, there is limited community input before meetings. When there is input after meetings, it tends to be reactive and short-lived.
Agree that this is something the Board Governance Committee should discuss.Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)

Drafting resolutions[edit]

  • Board members currently draft resolutions in private on the Board wiki. This is necessary for some resolutions, but not for others (such as resolutions to revise bylaws, approve minutes, or approve chapters that are in the pipeline; though draft minutes themselves would be private until published).
  • Community members are welcome to draft and submit proposed resolutions for the Board to consider - if any two Board members move to vote on it, the resolution will be reviewed and voted on within 3 weeks. However this rarely happens; the process isn't well known and seems too high a barrier to entry. Having a public space where some Board resolutions are drafted by Trustees may encourage more of this.
  • Comparisons (as asked on talk):
    • WMIT board works on the association wiki; resolutions used to be drafted and voted in a namespace restricted to the board and then copied to the members namespace; then they've been moved with full history; now they're on the general namespace since the beginning and notified to members on the mailing list so that everyone can comment before the resolution is closed.
    • WMFR Board drafts and discusses resolutions with members on the members wiki. Voting and discussion are accessible to members. There is no systematic notification of a decision being made on the mailing list, but it happens on occasion.
    • WMDE Board drafts and discusses resolutions on their private wiki. Votes are not public, although the general outcome is.

Board mystery[edit]

  • The board is a very mysteriously functioning body, nobody knows how it works or what it does. See also the several unaddressed doubts on Talk:Wikimedia Foundation board manual. --Nemo 18:09, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    I agree that it is worth making the board's functioning more visible. Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
    Is this primarily a procedural issue or more a matter of PR? (I think I recall a session at a previous Wikimania "what does the board do" where one of the board members explained their happenings) Effeietsanders (talk) 18:27, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Both, see the linked talk. --Nemo 18:36, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Individual board members are felt to have very limited liberty within the body and to be quickly marginalized so that all minority views are silenced; the worst offender seems to be the accusation to "represent" some external "interest" or to have some form of personal COI. --Nemo 18:46, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
I don't personally feel I have limited liberty within the board - I feel there is enough space for me to express whatever opinion I want to express, even if it is 180 degrees apart from another trustee's opinion. I also feel we are able to express our personal opinions in public without compromising the board as a whole, although that is sometimes a tightrope walk on some issues.Bishdatta (talk) 05:43, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Often it seems, not the Board leads the Foundation, often it seems, Sue leads everything an Jimbo says always Amen - and it will go exactly this way. Not the best situation for a volunteer-driven project. As I wrote above - power to the Comunity as electers of ALL board members and the board should lead the Foundation - and the Board should lead Mrs Gardner too - not the other direction. Marcus Cyron (talk) 13:12, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

ED COI[edit]

  • The ED is often felt to have a huge COI: most decisions the board takes affect (only) the ED directly, but the ED a) proposes, b) discusses, c) executes them. The distinction of responsibilities is basically non-existing and it's impossible to trust the board to take independent decisions. --Nemo 18:12, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    I guess ED = Executive director aka Sue Gardner. I had some time to figure this out.--Ymblanter (talk) 21:33, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Sorry. --Nemo 00:12, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Can you give some examples of decisions that affect only the Executive Director? I just looked at the seven passed most recently, as AFAICT, every single one of them affects more than one person. WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:20, 6 November 2012 (UTC)
    Perhaps you missed the directly part. Like "authorizes the Executive Director", "request to the Executive Director to implement" etc. Meaning that the executable/actionable (?) resolutions are mandates to the ED, because the board doesn't control/direct any financial or human resource directly: this doesn't sound like a big claim, it can be considered quite normal. (Of course one can have different opinions on the implications of this.) Sorry if I've been unclear. --Nemo 00:43, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
    No, I've seen those. I also saw that while the ED is authorized to run the program, the Legal Fees Assistance Program directly affects any Wikipedian who receives legal assistance, and that while the ED was requested to implement the image filter, that the filter directly affects every user who encounters it. You asserted that "most decisions the board takes affect (only) the ED directly". I believe that you are wrong in asserting that these decisions have no direct effect on anyone else. WhatamIdoing (talk)
  • Hmm, maybe I'm wrong, but how exactly is this model different from already working governance practices both in the NGO and the business world? Pundit (talk) 11:06, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
    The difference might be that in Wikimedia it can't work because what we do is powered by hundreds of thousands of volunteers. --Nemo 11:33, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
    It seems to be working just fine, from where I sit. The servers are up, the projects are growing, there are no scandals in the newspaper, programs are being implemented, evaluated and either retained or axed accordingly... It all seems to work just fine, as far as I can see, unless "making 0.001% of volunteers feel important" is integral to your definition of "works". WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:36, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
    I wasn't judging whether it "works" or not (this is not really the place anyway), I was stating a possibility. Please be forgiving of my English, I still have to learn how to do without conjunctive mood. --Nemo 21:45, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
  • I don't understand the premise underpinning this concern. Why would the ED be thought to have a COI, and why would the Board need to preserve independence from the ED? I work for the Board, I'm directly accountable to the Board, the Board is my boss. The staff of the Wikimedia Foundation (including me) are the "arms and legs" of the Board. We have the same goals and the same purpose, and we play different complementary roles in achieving those goals and purpose. The Board governs, directs and oversees, and I and the staff execute. (Obviously that doesn't mean that I never disagree with individual Board members, or that individual Board members never disagree with me. There's lots of debate and discussion inside the Board, among Board members and me, among me and staff members, and among staff members apart from me. That, though, has nothing to do with COI.) It strikes me that this concern is predicated on an incorrect understanding of the basic relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation Board and its staff, but please tell me if I'm misunderstanding the concern that's being expressed here. Thanks Sue Gardner (talk) 21:28, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
    • I believe that "an incorrect understanding of the basic relationship between any board and its staff" about sums it up. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:23, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
      WhatamIdoing, I think it's not necessary to reiterate this at every edit of yours; I refer you to notafish's reply on the talk. I readily admit that "COI" might be the wrong word (there's also a different perception of COI among different countries and I'm from continental Europe, of course). With regard to my understanding, I dare to say that it is at least at a basic level. It's not my duty or competence to judge or make proposals, this is just a small example to provide context on my [biased] point of view: I know very well all the big and small ways in which the management can influence a board from my board experience in my university and, for instance, in the recent bylaws change the general director is no longer a member of the Senate and of the Board, and doesn't even speak unless questioned.
      As for the rest, I don't think it's useful to go into details, although I could provide small or big examples including some which can surely be called a personal COI unless they've been handled in a correct way (as they probably were): the problem is that it's not clear to people who decides what and why, as discussed in other sections of this page and its talk; I don't really care whose fault this is (the ED or the board or some board members or Mars inhabitants). See also [1]. --Nemo 11:33, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
      It's not clear to you who decides what and why because you don't understand the relationship between a board and the board's staff. The board sets a direction. The staff implements it. The board ultimately decides everything, including which decisions the board chooses to delegate to which staff members. This is not like an academic senate. It is much closer to how a major corporation works. WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:43, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
  • I'm sure Nemo has a response for this Ms. Gardner, and you are probably going to ignore mine, but I'll make it here anyway. Needles to say this isn't a regular non-profit, the board would have to account for that. There is some distinction here between a top-down and bottom-up approach, ours being in transition between the two. You say, you work for the board, though the perception conflicts that more and more each month. The board never disagrees, always passes whatever decision you make, supports whatever hiring you make, you more often than not decide the overall direction whether its narrowing focus or removing chapter authority. The direction goes from you to the board, the board has the right to disagree which they never seem to exercise - ever. There is little appearance of independence there. In certain cases, you make statements and decisions, you announce more than your engage, and then move on, while certain board members are left defending you and arguing for your position. They rarely ever pass anything that is not unanimous, even on the most heated issues, your stance still receives the majority of support, on all issues. It is hard to believe that a board with 10 distinct minds and personalities, will always agree with the same issue that is presented to them. This approach better fits a bottom-up one, it is common in small non-profits who have little controversy and just calls friends, and family to serve and provide support. Our board needs to grow to incorporate and transition out of this state. You are already in the position of organizing the logistics, setting agendas, and providing your side of the argument with research you commission and facts that only you might know. There is something to be said about the discretion you have, perhaps not exercised, of commissioning research to further your arguments, while limiting conflicting point-of-views. This might be the COI Nemo might have had. This all pales in comparison to something I allude to below in response to WhatamIdoing. It is the inherent nature of the projects, and much of the movement - it is primarily an online initiative. Access is easy, participation is easy. What is perhaps not a level playing field is, the unfair advantage you and your staff enjoy with access to the board. You and the staff have unlimited access to them in person. The board can not collectively meet the entire community, hear all the points, however, they can do the same when it comes to the staff. You meet them at every official function, meeting, visits, retreat and so on. Whatever argument you or the staff might present at any of them will inherently be one-sided. There is no way to know what facts, if any, are provided, if they are refuted or not. You and the staff also have the advantage of building a personal relationship when most of our interactions are strictly online and non-personal. They have to be cold and about the issues, which you and your staff rarely engage in directly. The staff take their directions from you, limited interaction by you set the tone for the rest of them, when you leave a list or don't engage, they find little reason to do the same. It is perhaps much easier to find another Oliver to do the communication for them than to actually learn to talk and work together. Anyway, this gives the appearance of an imbalance. You and the staff enjoy the discretion of not having to engage or defend their choices openly online while all we do, has to be open and online. Theo10011 (talk) 14:43, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
    • Theo, if the Board never needs to disagree with Ms Gardner, then that means she's doing the job they hired her to do, and doing it well. The situation you describe is absolutely normal whenever you have hired a competent ED and have a board that knows what it wants to accomplish. If you have <90% unanimous votes, that usually indicates an organization that is either poorly managed or in crisis. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:39, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
"They" didn't hire her, like many appointments, this is one of those unquestioned, never reviewed things. In fact, to the contrary, some board appointments might have influence from Ms. Gardner(the process isn't exactly public). This discussion seems to be going around in circles. The central premise that you seem to be working from in most of these arguments, is that our board is no different than any other, complaints and unanimity within the board are unavoidable. You might also notice, in about dozens other pages I can point to about the board, that you are perhaps the only one making such a claim. There are a lot of issues that put these things in context- there are private mailing lists (or were), a lot of buried pages and issues on Meta that might provide you with context. But regardless, to encapsulate the point now, in your opinion, the board is working fine, right? then, why are we here discussing these issues, which are becoming more and more regular in the past 2 years from what I've seen. The complaints come from different areas, on different issues, but it usually stops at the same place. If the board is experienced and competent, and the ED is competent, and we have 90% unanimous votes - why is there a problem? And believe me, there are a few of them, you just haven't been exposed to the majority of them yet. I would understand the constant assurance on your part that this is all normal, if you understand that there are issues and examples (small and large, past and present)that strongly conflict your argument that this is all business as usual. Theo10011 (talk) 19:03, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
If the WMF Board didn't hire their ED, who do you think did? Try reading this Board resolution, paying careful attention to the words "It is hereby resolved that

(a) Sue Gardner is to be hired by the Board, effective December 1, to serve as Executive Director of the Foundation" before you answer.

