IRC office hours/Office hours 2021-04-17
The Community Resilience & Sustainability team (CR&S) at the Wikimedia Foundation is hosting a new office hour led by its Vice President Maggie Dennis. Topics within scope for this call included Movement Strategy coordination (recently transferred to CR&S), Trust and Safety (and the Universal Code of Conduct), Community Development, and Human Rights. Questions were sent in advance or asked during the office hour.
This call was streamed and is available on-demand at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAViQrKT4cI
We hosted this office hour on Zoom, took questions from the Zoom chat, Telegram, IRC (#wikimedia-office), and YouTube, as well as collecting them in advance over email. You could send your questions now (in any language) to answerswikimedia.org.
We will fielded questions from Wikimedians in good standing (that is, not Foundation or community banned) and followed up with anything we couldn't get to during the meeting in writing after the call.
Maggie Dennis, Vice President of Community Resilience & Sustainability, a division of the Legal Department at the Wikimedia Foundation, hosted the office hour. Maggie oversees the functions of Community Development, Trust & Safety Policy, Trust & Safety Operations, Human Rights protection, and, since April 2021, Movement Strategy.
As in previous calls, there is an important note from Maggie:
- I can't and won't discuss specific Trust & Safety cases. Instead, I can discuss Trust & Safety protocols and practices and approaches as well as some of the mistakes we've made, some of the things I'm proud of, and some of the things we're hoping to do.
- I will not respond to comments or questions that are disrespectful to me, to my colleagues, or to anyone in our communities. I can talk civilly about our work even if you disagree with me or I disagree with you. I won't compromise on this.
Questions and Answers
The recording of the Office Hour is available on Youtube. In the following, you can find a cleaned up, written version of all questions and answers.
Questions received beforehand / during the office hour (and answered during the office hour)
- What’s going on with the Trust & Safety case review committee? Is their term being renewed? Do you have statistics about their review outcomes?
- As many of you will remember, this is a committee that was created to hear appeals to Trust & Safety cases and we had somewhat hoped to have the Universal Code of Conduct enforcement pathways completed by the end of this fiscal year (end of June), but this is not where we are at the moment. Because of that that there because of that we would like to ask this interim committee to continue their work with us until we know what the permanent process looks like and can put out another call for volunteers. As for statistics, there are regular quarterly reports with full details (latest report).
- Quim posted there would be 2k$ grants for the strategy process. On what conditions will IGC members be eligible for such a grant?
- There is a work in progress to set up Rapid Grants specifically for movement strategy. There will be an announcement soon. The application process will be smooth and easy.
- Community Resources will likely be closely involved, but the exact details would come later.
- Do you think that cross-community ratification of the UCoC will be important for getting the communities to accept it? Are there any plans to have a discussion about what that ratification would look like?
- We need to think carefully about how to best do this in a way that meets the needs of different communities and individuals. It’s important for everyone to come together in a process that works, but we are not sure how it would look like. To be discussed.
- Presently, grant agreements with affiliate require from groups to have a safety policy and process for events. Will the UCoC create more requirements and responsibilities for affiliates when running events or meetups?
- There may be more requirements for running events in the future, but no such requirements are clearly defined yet. I think that the important thing that we'll all need to keep in mind is the intention of these policies is to make sure that participants are safe everywhere in our movement and where we see gaps to address that.
- I am interested to be on the Movement Charter drafting team. Where should I express that? How and where can someone nominate themselves for IGC and help draft a movement charter? Who will recruit and select members?
- There have been several proposals, so far, regarding how to form the Movement Charter drafting committee. In about a week, we expect to provide an answer to those proposals regarding the first steps in forming the committee, which we hope to set up by the end of June 2021.
- The selection of members is to be openly discussed along with the rest of the process and scope of the committee.
- Wikimedia Deutschland posted a letter on Meta about compensating volunteers from emerging and marginalized communities so that they can take part in these important councils and drafting processes. What are the intentions around that?
- I really came back into movement strategy quite recently so I’m still getting up to speed on a lot of the conversations that have been had; people are helping me understand some of the challenges that participants in some of our communities are having in terms of taking part in these important conversations because of their inability to do so without some form of compensation.
- There are open questions regarding the letter that are yet to be answered and research to be done. For example, how would we deliver money to people in more restricted regions? What is clear to me is figuring out this question is a top priority, as we cannot form a Charter drafting committee until we understand challenges and resources for its members.
- Some harassment is organized off-wiki by organized groups or forums. How can the system help review situations that might span hundreds of interactions, or involve many users?
- I think that’s a really good question and one that we have to solve collectively. Off-wiki challenges are some of the biggest ones. We need better systems of review for such challenges, for which there could be, as one possibility, a council or an arbitration committee that resolves problems and issues as they arise.
