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Boards, governance, and competencies


I constantly observe in every group of community candidates for Board seats that their nomination statements almost always talk about their on-wiki contributions and in some cases their outreach work in chapters etc. I don't have a problem with candidates demonstrating that they live and breathe being part of the "community" (it's desirable). But what is almost invariably absent is information about their training and/or experience in Board skills, such as strategy, risk, finance, legal, etc. This has always suggested to me that these candidates don't realise what a board does and what skills it needs (and as a consequence I rarely vote for more than a small handful of candidates who do mention at least one of these areas of skill in their nomination). I think WMF needs to do a lot more to educate the community on what a board actually does, what skills it needs, and specifically require that community nominations address board skills training/experience in addition to their community experience. It would also be useful to require elected community members to engage (at WMF expense) in upskilling through formal board training. It would also be advantageous to extend those programs into chapters and other affiliates (I know some training is done at the WMF Conference in Berlin but relatively few people get the opportunity to go to Berlin) so making these available online to community members who either have goverance roles (or ambitions to do so) in a WMF or an affiliate would contribute to upskilling. Obviously it would be desirable to demand board-readiness immediately but realistically this probably can't be achieved so an education path is needed to improve the goverance skills of current and aspiring board members. My own experience is that formal training is beneficial even for people who think they are experienced directors. With WMF being based in the USA, the training for WMF board members should be specifically designed for the USA regulatory environment, but for chapters it probably should be locally sourced as they need to understand their own national regulatory environment. Kerry Raymond (talk) 23:38, 31 January 2021 (UTC) -- but it is 1 February in my time zone!Reply

@Kerry Raymond This conversation fits clearly in Call for types of skills and experience, and I think it would be useful to move it there. Any objections? We want to promote more feedback related to this idea during the second half of the call. Qgil-WMF (talk) 12:59, 24 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
Hi Kerry Raymond, Thanks for this thoughtful feedback. I hear three things from your feedback:
  1. Encourage nomination statements to speak to experience and skills that would benefit the Board directly (legal, finance, strategy and so on) - I will note site you shared.
  2. Better communicate what the Board does and what skills are beneficial for Board members to have
  3. Provide growth opportunities for Board members and affiliates

Could you let me know if I have missed anything? Thanks! Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 12:50, 1 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

here would be some examples of non profit management training: [1], [2], [3], Slowking4 (talk) 22:17, 2 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
Great! Thanks for the resources, Slowking4! @Kerry Raymond:, I don't mean to put more on you, but if you have the time could you see if any of these resources that Slowking4 shared are like what you were thinking? Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 17:11, 3 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
well, i only meant to point out that post-graduate certificate programs are ubiquitous in business schools. WMF might actually get a custom designed one for the board, if they tried hard. and it would model good behavior of continuous training for all people in the movement. Slowking4 (talk) 20:43, 3 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
A somewhat belated comment. As Slowking4 says, there area a lot of post-graduate programs like MBAs etc. However, these are generally more focussed at skills needed by employees managing an organisation rather than governance skills (you actually have to let go of your desire to "manage" when on a board). I don't think the training needs to be provided by a university or structured as a university course. I actually think there is a risk is using university courses as they are often large and the others enrolled would mostly have little experience to share with you (which is also a common criticism of MBA programs). You want board training where everyone is actually on a board and brings real world experience to the table. The course I did in Australia had the structure of a formal presentation on some topic and then breaking people up in deliberately-randomised groups to discuss some scenarios of fictitious organisation and discuss it in the light of similar experiences in your own board experience, and those discussions are really essential parts of the learning, as different organisations have very different goals, strategies and appetite for risk, and way well take a different approach when placed with a similar problem. A research organisation inherently accepts a high risk around the achievement of outcomes but may have a very strict laboratory safety culture. Service organisations are likely to want to ensure all services are satisfactorily delivered and therefore reluctant to risk experimenting with existing proven processes even if there is potential benefit. Kerry Raymond (talk) 23:20, 23 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
I want to sound a contrarian voice here. We don't have community-selected trustees because it is a good way to get people with financial or legal expertise. If you want someone who knows how to run a $100 million organisation then you should be going to an executive search firm; hence why we have board-appointed trustees. Community selected trustees exist to a) make sure the board knows how the Wikimedia Movement operates, and b) prevent destructive schisms between the Foundation and the community. Being able to help manage the Foundation is desirable, but not essential.
Additionally, the 'corporate' side of the WMF doesn't seem to be where the problems are. Income and net assets are increasing rapidly. Legal has successfully navigated the regulatory environment. Comms gets its message into print; look at all those articles about Wikipedia@20 and the UCOC. There's been whispers of some problems at a management level now and again, but that's inevitable for a large organisation and other than the previous ED they've been handled quietly. Product has to work with an old codebase that can't really be replaced.
Where things seem to go haywire is when the Foundation has to interface with the community. --RaiderAspect (talk) 14:26, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
Hi RaiderAspect, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Do you have any suggestions? I know this is the big question, but it seems like you might have some thoughts about what might work. Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 19:10, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
RaiderAspect is correct - the whole point of appointed trustees is to provide helpful skills. In most areas that seems to be working, but the area which causes the vast majority of issues that disrupt the Board's plans are either the Board, or the WMF, tripping over community relations. Therefore, perhaps seeking Community trustees who have particular experience in large-scale (not small party) mediation or have a reputation for proffering high quality genuine compromises would be a better focus. Nosebagbear (talk) 19:33, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
Not being familiar with USA law, I cannot comment specifically, but as a board member in Australia, if you are found in a court to have been negligent in your board duties, you can go to jail or be fined (personally). Generally it is financial, legal, and risk management issues where boards are found to be negligent and being ignorant is not an excuse. Since there are both risks to the individual board members and, if the board fails in some way, to the movement as a whole, I think it is irresponsible to put community members (or anyone else) into board roles without being adequately trained to be aware of their personal risks and be able to understand, debate, strategise etc in relation to the financial, legal, etc matters. It does not need all board members to be experts in all of these fields but it does need basic competencies, such as understanding financial statements, reviewing risk registers, understanding legal obligations, etc. It may be that community members nominating for the WMF board already have such skills through their education, jobs etc, that's why I suggest we explicitly ask for that information in the nomination statement and why I propose that we seek to upskill elected people who may be deficient in some of those skillsets. That's in the best interests of the movement as a whole and of those community members who are elected. Kerry Raymond (talk) 23:52, 10 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Candidate profiles used in previous elections


