IRC office hours/Office hours 2022-11-10
The Community Resilience & Sustainability (CR&S) team at the Wikimedia Foundation is hosting a new conversation meeting (‘previously called ‘Office Hour’) led by its Vice President Maggie Dennis. Topics within scope for this call include Movement Strategy, Board Governance, Trust and Safety (and the Universal Code of Conduct), Community Development, and Human Rights. Come with your questions or feedback, and let’s talk! You can also send us your questions in advance.
The meeting will take place on November 10 at 14:00 UTC (check your local time).
This call will be streamed and available on-demand at Youtube
We will host this office hour on Zoom, taking questions from participants joining Zoom itself as well as via the YouTube chat, as well as collecting them in advance over email at answerswikimedia.org (with "Question for Maggie" in the subject line).
If you want to participate verbally from the Zoom call, please ask for the link at email@example.com, at least an hour in advance of the meeting's start (please use "Conversation with Maggie" as the subject line).
We will be taking notes to go alongside the video recording. We will be fielding questions from Wikimedians in good standing (that is, not Foundation or community banned) and will follow up with anything we can'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 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.
- The Foundation refuses to interfere in the voluntary community problems. It calls for finding a common working ground. Are the movement’s employees committed to this concept, or do they have the authority to evaluate volunteers, intervene with their work, and share their evaluation based on personal opinions and preferences?
- Maggie: The WMF attempts to assist where communities don't have the capacity or frankly where they should not carry the burden of resolving issues themselves. When I say “burden” I am speaking about some of the worst cases we see: threats of violence, terrorism, things that are not safe and volunteers should not have to grapple with. There is a challenge when community problems fall in the gray area between what communities can handle and what they can’t. It is difficult because different communities are at different stages and their ability to handle individual problems. It is often a challenge to know where we can be most helpful without causing additional damage. Wherever possible we do try to let the local communities handle disputes. People on the ground know each other and know their work and know the situations better than we do, however sometimes we are called upon to get involved to evaluate the behavior of people and to take action or if we can, not take an action.
- The answer is the Movements employees do have the authority to evaluate the volunteers and intervene in some circumstances. It's always a difficult balance to find when those circumstances are because most of what we see is kind of “in the middle” - the stuff that is hard to figure out how to fix. This is my answer to the question, I am happy to say more if there is follow up.
- How can volunteers expect the WMF to protect them against legal "threats" in their countries? Volunteers who face such cases don't really know if they can get support or what kind of support they may get.
- Maggie: Legal threats: the Foundation has attorneys who represent the Foundation, because of the ethical codes of the legal field they can only represent the Foundation, they can’t represent volunteers. But we recognize that volunteers sometimes do need protection. As a result, the Legal team has created a Legal Fees Assistance Program, to help provide access to professional defense in case a person who is working on Wikimedia in good faith is targeted by an action. The way to request this is to write to: legalwikimedia.org. The Legal Team will respond about what they can do.
- What do you wish people knew about staying safe on Wikipedia?
- Maggie: Firstly, I wish people were more conscious of the risks of using their real names. It may be a controversial thing to say because there is a big dispute between transparency and anonymity. But using your real name is not a decision you can undo and it can be hard to predict when something is going to become controversial. So, I’d say that I wish people by default would not use their real name or anything that is easily identifiable to them as individuals. Particularly, as I am seeing a rise in Human Rights cases around the world, I recognize that making it easy for bad actors to find you can have really negative consequences. Your user name and editing history with other additional info makes it easy to identify.
- I’d say behave yourself, this is me speaking as a volunteer: when conflicts happen it's easy to lose, it's easy to lose your temper, but when you do you make it really hard for other people to help you, because people don't have the time to investigate deeply when things go wrong. If the person who is attacking you can say: “they are a jerk too, here is what they said to me” then you are likely to lose the support of your community. It does not mean that everybody who loses their temper is a harasser who deserves to be drummed out of the projects. It’s just a reality that human beings are quick to make judgments and that if you are doing everything possible to help them avoid getting confused then you have a better chance. I am not going to attribute it, someone in the chat says: “I’ve seen this summarized as you need clean hands to get help.” I would say I wish that were not true, but I think it is. For keeping yourself safe on Wikipedia it is a good thing to remember and this doesn’t just go for Wikipedia but other projects as well.
