Talk:Wikimedia Foundation transparency gap

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Budget transparency[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation is bringing in a huge amount of money. The culture of the Wikimedia community developed from 2001 until 2010 in the context of having almost no money except to keep the website minimally operational. From 2010 to 2016, the budget of the organization grew from about USD 10 million to USD 90 million. When the budget was smaller, the community had the perception of controlling approximately 100% of all Wikimedia resources. As the budget increased, the community awareness of the investment of resources has not grown along with the increase of budget, and community control of the valuable assets of the Wikimedia movement dropped from about 100% to something less. It is less clear now who controls the assets of the Wikimedia movement, how these assets are directed, who directs them, and why they are directed in the way that they are. Every single year for the past few years the budget has grown by millions and yet from the community perspective there is no broad awareness of where millions of dollars a year are going now, especially when in the past the community persisted without this funding.

I would like to see a huge, extravagant, over-investment in educational resources being developed to explain the budget of the Wikimedia Foundation from every angle and in multiple languages. I would like to see a large amount of staff time invested in inventing new and creative ways to repetitively, redundantly explain the Wikimedia Foundation budget in various ways so as to make it easy and fun to learn how the Wikimedia Foundation invests the community funds for which it is the steward. I would like to see the rapid development of a Wikimedia community culture of understanding what is done with the money collected in the name of the Wikimedia community.

In particular, I would like to see a strong and clear delineation between money which is spent under orders of staff or contractors of the Wikimedia Foundation, and money which is spent through grants to any entity or individual which is not staff or contractor of the Wikimedia Foundation. Blue Rasberry (talk) 00:00, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

I've been concerned about budget transparency for a long time. I recall asking whether we could be told who is getting grants to go to Wikimania and similar, and was told it would be a privacy violation, even to post their user names. So the result (at that time, anyway) was that no one knew who was being given money, and whether it was always the same people.
I don't know to what extent that situation has improved, because I decided to stop paying attention, given how frustrating and irrational it seemed (then). I very much support a move toward financial transparency so that we can judge how reasonable and fair the expenditure is. SarahSV talk 00:55, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
+1 to broadly defined budget and finance transparency, including multi-year forecasts for any projects that won't be completed within the current year. SJ talk 
Adding my agreement here to the man in blue's thoughts. Further, it would be better if when a board member is asked about spending on a particularly problematic venture (the Belfer Center Wikipedian-in-residence fiasco comes to mind), that the concern not be dismissed as "completely disingenuous", or in the case of funding from the Qatar Foundation, the question flicked away as "trolling". While some questions may be uncomfortable to answer, better to just answer them in a quick and accurate way, rather than brush them aside, because that action of brushing away is a dodge, and dodging a simple question just makes it look more like someone at the WMF is guilty of malfeasance. - Thekohser (talk) 03:20, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
well, i don't know how huge it is. let's say they have not reached a financial limit to their growth, rather a management limit. extravagant? let's say that the CFO position has not been a priority, and a little more attention to financial education would be nice. a balance sheet, income statement, and statement of fund balances would be nice. see also the NGA for a gold standard of financial disclosure. [1] (sorry about the pdf) Slowking4 (talk) 17:18, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