- Is there an interim ED/CEO, and (2) when are Board of Trustees elections expected?
- There’s a Transition Team in the Wikimedia Foundation working with the Board of Trustees to help manage the transition into the next ED. It includes Amanda Keton (present in this call), Jaime Villagomez (CFO),and Robyn Arville (Chief of Talent & Culture).
- In terms of Board elections, there should be an announcement or news very soon. I know the Board met last week.
- In the strategy recommendations, it was envisioned an Interim Global Council would be tasked (among other things) with drafting a Movement Charter. Is that still the intention?
- My understanding is that some of the thinking around that is evolving and that there are some people who have proposed that we move straight into the movement charter drafting committee rather than going through the process of figuring out what an interim global council would look like. I will tell you all honestly, to me that makes sense. I think it makes sense to have people who are experts in policy and focused on policy come in and define what the charter would be for the global council and then to look for people who match the needs.
- They also asked for a commitment for grants for strategic initiatives through the Community Resources team in your current annual plan. Are there plans for that?
- We are in annual planning right now for those of you who don't know it is one of the busiest seasons at the foundation so there's a lot of work and discussions going on. My intention is to submit a request for the grants; whether and how the Community Resources team is going to be involved in that is still being determined. I think there's still a lot of questions to be answered around that in the next few weeks.
- What can the WMF/T&S do anything with we need the WMF to act in the real world, to work with ISPs, legal, PR, tech, admins, and editors, in order to get individuals off the site when on-wiki sanctions, including permabans, just don't succeed?
- Working with our Legal Team, there are opportunities to work with ISPs, in cases of long-term abuses, to resolve those issues. There are some occasions when we have worked with law enforcement when there are long-term abusers. The WMF has probably not explored PR options yet: publicity around bad behavior allows it to gain attention. It’s recommended to be careful with using PR as a potentially double-edged sword with abuses.
- I remember years ago when I started at the foundation, we had recently done some work with Gavin de Becker who wrote “The Gift of Fear” which talks about what to do with stalkers and harassers. One of the things that they recommend is that you don't give them oxygen at all, because when you do, it encourages more of them to flourish. So I think we'd have to think very carefully about the balance between using PR to stop long-term abuse versus not using PR to encourage long-term abuse.
- It seems that a number of us feel the Community Tech team has rather limited resources. How as volunteers could we advocate for that team getting more resources?
- I would say by participating in the community tech processes to help them understand what the priorities are. Also, by giving your comment on the annual plan proposals as they start coming out making sure that we recognize gaps in tech more globally and make sure that we prioritize the work that is needed.
- Do you have any plans to increase the awareness about the Board’s work across the communities?
- Our communications department is submitting a request to focus programmatically this coming year on increasing understanding of what the Movement is doing which will certainly increase understanding of the Board’s role. The Board has recently created a Community Affairs Committee, and they’re very interested in how the community can learn more about their work.
- What's left for me to do if I want to get involved in Movement Strategy?
- As I think about it: Movement Strategy is relevant to everything we do. It is the water we swim in, it is the air we breathe, everything we all do all the time should working towards the Movement Strategy. If it’s really our Strategy, then it’s our focus. Not all volunteers may be interested in movement strategy in its abstract form, but various volunteer contributions (e.g. content gaps, skill-building, etc.) are effectively contributing to strategy.
- On the other hand, the strategy presents some major structural questions, such as the hubs and governance. There are also big externally facing components we have to deal with: How do we make sure that knowledge is complete in regions of the world where it's currently underrepresented? You can be involved in Strategy either by contributing to those big conversations or by doing the hands-on work.
- One of the hopes that I have is that by the end of next [fiscal] year we're going to have ways for people to plug into Movement Strategy that is from the highest level to the lowest. I would like to make it very easy for people to do important movement work at every level.
- With regards to regional representation, we have been hearing that regional representation, eventually with hubs, might take place. I have also been following discussions on the grants strategy relaunch, in which there is a discussion on regional representation. Are you and the grants team agreeing on what these regions are or are these two processes --in which the idea of regions is being conceived-- independent of each other?
- Probably not everyone is connecting together, although we are working towards better results. There are arguments both for and against regional “clustering”, there were discussions about grouping regions into structures for financial support. Regions could, though, limit people’s abilities to cross-collaborate and work independently outside arbitrary silos.
- Will the Universal Code of Conduct be "forced" on communities that oppose and don't sign it?
- If a community (not an individual) has a problem with the CoC, the question really is: how do we evaluate this problem and whether it’s related to its local context, or to a refusal of adhering to healthy behavior? We are at a point where we, as a global community, have to agree on ways to resolve such issues.