The existence of complaints is proof that we have a large, engaged, diverse community. It is not proof that we have an actual problem with the Board. WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:50, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
This was before the board grew and became its own self. As you would notice, there are 5 individuals voting, 3 of them are still there after almost 6 years. Then there's the whole thing about Sue hiring Erik off the board, which again, would seem standard, right? I don't think there was ever a call for candidates put out, if there were other candidates, or anyone else was even considered. There were a lot of explanations, but discussions back then are hard to find. You are extracting your argument from a resolution to make the hiring official. Needless to say, there is a lot more in between I was alluding to, but the point is moot. Theo10011 (talk) 13:21, 14 November 2012 (UTC)

[Root] Accountability[edit]

  • The WMF is supposedly accountable to the board, but the board is only accountable to itself, as it self-appoints its members without any real external control. --Nemo 18:17, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
I just don't understand this. Structurally, three members are elected by the community, two are selected by chapters, only four could be considered 'self-appointed'. It seems like there is a lot of accountability and external control built into the election and selection process, given this. Bishdatta (talk) 05:41, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
The community appoints a minority of the board members, following the coup d'etat of some years ago. 3 out of 9 doesn't seem like majority to me, boing by your own numbers. Snowolf How can I help? 21:27, 4 November 2012 (UTC)
Actually I double checked, it's 3 out of 10. Snowolf How can I help? 21:29, 4 November 2012 (UTC)
The chapter seats are intended to be members of the community, and actually have been--it is perhaps seen as an alternative way of choosing community members. for the boardDGG (talk) 15:56, 5 November 2012 (UTC) .
Chapters are not emanation of the Wikimedia community. They are regional entities for the promotion of Wikimedia and whatever. Actually it is my understanding that the main reason they have existed and attained such prominence has more to do with tax-deductible donations than anything else. They appeal and serve only specific sets of users and interests. They are hardly any representation of the Wikimedia community and/or the local national communities. Snowolf How can I help? 17:52, 5 November 2012 (UTC):::::::They also give twice more weight to users who decide to be active, even modestly, in national association rather than those who choose to devote their efforts to the global Wikimedia community exclusively or simply have no interest in the chapter process. Let's get straight to the point: I, as a normal community member, are represented by the 3 community-elected members. User X, who is also active in Wikimedia Hungary or whichever chapter, is represented by the 3 community-elected members and the 2 chapters member. While my degree of representation on the board is merely a token, his is almost twice mine; yet even his representation is only half of the board. In an organization whose functioning and existence is entirely reliant on volunteers, one would expect that the volunteers would have some say in how it is run at the highest level. The community members directly elected should be 6 out of 10, with the remaining appointed, so that directly or not, all members are emanation of the community, rather than specific double-counted subset or self-perpetuating appointees. Snowolf How can I help? 18:03, 5 November 2012 (UTC)
BTW it is relatively questionable if the elected members are any different from the appointed ones, when it comes to making decisions or accountability. A couple of those elected members have been there for close to 5 years, which is actually less than the tenure of a few appointed ones. I can also point to their edits on Meta as a measure of their involvement, which are actually far, far less than some of the appointed ones (Ting has less than 10 edits here this year, Kat has around 15 for the entire year). Now that the individual votes are listed, they don't seem to vote any different than the appointed ones either, perhaps with the sole exception of Sj on a couple of occasions, I don't recall any board member voting against the majority (prob. ever). I agree in principle with what the point is, that the process of appointment should be more open and involved, but the facts dispute if it makes any difference in the end. <3 Theo10011 (talk) 18:30, 5 November 2012 (UTC)
Well, the problem with current representation is indeed that only the largest communities have practical influence on the scarce "community seats", while chapter seats are reserved for choices of chapter representatives. As a result, most of the communities do not have a direct representation or any chance for it. This could be remedied e.g. if instead of chapter representatives local communities could elect their representation, although then it would be difficult to divide seat among the community-appointed candidates. However, some options are possible (e.g. voting allowed only on a candidate outside home wiki, etc.). Pundit (talk) 13:44, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

Referenda on movement-wide decisions[edit]

  • Some people say "there is no way to challenge decisions" of the Foundation, even if a supermajority of the communities agree. However global votes organized by the community have always been implemented if they passed. Do we need to improve or clarify the process for global votes?
I suggested a while ago using some sort of electoral-college-like process for global voting for global issues, with projects voting on proposals individually, and outcomes weighted by the size of the project. More broadly, the poor coordination across projects weakens the community vis-a-vis the foundation; a community-elected Policy Drafting Committee would help. Global watchlists might also make a quite surprising amount of difference in this area, I think. Rd232 (talk) 22:34, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

Contesting or re-evaluating a decision[edit]

Discussions seem to have stalled here for the moment. Perhaps for future reference, it might be worth considering an option similar to "veto powers" for the community, a referendum whereby the community has recourse to over-rule the board, or at the very least, give them a cause to re-evaluate. Certain conditions can be added, like if say a certain decision is challenged or is held to a referendum and achieves super-majority up n votes, it gives the community some ground for re-opening the discussion. It would be in effect, a veto power with the community, though it probably won't be exercised or held to a vote in smaller issues in the past, it would cement future cases where the community's interest and wishes might not necessarily be in line with the board's. Theo10011 (talk) 13:08, 5 November 2012 (UTC)

Giving "veto power", or any sort of ultimate control, to the transient, mostly anonymous group of people that we call "the community" will make your legal team break out in a bad rash. The Board has some very serious legal liability for the organization. They must be the ones who have final control because they are the ones who will be hauled into court to explain if things go bad. You don't want their explanation to run, "Well, your honor, we were personally against all these pirated songs, but a bunch of students vetoed our policy. No, we don't exactly know who they are, but they're the ones that decided it was a good idea".
You already have the power to make them reconsider (and they have done so on occasion). You just need to communicate with them if something concerns you. WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:14, 6 November 2012 (UTC)
Well, the transient, mostly anonymous group of people we call "the community" also happen to elect the same board members who you are referring to. Leaving behind the en.wp mentality for a moment, and considering the Meta picture, the same group elects stewards, board members, votes on referendums, and discusses the majority of governance issues with chapters and the Foundation. This was a way of legitimizing their stance, beyond incessant complaining. The group I was referring to wasn't necessarily anonymous or transient, there are ways to limit who participates in those, we've had several successful rounds of elections with mostly just the established users participating with a track record for contributing. I wasn't referring to anonymous masses voting and sockpuppeting. It was just an extension of what they already do, elect board members. This doesn't affect the board members legal responsibility, you are using an odd example, but consider for a moment, if an image filter or an edit filter was pushed by the board against what might be a majority of community opinion. Rather than it lead to things like the fork, blackouts, wouldn't it be easier to just hold a referendum to make the board reconsider. You might also be under the impression, that this sort of veto power could be enacted on every occasion and easily manipulated, but I was imagining with a much higher bar of agreement and participation, used on very rare occasions. We base the majority of our work on the wisdom of the crowd, isn't it a natural extension to extend some power in rare cases, to the same crowd as opposed to 3 people elected by the crowd.
Perhaps you might not have the entire context. I've tried my best, as have several others, but pages on Meta and several mailing lists, some private, will bear witness how exhausted the channel of communication have gotten and still there wasn't any reconsideration in certain cases. Theo10011 (talk) 23:37, 6 November 2012 (UTC)
WhatamIdoing is right here. I doubt an actual veto power can be legally implemented, except perhaps with some big structural changes (which should integrate the vetoing bodies in the corporate structure in some way, to start with). If the board was elected rather than self-appointed, you could maybe have votes of no confidence or so. --Nemo 00:51, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
You can have a vote of no confidence now, if you want. You could even have such a vote lead to scheduling Board elections. What you can't do is make a group of people legally liable for the organization's actions, and then tell them that they don't get to control the organization's actions. Authority and responsibility are two sides of the same coin: if you are legally liable for the decision, then you get to make the decision, even if your decision isn't appreciated by the people with no legal liability for it.
Theo, I suspect that you are conflating "listen to" with "obey". The Board seems to listen closely to complaints about decisions they've made. That does not mean that they change their minds in the end. "Reconsider" and "change mind" are not the same. WhatamIdoing (talk) 18:28, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
Oh Thank you WhatamIdoing, that might actually be closer to what I had intended, a "no confidence" motion, describes my intention more succinctly than veto powers. Let's say that it leads to some form of an ability to schedule elections or recall a trustee, or a deadlock with the community or something, I'm beginning to see how this can work in the current context. My thought wasn't really developed, I was trying to gestate my thought of having something akin to veto powers, but not completely.
Well, 'obey' was never my intention. The board does listen, that is not up for questioning, they even try and engage, but it seems like they just can't debate. Their best laid reasoning and logic doesn't always prevail, so they choose to disengage all together, and vote as they had intended from the beginning. The longer you spend following these developments around here, the more you will see this pattern repeat itself. The board doesn't take a lot of confrontational positions, so most of their decisions aren't divided. On issues with opposition however, they might even agree with some of the opposing arguments but they just can't seem to bring themselves to vote against their fellow trustees or the executive interest it appears. Regards. Theo10011 (talk) 20:47, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
I don't think that you're interpreting the situation correctly. If a Board member votes for X, and you thought the reasons to vote against X were stronger, then that doesn't mean that the reasoning and logic against X is actually stronger. It only means that, within your personal values, opinions, and knowledge—which may be very different from the Board member's—"against X" appeared a better choice that "for X". In the nature of things, most Board members and staffers have more knowledge about a situation and more knowledge about the big picture than the regular volunteers like you and me. WhatamIdoing (talk) 17:41, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
I don't think so. I had some specific incidents in mind when I made the earlier statements, and given you might not have the entire context, I'll refer to the generalities. You are under the assumption that elected board members are professionals or experts of any given field. They are also not infallible, even the best experts can be wrong. The community elected members specifically, have a single qualification - they were editors who won an election - some of the incumbents have been there for 5 years. In terms of qualification, there is absolutely nothing about them that is different from you and me. To assume they have more knowledge about a situation and the big picture, would in turn imply their own short-coming with communicating their said point-of-view with their electorate or marginalizing the opinion of their electorate. I don't think communication is always the problem, but it seldom is. My point before it got lost was, there is no X issue, there are no opposing voices on the board - almost ever. It is almost always unanimous, which gave the appearance that the board is just a "stamping hall" as Nemo called it earlier. It would be normal to assume that at least a couple have conflicting opinions in some cases, somewhere and yet vote unanimously on every count. This cohesion to vote as a block is what concerned me. Whatever the reasons maybe - peer-pressure, or the way the system is set up. It is not about my opinion or yours, it is about the constant absence of conflicting voices on the board. Theo10011 (talk) 18:31, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

This is a question of finding the right social and structural design. We can design a legal framework to support whatever social solution we choose. For example: we could define a binding referendum process by board resolution, or even in the bylaws. Or more simply, we could set a general policy for how to handle community-wide votes: including the votes we already use for global RfCs and other cross-Project motions, and any votes to reconsider existing policy (as proposed above). I think it may make sense to make such votes advisory, as Theo suggests - like shareholders' resolutions - but that is our choice to make as a movement, limited only by what we decide is good governance. SJ talk  11:49, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

Other side of the argument[edit]

  • There should be some provision to add "the other side of the argument" as alluded to above by Nemo. As it stands, the executive drafts her recommendations, and presents them. There is a big COI when majority of those decisions are not put up to any scrutiny, since the executive has access to majority of the research, staff, and the board's time and presence. Some of these issues may or may not affect the executives directly which compounds this situation further. There should be some provision here, to have an observer/witness/testifier present to conflict or provide the other side of the argument. Majority of what is complained about is on talk pages, when they exist on Meta, but the executives still have unlimited access to the board personally, they can provide any number of documentation, facts, figures, in person which the community might never know about. This is a very closed one-sided process, the deliberation and discussion with the board should provide some opportunity for a community observer or expert to provide the other side of the argument, or at the very least be present as a witness. This is just a thought, and probably needs more fleshing out, I'm hoping others can see the benefit in this. Theo10011 (talk) 13:08, 5 November 2012 (UTC)
    • Most of this is a matter of healthy relations between board and executives. A small regulatory improvement would be to define clearly who can actively participate to board meetings. For instance: of course non-members don't speak, unless asked to do so; A, B, C are automatically invited as observers; more participants can be invited in this and that way; one can ask to participate if blabla and the request is evaluated blabla. --Nemo 00:58, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
    • I've forgotten the corporate details: Is the WMF a California corporation? Does it officially have members? If both of those are true, then I believe that any and all members are permitted to attend meetings (except for meetings or portions of meetings dealing with confidential matter), but never to speak (without permission). WhatamIdoing (talk) 18:33, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
      • No. It's incorporated in Florida, without members. --MF-W 19:11, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
        • See background. --Nemo 10:57, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
        • The Board has a system for inviting visitors. It would be good practice to have at least one visitor each year from the editing community who is not (otherwise, generally) involved in meta-governance for a change of perspective. SJ talk  12:16, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
          • It would be good to invite visitors from the communities NOT represented on the board. Otherwise there's always a risk of advancing en-wiki domination. Pundit (talk) 13:46, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
      • No members means no legal right for anyone except Board members to attend any of their meetings. (It's funny that they have no members, but want all the chapters to have them.)
        "Attending" does not provide a change of perspective to the Board. "Participating" might. It probably wouldn't provide anything that individual interactions already do. WhatamIdoing (talk) 17:47, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

