Comments from trustee Alice Wiegand on appointment of Arnnon Geshuri/en
- Please note, Alice Wiegand called attention to the challenges of translating the word "Schweigen" -- which denotes more than merely "silence." This translation is a collaborative effort among several Wikimedians, and may not fully capture the meaning of the original.
No, we have not had a good run as the board of the WMF. Our latest decisions surprise the community, and are incomprehensible. A lack of understanding, disappointment, helplessness and anger are growing, and have finally led to a vote of non-confidence.
And the board remains silent.
What appears to many as further proof of disconnection of the WMF, and especially of the board, from the community, is in my opinion the culmination of issues resulting from a lack of appropriate communication. Neither intent, nor indifference, is at the core. That doesn't make it any better, that's obvious.
Take the discussion about the appointment of Arnnon Geshuri. After the announcement, that from 1 January 2016 we will have two Americans on the board, with Kelly Battles and Arnnon Gehuri, whose professional career included companies from the Silicon Valley, the first criticism was a failure to prioritise diversity. Soon after, a community member raised Arnnon's complicity in a collusion within major tech-companies like Google, Apple and Intel in a non-poaching agreement for employees in open discussion.
And Bingo - caught on the wrong foot.
While the community soon reached their verdict, the board first had to come to grips with the situation. What facts do we have, what does Arnnon say, why wasn't this considered during the selection? Would it have made any difference, if the Board Governance Committee (?) had known beforehand? Should we have sent a short mail during this time, to show we followed the discussion and were examining the case, but needed a bit more time before we could make a statement? Yes, we could have, and should have done that.
If I have to organise the thicket of my thoughts to reach a conclusion, and am getting nowhere, I usually go for a run in the woods, relax in a bath, or listen to loud music. In complex cases like this, one or all of these three things are needed, one after the other. In a board, where the members are distributed in different areas, different time zones and with language barriers, unfortunately this does not work. Suddenly you are in a vacuum, where it is completely nebulous whether to say something as a board, what is the key issue, whether a response should be a short notice or an elaborate communique. Should we have sent at least a short mail at this stage? Yes. But nobody did.
The silence settled and became more independent every day. It paralysed, unsettled and damaged. Not only the board and the organisation behind it, but the culture of debate as a whole. But it's difficult. Following discussions in different places not only eats time, but energy. With every mail and post you expose yourself to public anger, discussions focused on the person not the cause, and sometimes questions with an irritating tone of interrogation. Shouldn't you endure such stuff as a board member? No, my understanding of respectful mutual treatment is different; and I think such expectations are out of touch with reality.
I do not like a lot of the current discussion. It quite clearly shows how the community reacts to our decisions, how much it fears, that crucial changes are enforced without their input, and how much trust in the board has gone. Some of the discussion is based on wrong assumptions of the nature and range of the board decisions. Which shows that we have not succeeded in communicating our self-image as a board, our duty or our vision.
In discussion about Arnnon's appointment we are preparing a statement, and Arnnon will include his own words. The priority is for us to get our act together, to move away from navel-gazing, towards meaningful questions around free knowledge. As a board we have to ask ourselves, why we rarely involve ourselves in fundamental discussions, where our input should and will have impact, and how we can work together with the communities, so that we jointly benefit and have civilised discussions even when controversial.
I take all of this seriously, and it remains my goal to contribute. I know that while I spend my free time in Hangouts, mailing lists and on the telephone, elsewhere articles for the Wikipedias are written and improved. A huge number of people are achieving this, and the majority are not interested in whether a board of the WMF exists or not.