- Can you say a few words about what project Detox was, what happened to it, and what is the current status of or plans for developing tools to help address personal attacks on talk pages?
- Jan Eissfeldt: Some community members may remember the project, because it was discussed on English Wikipedia a couple of years ago. In 2016 or 2017 there used to be a research project of an outside company. This is very much in line with what a lot of academic institutions do as well as our projects are transparent and our APIs are open. There is a lot of data that outside researchers find really useful. So they use English language Wikipedia Talk page data to build the machine learning model that just showed problems and how communities may or may not have dealt with them. There are two components to this: 1) they took the data and they cleaned it up, this is potentially of interest for volunteer developers for example, and then they build a tool which communities and I both found less than useful because like most machine learning models it showed the practice that was and not necessarily the practice that community envisions in the guidelines how people should be behaving on the platform. This is also one of the reasons, not the only reason, why the Foundation for example never took after that research project and built something on its own.
- If you are looking specifically for something currently going on that focuses on talk pages and more broadly on concerning behavior, on Meta-wiki there is a Private Incident Reporting System Initiative. Community already did a consultation on it in 2019 and it was most insightful and then it wondered its way to Movement Strategy recommendation on Safety and Inclusion and also included in the Enforcement Guidelines for the Universal Code of Conduct, where the Drafting Committee provided some guidance on what would be desirable on this regard as well. So, Private Incident Reporting System is probably the most interesting initiative currently, Machine learning - not right now.
- Why is leadership development one of the focuses for the Community Development team? We don’t have leaders anyway.
- You can find more information on our page on Meta-wiki
- Maggie: I think we have many leaders, in fact when I was an active volunteer there was no information that I could find on what the process was for deleting the images. I was a baby administrator working on copyright, text was my thing but images would come my way once in a while and I did not know how to handle them. So, I wrote a guideline on how to delete images. Any of us can be leaders in different spaces where we have expertise and leadership development is key to help us do our work as well as we can. I’m going to pass it over to Simona who is the lead manager of Community Development and I bet she has thoughts on this too.
- Simona Ramkisson (she/her): Our team was developed in 2018 to look at how to support the movement, when it wants to grow both its communities as well as the areas of contribution. One of our focuses is looking at capacity development. LD falls into the group of skills that we believe will help the Movement to achieve its goals of Knowledge Equity and Knowledge as a service, but we recognize that there are volunteers both formally and informally supporting communities in some shape or form. They may welcome newcomers, provide support when someone experiences harassment, and work with Affiliates in different regions.
- In terms of Leadership Development, it really needed to be informed by the movement and not only the WMF. One way we took that on was developing an actual working group to look at that Movement Strategy recommendation around Leadership and skill development. During the MS conversations, stakeholders elaborated on needs such as a community working unit that ensures the implementation of these recommendations and dive deep into what do we mean by leadership.
- Leadership as a term has a lot of historical, social and political context, the definition does not fit from one region to another. So we needed to ensure that whatever definition we use to steward the conversation, it needs to be informed by the movement in a wiki volunteering way. Look for a systematic globally coordinated plan to implement the Leadership Development (LD) plan. One thing is to have the definition of the leadership, we also need a plan that anyone can implement (LD) initiatives regardless of where they are. Our team has talent and experience to drive this work, that’s why we pulled together the LDWG, which we are really proud of the 16 members that represent all 8 regions of the movement, 18 languages, and represents diversity in both gender, culture and community roles. Check our Meta-wiki page where we published definition of leadership or reach out to the team directly on Meta-wiki.
- Are the non-affiliate organized Wikimedia groups going to be included in the Movement Charter? I represent one of them and as people are often confused about the roles and responsibilities of these types of organizations, in a lot of the cases we feel uncomfortable. We also faced very negative behavior from the local affiliate.
- Maggie: I’d like to see if Kaarel has any thoughts to share.