Okay, quick question: Who here actually has experience with non-profit boards? I think that some of you have unrealistic expectations about what happens at the meetings. WhatamIdoing (talk) 17:47, 8 November 2012 (UTC)

I have some. I agree that many of the expectations stem from simply not being there (in some respects, it "is not a big deal", although the roles and decisions are obviously very important). Pundit (talk) 17:53, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
I do, but you are talking as if this is just a regular non-profit board. The dynamics and fundamentals here are pretty unique. There aren't usually cases where the majority of what a non-profit maintains and runs, is created by an independent somewhat distant, community. The two try and not interfere in each other's world for the most part. Given the underlying culture of openness, most of the board actions and discussions are public, which is rarely the case with most non-profits. There is also something to be said about the scale of WMF board, it is quite global, and can't exactly be compared with a small non-profit down the road. Boards, non-profit or for-profit, are actually empowered to make the best decisions they can, the more reputable and affluent the organization, the more room they have to be independent. They can call upon experts along with executives, to refute any argument, make independent investigations and call anyone they like to provide evidence or make a statement for the board. It is actually surprising how much leeway a board has that WMF board will never exercise. At this stage, the en.wp Arbcomm appears to have more authority and structure. Things are actually the other way round in this case. The executives call upon the board, make the arrangements, decide on the logistics of meetings, set agendas, then present alone to a captive board - which is the way smaller non-profits operate since their decisions doesn't affect a lot of people, not one of the top 10 internet properties in the world with 400 million visitors and 100k editors. Theo10011 (talk) 18:48, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
No, this is pretty typical. Consider Komen for the Cure, which would be nothing without their nearly two million volunteers. Consider the American Red Cross Disaster Services, which would be nothing without their 1.3 million local volunteers. Consider Habitat for Humanity, and their million-plus volunteers each year. These are not small non-profits, and the vast majority of those volunteers have no contact with the org's board, and many of them complain that the board is remote and doesn't obey them and taking the wrong direction and cares more about staff input than the views of the volunteers.
Most decisions by non-profit Boards are fundamentally public: either the meetings are required by law to be open to members (e.g., the Sierra Club), the organization is so small that everybody knows what's going on anyway, or the Board directly or indirectly publishes a good deal of the information. The WMF's board operates just like the majority of boards in this respect.
Basically, I think your complaint is that the board chooses to listen to the staff more than it chooses to listen to individual volunteers. I've been through a volunteers-versus-the-staff fight before. It's a good way to kill an organization. And much of what's discussed here sounds remarkably familiar, now that I think back on it: the volunteers assert that they are always better, smarter, and more informed about everything than the professionals the Board hired; the volunteers complain that the minutes don't provide a verbatim transcript of every comment made or question asked (so they can punish Board members who don't agree with them); the volunteers are frustrated because the Board members can't be forced to spend hours listening to them during formal meetings; the volunteers have unrealistic expectations of what the Board can actually do; and the volunteers assert that public unanimity, at least to the extent of not wanting to wash dirty laundry out where the donors can see it, is proof of brainwashing or spinelessness or stupidity on the part of the Board members.
There are some missing elements in this case, like the staff position that well-paid professionals were cheaper than volunteers, and I'm grateful that the staff in this instance isn't so silly. But there are some additional elements, like the volunteers believing that if only they could somehow communicate with the Board, then of course the Board, or at least some of its members, would change their minds and everything would be happiness and light. It doesn't work that way. I think you'd be better off assuming that if the Board takes a particular decision, one that seems less desirable to you, that they have a good reason for it. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:17, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
I first had to look up what you meant by Komen(I'm not American), Susan G. Komen actually has a little over 100,000 listed volunteers according to the citation on their Wikipedia entry, not 2 million as you mentioned. The American red cross lists their volunteer numbers at over 1 million, what you omit is their organizational infrastructure that is completely unlike Wikimedia- a network of 650 chapters, with 30,000 employees, American red cross itself being the US affiliate the International federation of Red cross and Red crescent societies. I can point out how your view is completely and myopically, US-centric. You are talking as if Wikimedia raises its money, spends and serves only the US, and then comparing an 8 year old San-francisco non-profit that supports an encyclopedia to century-old humanitarian charities who engage in disaster relief and cancer research. If it was only a matter of the states, a lot of the issues being debated about wouldn't exist. But there are chapters, there are other languages, other projects, other countries with substantial contribution and a global volunteer base. I can still point out the issue of scale, that just by a matter of numbers, WMF still engages more volunteers on a global level and serves more people than any of those charities, with next to fraction of their budget. And there in lies the problem, the infrastructure those organizations have is what makes the difference, in place of supporting common goals and working with the chapters/affiliates, most of the recent developments have been to concentrate power with one board and one organization. Perhaps it is standard to feel distant with non-profit board, but none of them can remotely make a claim to be as engaged as Wikimedia and the projects. The nature of the project, the charity, the organization is online, it is much different than the traditional charities that you are alluding to.
The second distinction here is open-source. The open culture which I was alluding to, you were comparing that with the legal requirement of public filing for non-profits. They are not the same. One is mandatory legal minimum required by law, the other is based on a culture of open-ness and free access. I would hope that the foundation's goal is to maintain more than the legal minimum required by the law. Also, see the point about about the online nature, which makes things more accessible and raises more questions.
Actually that is not my complaint. And you have no idea how long I've been in those fights myself ;). My complaint is not that they listen to one over the other, it's hard to encapsulate it in a single line, but it would be that one side has an unfair advantage and access over the other. Allow me to elaborate, as I mentioned, the nature of movement is online, the only way to communicate with the board for a community member is to be loud enough in a crowd to be finally heard, and even then, the only thing achieved is maybe being heard. The board member hardly engage on the same level. The staff has the unfair advantage of not participating in the same open discussion, they have the right to, but they hardly ever do, they instead have unlimited access to trustees in person, when the board is called by the executive for meetings, discussions, retreats and what not. The staff and executive also control the research to back-up their point-of-view, which they can commission or omit at their discretion. As you mentioned earlier, the board can be given half the information or lead to believe they have more information than they actually do. Again, this is not different from other boards, the only thing different is the inherent nature of online interaction, that the staff always can choose to not engage, to have an offline advantage later. I don't think most of your interpretations apply to the argument that I had in mind, you are basing them on facile, transient arguments. At the core, it's if one side has access to more information than the other - it doesn't, for the purposes I'm talking about. Theo10011 (talk) 13:41, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
Komen has about one and a half million volunteers just doing fundraising in the Race for a Cure program. There are tens of thousands of volunteers just in Germany.
Your complaint is unsolvable. It is not humanly possible for one Board member to personally interact with even 1% of the WMF's users. It's not even possible for each of the Board members to interact significantly with each of the staff members. It would be a full-time job to spend only 15 minutes with each employee every week, and being a Board member is not supposed to be a full-time job.
Additionally, interacting with you isn't their job. Their job is to meet some legal requirements and set the overall direction for the organization, not to get involved in details of daily operation. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:54, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
Ah, I was going by the en.wp entry on Komen, perhaps you can take a look and correct it.
You are extracting the wrong argument from my statement. I never suggested that they are spending time with each staff member, it was that they have access when others don't. Yes, board work is a voluntary job and most have other full-time commitments, but there are things like in-office meetings, staff retreats, large annual event - that guarantees presence of all board members, executives and some staff. This division creates an asynchronous gap between the two opposing sides of the argument, where one has more access over the other. As you said earlier, a board member might disagree with the majority because they might have the larger picture or some facts others don't, and that is the point - if such a large picture exists and they, previously being nothing more than editors/community members with no special skills, side with that than the majority - it would imply that there is either, a gap in communication, or the larger picture itself is being manipulated. The central point again was, like Wikipedia, I believe in debating on the merits and presenting a case openly. If there are truly facts that support their positions, then by all mean - share them. I'm inclined to believe there aren't in most cases, the nature of this assignment is setup that the staff and executives will always have the last word, and control the research that supports their assertions.
Yes, and my position was, they rarely set the overall direction, less and less these days. I wrote about it more above, but there are many examples on Meta and mailing lists over the last 2 years. This is the context that makes several community members, and meta-pedians hold this view. Theo10011 (talk) 19:20, 12 November 2012 (UTC)

Term limits?[edit]

A possible idea to consider here might be term limit for board members. They can be limited to 2-3 terms, even if re-elected. This seems like probably a non-controversial suggestion, but might help bring in a new perspective, and limit some of the closed appearance, that the group seems to have. Theo10011 (talk) 02:53, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

As noted above, term limits are on the Board's agenda. SJ talk  15:38, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
And it would be great to hear some comments on this issue. What do you think, are term limits necessary to provide necessary change on the Board or bear they the risk to lose good Trustees? Personally I have not built a strong opinion yet and I have not heard all Trustees arguments. My tendency is to set a limit after 6 years serving on the Board, but I'm looking for more input. Alice Wiegand (talk) 19:34, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
It sounds like a good suggestion. A short term means the members retire before getting fully immersed into the process, a long term is generally bad.--Ymblanter (talk) 11:58, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
6 years would imply a 3 term limit. I'm highly inclined towards a 2 term limit, but that is my opinion on the matter. The skill set and expertise, even the experience with the community required has gone through a monumental shift in the last 5 years, the budget, the community have all grown far too fast, while the board has remained more or less the same for last 5 years. There is no shortage of candidates given the size and breadth of the community. More candidates will just improve the representation on the board, more languages, more cultures, more geographies, different perspective. 3 term limit can mean it can take as much as a decade for the majority of the board to be reconstituted, between the appointed and elected members. Considering the board has been around for a bit more than 6 years and the projects just over a decade, this would really be covering a huge chunk of time with the same trustees, given how fast the foundation and the projects have evolved, those two will remain out-of-sync until they can keep pace with the issues and growth - 2 terms hit the mark. Theo10011 (talk) 12:05, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
I'm not really sure whether we need term limits. For me it's just that I've trusted some of the board members for a long time and I know that their contributions will be missed if they are replaced by a (probably) more inexperienced person. I would prefer a scheme where the community can do a vote of no confidence in case a board member does not live (anymore) up to the expectations.
Did you have someone specific on the board in mind, or is it more of a general concern? --Tobias talk · contrib 16:40, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
There are a whole host of reasons why this is worth considering. First and foremost, the reason to have term limits is limit monopoly and not perpetuate an oligarchical structure, to downplay "trustee for life" perception. Between the appointed and elected ones, there are a few members already who have been there since almost the forming of the foundation. An argument can be made that such an oligarchical group already exists, between board members, staff and advisory board members. The act of reconfirming just removes any aspect of evaluation in most cases. I'm not sure if you would prefer them to continue indefinitely? The best elected offices have a term limit, its a decision that they make, the idea to have it is at their discretion. I should mention how board members are volunteers with personal and professional lives, and periods longer than 4 years can be considered hard to remain consistent and involved. It is also a long enough time to give someone else a chance, considering there are tens of thousands potential candidates from all over the world, re-electing/re-confirming would imply a dearth of talent. Anyway, I don't know who you are alluding to as a board member you have trusted. Your characterization would imply that the current board members are experienced, and trusted, and performing admirably in all matters, and they might only be replaced with sub-par candidates. If that was the case we wouldn't be having this discussion. Everyone has a different set of skills they bring to the table, you can't close the table for 5 years just because you like someone, your opinions might not be shared by the rest. I also don't think bringing something like a no-confidence motion would be easy to accomplish without there being an impetus or a specific cause behind it. It is also perhaps much more respectable and preferable for board members themselves to have term limits, than risk facing public no-confidence votes which might leave a mark in their long-term standing and professional career. Theo10011 (talk) 17:17, 10 November 2012 (UTC)