- Have there been talks to improve the OTRS system and make it more efficient?
- OTRS is a software, for which Wikimedia is the largest user globally, and even its programmers are not always able to support Wikimedia. The support for the community-OTRS will be stopped, and so there will be an immediate security issue forcing migration to different software. The movement, at large, does not know how to deal with the OTRS system, and some languages are completely excluded. There should be better systems to work together with the volunteer response teams.
- Some conduct problems are the result of stress and mental health challenges. Would the Foundation consider providing mental health support services for volunteers?
- I’d say we do not offer enough yet, and in fact, that is something we’ve been actively talking about and thinking about supporting the well-being and mental health of volunteers dealing with serious terrorism issues, victims of harassment, among others.
- There is a concern about the need for experts to deal with mental health issues. This is being closely considered and handled by the Foundation team, which provides links to trained professionals who are capable of handling those situations.
- Open-ended question out of pure curiosity: What do you feel are the areas where Trust and Safety have the most room for improvement?
- People often don’t realize that Trust & Safety are two divisions (soon three): So we have Trust & Safety operation, who are the people who address issues that occur on our sites they work very closely with our legal team (while we're in the legal team now). They work very closely with the lawyers on our legal team to make sure that we are maintaining the essential conditions to keep the media going.
- Then we have Trust & Safety policy, which is working towards policy evolution to ensure that we do have good clear policies and that everyone has equal and equitable access to systems of empowerment and justice.
- Then we are building out a new disinformation wing whose job it will be to work with communities to help them from targeted disinformation campaigns.
- i suspect the question is referring to “operations” because I think that is what people think about first when they think Trust and Safety. I want to start also by saying my trust and safety people rock! I know them, I know the hard job they have; I know the stress that it puts them under. I have been with them through the threats they've received from people, some of whom are very bad people, and nothing I say is meant to be in any way critical of them.
- So it is difficult for us to communicate properly with people in all circumstances quickly and efficiently and compassionately. There's a lot of work they always have a full table of work to do and when people are in distress either because they feel they've been harassed or because they've just learned that someone else thinks they've been harassing them, they need a lot of time and emotional support and care -- sometimes more than we have the time or the training to offer. So we are working with the trust and safety operations team to continue to improve this capacity, to bring them the support they need to have these delicate communications while also being able to focus on processing the constant workflows.
- The other area where I see that we really need to improve is, I think, one of the biggest threats we face around the Universal Code of Conduct and Trust & Safety in our movement, are people not necessarily feeling like it is fair. I think probably everybody listening to me will agree that there is no perfect system of justice in this world; it is something that we constantly strive to achieve. It is important to me that our trust & safety staff be given every opportunity to be fair and to be seen as fair, which means that I would like to create a better world where the people who are accused of misbehavior trust that that accusation is being handled fairly with compassion and with understanding for the stress of taking part in this movement. I don't want anybody to be afraid that some arbitrary hand of law is going to smash down and knock them away from doing work that is important to us. I myself believe that all of us have room to improve and how we treat each other and that everyone should be given every opportunity to engage usefully and collegially in this environment and that means not necessarily being penalized for a first instance. On the other hand, I also want everybody in our movement who has been abused by someone else to know that they will have the support and care they need to be safe here
- How can Wikimedia affiliates engage in implementing initiatives of the Movement Strategy? For whom do we have to wait or get approval?
- Affiliates are uniquely able to mobilize Wikimedians in certain areas to work on projects. This role could be particularly useful for certain initiatives. There will be ongoing discussions about implementation, especially of Movement Charter, that we hope to have affiliates actively participating in. I hope that affiliates will also come thinking about the needs of users that don't yet exist.
- How can volunteers help with the translation of Board election materials in local wikis and is there any support which will be provided to volunteers to aid this translation work?
- There will be an affirmation regarding the elections soon. We should be thinking seriously about these elections and whom we want to be representing us, let us be thoughtful about who we engage with and who has the qualifications to support our mission.
- Both Multiple contractors/staff and editors active in the strategy discussions are saying that we are being overwhelmed and unable to participate actively in all the ongoing major discussions. For over a year now, we have had multiple "tier one" topics (not just significant, but critical issues) that demand interaction and that look set to continue. This pace is reducing feedback (we can always stop, but then we miss out on rendering our voices on crucial topics). Do you have any thoughts on reducing this issue?
- I will say that in my years of the foundation it's one big important topic after another and I know it's exhausting. There are days when things show up in my inbox and I just find myself thinking “Where am I going to find the energy to deal with this?”. I always try to keep conscious of the fact with volunteers that this is their spare time that people are giving us this is in addition to everything else. That means the burden on them is even higher and the responsibility is on us to make sure that it's not overwhelming.