The ASBS election facilitators wrote back in 2019 this profile for skills and experience. The Board wrote an ideal candidate profile back in 2019. Ad Huikeshoven (talk) 10:34, 3 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

And of course, there are the BGC's skills grids from 2012 and 2014, the various essays/discussions What makes a good Trustee?, Traits of a great WMF Trustee (not really about skills, though), the really old The ideal Wikimedia board of trustees, and the 2010 questionnaire. --Yair rand (talk) 11:20, 3 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
Thanks all for adding the crosslinks here. Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 23:27, 4 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Support, only non-binding.


I sort of see that as a kind of trivial thing. If the Board wants to make suggestions to the community for skills they'd like to see in Board members, they should be allowed to make such suggestions. As part of the discussion that accompanies any election cycle, other community members can also talk about what sort of skills they believe should be added to or replaced on the board. I think one of the main parts of the election process should be to allow the community to, as much as possible, shape the board in a way that allows it to best server the community.

Apart from the fact that the Board has the bully pulpit of their official channels, I don't think their opinions on what skills should be used should be binding. I think it might make sense for the Board to offer forms for the candidates to fill out, just like any one else could offer forms for the candidates to fill out. In the end - to the greatest extent allowed by the governing laws, it should be the community's prerogative to decide what skills would best benefit the board.

The only form of review needs to be the review that goes into any voting process. TomDotGov (talk) (hold the election) 01:31, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Hi TomDotGov, How would you see your suggestion working in practice? How could this ensure the skills the Board says they need are filled? I'd like to understand how you see this working so I can be as thorough as possible in receiving feedback. Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 21:03, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Perhaps the only legitimate WMF involvement


To me this seems to be a positive without negative - the WMF should say what they're looking for and why. I would like it to be limited to "skills and experience" - that is, I wouldn't want alternate things to be sought through the backdoor, e.g. "experience in Global South fundraising" as a means of sneaking in a diversity request through another channel. [Edit: to clarify, this is if interpreted as a "this is what we're looking for, please pick people in line with these things", rather than "these are what we want, and shall choose from, reducing sole authority of community vote]

But that aside, it seems like something that could be merged with any other form. Nosebagbear (talk) 16:19, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Hi Nosebagbear, I want to make sure I'm understanding you clearly. You are saying you see this only as appropriate if there is no regional or geographic stipulation added. Am I correct? Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 21:07, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
@JKoerner (WMF): If the WMF wants to state desire for, say, Global South representation, I could probably be convinced for that being acceptable but not if there is any binding mechanism (that is, if the WMF can convince Community voters that something is important, that's reasonable - whether that be skills, experience, or even geographic locations, but it shouldn't have any direct authority. Direct community-wide democracy without constraints is the only non-negotiable aspect in my view. If an informative-scoring mechanism was being used and the discussion was over how that should be verified (or assessed, in the case of unclear calls) then as a lesser imposition I'd be more open to make-up of how that was being evaluated. Nosebagbear (talk) 21:26, 5 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Proactive non-binding recruitment