- Kaarel Vaidla: Great question. Probably the Movement Charter Drafting Committees members can attest that we get questions on engaging communities and project communities quite often. I am Kaarel, I’m working with the Movement Strategy and Governance team in Wikimedia Foundation. We are writing the Movement Charter for the whole movement which includes all the communities. Regarding the content of the charter, I believe communities will be affected also by the content. There are different areas we are working on: some of them might feel organizational, regarding resources and all of that, but overall what is by the text of the recommendation Ensure Equity in Decision making, the key role is defining the future roles in the movement. If you are talking about roles and responsibilities, some of the things we discussed are healthy collaborative spaces for all. In future: about the Global Council is to figure out how to do that. This is the heart of the question, we see engagement around the affiliates, we don't see so much going on in the projects. The idea is to have direct conversations and contact. We are starting community consultations in 10 days. MCDC is trying to directly get in touch with communities. Initially we are only looking at some parts of the chapter: Preamble, Values and Principle and Roles & Responsibilities. The plan for engagement is direct engagement and not through affiliates. We plan to write a Charter together with the communities and that’s also the commitment of the MCDC.
- Richard - a member of the MCDC: Personal response: We move to the public consultations of the first three chapters in a week or two. Part of the Preamble drafting group, that is my group, includes the scope of the Movement Charter.
- I would strongly suggest engaging on that particular one because for groups like yours, or if it isn’t a local project, we spent some time discussing that and it still remains. I’d say not falsely clear. It's quite hard to write a scope. This means you are included both in writing and having it supplied without accidentally including a whole number of organizations that would be surprised to find out that they are part of the movement charter. I’d suggest the group participate and ask questions.
- Rosie - wearing "the co-founder of Women in Red" hat: Women in Red is a very large multi-language community that exists since 2015. Even though I love the Affiliates in the movement and would be very pleased if Women in Red became an affiliate, the consensus is that the group wants to be independent and not become a user group. I believe that there will be space for non-affiliate communities and all the work ahead would be somehow documented in the Movement Charter. There is space for everyone including the non-affiliated groups.
- Maggie: Space for everyone - that's the point. We are a movement open for everybody who can contribute and wants to contribute, because knowledge belongs to everybody.
- I am interested in starting a hub in South Asia. I heard from a member of the Movement Charter Drafting Committee that they will define hubs in the Charter. What can those of us wanting to start Hubs do until then?
- Kaarel: This is something that we have heard at the Summit and in some other conversations that there is a bit of inclarity regarding what the hubs actually mean and what people are supposed to do and what are the guidelines, rules, etc. Thank you for bringing the discussion into this space. Overall regarding the hubs there has been a bit of a tension between community members. There are groups who are very eager to go ahead and work on the hub because they see that as an essential next step for the development of either the region or the thematic work they are doing. They say: we are ready, we need to have better structures and that hub is a great platform for this and we want to do the work.
- Others have been saying: no, we have to wait until the Charter because otherwise it will be really difficult to work on the hubs because everybody goes off doing their own things. That’s the general agreement that we will have the definition of regional and thematic hubs outlined in the Movement Charter and we have it ratified.
- What we have tried to do is to provide sufficient clarity on what we are talking about and we have gone ahead with trying to pilot some of the ideas on hubs. We have given a green light to experiment on what hubs might be. We don't know what the definition would be. We want to have them documenting what they are doing, so people can see what is happening. If there are follow ups to any of these questions we are happy to answer.
- Can we request a regional strategy meetup with the participation of the MCDC/MSG? If we want to plan a meeting in India, can we request a grant for such a meetup?
- Kaarel: Funding on the Movement Strategy track is possible through the Movement Strategy Implementation Grants, at the same time I think meetups and discussions would be related to the Movement Charter Ambassador program that we are launching. There are people signing up to be Movement Charter Ambassadors to have governance discussions in their communities and also there will be some portion of funding accessible to organize a meet up, conversations to run the translations of the texts.
