Talk:Wikimedia Foundation Board Governance Committee/Board transparency/Status report October 2016

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Ombudsman[edit]

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but is the ombudsman proposed on the page actually different from what the community-elected trustees should be doing, and are doing? And if so, how, because I'm not seeing it. Also, please don't give too much weight to comments from Rogol Domedonfors. His views are not the views of the community-at-large, and shouldn't be taken as such. – Ajraddatz (talk) 00:59, 19 October 2016 (UTC)

I think there could be a different role of a person who does just observing, without fiduciary duties to the Foundation. Pundit (talk) 06:25, 19 October 2016 (UTC)
A Community Broker, an Ombudsman and a Community-selected Trustee are three different roles. The Trustees must act in the interests of the Foundation: they are not delegates or representatives of the community and they are not required to represent the community's views at all, and if they do, it is auxiliary to their main role. A Community Broker has no role other than to represent the views of the Community to the Board and vice versa: they have no vote, no direct role in decision-making except in so far as representing the views of the community may influence those decisions; no direct or fiduciary responsibility to the Foundation; and might indeed be excluded from sensitive parts of the Board's decision-making. An Ombudsman investigates and resolves grievances or disputes and has specific powers to investigate and to make specific if non-binding recommendations to the Board. These are different, complementary, and, I believe positive for the Foundation.
I quite agree with User:Ajraddatz that the Board should not attach too much weight to the views of any one member of the community. My views and suggestions are purely my own, and I do not, and do not claim to, represent anyone but myself. My suggestions are based on experience as a trustee in the UK over the past thirty years, on the boards of five different charities. I hope therefore that they will be helpful, and am content to have my proposals considered on their merits. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 07:54, 19 October 2016 (UTC)
To the merit of an ombudsman, that makes sense that they would have no duties to the WMF, though I still doubt whether such a person is needed. As I've always said, Wikimedia's community includes our readers and occasional editors. An ombudsmen to cater to the loud people isn't going to help focus our institutional objectives of transmitting free knowledge across the world, and will have very little added value for the vast majority of our community. I'm not saying that the WMF is perfect, or that there aren't things that could be improved on from an organisational standpoint. But I would like to keep things in perspective. – Ajraddatz (talk) 06:43, 19 October 2016 (UTC)
I quite agree that the role of a Community Broker or Ombudsman (I repeat, these are not the same thing) must involve setting up some sort of community engagement which attempts to reach out to those who are not currently well-represented in discussions. I also agree that if the role does not help focus institutional objectives, then it is not adding value. But I do not see why one would assume that better representation of a wide range of community views would inevitably fail to do so: after all, these roles have been found of value in many other similar contexts. Why not just try it? Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 07:54, 19 October 2016 (UTC)
I agree regarding the importance of an ombudsman, I'm not sold on the role of a community broker. simply because having one person represent / convey / channel "thoughts" and "needs" of the community seems a bit naive, and can even prove to be the opposite of transparent (depending on the person, as a single point of failure!). If there is a process in place to convey community needs / petitions, and there is a process of documenting these and the board's (timely!) responses, it seems enough. Alleycat80 (talk) 09:00, 21 October 2016 (UTC)

Using Phabricator Maniphest[edit]

Using Phabricator Maniphest on a trial basis to track public questions, requests, etc. seems like a fine idea to me. --MZMcBride (talk) 05:22, 19 October 2016 (UTC)

Yes, but for less technical people Phabricator is a nightmare. I would suggest a simple Trello board, if it's only for the sake of keeping people updated. Alleycat80 (talk) 07:52, 21 October 2016 (UTC)
Hi Alleycat80. Are you familiar with Phabricator's workboards? They're pretty similar to Trello. --MZMcBride (talk) 21:57, 25 February 2017 (UTC)

Thanks[edit]

I am sorry I did not post this before responding above. Thanks to Nataliia for leading on this very welcome piece work, and I hope it will be the start of a productive engagemenet. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 06:31, 19 October 2016 (UTC)

Quick summary of a board meeting[edit]

I would endorse the suggestionOne (rotating?) person from the Board responsible for quick summary of a board meeting. It is what we do on the Board I am currently on. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 08:32, 19 October 2016 (UTC)

Seconded. Alleycat80 (talk) 09:01, 21 October 2016 (UTC)
Good idea - although you have to admit that the board has radically improved both the time and the amount of detail in its summaries over the last two meetings. Pundit (talk) 15:18, 24 October 2016 (UTC)

Board Aide / Assistant[edit]

Screening through the list of suggestions to improve transparency, I think there should be a specific person (maybe a Board Assistant, indeed) that:

  • Publishes agendas for meetings, ahead of time, and amends them if necessary
  • Is in charge of making sure the Board follows up on decisions and promises
  • Keeps (and updates publicly) a list of unpublished resolutions (save for HR and other sensitive stuff)
  • Updates Board page on Meta, and helps screen questions, leaving only those that are relevant for trustees to answer, and directs / dismisses other questions as needed.