I'm not saying it couldn't be better, but the foundation publishes audited financial reports, and the IRS Form 990 is public. Both of these contain a balance sheet and income statement, plus various other information. There's also various planning documents, a quarterly report with hits and misses (see latest), and lots of other information. The main focus should probably be on improving the accessibility of the information. I've ran into the tedium of extracting data from PDFs into spreadsheets to do basic accounting analytics. Note that there is a WMF Audit Committee which includes nonvoting community members but it doesn't really have a culture of transparency and engagement with the community. ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 18:22, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
SarahSV, for Wikimania 2014 and 2015 the list of folks who received scholarships were posted on meta 2014, 2015. For other grant information I suggest you take a look at Grants:Start. There's other reports there as well. Full disclosure, I've received grants through these programs to attend events. Ckoerner (talk) 21:52, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
yes, i am aware of the financials. 990s are not enough. a first step would be to include all the financial information a reasonable person might want to see, accessibly in the annual statement, with some footnotes about analytics, and some breakdown on internal project support, and major grants. i.e. team priorities budget allocation. i understand this is a stretch, but more education and information is necessary to build trust. Slowking4 (talk) 23:05, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
Ckoerner, thank you. What I'd like to see is a list of editors who have received money from the Foundation (not counting staff), and how much. For example: User:A: $1,000 (2006); $3,000 (2008).
It's important to make sure the grants, scholarships, expenses, etc, are distributed fairly. As things stand, if you want $1,000 to fly to Wikimania and give a talk, you stand a good chance, but if you want the same amount for books to add content, you won't get it. And I understand the reasons for that; funding the latter would be tricky for lots of obvious reasons. Still, I think it's important to know who is being paid for their work on behalf of Wikipedia and who isn't, so that over time the distribution becomes fairer. SarahSV talk 23:09, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
The board rumble is bringing this issue to the forefront, it is true, but a call for greater transparency is one that has been slowly accumulating on the margins of the mailing list for a long time: it has simply never been a systematic priority before. The stumbling block: though consensus seems to exist that something needs to be done, there is no consensus about what that something is. I love the movement, but years of presence in it have taught me that consensus, as beautiful as it is, is impossible; one need only look at the sordid history of reform at WP:RfA to see this is true.
The opaqueness of Wikimedia Foundation decisions is simply a function of the fact that everything in movement is opaque; it's a symptom of a widespread disease, not, as many hardline WMF critics seem to believe, its root cause. The average highly active Wikipedian is at this point so heavily invested in their "camp" that, inevitably, the egalitarian ideas about the simultaneous appropriateness of everyone's opinions that linchpin the project have all but fallen apart.
I would like to see fewer "encamped" conversations based on piecemeal information that has garnered enough institutional need to be released at that time, and more "embedded" conversations based on a well-understood and accessible lattice of understanding. To that end I would like to see a hugely extravagant over-investment in documentation throughout the movement, and a serious commitment to maintaining it. This has to happen on both the WMF and community level. Things like Evaluation/Program Toolkits, Evaluation/Program Toolkits/Education, [2] and [3], and Quarterly plans. ResMar 20:26, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