- Non-affiliate organized groups can be very useful as they can add a different perspective and increase sustainability of the movement. Our team is taking the first, fourth and sixth Movement Strategy recommendations very seriously. (That is increasing sustainability, equity in decision making, leadership skills development.) Some groups are harassing us and behaving inappropriately towards us for our work. What should we do? Sue them? Who do we contact about this type of problem? We have pinpointed which UCoC clauses they have broken, but the UCoC isn’t in action yet.
- Maggie: I am super sorry that harassment happens in the world anywhere, especially that it happens in our movement because what we do is so important and hard. I think lawsuits are the last approach, because you don’t come back from that. Our goal should be to find a solution amongst ourselves first, so that we can continue to work and we don’t develop hard feelings and pull apart and create the kind of division that, frankly, is making my country a really unpleasant place to live right now where few of us can talk to each other because we are so divided.
- The UCoC is in action, it is a policy and being acted upon by a number of communities already, including the WMF but it does not mean its an easy solution to harassment. There are limitations to what the WMF gets involved in and what communities can and should handle. I don’t want to sound hopeless, so I'm going to ask Patrick Earley to give us some hope.
- Parick Earley, Policy manager with T&S Policy Team: There is some progress being made in terms of looking at the areas, I assume that you are talking about the situations where it is sort of unclear what the jurisdiction might be, maybe it's happening off wiki, maybe it's happening in situations where there is not a good reporting structure. We are working with a volunteer committee who is writing the Enforcement Guidelines for the Universal Code of Conduct.
- They do put their effort into trying to create some coverage for the situations where there are no clear reporting paths. On smaller projects it's not clear how it should be reported. U4C is, unfortunately, another acronym that our Drafting Committee came up with to define the coordinating committee for the UCoC. This committee would take on where it's not clear what the jurisdiction should be or where there are problems happening that have systemic issues. I think there is some hope to build additional structures to help with harassment that is happening in places where it is not clear how it should be dealt with or is just not being dealt with. Little pitch here, there will be another vote happening in a couple months about these Enforcement Guidelines (revised version). We really hope that there is community support and that communities will take part in it. This is currently scheduled for mid-Jan 2023. Hopefully there is some hope that came out from my sharing?
- Maggie: It gives me hope. I’ve been a community member for a long time before I became a staff member and one of the things that used to frustrate me on English Wikipedia was that we did not have a good way for dealing with conflict. We had several boards, where people were supposed to be able to go to get help, but they became toxic themselves and I think there were 3 of them. The community gradually voted to shut down but they never replaced it. I am not trying to throw shade at the English Wikipedia community, it's just really hard and I'm hoping these new structures will help us. Somebody suggested that Affcom might be able to help. It depends on who is doing the harassment. If you don’t know where to go start with the local community processes where those exist, where they don’t exist please write to firstname.lastname@example.org and the Trust and Safety Team will evaluate whether it's a case where they can get involved. As I said they can’t always and sometimes they can’t help because of the very limited toolkit. They are not counselors but at least for now you should into the options and you should not feel alone.
- My question is coming from the discussions that been taking place in several places for the last two weeks or so, which is that people who bring really problematic things that they’ve seen emergency at and prevalence on threats of self-harm and suicide. There’s been a wondering that you send the details and then you are basically just left to yourself. For some of us it's fine, for others they might be in a rather vulnerable place. What support is possible in terms of human contact, rather than a standart “yes, we received this message” any other forms of support for those who ran into those issues?
- Maggie: Emergency@ is a service operated by the Trust & Safety. These people are on call 24/7 including holidays. It’s still a small crew who divide this duty up, they may be awakened at 2 am to deal with the case. I hear you and I understand that we need to find ways to improve. The way the system was generated was that we wanted to respond quickly. “We have heard you” is all we gave before we started evaluating, contacting law enforcement. Formally we had to reach out ourselves, which I could share stories of trying to contact about a school shooting in Australia, when the emergency channel would not accept my international call. Now we have local contacts who help us. Our first duty is to get the situation in process.
- We need to consider ways to provide reassurance, most of the reports come from people who report often. But I do understand that this can be extremely concerning to somebody who had never experienced it before.