I'm always hesitant when recommending adding new people to WMF payroll, so I'm just suggesting this can be a specific role owned by one of the communications team, maybe. The problem with this is the sensitivity, and I do realize this person has to be quite uniquely qualified to understand all the issues and the different stakeholders involved, also the possibilities of conflicted interests. Alleycat80 (talk) 09:11, 21 October 2016 (UTC)

suggested preamble rewrite.[edit]

i would suggest replacing the preamble to the page, with the following rewrite, which i think maintains the sense:

Board transparency needs improvement. We lack understanding of what it means to be transparent.

1 - The Wikimedia Foundation Board is not transparent enough; the Wikimedia Foundation is not transparent enough.

2 - We do not have a consensus of the desired level of transparency, and how to achieve that transparency. Transparency means different things to different people. Some people are content with our public reports, some would be discontented even with all open meetings (as it is the wiki way).

What would an action plan look like, to discern the desired level of transparency, and then produce the concrete steps to lead to that transparency? Let’s try to make the Board transparent, experimenting, in the awareness that we will make mistakes along the way.

The issue status discussed below are listed here. The report was prepared by me, User:NTymkiv (WMF), with the help of other people.

Slowking4 (talk) 00:06, 23 October 2016 (UTC)

@Slowking4: thank you for working on this! Are you ready to publish it under CC zero? And there are personal pronouns in the text, so I would love to have the warning/disclaimer in the preamble left --NTymkiv (WMF) (talk) 12:10, 23 October 2016 (UTC)
feel free to reuse as you want. feel free to incorporate some or all of it, under any license you want. thanks for pushing this issue forward. Slowking4 (talk) 12:17, 23 October 2016 (UTC)
Yes check.svg Thank you --NTymkiv (WMF) (talk) 15:27, 23 October 2016 (UTC)

Costs of transparency[edit]

I'm all for transparency. But it will lead to an extra burden for those who practice it. Every piece of information, however minor, will elicit responses, will be interpreted, may be misunderstood or raise further questions, can lead to hair-splitting, or diverting to a favorite gripe ad nauseam. The mailing list for discussing board issues, wikimedia-l, is littered with exhausting discussions that go on and on about less and less. My point: a more efficient way of channeling feedback to that much coveted transparency will greatly improve it's chance to be sustainable. What about an up-/downvoting system, (e.g. like is used on Reddit) to funnel and rank questions and concerns by the community, so as to make follow-up by board members more efficient and doable Erik Zachte (talk) 07:07, 24 October 2016 (UTC)

I've been suggesting a similar system a while ago :) Currently, we don't have the staff bandwidth to do that, but perhaps next year? Pundit (talk) 15:19, 24 October 2016 (UTC)
Which is a polite way of saying that it is not important enough, and never will be. The WMF has hundred of employees and tens of millions of dollars of income. It spends money on a wide variety of things, many of which are not obviously more important than securing its own good governance. The costs of lack of transparency, both in terms of loss of opportunity and reputation, and more directly in terms of waste of staff, board and volunteer time and "bandwidth" are already large. How much did the "Knowledge Engine" row cost? How much did the Geshuri row cost? How much did removing James Heilman from the Board cost? How much did Superprotect cost? Would it not have been better to try transparency instead? Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 19:00, 24 October 2016 (UTC)
if your communication channels are clogged, it may be because you do not have facilitated communication. why are you still using mailing lists to communicate? you have feedback with the wish list. the opportunity cost point is well taken. you need a system of communication between the WMF and communities; relying on the personal initiative of the ED or board member is a problem. transparency in financial reporting would be nice; saying look at the form 990 is wholly inadequate. where is the communication from the board in a timely manner? i do not see it. Slowking4 (talk) 12:21, 25 October 2016 (UTC)