When you worry about someone else having power, term limits are always tempting. The main effect of term limits is to make sure that the Board is filled with newbies who know far less about the organization and how to get things done than the staff that the Board is supposed to control. If that's what you want, then go for it. It's not what I want, though. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:58, 10 November 2012 (UTC)

I disagree, its to get wider participation and ward of staleness by not re-appointing incumbents without much review. I suppose you can use the same argument for elections itself. I want an accountable and a competent board, who sets the direction rather than the one that always agrees with everything provided to them. IF experience was helpful, than life-appointments would probably be the best, elections would just jeopardize the earned experience? If only politicians made that arguments. ;) Anyway, I suppose there are no issues today since the board and executives are so experienced, this page and the dozen or so points would beg to differ. Theo10011 (talk) 19:29, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
If you want "an accountable and a competent board, who sets the direction rather than the one that always agrees with everything provided to them", then you need a board whose typical members have more history and experience with the organization than the people providing everything to them. The current ED has been at the WMF for more than five years (almost five as ED). Do you want to require that your board to has less experience than her? How would making them be less experience help them resist the temptation to agree with whatever's presented to them? WhatamIdoing (talk) 22:01, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
I disagree, experience is just one of the dozen characteristics that affects a person. Your argument is here "if you want competent board members, let them be incompetent for longer?". I can make a better arguments off the top of my head-
  • If someone's personality is to avoid confrontation, debate, they will be as unfit for that position 1 year and as well as 3 years later. Giving them more time, will not affect their personality.
  • There is something to be said about real world experience, and skill. Both of whom are unlikely to mature with the time on the board. In fact, the only way of getting a fresh injection of new skill and real world perspective is to keep the board young.
  • Perspective is also important, with more time on the board, the more removed certain members will become from the community. Their impressions and opinions might not mature with the rest of the community. The growth in the last 5 years is hardly reflected in board members appointed 6 years ago, the only way you can get an outside perspective - a view of how the organization and the board is perceived is through fresh talent.
  • Then there is the argument, that experience and lifetime appointments make board members complacent. This applies to selected members a bit more than incumbents, when there is no limited term, no review of their track-record, no legacy to speak of and no end-in-sight, they can be indifferent to a majority of the issues and their stance on it. I think those 3 arguments are much stronger than anything you have suggested about experience being an asset. Giving someone more time on a job, will not change their nature, especially if they think their appointment is indefinite. Theo10011 (talk) 13:34, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
I'm surprised to read that you believe that experience and skills do not improve over time. Most people believe that we do not spring fully formed from the heads of Zeus, but keep learning throughout our lives.
It is, of course, possible that any given individual will not be desirable. That's why boards normally have defined terms rather than lifetime appointments, and why members are permitted to quietly resign. A good board president will be thoughtful about the members' contributions and encourage such resignations on occasion.
But you are not proposing that less-capable members depart the board; you are proposing that even the most desirable and skillful members be forced to leave by an arbitrary date, even if that departure is not in the best interests of the organization at the time. WhatamIdoing (talk) 17:54, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
You are conflating what I said. I said real world experience and skills. I wasn't referring to the experience of being on the board, that improves longer you are no it, regardless of competence, until you have a "Professional board member" - I don't think there is such a thing. Real world experience and skills, relevant, might not improve, given that the board members are doing a volunteer job, that leaves little room to gain more skills and real world experience in the same time as they serve. I believe we disagree on Nature vs. Nurture, there are certain things that can improve or be learnt, while there is also a strong group of characteristics a person is born with. This isn't Mount Olympus, the Greek pantheon can claim to have less in common with the humans the longer they stay away from it. I suppose they had life-time terms too. ;)
Quietly resigning is something that is rarely exercised. It is entirely dependent on the good judgement of one's self about their performance. Some can be impartial, while others can't. Yes, a board president (which we don't have) would be thoughtful, but therein comes the entire logic of our argument. There already are some people acting as "the board president", who are influencing decisions, and if need be, can also make others resign or fill the opening with who they see fit. This entire exercise is to make sure, one group doesn't overpower the other, that disagreements are a good thing and they should be discussed openly.
I'm proposing a term limit. Completely unrelated to the candidate, it is the only way to be impartial. It is highly debatable if just about anyone's departure would be in the best interest of the organization or against it, knowing our community, there will always be two sides. You are still under the assumption that there is such a shortage of desirable and skillful members besides the one we have, that we can't afford to lose even a single one every 4-6 years. WMF has been around for 8 years or so, Wikipedia, a little over 10, what makes you think there is no one out there who can be better than they are when we don't know anything else? We will certainly never know if there is anything better, if we keep confirming the incumbents for the entire life of the organization. Given the facts, how old Wikipedia and WMF are, I still stand by my position of 2 term limits. Theo10011 (talk) 18:43, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
In my experience, Board members do gain more real-world experience and skills during their tenure. It is not unusual, for example, for a Board member to learn more about accounting as a result of time on a non-profit Board.
"Board President" and "Board Chair" are the same thing. WhatamIdoing (talk) 20:13, 15 November 2012 (UTC)
That experience is negligent when compared to what they lose. I'll reiterate, the longer time on a board will just create a professional board member. Trustees aren't selected to serve because they have experience of being trustees, they are just representatives(elected) and experts in their fields(selected). Any experience they gain as a serving trustee takes away from the reason they were elected/selected to be there. Experience gained from taxation and HR practices are negligent, it pales in comparison compared to the opportunity of having a new trustee who actually has a decade of real-world experience in taxation or HR practices. It's about bringing experience from outside to the group, not the group gaining the experience slowly, after being removed from their area of specialty to market later.
Board chairs are elected after every election(I think). There is also a Chair emeritus(Jimmy), a Vice-Chair and a secretary. I don't think anyone is going to fill the role you described earlier completely but I digress. Theo10011 (talk) 03:03, 16 November 2012 (UTC)
"Negligent" is "what the doctor gets sued for, if he doesn't pay attention". You meant "negligible", which means something close to "insignificant" or "unimportant".
I agree that ten year's real-world experience in fund accounting would be desirable on a non-profit board. I do not agree that once we acquired such a person, that we should kick him out four years later. Losing what would, at the end of his two terms, be 14 years of real-world accounting experience plus four years of WMF experience would not be negligible.
I also do not agree that a person with ten years' experience on his home wiki, and who continues to be active there, is less valuable or less skilled when he has now 14 years' experience on his home wiki plus four years' experience on the board than he was to begin with.
Booting out someone who had no skills to begin with (except maybe being popular on his home wiki), and still has few skills (and maybe isn't even active on his home wiki any longer), in favor of someone who has a lot of skills, is an easy choice. But that's not the choice that we are normally faced with.
Limiting people to four years does not create a strong Board. It prevents you from keeping skilled people. There are very, very few people in the world that have ten years' experience with US fund accounting rules (a specialized accounting style only used by non-profits) and that are able to serve on an organization's board (they tend to be employed by other non-profits, and their employment contracts tend to prohibit board service elsewhere). If the WMF ever managed to get such a person on its board, they should keep him (or her) for as long as possible. WhatamIdoing (talk) 03:51, 18 November 2012 (UTC)
Yes, that was an error, I meant negligible there. And Negligent isn't only relevant to doctors, it means something characterized by neglect. It can apply to several jobs and roles, even an editor, board member or a regular citizen, who can act carelessly or fail to perform their trusted duty.
Anyway, you are still convinced that there is such a dearth of talent, that if we do acquire someone remotely knowledgeable that he should not be let go, even in an electorate base of a tens of thousands and hundreds of candidate.
What about the global nature of the project? The community is skewed towards English speakers, or certain geographies. What about female participation? other cultural and geographical representatives? other skills? there are actually a lot of different skills that can be of use to the board, too numerous to mention, different and varied perspective is a good thing. To get wider participation, wider engagement, it is imperative to keep the board distinct and fresh. It is a very important step in getting wider participation, US and native-english speakers should not be the focus.
I can't believe I am going around in circles here using arguments I've said before, some of which you seem to agree with but still return to your first assumption, that a popular board member who is successful and competent will be forced out and we can't afford to lose one after any amount of time. I don't think we have or have had an exceptional board candidate like that yet, I don't recall any one pining for any of the past board members, it would be debatable if they possess any rare skills that are exceptional enough to retain them indefinitely. There are no definite, finite set of skills needed for the board, the more different they are, the better, along with perspectives - variation is a good thing. Accountancy is one area, law is another, IT is another, non profit background is another, social-work/charity experience, developed markets, ethnography, cultural, linguistics, the list goes on and on - you can't stop and say ok we have 2 people with Law and Accountancy background, let's just hold on to them for 10 years. We haven't had any term limits in the past, board members came and left of their own accord but there haven't been cases where there skills were so exceptionally rare that their departure affected anyone. Theo10011 (talk) 14:01, 19 November 2012 (UTC)
You're right: that's why I said I want a stronger board, not a weaker one. However, the strength of a board is not just the sum of the competence of its members; it comes from many factors.[2] A problem with perpetual (or always very similar) bodies is that the same patterns among members tend to repeat themselves over and over. Periodically reshuffling cards is always needed to get the best from all members, not to celebrate the "firing" of those who left.
A good board member has an impact on the board also after leaving it, by providing long-lasting achievements or changes of perspectives and practices which are permanently embodied in the board and survive its members. There is a finite time to get to this result: both failure and success are a reason to declare the job ended and leave the board; I don't know what's the best term, of course. --Nemo 12:04, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
There are many advantages/drawbacks with having terms limit. Here are a few at the top of my head.
  • I would always advocate for 2 terms at the minimum, 3 terms at the most (given that the term is 2 years long) for the following reasons:
    • 1 term is hardly enough to actually get into the knick of things. Running an organisation like the WIkimedia Foundation at Board level has quite a learning curve. For "insiders" (read: Community members), it might be the level of strategic involvement, the responsibility of running a rapidly grwoing organisation etc., for outsiders (read: appointed seats) it might be getting to know and understand the projects and communities. Of course, your mileage may vary, you'll have insiders and outsiders that have different skills and adapt more or less quickly, but at least one year to get into it, and then 5 years of actively serving sounds like a good deal.
    • It's not only one person that has to adjust, but another nine. Every time a board member changes, the dynamics of the board evolve and that makes it hard to adjust for the whole body. To limit this I would advocate for some kind of rotating term limit (ie. not all members see their term limit arrive at the same time), which should be kind of OK with the already rotating (s)elections that allow renewing some board members every other year (such as community elections and chapters selections are every other year).
    • In short, you want to make sure that the Board evolves as "smoothly" as possible, rather than be replaced all at once.
  • Term limits might be bad for the following reasons:
    • You lose experienced Board members, and have to train new ones.
    • You lose organisational memory and might end up having the same old discussions all over again
  • Term limits might be good for the following reasons
    • It empowers new active interested people to run for (s)election, as they don't have to run against incumbents, who often have an advantage (their name is known) and gives them a fair chance to become a board member
    • It brings new perspectives in the organisation. Given that Wikimedia is changing rapidly, this might be a good thing. Adaptability is sometimes easier achieved with new people bringing fresh ideas.
    • It encourages existing board members to actively look for suitable replacements, rather than say "oh, I'll run again if there's nobody else".
    • It gives board members a goal, ie. they know that they have to "cram it all" ;) in 4/6 years max, so they might put more energy into actually making things go forward.
All in all, I am in favor of term limits, especially in a rapidly changing and growing organisation like Wikimedia. With a total number of 10 board members, there are few scenarios where you'd be faced with a brand new board if you put the right safeguards in place to make sure that the turnover exists but is somewhat limited. notafish }<';> 14:25, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
I would be in favor of 2 terms as well - and Notafish spells out the considerations well. Just as minor adjustment, I would like to suggest that only full terms are to be counted - if someone joins mid-term, the counter should only start ticking at the first regular appointment. So that would basically mean that someone cannot be reappointed when (s)he has served 4 years, but can finish the term. Effeietsanders (talk) 14:02, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
As Notafish says, Board members don't really know what they're doing during their first term, because of the steep learning curve. Do you really want to legislate that 50% of the board must have questionable competence? WhatamIdoing (talk) 22:01, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