It would be a good idea to do this a few months before the election in a non-binding way:

  • Identify skills the Board dearly needs in the next election with some reasons / motivation behind (e.g. we need education experts from Africa because investment in education programmes in Africa is crucial for the success of our movement, and the next few years are decisive to succed in Africa).
  • Ask all interested Wikimedians to proactively look for candidates meeting this profile (e.g. ask all those involved in education programmes to look for educators active in Africa, and ask African affiliates to look for qualified educators).
  • Have some sort of office hours to allow these potential candidates to chat with Board members and understand whether this is something they are interested in or not.

This would help us get more candidates with necessary skills and experience, although without a guarantee of getting elected (if the only candidates we have found will support something wildly unpopular like ads in Wikipedia, they will not be elected even if their expertise is valuable) — NickK (talk) 11:31, 6 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Good idea, I assume, that candidates, that go through such an open and inclusive process will get the needed votes by the community. Grüße vom Sänger ♫(Reden) 12:43, 6 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
I agree with this, if the WMF board or staff wish to produce such a document to share with the voters, that could be a valuable contribution. But given the subjectivity of judging individuals, it would be inappropriate to produce something binding othat could exclude many valuable volunteers.--Pharos (talk) 04:41, 26 February 2021 (UTC)Reply
Hi all, thanks for the feedback! What I have not previously included, I have included in this upcoming weekly report. Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 04:53, 4 March 2021 (UTC)Reply

Regarding Fiduciary duties of care & good faith, loyalty, and obedience to the mission and other legal vetting, it appears that is currently done after the community election. It would be reasonable and perhaps preferable to move that earlier in the process, so everybody does not get blindsided if an election-winning candidate is later found to have legal problems.

In regard to diversity and experience and other desirable attributes, the Board should publish its opinion and advice. It would also be appropriate to vet the truthfulness of qualifications&attributes claimed by candidates, and to report on any fraudulent claims. However the qualifications and attributes of the candidates should be weighed and by the community in the election. I believe the community is eager to embrace diversity in candidates, if those candidates are otherwise acceptable. The Board can and should use the non-elected seats to fill any gaps in skills or experience or diversity it feels exist, after the composition of the community seats are known. (Note: this is a deliberate duplicate of my response to the Vetting_of_candidates item, as I view the two items to largely overlap and share the same fundamental issue.) Alsee (talk) 06:39, 13 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Thanks, Alsee, for your feedback. Best, JKoerner (WMF) (talk) 20:45, 15 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

That's what appointed seats are for


As I as well said in Specialisation seats, that#s exactly the reason for having appointed seats at all. If these should already be covered by the community seats, there is no reason whatsoever for any appointed seat any longer.
That's something were usually the questions to the candidates was good for, there you could ask about those skills, and whether you think they are important for your decision. Of course, there could be a wee bit more pro-active search for suitable candidates in the communities beforehand, and together with the new community idea for Candidate resources this could lead to even more good members of the board as the current ones, but the more the properly elected members have all needed skills, the less reason there is for any appointments without proper elections. Grüße vom Sänger ♫(Reden) 14:28, 26 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Thank you Sänger ♫ for your feedback. Best, Zuz (WMF) (talk) 16:43, 26 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Collected Feedback about Call for types of skills and experience from the first weekly report


Below is the feedback collected in the first weekly report covering February 1 - 7. The facilitation team was thinking it might be helpful to share this feedback on the idea talk page. And based on the feedback received from the community regarding the weekly reports, the facilitation team has revised the reporting procedure for weekly reports. This is visible on the second weekly report.

  • Needed skills should be identified and advertised well in advance of the selection process.
  • The community should be allowed to express what skills they believe the Board should have
  • Call for training opportunities for skill development for growing leadership from the community
  • Community-and-affiliate selected seats are for diversity and not skills
  • Skills in community-appointed seats are important
    • Mediation skills
    • Elevate candidates with needed skills and consider them with diversity in mind

Please reach out with questions or comments! Best, Zuz (WMF) (talk) 17:20, 18 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Collected Feedback about Call for types of skills and experience from the second weekly report


The following is the feedback collected in the second weekly report covering February 8 - 14.

Please reach out with questions or comments! Best, Zuz (WMF) (talk) 10:13, 19 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Collected Feedback about Call for types of skills and experience from the third weekly report


Below is the feedback from the third weekly report covering February 15 - 21 of the Call for Feedback.

8 users from 6 different home wikis have participated in the conversation on this idea's talk page so far.