Board minutes[edit]

The Board does not publish detailed minutes of its non-privileged meetings. Summarized agenda and minutes are available, but there are no public recordings.

Proposal 1: Non-privileged segments of Board meetings should be broadcast CC0 in near real time. Proposal 2: The Board is available for public interaction during some portion of each meeting. Adamw (talk) 09:46, 3 January 2016 (UTC)

A fine idea. We did this (audio only) at another foundation I was part of, and it helped everyone understand the scope of what was covered in meetings and limited misunderstandings. This does impose a bit of extra overhead (deciding what is privileged and what is not), but the results are worth it. SJ talk 
A poor idea. One of the great strengths of our board is that we have a culture of open, honest, challenging conversations within the board. People are able to raise controversial points privately, and explore "devil's advocate" positions freely. Live broadcast of board meetings would lead to board meetings that would be like the board panel at Wikimania - informative for the community, but not conducive to deep exploration of issues. In particular, this approach would seriously damage the community-elected board members as they would have to gauge their every word against the public perception. We are a working board of a nonprofit organization, not a political body. Introducing an incentive for grandstanding or - just as bad - failure to speak one's mind on a controversial issue for fear of offending some segment of the community - would not be helpful.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 09:19, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
Agree strongly with Jimbo. - Thekohser (talk) 13:22, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
failure to speak one's mind on a controversial issue for fear of offending some segment of the community - would not be helpful What you're saying here, Jimbo, is that board members can express any opinion, no matter how contrary to what the community may think - as long as it's in secret. There's nothing wrong per se with expressing a controversial opinion, but if you're going to do it, you should have some integrity and be prepared to defend it in the face of contrary opinions. If our board members aren't capable of doing that, what are they even doing on the board at all? — Scott talk 16:17, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
i do sympathize. the radically open metrics meeting is pushing the envelope in presenting the activities of the WMF. the board might shrink from such openness, and prefer to vet all communication through the legal team. but of course, this will have consequences with the community. more communication seems necessary, i wonder what communication the board will be considering, beyond terse statements? Slowking4 (talk) 17:46, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
The board can always do sensitive deliberations and debates in executive session. There are countless governance bodies - including the vast majority of public institutions - which manage to work like this. ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 18:25, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
I agree with Jimmy. The outcome would be worse, not better, board deliberations. Better minutes and more detailed agendas are still a good idea, though. Ijon (talk) 18:58, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
Whether the outcomes are worse or better depend on implementation. This isn't a novel idea, as pointed out above. So unqualified statements about great or terrible results that must surely follow, are probably too broad.
Many board discussions are about non-controversial and non-privileged topics. A session in each meeting could be devoted to those topics and set aside for broadcast, and staff could sit in if they wished. The rest could proceed as it does now.
Where I've seen this work has been in organizations where a communication gap among many parties is a primary risk that can hold the organization back, and it is important for the board's work to be well understood and visible. There are drawbacks; the benefits should outweigh them before doing this. SJ talk  02:01, 3 January 2016 (UTC)
@Jimbo: Please give an example of any non-privileged discussion which was made easier thanks to the Chatham House Rule you're advocating. Feel free to omit names, but I'd like to hear exactly what type of deep exploration the Board takes when the conversation is private. Also--since your argument is in defense of only the directly elected Board members, I would like to hear some feedback from these two remaining elected members. Adamw (talk) 20:59, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
The community, for all its flaws, is not about to bring out the pitchforks every time the board explores an area of potential controversy, so long as it doesn't lead to problematic actions. Open, honest, challenging conversations can happen without the community being shut out. The board is currently completely opaque, the "minutes" give no useful information, and there is no line of communication. (With James' removal, there's now a full majority of the board that never even looks at the noticeboard, going by the poll running since August.) Even if a lot of stuff needs to be kept confidential, any the community needs some regular source of information on what the board is doing and talking about. --Yair rand (talk) 22:06, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
@Jimbo: "this approach would seriously damage the community-elected board members as they would have to gauge their every word against the public perception". You mean crowdsourcing doesn't work? Seriously, the whole idea of Wikipedia and Wikimedia was a sort of experiment in running things without the old 'command and control' idea of running things. Shouldn't the WMF be leading by example here? Peter Damian (talk) 09:41, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
  • I personally like the idea but agree it would need testing. A more public meeting may increase the degree of respect with which people interact. And it would definitely make all more accountable. Our communities have open, honest, challenging conversations. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 10:26, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
  • Another proposal. At present the Chair of the Board may declare a resolution non-public: see wmf:Vote:Board deliberations. I suggest that the Board commit to publishing, for each resolution, either the text and the votes, or a statement that on that date a resolution was passed, or not, that the Chair declared non-public, with an indication of the reason for that declaration where possible. Of course that commitment should apply retrospectively as well. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 18:53, 1 March 2016 (UTC)

Removal of James Heilman as Trustee[edit]

We are waiting for more information about the cause and context for this removal.

  • List of formal comments are here.

Staff communications discouraged[edit]

At one point, WMF staff were forbidden from bringing their problems to the Board. A Board member has acknowledged this fact.

Proposal: The WMF will never forbid communications, *mumble* with some narrow exceptional cases.

More common: have an explicit ombudsman + process for staff to raise issues. (This currently exists for legal or financial whistleblowing, but not in general; and some staff may not know that both Board Chair and AuditCom chair are on point for such communication.) However, the WMF board is not an operational one; it's also good to set expectations for what the Board normally focuses on. SJ talk 
That the board willfully walled itself away from the staff is troubling. In a board I was involved in, we had a committee which was open to hearing from staff, with procedures in the employee handbook for contacting. Further, we did a 360-degree evaluation of the executive director which involved a survey of the employees. ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 18:29, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
WMF has had a 360-degree evaluation & survey for a few years. IIRC the board (or at least its HR committee) sees the part touching on the executive team. SJ talk  02:07, 3 January 2016 (UTC)

Engineering reorganization of 2015[edit]

This is water under the bridge, but the WMF's major reorganization of the Engineering staff in 2015 was planned in semi-secrecy, where increasingly wide circles of managers and key workers were brought into the conversation individually rather than as a whole. There was no public discussion before implementation, and changes were effective immediately.