My thoughts for a good model:

  • A 6-year limit, regardless of term-count or appointment method;
  • A few things to enhance continuity:
    • an 'emeritus' observer position for one departing trustee to provide extra continuity (without a vote) for a 1-yr term after leaving the board;
    • a 'clerking' role for 1-2 people interested in Board work to get involved - primarily in public-facing discussions and analysis - before or without being on the Board.
    • a safeguard that says "if more than half the board would otherwise have less than X experience, the board may exempt one or more people from this limit"
  • A stated principle that new participation and turnover is good, as long as recruiting is effective. The term limit should be an upper-bound; not the desired average. We should feel good about our process if people decide to leave in order to benefit from the energy of others, or are replaced by others in an effective [s]election, before this upper-bound limit. And we should actively br looking for the best possible replacements *every* selection cycle.

If there's one thing I regret about current Trustee selection and Board composition, it's that we stopped brainstorming about who / what we'd like to see on an ideal board once all of the Trustee seats were filled. Every year that we grow and become more integral to the fabric of learning and our society, we expand the breadth of people we could effectively recruit (to *any* of the potential seats, in fact, not just the appointed ones.) SJ talk  18:58, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

  • Here in the UK it is considered best practice for those serving as trustees of not for profits to have a ten year term limit. In my experience that doesn't always work out well as there are times when it becomes a problem to have a ten year maximum on the institutional memory of a charity. But you definitely need some process to ensure that there is some "new blood" on a board. One possibility would be to have a board with a mix of one term and multiterm seats. Anyone, including those who've been elected once as a single term member could stand for the multi termseats, but no-one who has previously served as a trustee could stand for the single term seats. That would pretty much guarantee a mix of stability and change. WereSpielChequers (talk) 16:17, 21 November 2012 (UTC)
    • If the Board is large enough, you will always have a few new people on board even without term limits. People leave voluntarily due to jobs, families, health problems, etc. It would be unusual for a 15-member board to be entirely the same from one year to the next, even if everyone is on multiyear terms. The question here is really whether you want to absolutely force out the people who are willing and able to serve for longer than the four years that Theo wants to limit everyone to. WhatamIdoing (talk) 11:39, 22 November 2012 (UTC)

Just as a reminder: If it's only to get new people on the board, it's up to the community to select and/or elect different people each year. I don't like to ignore that there is a lot of power in the community elections. The question is, if this power is really exercised. Alice Wiegand (talk) 14:34, 24 November 2012 (UTC)

Indeed it's not clear. Some think that it is exercised, but always by the same group (en.wiki community? editors who joined in 2006 and before? blueberry-jam lovers? unclear) to exclude all the others. --Nemo 18:16, 24 November 2012 (UTC)

Thank you all for your thoughts and comments. I propose to set in the agenda of our next meeting (February 1) for discussion and decision. Alice Wiegand (talk) 16:30, 3 January 2013 (UTC)

I (Jan-Bart) have two different thoughts on `Term limits. Having being around for quite a while (and together with Kat I will probably be the first person to which term limits apply) I am conflicted on this.
In an ideal world we would not need term limits. The selected/elected seats would be refreshed by a critical community and these seats would in turn appoint the appointed members to match up with the needs of the board as a whole. These appointed seats would be evaluated every two years to see if they still match the needs of the board as a whole, and if individuals in question still functions well as a board member.
In reality however none of these process are working to their potential. We do get turnover, and I do think that this is good, but I think that we can do better:
  1. The elections don’t have a large % of the community voting
  2. The selections for the two selected seats are just done by the chapters, we should change that to include all the affiliated organisations and help organise the process. (although the process done by the chapters is a very thoughtful one which I appreciate, I just don't think it scales)
  3. The evaluations of the appointed board members should become more rigorous. I think we have gotten better at this, but we can do a better job of identifying what we as a board need, and then finding the right people and not being afraid to change appointed seats when better candidates come along.
The ideal period to serve on the Wikimedia board is somewhere between 4 to 8 years is my guess. It does take up to 2 years to get the whole picture and understand most of the issues (although to be fair I still need help on several issues now and then ☺) so anything less that four really is not ideal.
Its also hard to find “new” appointed members. The time commitment for this board is exceptionally high. Most boards ask for three to four 2 hours meetings a year. We ask a total of around 8 days a year, without travel (which effectively results in 16 days a year at least). In my case my employer (Kennisnet) is graciously allowing me to do this work without having to take vacation days, but that is not the case for the majority of the (potential) board members. This should not prevent us from turning over board members, it just limits our options.
To conclude: I think that turnover is a good thing, and it should happen. But I am not sure that we want to fix this in rules which will tie our hands when we really want flexibility. Do we have a stagnant board? When I look at the turnover I don’t think so.
My time to leave the board will probably be at the end of this year, which is fine (and I do hope to contribute in some other way to this great organisation) but if I did want to continue to serve, and the rest of the board thought it was NOT a good idea, they should be able to tell me so rather than have to resort to rules to fall back on….Jan-Bart (talk) 21:10, 4 January 2013 (UTC)
Hiya Jan-bart, I missed this post for some reason. I wanted to answer now, in light of the result Alice posted, which is very close to your opinion, maybe you'll see it-
You are making some good arguments why this is needed. At the same time, I see the majority of the issue is with appointed board members in your justification. Since this is a rigorous process and how the pool is small to begin with. I personally believe that 16 days an year is not a big commitment, considering our editors and people just following the mailing list spend more time cumulatively than 16 days a year per person, to hear what the board has to say, and worst of all, everyone else does it without having a title of the board, or any of the recognition or benefits that come with it. We all have jobs, businesses, families, heck think of the editor who will spend a month writing and polishing an article who would be most affected by one of your decisions. It's almost demeaning to them, and all of us to say that this apparently tiny participation is too much for an employed person. We are all volunteers at the end, though 99% don't even have the recognition and prestige that comes with a board title. Think of the stewards on this wiki, or admins, who put in actually 10 times more hours than a board member without any of the recognition or perks. The worst of all your decisions, which you will spend less time thinking and talking about than them will affect them the most.
Second, I think there is some confusion on the matter but there is no shortage of people willing to be on the board or devote the said amount of time. I'm referring to not just community members but complete outsiders who would love to have this on their resume, or the experience of serving on a board like this. There is no miscommunication about the requirement for the job, if they don't feel they can devote the said time, the honorable thing is to bow out and let someone else take over. It is unfair and disappointing that some board members just de-prioritize this when their participation is needed, and just seek re-election or reconfirmation. This wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't a pool of thousands of candidates willing to take over and see the work. The honorable way would be not to seek re-election of their own accord, if they haven't been active but clearly that hasn't happened yet from what I saw.
Lastly, If it helps maybe its worth considering to add term limits for elected seats rather than appointed ones? The major point was, that in large elections, the incumbents will always have the house advantage. It is not a matter of their performance or their track-record, the biggest is a statistical and psychological advantage that they will always have in an election over any other candidate.
Also, it's not only for the other board members to decide if you should continue or not. The pool is larger, more people have an opinion. I don't know how the opposite would be, what if the rest of the board or the community wants a trustee not to continue? Would you expect them to just be rude and heartless about it and ask them to leave? From what I've seen of the current board, confrontation is not a strong ability with many individuals. I don't know if you expect someone to go "no, you should leave, you shouldn't continue" -least of all a board member, call is social etiquette or decency, very few people I have known can be that direct, though there is no shortage of people that will lie and say the opposite to appease someone. How would one differentiate? a single rule for everyone is much better I think. Would it be better for all parties involved that a rule was in place that existed for everyone and you can say I had 4 years on the board, and served my time to the best of your abilities. Again, there is no shortage of individuals willing to take over, maybe they are better or worst, we won't know until someone else actually gets in there. The only concern I read above is that the process of finding and vetting appointed board members is hard and time consuming, I would think once in 4 years is a justifiable amount to devote to something this important. Regards. Theo10011 (talk) 15:57, 26 February 2013 (UTC)

Result of the Board's discussion about term limits[edit]

The subject of term limits is a recurring topic for the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees and the Wikimedia Community. When we talk about term limits we mean a limitation of sequenced terms for serving on the Board. The length of a single term in the WMF board is two years. Besides the Founder's seat there are nine seats to be filled. Five of them are appointed by the community (three elected by the community, two selected by the chapters), four of them are appointed by the Board itself.

Recently the issue of term limits was raised on this page with a lot of important contributions and a quite notable collection of arguments in favour of and against fixed term limits. Continuing earlier discussions, the Board wanted to come to a conclusion about the necessity to invest time and effort to prepare an implementation of term limits into the bylaws and discussed it at its last meeting on February 1 in San Francisco.

The most important reason for imposing term limits is to ensure that the board has a regular turnover of its members and therefore give room to new ideas and energy. We need regular renewal and shift in the Board’s composition to fulfill our duties and move forward as the organization and the movement move forward

After the exchange of individual positions the Board agreed that we don’t see the necessity for term limits for the WMF Board at this point. Every year 4 or 5 seats come up for renewal (2 or 3 community seats and 2 appointed seats). So far this has resulted in regular turnover.

We do however feel that we should take care to ensure that all three mechanism for refreshing the board are used to their full potential

  1. We need to get more participation in the community elections. The debate around these elections is lively and very public but how can we get more people to vote?
  2. The composition of the selected seats has been changed with each selection process so far. This process seems to be open to any result, without providing incumbent candidates a privilege per se.
  3. The appointed seats are renewed in a two year cycle, this renewal used to be more or less “automatic”, but in recent times this has been part of a stricter review. Whilst the board already has an evaluation process which takes place every year we want to focus more on potential gaps in skills/expertise within the board, and use appointed seats to remove these gaps.

The Board is aware that term limits for board members of non-profit-organizations are quite familiar in several countries and that they are recommended by Compass Partnership for WMUK's Board.