Please reach out with questions or comments! Best, Zuz (WMF) (talk) 10:56, 26 February 2021 (UTC)Reply

Collected Feedback about Call for types of skills and experience from the fourth weekly report


Here is the summarised feedback from the fourth weekly report covering February 22 - 28 of the Call for Feedback.

Meta-wiki Talk page conversation statistics:8 users from 5 different home wikis have participated in the conversation on this idea's talk page so far.

  • During a meeting with the Georgian community people thought this form of (s)election of candidates is not the best and cannot be representative of the Wikimedia movement.
  • A person from the Odia community felt that, as the Board is the highest decision-making authority in the movement, skills should not be compromised. A person from the Gujarati community agreed.
  • Former trustee Bishakha felt that there isn’t any harm in having an eligibility criteria for everyone on the Board, as it could lead to a more effective board.
  • One volunteer from Wikimujeres User Group stated it is better to have a balance when choosing candidates.
  • At a European community conversation, one person says it is not necessary to have extensive skills before entering the Board as training is possible. Another sees experience as a leader, team working skills, the ability to compromise, and community experience as important. Perhaps assessment like companies do during the job application process
  • One person from Malaysia said not to expect candidates to know what they will be doing on the Board. Make sure they know basic and intermediate editing across all projects; and have a class or tutor session about administration or governance in the Trusteeship.
  • One person said some people improve after given the chance. Willingness to learn is important.
  • At a European community conversation Ad states, that he is seeing the knowledge of editing Wikis as much as an important skill as programmatic work in the movement. Most elected members of the current board have this background, being part of their skillset. He proposes a certain amount of edits in a wiki as a required skill for appointed seats too.
  • A discussion occurred on the idea Talk page about the Board communicating their needs and the rationale behind those needs well before the election so qualified candidates can run for the Board.
  • One person suggested on the idea Talk page that the Board be more proactive about searching for candidates in the community before the election.

Do reach out with any questions or feedback. Best, Zuz (WMF) (talk) 18:24, 4 March 2021 (UTC)Reply

Collected Feedback about Call for types of skills and experience from the fifth weekly report


Meta-wiki Talk page conversation statistics: 8 users from 5 different home wikis have participated in the conversation on this idea's talk page so far.

  • Wikimedia CH favors a combination of ideas, focussing on skills and experience and geographical representation seeing this as a good way to ensure diversity, competence, and representation.
  • One person at the conversation with Wikimedia Bénin User Group said that candidates should have minimal skills in people management and a good understanding of the movement. Another one said that good understanding of the movement should be the only skill that could be required.
  • A Wikitech volunteer suggested to look at diversity as a unique skillset or experience in itself. Diversity should be encouraged because it has been missing for the last fifteen years.
  • A Wikidata volunteer suggested that candidates’ knowledge/understanding about the global community should be evaluated before considering them for election/nomination/selection.
  • Volunteers from the Telugu community felt that basic skills such as being able to work in a team and critical thinking should be required, whereas professional skills such as management and operations should not be required for community candidates.
  • Volunteers from the Telugu community felt that the current version of the evaluation form is well-suited for appointed trustees, but not for candidates from the community; parameters like “Board experience” and “Executive experience” don’t make sense for community seats.

Bachounda (WMF) (talk) 13:50, 15 March 2021 (UTC)Reply

Collected Feedback about Call for types of skills and experience from the Sixth weekly report


Meta-wiki Talk page conversation statistics: 8 users from 5 different home wikis have participated in the conversation on this idea's talk page.

  • Gujarati volunteers suggested differentiating between basic skills and professional skills, and basic skills can be mandatory for all board candidates, while required professional skills can be trained on after the election.
  • A volunteer in the Spanish Telegram chat considers it essential that candidates have experience in Wikimedia activities, not necessarily leading groups but organizing activities.
  • One volunteer in the Spanish Telegram chat feels that people on the board should not necessarily have wiki experience. Ideally they should know the Wikimedia context, but they can have different backgrounds, training and skills.
  • A volunteer from the Gujarati community suggested forming a standard optional training program for all candidates to fill any gaps.
  • Former trustee Christophe Henner  said that this is something the Board has been doing for years, to say, ‘Hey, we need that, that, and that.’
  • Volunteers from Urdu community opined that “ability to offer a differing opinion” and debate should be a key skill to be considered.
  • During the “Skills for Board work” panel session, the conversation included the following key points:
    • People from the community can endorse skills they see as important (sort of like the community wishlist)
    • Not having skills may be good because then blind spots can be identified.
    • Some skills are important because the Board must be functional and efficient.

Do reach out with any questions or feedback. Best, Zuz (WMF) (talk) 18:15, 17 March 2021 (UTC)Reply