- Jan Eissfeldt: This is a very good question. This is not a question specifically to the English language Wikipedia only, it's really a generational thing up to a point. People who are familiar with processes have developed a certain level of comfort with how they are set up. Emergency@ designed to reduce the burden on volunteers. You encounter something deeply disturbing, you bring it to a good place and you hand it off safely. It is by design supposed to provide a certain level of comfort in stressful situations.
- Something we have learned over the years is that in other contexts when the person addresses for the first time or in a context of community where there is not much experience - there is a lot more ambiguity which becomes a burden. We have been exploring how to leverage a new platform (https://learn.wiki), to provide a training module that provides more transparency about what the workflow is, therefore providing more safety to volunteers who are responding. This is not yet fully up running. We aim to understand how it is being approached by the community before we put something as delicate as Emergency@ on it.
- Maggie: We don't have counseling staff. We need to create support networks. We often don't know the outcome of these cases. The protocol is that we package them up with more details than are sent to us, screenshots, check user logs, etc., and send it to our law enforcement liaison who acknowledges the receipt and then generally doesn't come back.
It is also something that staff have to grapple with particularly when it is intense or distressing.
- There has been a lot said about the Elections Committee and the responsibilities and responsiveness to the community. I heard during the Community Affairs Committee call that there will be a meeting in November to discuss the Elections Committee and Board elections. Are you going to that meeting? What do you expect to come out of it?
- Maggie: Yes, I'm going to that meeting. It will be nice to see everybody. I hope that clarity will come out of it. New things pop up all the time, we don't always have the time to sit down and work through things slowly, which then leads to things not going quite as well as I would like. In the last elections, there were times when staff were not sure how they could be helpful to the Elections Committee or the Board. Even the Board might not have been sure what the EC was responsible for. Big call here is to figure out who is responsible for what and what is a good expectation of time and availability during elections that it goes as smoothly as possible? I went through an adminship discussion on Wikipedia and it was brutal and being a Board candidate must be even more difficult. So, I hope for clarity.
- I am part of an unofficial working group working on several MS recommendations. We have growth, performance and can contribute to the movement. We need training and support but we can’t receive grants in Bangladesh. Adding to the difficulty we face as unofficial working groups - UCoC violations by some community members, lack of support…How can we make sure we don’t burn out with all these challenges and little support?
- Maggie: This is a serious question representing serious pain. How do we make sure we don’t burn out with all these challenges and little support? First, If you are part of an unofficial group, please focus on what matters most to you and think of how you can stage to avoid being burned out. Second, please tell us what you need. I know that may sound insulting, you might say we have told you already and you haven’t given it. We are working on it and we will keep working on it. Sometimes, If you continue to voice your needs to us it helps us to make sure that we prioritize the right things on our ends.
- Nanour - member of the Middle East and Africa grants committee: Those groups who can't get funding they can try a fiscal sponsor. Very useful, I recommend it to any unofficial or official groups that can’t receive the money directly.
- Maggie: We want to keep supporting.
- Owen - WM LGBT+ UG: If you approach the grants team they might be able to advise fiscal sponsors who might be able to help you. Certainly all that founded work that WM LGBT+ UG has done in the last couple of years have been through a specific local chapter.
- Some people, candidates for the Board and community members, note they need more time and opportunities to engage during the campaign period of the Board selection process. What are options for Board candidates and community members to engage in the future?
- Maggie: Well, you are right that nobody in the room can answer this, because those are some things that will come out of the retreat next week. Our big focus is on who is responsible for what, but once we kind of figure that out then we will be talking about what the next period can look like. It's a difficult balance. We are well aware that community members want to talk to the Board candidates and the other way around. It is important that Board candidates have fair expectations on them. Despite what some of them do, being on the Board is not meant to be a full-time job, it is a hard job and some of the Board members are under-appreciated for all the time they put in. We will not get the outcomes if we require that every candidate be required to go through endless calls. It will help us to select certain personality types and it may cause difficulties in getting people who are more thoughtful, slower and who want to take their time before engaging with the material and listen before they engage.
- Dates of Wikimania?
- Some people from Comms will discuss this next week.
- The dates have been announced.