At the same time we think that we already have effective tools to provide a healthy renewal without losing competence and experience. We think that it is more efficient and suitable to improve these tools and we want to find and implement better and more transparent processes to assess appointed Board members (without compromising the privacy of those board members). Instead of creating a hard rule we are going to concentrate on refining what we already have. The Board Governance Committee will add this item to its agenda and welcomes your comments and thoughts. For the board Alice Wiegand (talk) 17:08, 24 February 2013 (UTC)

I assume that the board members with the most obvious COI refrained from joining the discussion? --Nemo 10:34, 25 February 2013 (UTC)
I'm not sure how a person can actually have a statutory conflict of interest on this issue, but even if you assume "members with the most COI" is a code phrase for "I want Jimmy Wales kicked off the Board", it is not normal for conflicted members to be excluded entirely from discussions, because the very fact of their external interests means that they may have more information than the other Board members, and those other Board members therefore have a legitimate interest in asking questions of the conflicted members. WhatamIdoing (talk) 00:43, 26 February 2013 (UTC)
I don't think Nemo is necessarily referring to Jimmy. Actually, off the top of my head 3 or 4 trustees would be close to their 2 term limit already, if not more. The COI might be present if it affects them running for election or being reconfirmed again; though I doubt that's the case. Theo10011 (talk) 15:20, 26 February 2013 (UTC)
I was definitely not referring to him. He has a permanent board seat just for him in the bylaws, that can either be used or not; term limits don't necessarily impact it. --Nemo 08:19, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

As the person who suggested this term limit consideration, I wish I could see some of the arguments the opposing side would have had on this. I would love if those board members make their justification known, though I doubt that will happen. I believe the substantive part of that lengthy result above is "Instead of creating a hard rule we are going to concentrate on refining what we already have." Does that imply there is a soft rule? The lengthy result is partly confusing, it seems the professional advice on the matter agrees that their should indeed be term limits, the posting above gives a good argument why this is needed, but in the last two lines its just brushed aside with more or less a version of "ya, maybe, we'll decide" - I am confused about what the board will refine? Theo10011 (talk) 15:33, 26 February 2013 (UTC)

Read "hard rule" as "changing the bylaws (which means also not to change the same thing again short-term). Most arguments can be found in the discussion above. For both sides. The weighting of them is essential and there is a good chance not to go the way of term limits although you accept all pro-arguments. And here comes my very personal argument: If there is no problem, don't fix it. By which I mean that there was the exchange of both chapters selected members last summer, we are currently searching for a new appointed trustee, next community elections are just about to start. If the problem you see refers to individuals, why should we change our bylaws when there is so much room for change? As said, more participation and more internationalisation in the community elections, better processes for the internal evaluation of appointed board members are fields for improvement. And that's where our energy should be spent on, that's working on the basic issues. We need ideas to make the upcoming elections an important issue for more users and we need ideas to make them less en-centred. You can help here. Alice Wiegand (talk) 17:39, 26 February 2013 (UTC)
Thanks for the explanation Alice. I pointed out the same thing on Wikimedia-l that because chapter election have a small pool of candidate and voters, they are well versed in the issues, they know the track-record of candidates. Unfortunately, with large elections it always comes down to incumbents having the house advantage - this is a prevalent factor in most elections around the world- the larger a voting block, the less information about candidates, the better chance an incumbent has. To be specific, my suggestion was more directed towards the large community election more than other type of appointees, but a one rule fits all wouldn't hurt others either since as you say, we just had a change through chapter election and we are already looking for an appointed one - if this isn't a problem and we are already abiding by that, why not put it down in the rules? You ask why add and I say Why not? - we are already following it with the examples you gave, and it seems the majority and even external experts agree with the general idea that term limits are good.
Second, its debatable if there is no problem here that doesn't need fixing. The purpose of this page was to address some issues, there is an appearance of stagnation on the board as a whole, and a growing disconnect. While the last election had no weight on this issue, the feeling is and has been there. There might be dozens of harder and more complicated way to bridge the gap probably, the one above was my suggestion as the quickest fix. It's harder to fix a problem about disconnect when half the board just doesn't seem to talk; more than half the board is absent on most, if not all discussions, the argument always is they are busy and they have less time to devote to these things, and arguably after doing the same thing for 4 years there is an expected attrition rate and loss of interest - which brought up my suggestion - why not step aside and let those who actually have time do some of the work? I thought some people chose the easy path to seek re-election for other reasons. All the other options to make the board more open and democratic, requires engagement and time from the board members which already is a common complaint with the handful of current trustees that actually do engage, not to mention I can point out that a few board members have made next to 0 comments this year and less than 10 the last, yet, they will probably seek re-election after a brief spurt of activity - that seemed dishonorable to me, and unfair to the system itself.
Anyway, Thanks again for giving an explanation. BTW I should clarify just in case, I have no intention of ever running for the board, or any positions (paid and unpaid) in Wikimedia again. I learnt my lesson the hard way but I've learnt it well. Regards. Theo10011 (talk) 20:52, 26 February 2013 (UTC)
Alice, I disagree that «the problem you see refers to individuals» and I'm very sorry to read this, because the suggestions I made reflect only what I consider the requirements for any WMF board to work, and not what the current members of it are (individuals are ephemeral things). Quoting myself: «A good board member has an impact on the board also after leaving it, by providing long-lasting achievements or changes of perspectives and practices which are permanently embodied in the board and survive its members». If a board member needs to stay in the board for the board (and the WMF) to continue on the lines that member cared about, or for the seeds left by that member to flourish, then it means that such a member has not done anything valuable. Period. Therefore there must be a clear time limit. This is my idea of offices and the criterion I judged my personal mandates against; I recognise that it's the hardest one and most of my colleagues didn't share it, so of course it's understandable if the WMF board decides to set a lower standard.
We could also discuss of the general organisational principles and recommended practices, but we already know the board doesn't care (cf. Compass Partnership recommendations) so it would be a waste of time. --Nemo 08:41, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

It's a Man's world?[edit]

I'm bored by the Gender gap. It seems, we only have one problem. And so the Foundation spends a lot of time and money in this area. Since the Foundation began this, the statistics (I don't believe them, the female volunteers are more than 9%, I believe) depending female Authors going down, not up. So - we have a problem with wrong statistics, or the Foundations actionism goes the wrong way. We need more authors - sex doesn't matter! But if we think, we have to look for authors in special regions, we also have to look for other special authors. Manual workers, Seniors, Scientists, regional Minorities. It seems, they don't have not such a loud intersessors as women have. They don't get a Teahouse, Bar, Pub or whatever. All groups need a chance to develop. And yes - the Women too! Marcus Cyron (talk) 13:28, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

The Teahouse is open to everyone, not just women.
It's my impression that the number of women has increased at the English Wikipedia, which has more than 9% women. The 9% number is global, and is therefore affected by the global reality that women have lower literacy, less education, and less access to computers.
The WMF is working on several issues. If you're bored with gender gap, the go work on their global south program, or their school program, or on one of the others. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:23, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
Glad to see someone defending WMF activities. I'm sure you are well aware of the current developments - "Global south" programs were abandoned or "outsourced" amid the re-focus, the education program might continue to exist at a smaller level but there has been next to nothing going on in the past year. Teahouse probably isn't the best example of this move, and it doesn't need defending. Gender gap itself, has become one of the Keywords around meta, constantly abused and ridiculed (depending on the circles) by its over-repetition. During the better part of last year, this had more attention and focus than a lot of other issues. There's actually no one I know who wouldn't like more female participation, but for all the talking, research, and support this has had, it hasn't even moved the needle an inch. There were probably some external initiative like the ADA initiative, supported by WMF that might have benefited from the attention. Internally it consumed a lot of resources (volunteer and financial) - surveys, mailing list, dedicated research, blogs, funded events by WMF some of which had, exclusive female attendance, Wikichix,WikiWomenCamp, Wikipedia:WikiWomen's History Month, WikiWomen's Collaborative, among others. As you mentioned, there are a lot of sad global realities with lower literacy rates and access to internet, freedom of speech, most of which, exist regardless of gender and afflict both sexes to some degree - some of these are "global south" issues, why conflate them, or better yet, why not narrow focus even further, and further still, till we spend more time talking about 'them' than to 'them'. And who is to talk about other minorities - LGBT editors, editors from developing countries, poorly represented geographies, there are many more minorities that can benefit from the attention. After more than an year, the focus has achieved little more than create a buzzword and divide issues around a gender line, when they are so much larger and complex. Theo10011 (talk) 12:29, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
Seeing that the gender gap is an item of foundation day-to-day politics and not so much of the way decisions are reached, I think this criticism better belongs somewhere else. (I'm not judging on whether you're right, Marcus, I'm merely stating that procedural questions (to be discussed on this page) are different from substantial question of what the foundation should do) --Tobias talk · contrib 16:45, 10 November 2012 (UTC)

There's more than the en:WP[edit]

The Foundation should stop acting as chapter of the United States or the english Wikipedia. The Foundation is not a Chapter. The Foundation maybe has his residence in the USA - bit is an international movement! All Wikipedias, all sister project are of importance! And not only doing some alibi projects like in India, South Africa or Brazil. Support local chapters and give them the oportunity to care about all problems they have - because the local people know the best about their situation. And as long a big, great, successfull country as the United States are not be possible to get their own chapter (like a third world country!), it's their fault. Not the task of the WMF. And give all chapters the oportunity the develop like chapters in Germany, France, UK, Sweden, Netherlands or Poland. Give them space for a development! In future, the Wikimedia-democracy will come from the local chapters. Marcus Cyron (talk) 13:28, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

I think with the proposal of narrowing the focus, things will change soon. Chapters, along with other organisations, will gain more importance in undertaking their own projects, whereas the foundation will focus more on essentials, like the technical operation of the websites. So given your criticism, I think things are moving towards a solution. --Tobias talk · contrib 16:51, 10 November 2012 (UTC) Ps.: I really hope we get a US chapter or regional US chapters soon.
Actually I think it will get worse. --Nemo 10:43, 12 November 2012 (UTC)

Open up board committees[edit]

Perhaps a way to get all these committees moving within the board AND bring in an outside perspective is to open up all the individual board committees with community members. They can have limited seats on these committees, and give an outside perspective. This can also help a couple of them get moving which have been in the planning stage for a while. Theo10011 (talk) 14:26, 14 November 2012 (UTC)

Yes. All committees can have community advisors or observers, and some are intended to be community-led. In addition to Affcom, this includes the proposed Events committee which could support / review global events work to support Wikimania and the like, and the proposed Sister Projects committee. SJ talk 

Initial brainstorming[edit]

(feel free to jump in and use this section as a discussion section)

Bylaw amendment consulting phase[edit]

  • Include an article in the bylaws that makes it obligatory to ask publicly for input on proposed changes to the bylaws, for example at least 1 month before the board meeting where there will be a vote. There should possibly be a loophole for emergency changes. Effeietsanders (talk) 17:50, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Perhaps it could even include some announcement procedure (at the announcement mailing list, in the Signpost?) Effeietsanders (talk) 18:26, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    It must. --Nemo 18:36, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    May be even a central sitenotice. The bylaws do not get changed so often and potentially may affect everybody. I read the Signpost on a regular basis, but I am not sure it is so popular outside English Wikipedia, and, besides, formally nobody can oblige the Signpost to publish any material, though in practice they probably will.--Ymblanter (talk) 21:37, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Let me make it a bit more specific: I suggest to make an change to the bylaws to the effect that a) the intended amendments have to be published on the Foundation website and other venues deemed appropriate at least 30 days before the meeting including reasons why the changes are wanted and b) the final version (if edited based on feedback) is published at least 10 days before the meeting. c) Community members can send between those two moments amendment proposals to the change which will be considered and voted upon if they are backed by at least one trustee. Effeietsanders (talk) 07:55, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
    Just how often are the bylaws getting changed? This is usually a once-every-few-years thing for most organizations. WhatamIdoing (talk) 18:30, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
    Based on the past few years that seems a roughly accurate estimate. Effeietsanders (talk) 21:49, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
    Do you believe that bylaws changes are actually a problem? WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:26, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
    Do you mean in general or are you speaking of the changes which were made? I'm completely sure they are in general; and there are also problems with specific changes, which would at least have used more scrutiny (which is the board's duty to solicit). --Nemo 12:12, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
    I'm thinking of the general case: Is this a big problem, or a minor irritation? (It is not the Board's duty to solicit outside scrutiny. It is their duty to make the decision that they believe best serves the organization.) WhatamIdoing (talk) 22:06, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
    I personally see this as a big problem. I understand you don't agree with this and I can imagine this from a historical perspective. However, at this point there is no safeguard at all for a small majority the board to go rogue and simply change the bylaws totally. While I do trust the current board members, I don't know who will be in the board in the future. Building in a safeguard to announce such intentions in advance, and requiring to ask for input at least allows the community an advance notice and opportunity to find ways to avoid it. I see advantages to such an early warning system - which at worst might cost the board some extra time to explain their reasoning. I haven't seen any major downsides yet to the proposal. And to be honest: I believe that in our movement, it should be the duty of our trustees to solicit input from our community on any major decision - but that is another discussion for below. Effeietsanders (talk) 23:21, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

