Recommendation 3: Open up Product Governance
Q 1 What is your Recommendation?
Make governance of the Wikimedia product offering more inclusive, participatory and predictable by setting up an open and transparent project proposal process where WMF, affiliates, and community members can all participate and decision-making power is shared to some extent with the communities, who in turn commit to honoring the decisions they are involved in.
Q 2-2 What is your thinking and logic behind this recommendation?
Becoming the essential infrastructure of free knowledge will no doubt mean significant changes to the software the wiki communities interact with, and currently most major changes fail or only happen at a very slow pace due to opposition from the wiki communities. This is a consequence of the lack of buy-in: while community members are consulted during late stages of development and for minor design choices, they are almost never involved in choosing and scoping out projects, much less given any real ability to influence those decisions. That often results in detachment or resentment. This is compounded by the unhealthy dynamic where the WMF makes prioritization decisions behind closed doors and editors only interact with WMF. Thus, unfavorable decisions will be seen as the WMF “not listening”, instead of it having to choose between the needs of various editor groups, who compete with each other for the limited development resources. Furthermore, community decision-making mechanisms have no way to ensure permanence: decisions made during early design by some random set of editors can be ignored easily during an RfC about a deployment that’s dominated by another random group.
To fix this situation, communities need to get a stronger voice in the planning process.
Q 3-1 What will change because of the Recommendation?
The product development process will become more robust (being based on the discourse of a more diverse set of participants) and more predictable (as participating communities commit to the outcome).
Q 3-2 Who specifically will be influenced by this recommendation?
Movement entities doing major product development work (such as the WMF and WMDE; if the recommendation on Decentralization is followed, significantly more in the future), wiki editor communities who are most affected by new products.
Q 4-1 Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?
Yes, If implemented wrongly, will lead to more frustration from the communities than today, or low-quality decisions.
Q 4-2 What could be done to mitigate this risk?
Involve the communities in the change process; ensure participants are well-informed.
Q 5 How does this Recommendation relate to the current structural reality? Does it keep something, change something, stop something, or add something new?
It adds a new process around product decisionmaking.
Q 6-1 Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations? If yes, how?
Good decision-making requires constructive and respectful but frank discussions with well-informed participants, thus this recommendation relies on Support Community Decisionmaking and Tech Evangelism.
It is complemented by the Deployment Council recommendation which deals with the other half of the development process.
The recommendation focuses on product governance, as opposed to technology governance; the latter is less problematic because the technical needs of the various Wikimedia groups tend to be compatible, and few non-Wikimedia groups have the capacity or the legitimacy to participate in decisions. Growing the Third-Party Ecosystem might change that if it succeeds, in which case the technology side might need to evolve its governance mechanisms in a similar way.
Q 6-2 Does this Recommendation connect or relate to your Scoping Questions? If yes, how?
It answers the scoping questions “Which structures and processes can best match resources and expectations?” and “Which are the structures and processes to assure the required level of inclusion in decision making and planning of the community at large in their full diversity?”
Q 7 How is this Recommendation connected to other WGs?
It suggests changing movement-wide decision-making processes, which is also in the territory of Roles and Responsibilities.