- The Foundation has been working on pulling together the “community-facing” teams to coordinate and space out their consultations. Aspiring to give people the space to engage thoughtfully. We are trying to get things that are critical to be done on time while being best conscious of the volunteer's ability to keep up.
- I think it's probably important for us to build in opportunities to “pause”; for example, the Universal Code of Conduct. It had been our original goal to wrap up both phases in one fiscal year and we put in a “pause” on phase 1 when it was apparent that it was overwhelming people. Now we put in a pause on phase 2 for the same reason to build in more space. “Pause” is a wrong word because we didn't stop we just built in more flexibility for the deadline so um we are trying to get better.
- How would the foundation reach out to the communities that had not been engaged in any of the movement-wide activities, discussions, processes because of time zone, no affiliate, language barriers?
- There has been tremendous improvement in reaching out to different communities. Liaisons and other means of cross-linguistic and cross-project engagement have helped intentionally find people where they are.
- How will the UCOC help encourage active modeling of good behavior and reduce the tolerance for negative behaviors?
- Let me give you an example: When I first came into this meeting, before it even started, Cornelius was here said “Maggie, please add your pronouns” and I didn't understand a few years ago why this mattered to some people. I didn't understand the way that my following this best practice would make it feel safer for people who live in a world that challenges the pronouns they use. Cornelius has been asked by participants of previous meetings he's facilitated to encourage this and does so.
- Another example: DerHexer kindly reminds me to speak slowly. People who don’t speak English as a native language can have a hard time understanding if I get excited and speak fast, and I have forgotten that often. DerHexer and I have a friendly history on speaking foreign languages so that he became bold enough to kindly ask for talking slower for the sake of other non-native speakers although he is likely still able to follow. I try to do that.
- The Code of Conduct by helping us understand the behaviors that make other people feel safe will allow us to intentionally take up those safe behaviors.
- I really hope that what it will help us realize is what matters to other people to feel safe and to intentionally choose to behave in ways that increase that.
- So what is something in all of this that's really really encouraging you in the forward since you have been around for so long?
- Since we only have one minute I'm going to try to keep it very high level. I am very excited by the amount of passion and the amount of care that people have for the work we do. So the fact that people are coming together to have these hard conversations excites me because it would be easy to pick up a hobby that doesn't involve this and yet I think the Wikimedia movement is one of the most important and powerful things in the world. I know there are some people who think I'm overselling that but I swear: When I was a little girl all I wanted was to know everything. I haunted my library interlibrary loan and now there's the internet and the Wikimedia movement is creating knowledge banks for kids like I was. I can't think of anything better than that so I am so grateful that there are so many people who care about this.
Questions we didn’t get to and so are writing responses to now….
- When searching for a new CEO of WMF: is familiarity with the Movement Strategy a criterion for choosing the CEO?
- While I’m not on the search committee for the new CEO, I would put good money on the likelihood that a good candidate will put in the work to understand the movement before they even get to the finals. I’ve been on search committees for other executives, and the interview process is generally pretty rigorous. I expect that there will also be some very intense onboarding to fill in any gaps!
- At the moment there are states in the world that received only a little amount of the Coronavirus vaccines that were produced until now. Some people think one reason is the patents for the vaccines. Do you Maggie think that open access to that vaccines can help? The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is free knowledge for all humans.
- For clarity, the mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. I remember that mission because one of my favorite things is that we are here to support the PEOPLE who do the work and to make sure that the work is accessible to everyone. Of all the things I like the most in the world, people rank pretty highly - and I regard it as a pretty big honor that my job is in service to them. :)
- That said, free and open information is also something I like quite a lot. That’s what first drew me to Wikimedia when I was one of the people who did the work of creating and curating knowledge resources directly. A pass time I hope someday in my future when I’m not working so much, to do again, with gusto.
- I would like to live in a world where information is freely available to everyone and especially essential life-saving information.
- I do understand the intentions behind patents, just like I understand the intentions behind copyrights. I understand that organizations that create vaccines pay people to do this and pay for the manufacture and hence have an incentive to make money off of that work. I understand that without that incentive, they might not bother developing life-saving vaccines but instead turn their attention to income-generating work. I wish there was a better way. :( Nobody should have to die so somebody else can have money to put food on their own table.
- That said, I also think there’s a huge role in free information to help save lives in this crisis in other ways - including fair, free, and accurate information about infection rates and safety practices. In my own country, I see people refusing to take the vaccine because they believe rumors about how vaccines work in general, or about how these vaccines work in specific.