Involving community in Board appointment procedure[edit]

  • Re-establish a clear appointment procedure, where at multiple points in the procedure, the community is consulted on for example criteria/profile and perhaps have one or two community members be a member of the selection committee (as advisory member?). Effeietsanders (talk) 17:50, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    This did come up at the past meeting. I would like to see something similar to the nominating process we had to identify someone for Bishakha's seat, perhaps as a subcommittee of the Board governance committee -- with community members, as before. However the process takes place, it should involve a lot of community input. (And those advisors should have access to all feedback from any recruiting firm that is used). SJ talk  19:07, 2 November 2012 (UTC)

Alice just made this page here, asking for people's input in what characteristics they'd like to see in Board members. I think it could be a great page, if people participate. It would help the Board in their deliberations related to the appointed seats, and would be useful for community members themselves as they embark on voting in the elections, and for the chapters when they are deliberating about the chapter-selected trustees. Sue Gardner (talk) 18:45, 10 November 2012 (UTC)

Surely it is a helpful page and a step in the right direction. At this place I'm however proposing a more general procedure which should be followed at all appointments of this type. In my opinion, also at re-appointments. I hope we can write down the good procedure and then follow it in the future. If the board was doing it anyway - the better! Effeietsanders (talk) 14:08, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

Set agendas transparently, collaboratively[edit]

The agenda power is the main power the president/chair has, whether used or not.

  • Any item/resolution on the agenda should clearly and truthfully indicate who proposed it and who seconded (and possibly amended) it to get it on the agenda. --Nemo 18:35, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    +1. I would say that anyone who wishes to be listed as a proposer can be; this does not need to be an exclusive list. SJ talk 
    Doesn't work. The majority of items on any agenda are not "proposed and seconded". That's what happens if you're making changes to the agenda in a formal meeting, not how you write it in the first place. It could also look pretty silly: Who's really going to formally "propose" and "second" that adopting the agenda, or approving the minutes, or receiving the treasurer's reports, or any number of obvious and necessary items, be on the agenda? WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:31, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
    I was thinking of resolutions. In practice, we do record who proposes and who seconds every resolution; we could simply publish that. This is not an indication of great importance, but it shows at least two people who wanted to move to vote on the topic. SJ talk  14:39, 11 November 2012 (UTC)
    It's normal for a resolution to be moved and seconded during a meeting (although there are other ways of running a committee meeting), but merely listing them on the agenda is not handled that way. It looks to me like Nemo wanted the mover and seconder to be listed on the agenda, i.e., in advance of anybody moving or seconding anything. WhatamIdoing (talk) 18:20, 11 November 2012 (UTC)
    I actually meant the publishing of the information which Sj mentions; I know it exists. Of course this works best if all proposals are really recorded and published, including so-called "pending resolutions" and failed resolutions, and semi-formal proposals which didn't even reach this status (here, on the contrary, I'm inventing because we don't know how the board works in such detail). --Nemo 12:23, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
  • The community should have the power to put items of any sort on the board's agenda, in a strict but clear way: for instance, no topic restrictions but a high bar for proposers, like 50/100/500 wikimedians eligible for stewards/board vote or 5/10/50 chapters. The board would then be forced to discuss and vote on the item, or get it addressed by whoever is responsible according to bylaws. --Nemo 18:35, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Currently the community suggests almost no items for the Board agendas. Let's start getting a stream of suggestions before installing a bar. Most suggestions can be sorted and resolved here on Meta (in my experience, judging from the requests that get posted to individual Trustee's talk pages, and sent via email). SJ talk 
    If the procedure is in place, this should have a deadline of two weeks before the meeting, so that the actual agenda can be prepared. It would be good to have the agenda also up for suggestions, for may be one or two days, but those suggestions should not amend it critically.--Ymblanter (talk) 21:41, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Sj, what do you mean "sorted and resolved" on Meta? Proposals to the board shouldn't require consensus, they can also come from a subset of the community. In order for such subsets to feel empowered to make proposals, you need to specify minimum requirements above which one can feel authorised to propose something. --Nemo 00:11, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
    Nemo, any individual can propose what they wish. No minimum requirement. Sorted and resolved: Most suggestions that are sent to individual trustees are about issues that are not actually handled by the board, but handled by other groups: community bodies, committees, public meta discussions, &c. The private requests I receive are mainly new project proposals, requests to resolve a content dispute, queries about approval status for a proto-chapter, suggestions for the next {survey, education program, Ada Lovelace Day}, ideas for wikimania, &c. Those should all be redirected to the responsible body. SJ talk  06:10, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
    You can already get items on the agenda. You just need a good idea and a nice note to the Board President. I wouldn't bother creating another process unless and until you can prove that the normal system isn't working. WhatamIdoing (talk) 17:51, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
    It is simpler than that: you just need a good idea and a public draft on the meeting page, or on wikimedia-l. But if you don't frame your idea in the language of a proposal or resolution, it is less likely to be voted on. The best way to propose a resolution is to draft one, in resolution language (that is: specific, brief, declarative language), on Meta. SJ talk  14:39, 11 November 2012 (UTC)
    This doesn't work. I reiterate what above: «In order for such subsets to feel empowered to make proposals, you need to specify minimum requirements above which one can feel authorised to propose something». Just saying "anybody can" means that nobody can, because you're giving no clue about what makes it actually happen. Of course the board won't vote on something I'm the only person in Wikimedia to care about. I'm also not sure that requiring the resolution to be provided ready to you is a reasonable requirement; but you see, it's already a requirement, and one people might not think of, or one it's only in your mind but not true for all board members; who knows? We need a clear process. --Nemo 12:23, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
    Okay, Nemo, here's a clear process: if you want something to be considered by a board member for possible inclusion on a future agenda, then click here and leave a nice note asking for your idea to be considered. Is that clear enough? Or did you actually mean, "you need to specify minimum requirements above which one can guarantee that the Board will discuss my proposal"? WhatamIdoing (talk) 22:09, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
    Now I begin to suspect that you're just trolling: above you said «nice note to the Board President», why are you suggesting another person now? Or perhaps, quoting you, you need to get a "understanding of the basic[s]" here? --Nemo 09:24, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
    There are currently multiple valid processes for making a proposal. You didn't seem to be able to handle "nice note to the Board President", so I have named for you another process. WhatamIdoing (talk) 03:36, 18 November 2012 (UTC)

Defining a process is a fair request. How about this: a wiki form that you fill out, including at least one other community member who thinks it is a good idea. It posts the request to a Meta page, say Proposals for the WMF Board. If this process produces too many requests, then we can increase the criteria for consideration after a few months. SJ talk  00:07, 16 November 2012 (UTC)

Why? Why not just say "If you want to make a proposal, then contact one of the Board members, through whatever means you choose?" WhatamIdoing (talk) 03:36, 18 November 2012 (UTC)
Because it is true that various people do currently do this, and don't get swift replies. (because they're asking for something that the Board doesn't actually handle, but they don't know that; because they chose a private method of communicating, which tends to maximize the delay in hearing back; because they did not make a "yessable" proposition and instead posed open questions with no clear answer) SJ talk  05:52, 20 November 2012 (UTC)
Do you think that they'll be happier if their suggestions are treated the same on a public, "official" forum? WhatamIdoing (talk) 11:42, 22 November 2012 (UTC)

Communicating with the Board[edit]

As far as I am aware, there is no clear and easy way to contact members of the Board either individually or as a whole. Let's look at the Board page on Foundation Wiki. Most of the members have their names linked to user pages, Kat's is the English Wikipedia so an experienced Wikimedian would then be able to use the "email this user" function to contact Kat. However, Bishakha Datta doesn't have such a link for her name and it's possible that user looking to contact the board, or even individual board members may not have figured out how to use the "email this user" function, meaning they would be unable to contact who they were trying to contact.

I recently was made aware of the Board-l mailing list, which, according to the auto reject message I received, is a "private mailing list used by Board members to communicate with each other." Upon further questioning I got a "The list is reserved for issues requiring full-board attention." response, but the mailing list address isn't publicly published and so most people wouldn't know how best to communicate with the Board. I'm not suggesting that we immediately publish the mailing list address which could bombard the Board with questions, but increasing awareness of the list may be a good way to increase communication.

I note that I sent a follow up email asking about this on September 12 to the list owners, which is 7 out of the 10 board members (everyone excluding Alice, Patricio and Matt), but still haven't received a response, demonstrating that perhaps a more public forum such as a Board noticeboard may also be helpful to ensure questions to the Board are answered in a timely manner, either by WMF staff/community members or better still, by members of the Board themselves. Thehelpfulone 19:15, 2 November 2012 (UTC)

I've realized that not even our mail-addresses are published in the board's page. That would be ok if there were a general mail-address to get in contact with the board. As soon as I've understood there once was a general board-address but no process about how to deal with the incoming mails. I've not yet discussed this with the board but hope to find a solution soon. --Alice Wiegand (talk) 19:43, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
A noticeboard is a good idea; I've set one up at Board noticeboard. Public discussion is almost always better than private discussion (this holds for most of the private mail I get as a Trustee, which rarely needs to be private). I'm not sure a new message-the-board private mailing list is the right solution.
One option: ask people to use the noticeboard whenever possible, and ask one person to serve as ombudsman to respond to or pass on private communication. A "contact the Board" link could default to adding a noticeboard thread, with a note offering the ombudsman email as a private alternative. –SJ talk  20:07, 2 November 2012 (UTC) An OTRS queue is also fine. There may be one already, gathering dust. <checks> yes, there it is. Though I don't seem to have access to it, only enough to see it exists. I wonder when is the last time someone wrote into it, and who reads it. 20:11, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
The OTRS queue is closed. Due to OTRS system restrictions there is no information available about the who, when and why. Alice Wiegand (talk) 20:16, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
I don't remember the exact who and when, but I do remember the why. The board address in OTRS was ridden with spam (I used to have access to it before it was closed) and the occasional legitimate email that came through was usually some lunatic wanting to save their page from deletion. I do not recall (m)any actual email trying to address the board as a whole the whole time I monitored it. It has been closed many years ago, at a time where the board was probably more active as a whole on mailing lists to start with, and around on irc and such. notafish }<';> 22:53, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
There are talk pages as well, in particular, on Meta. I do not think I ever had problems contacting SJ, for instance.--Ymblanter (talk) 21:43, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
Noticeboards tend to be abandoned, but you can try. Public requests are not always appropriate, which is why we have so many OTRS queues; it would be trivial for the board to set up one, reassuring people that nobody outside the board will read messages, and use it to avoid forgetting emails sent to the mailing list (in several years, I've often heard of people writing but never of someone getting an answer). --Nemo 00:28, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
We're reenabling the old board OTRS queue, so we can start using that again for this purpose. SJ talk 

Language is the most important barrier to communication within the Wikimedia movement[edit]