  • Proposal 1: WMF policy that any decisions to make changes to job titles and roles must be made with full transparency and staff input. Adamw (talk) December 2015
  • I don't know about others, but wherever I've worked, when staff get moved or let go (especially due to lackluster performance issues), there is not a big, transparent discussion to assess the various feelings of the general staff about what the management intends to do. - Thekohser (talk) 03:30, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
  • Agree with Mr Kohser.Peter Damian (talk) 10:39, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
Varies by organisation. A classic for profit top down organised company won't. Organisations looking for a higher level of staff buy in (and the WMF probably is) will. Obviously the specificness of any advanced statement and the extent to which any feedback is taken on board is something that needs to be carefully balanced by management but well those kind of decisions are what management is for.Geni (talk) 16:37, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
  • I'm replacing with a new proposal below. I don't believe that "full" transparency is appropriate for normal HR issues. The type of change I'm talking about are sweeping departmental reorganizations. Adamw (talk) 01:07, 3 January 2016 (UTC)
  • Proposal 2: Major reorganizations should be communicated openly and well ahead of time, and should always involve collaboration with the people whose jobs will be affected. Adamw (talk) 09:16, 3 January 2016 (UTC)
    • AFAICT, the only people who actually care about re-orgs in the real world are the affected employees and investors. Non-profits don't really have investors, so this is purely a staff satisfaction issue – and staff satisfaction is probably more related to everything working out for themselves as individuals, rather than the overall decision. Therefore, I doubt that there is much practical value in announcing, e.g., "Engineering and Product will be merged into a single unit" a month or two in advance. Also, the only way to make an announcement in advance is to get everything settled, agree that it's a good plan, and then artificially delay the implementation for the purpose of "communicating openly and well ahead of time". If it's such a good plan, then why wait for a month or two for an announcement that so few people care about and that will presumably have no effect on the result? There are also the practical downsides, especially in the category of HR issues. Imagine that you are leaving as a result of this (or that the re-org is happening entirely because you are leaving anyway, and the org needs to adjust in response). Announcing the re-org "well ahead of time" may mean that you have to announce your planned departure "well ahead of" the time that you wanted to. I know that when this re-org was announced, it took only moments for staff to start chatting about the one manager (not Erik) whose name wasn't in the new org chart. It's not possible to both protect him from gossip about this "normal HR issue" and still "communicate openly and well ahead of time" that there was no place for him in the new organization. WhatamIdoing (talk) 18:47, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
What an extraordinary statement, that the only people who actually care about re-orgs in the real world are the affected employees and investors. Other stakeholders in this process would include the donors, who must surely be concerned that their money is being effectively and efficiently spent by the WMF -- especially the restricted grant funders who have attached conditions to the expenditure of their money in certain ways -- and the volunteer community who work alongside paid staff in many areas and need to know with whom and on what they are working. Of course these people care about the re-organisation. There are projects that were disrupted, delayed or even abandoned in connection with the re-organisation, as you are very well aware. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 17:40, 31 January 2016 (UTC)

Executive hire by appointment[edit]

Proposal: WMF will conduct a job search whenever filling key positions, and will run a background check on candidates before hiring them. Adamw (talk) December 2015

Background checks are standard for all key job posts, for the past 6+ years. At least that's part of the HR handbook. SJ talk 
Indeed, they are. However, it may not be the case that this was adhered to in 100% of executive hires since the policy was put in place. Ijon (talk) 18:56, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
Ah.

Private wikis[edit]

Private wikis are vastly abused by WMF. Especially the number of them has no justification. See also Grants:IdeaLab/A place to work together. Nemo 12:31, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