All papers, discussions, etc. must be published/held at least in the most common languages within the Wikimedia movement. The concentration on English is the main barrier to participation by the vast majority of Wikimedians who are not English-speaking. We need a truly multi-lingual Wikimedia. And a Wikimedia movement that does not focus on English Wikipedia in the first place.--Aschmidt (talk) 22:16, 2 November 2012 (UTC)

  • This would be great of course but who is going to translate all of them? In my volunteer capacity, I am trying to translate every month the Wikimedia Highlights, and this takes at least a full day, about as much as I can afford. And I am translating them into a language with about 250 million speakers. Before I started, the highlights were not translated to this language.--Ymblanter (talk) 22:55, 2 November 2012 (UTC)
    Aschmidt is right. For a global organization of our size and scope, it is rare to have only monolingual communications, and we are happily moving away from this. I would start by requiring {De, En, Es, Fr, Zh} and strongly recommending/supporting {Ar, Hi, Ru} for all major work of the Board and WMF. For me that means
    1. Community-wide votes (doing this since at least 2004)
    2. Annual Plan (doing this since 2011)
    3. Monthly highlights (doing this as of 2012)
    4. Strategic Plans (for the existing 5-yr plan: not done yet afaik)
    5. Board resolutions (not done yet)
    The volume of strategic work and Board resolutions is not so great; we can outsource this until we have built up community capacity for it. But we should also invest in a more active community translation network, working with Project Lingua, etc. -- interlanguage services are a major aspect of breaking down this barrier. SJ talk  00:00, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
    In the past years we have seen several board resolutions with FAQ attached. Would you also imagine those FAQ's to be translated? Often they seem critical to understanding what the board is actually trying to say (which could also be accomplished of course by less dense resolution drafting of course). Effeietsanders (talk) 08:02, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
    Those tend to be wordy. There should be an executive summary that is well translated; enough for people to see if they want to request full translation. All documents should be open to translation on demand; we might make it easier to start that process without knowing how translate templates work here. SJ talk  17:15, 7 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Given that the Foundation doesn't seem to do too badly for money, maybe a bit (more) of it could go to paying for translation, if there aren't enough volunteers available. There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing: grow the other language communities, and you'll probably get more volunteer translators. Rd232 (talk) 22:39, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
  • I suggested it before (it went down really well...): merge Meta and Commons. Two reasons: (i) Commons' multilingualism, whilst imperfect, is much better than Meta's. (ii) as long as we don't have global watchlists (will we ever?), merging these two transproject projects will bring activity benefits. Rd232 (talk) 22:43, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
    We are adding new transproject(s) instead: WikiData. What is it about Commons setup that you would like to see here? Yes, global (messages, watchlists, RC) are very important. I think "ever?" yes :) but in a year? that would probably require some new group to take interest in the idea. SJ talk  14:39, 11 November 2012 (UTC)
    How is Commons' multilingualism better? In too many ways to really explain. One concrete example: on Commons, many of the gadget descriptions are translated into different languages - it's a part of the interface and this is felt to be important and people try to do it. On Meta, how many are translated into German? zero. French? zero. Spanish? zero. That just gives you a sense of the disparity - please don't think that importing the gadget descriptions would substantially narrow the linguistic infrastructure deficit. See also commons:Commons:Localization. Rd232 (talk) 03:20, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

Draft more Board resolutions on Meta[edit]

The majority of Board resolutions are routine: approvals of chapters and minutes, approvals of annual plans. The discussions that go into them may not be - one could have a private discussion page in addition to the public discussion page (so the Board could continue to have a private forum for discussion including topics that are not yet public, while the community as a whole has a public talkpage about the same draft). This year the Board has started to draft some of its resolutions in this way, and the ED has started to draft recommendations submitted to the Board for approval this way also. For example, the following were all voted on for approval by the Board after drafting on Meta:

We could formalize this a bit better, making it clear what the pipeline of Board resolutions is, including routine resolutions as well, categorizing resolutions under active consideration, and noting the timeframe for voting on each. Currently this level of detail is on the board wiki only. Suggestions for how to make this most visible to other Meta users are welcome. SJ talk  00:16, 3 November 2012 (UTC)

First suggestion to make it more visible and effective: clarify roles and process, reduce intermediation. Except committees' work, we've seen only "private pages" owned by a single person, accompanied by talk pages with unclear purposes (mostly useless, if you compare them to e.g. Talk:Terms of use which oddly enough is not in your list). If something is a board resolution draft, then the board (the chair?) should own the draft and run the discussion. This will be easier if all resolutions are drafted or notified and discussed on Meta, so that it's clear what they are (rather than random pages here and there which pop up according to winds of the moment). --Nemo 00:38, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
Perhaps a header can add suitable categories, and note how to get involved with a draft. Talk page comments are always welcome, but need to be replied to. SJ talk  20:02, 3 November 2012 (UTC)

Publishing major proposals for feedback ahead of the meeting[edit]

I need your help to word this more specifically, but I'm looking for major discussion proposals to be publicly available /before/ the meeting so that the community can give feedback and join in the drafting process too. I mean pieces like Sue's Narrowing Focus letter, the board decision regarding the fundraising capacity of the chapters and the acceptance of the annual budget. I would like the board to publish such pieces at least ~10 days before the meeting (I think this would also beneficial to the boards own preparation) although of course changes should remain possible after that point (especially if based on feedback!). But where to draw the line? Which pieces are important enough to ask community input for? Effeietsanders (talk) 08:00, 7 November 2012 (UTC)

Annual plan is quite an interesting one, actually. WMDE has been doing this for 2 years now, inviting members and non members to events across the country to discuss the annual plan and propose amendments. The 'Final draft' (presented at these events) is also put up for discussion on the WMDE forum (registration open to all, pages not public except for registered users). We haven't had mega tons of feedback, but we've had extremely useful and interesting feedback from all sorts of people (donors, active community members, active WMDE members etc.). notafish }<';> 22:59, 8 November 2012 (UTC)
Perhaps the major pieces that would benefit from detailed discussion can be posted in draft form a few weeks out - similar to how Sue has been drafting some of these pieces in public. And minor pieces can be posted 7-10 days out in public, as they are sent to the Board; for information rather than for input. SJ talk  15:40, 9 November 2012 (UTC)
Thanks notafish for mentioning that: in particular, I really loved the idea of sebmol's tour across Germany (since when he first told me about it; nice to see it worked). Too bad it's impossible to do something like that for the WMF, of course. The annual plan seems something which would use at least a couple months of public discussion, but it depends on how long the WMF works on it. --Nemo 12:31, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
I think SJ's suggestion is a good one. Maybe we could even make it more general: that each proposal that is sent to the board *in principle* will be published (exceptions are always possible, but in that case I expect an explanation why it wasn't published). But I agree that the drafting processes by Sue were insightful. I embrace that procedure, and hope that we can make it default practice also for future drafts and people. Effeietsanders (talk) 14:14, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

Continuous community input[edit]

Every year when Board seats come up for appointment, election, or selection, there is a brief discussion about Board composition - what makes a good Trustee and an effective Board and an effective WMF. There is also sometimes a bit of temporary infrastructure set up around selection: an election committee for votes (from community members; or from the chapters for their own vote) or for compiling a shortlist for the appointed seats (made up of Board members, sometimes with community involvement as on NomCom). And there is discussion about what the WMF does or should do.

This is all fairly reactive: none of these groups formed are standing bodies, and most of these discussions don't continue throughout the year. It would be great to have some sort of continual input into these processes -- and for them not to be so segregated from one another. Things that should be discussed and reviewed regularly, not just under time pressure:

  • Qualities of a good WMF: what support do the projects need, how the Foundation can provide it
  • Transparent processes: general guidelines for transparent governance, community role in providing input, context, continuity
  • Traits of a good trustee (and related material from the board manual)
  • Skills needed on the Board - this should change continuously, even when no seats are available : in which case we can help current Trustees develop new skills, or find other creative solutions.
  • Definitions of suffrage and participation : who gets to participate in decisionmaking (cf referanda ideas above); and in selection for each type of seat. Even for appointed seats: are community members part of the nominating team, as they were on NomCom; &c.
  • Who we would like to have as Trustees if only they were available (for appointments or advisory board members)

A community forum or group that focuses on these governance issues, and is constant over time, seems missing. Even this page only touches on a subset of these issues for the WMF, and only a few people participate. I'd like to see ideas for how we could make this an ongoing process. SJ talk  16:03, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

  • I think a good starting point would be a number of essays on global governance, translated and popularized in the project. Usually users have no idea why the WMF is needed at all, and what its authority is (it is not uncommon for instance for a user blocked for a week for trolling on Russian Wikipedia to threaten to appeal this block with the Board).--Ymblanter (talk) 12:07, 10 November 2012 (UTC)
    Do you see any of the current essays that would make a good start for popularizing? Perhaps some blog posts on the topic that haven't been put on the wiki? <channels Phoebe> SJ talk 
  • Sounds excellent SJ! I would love it as well if board members would pose non-urgent questions to the community in an effective way every now and then. However, to make that constructive and effective, we would need a better forum indeed than we have currently. As you can see from this page and previous discussions, it is a pretty small group that is talking, and there's little representation probably. I would like it if we could find a process that an Executive Director of Board Member would feel comfortable to use to simply ask input on a question without getting an overload of discussion going in all directions. What about some kind of focus group which is regularly renewed, consisting of Wikimedian community members evenly spread over communities? Effeietsanders (talk) 14:19, 13 November 2012 (UTC)

Software features[edit]

Regarding new Mediawiki software features, I would like to see the Wikimedia Foundation change from a central decision making headquarter for hundreds of wikis (as exemplified in the development and roll-out of the Vector skin) into a kind of laboratory that finances, creates and offers solutions, but completely leaves it to the communities whether to implement these solutions or not -- and if so, when and in what configuration. I would like to see a much greater share of the donation money go into the development of nice small software features. Each such new feature should be first implemented in its own "test wiki". Once it is mature, it should be officially released as "available". Users can then play with the new feature in the test wiki and see how they like it. Communities that decide they want to have the feature will then be assisted in importing, activating and configuring it.

I imagine this could help greatly improve the picture that we (the communities) have of the Wikimedia Foundation -- from "the guys over there in the U.S. that have the power and decide over all their wikis, including ours" to "the guys over there in the U.S. that leave individual decisions to the communities but give them technical support and assistance". --Neitram (talk) 16:07, 12 November 2012 (UTC)

Or, in other words, I suggest we change from a "push" system to a "pull" system. No new feature should be rolled out to communities that have not requested it. This includes all but minor bugfixes too (because all too often, bugfixes change the user interface in some way and not all communities may be happy with how it was done). --Neitram (talk) 12:14, 19 November 2012 (UTC)
Nicely put. There are a lot of features hanging in the wings that don't get implemented because it's not known that they can scale efficiently to the largest wikis. Having features that are 'available' for only small wikis until they have been scale-tested would be another way to support all of the smaller wikis / sister projects at once. SJ talk  07:53, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
Yes, that would be another useful side effect. --Neitram (talk) 11:54, 19 November 2012 (UTC)
I see this in terms of the community having some say over how some of the development money is allocated (which things are prioritised with it). Sadly, the rumours are more in the opposite direction, in terms of Bugzilla "votes" not just being ignored for prioritisation but the "votes" being renamed (eg to "subscribe to updates" or some similar concept) to make it clear that they don't mean anything... I've said for years that some kind of dedicated forum for discussion of tech development issues that links with Bugzilla would really help. Bugzilla isn't going away, I suppose, as a means for tracking bugs, but it's absolutely shockingly awful as a means to discuss all but the simplest of issues. Rd232 (talk) 03:26, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

I dont like the idea proposed in this section. I like reading a wikipedia in one language and then switching to another one and finding a very similar page! Dont change this!--92.193.21.181 11:15, 17 December 2012 (UTC)