There is a vast amount of information on private wikis at the WMF. I can't speak to "abused", what I see is quite appropriate, but yes there could be more of a push towards sunshine. @Nemo bis: Can you write this as a proposal? Adamw (talk) 09:16, 3 January 2016 (UTC)
+1. Someone should sort through them and move all non-confidential content to Meta, and the rest to a unified private wiki. A related issue is the use of Google Docs and other non-public collaborations mechanisms. --Yair rand (talk) 03:53, 4 January 2016 (UTC)
There is almost zero likelihood there will be either volunteer or staff hours for such a bootless task. Rather, a public listing of all wikis, including their status as public/private, should be made available. The communities should be aware of what wikis exist, and can then advocate for some to be opened. (As this is almost certain to be immediately abused with anonymous naming practices, the public list should include what authority is in charge of each WMF wiki asset.) - Amgine/meta wikt wnews blog wmf-blog goog news 05:05, 4 January 2016 (UTC)
  • List of all WMF wikis: Complete list of Wikimedia projects
  • Automatic list of all private WMF wikis: https://noc.wikimedia.org/conf/private.dblist
  • My two cents: More than a third of the private wikis aren't "the WMF" in the first place; they're for ArbComs and other community groups. I'm also not worried about "the number of them". It doesn't make sense to complain about "abusing" an unused private wiki (with zero content), or a private wiki that hasn't been used for years. I think that most people can understand why Legal or Human Resources might want better control. As Yair rand hints, closing private wikis will not solve the problem. Teams can (and Legal already does) move things to Google docs or other controlled-access forms if they can't use private wikis. I've commented at Grants talk:IdeaLab/A place to work together on the related point, but the nutshell is this: If your problem statement is "there's stuff I ought to be able to read but can't, because it's private", then "use a different kind of software to (still) keep me from reading it" is not actually a relevant solution. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:49, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

Democratic centralism[edit]

The lack of transparency is just a symptom of a problem: WMF's problem is the lack of tolerance for disagreement, both internal and external. WMF follows a democratic centralism approach. While democratic centralism has its benefits and has worked for some kinds of organisations in history, it's hardly helpful in Wikimedia. Nemo 12:31, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

It's difficult for me to reconcile the reality of how the WMF operates with the external veneer you might be seeing. There is no party discipline nor democratic process that might serve as a source of moral authority, which would be the bedrock for the "democratic centralism" you bring up. I do see the problematic "every single human being" clause in the WMF's vision statement used as an sort of mandate to work outside of the domain of the existing community, which is healthy when it encourages diversity and unhealthy when it allows us to ignore conflict or invent straw people.
Our inability to dialogue through conflict is one of the most painful challenges the Foundation faces, thank you for pointing it out. The organizational structure is currently a handful of autonomous groups overlaid by a vertical and hierarchical chain of command, and it seems very natural in this scenario that middle managers defend would their people against any criticisms. Upper management is able to force their own directives despite conflict. I believe we would benefit from much more linking between groups and between the staff and broader community, in a horizontal way that allows us to talk as equals. Adamw (talk) 20:43, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
Not "inability", but "unwillingness". We (the organization, staff) are perfectly able to dialogue through conflict. Leadership has not had patience to allow us to do so, and doing so is not allowed for in planning and time budgeting. This could change, albeit perhaps only as part of larger (e.g. personnel) changes. Ijon (talk) 21:07, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
Ijon, I take your point, and (though I know less than you do) I am inclined to agree. However, let's not ignore ability altogether. As I argued in 2014, there is great value in placing people with experience in serving broad and diverse stakeholder groups in positions of leadership]. There are a great many skills involved in effectively listening to, engaging in discourse with, and incorporating the wishes and needs of, diverse groups. Patience is a factor, but often a lack of experience or ability is a part of what makes the challenges so vexing as to require a lot of patience to begin with. -Pete F (talk) 18:21, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

Accountability source[edit]

The other root problem WMF has is its total lack of accountability to anyone, or in other words the lack of the "democratic" part of democratic centralism. Other than dissolution by a judge/court, which I suppose is possible under Florida law, there is no way whatsoever for stakeholders to control what the WMF does. WMF has multiple aspects of an autocracy, see also The reader as tool for autocracy. Nemo 12:40, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

I agree. Ijon (talk) 18:59, 30 December 2015 (UTC)
+1 -Pete F (talk)
+1 Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 12:36, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
+1 Grüße vom Sänger ♫(Reden) 18:17, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
+1 Peter Damian (talk) 19:36, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
+1 ViswaPrabhaവിശ്വപ്രഭtalk 21:31, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

Aren't the board members elected or appointed by the stakeholders (except for the founder's seat, though one can argue the founder is one of the stakeholders too)? I don't think direct democracy would work better in this case. --Smalyshev (WMF) (talk) 21:35, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
There are many different kinds of accountability. There are various ways in which the organization has sought autonomy over the years, and it has in my opinion been more successful in those efforts than in many other areas. The end result is that there are few checks and balances. One form of accountability is relationships with other institutions (e.g. philanthropic foundations), and the kind of dialogue that comes in seeking, executing, and reporting on grants. Wikimedia has worked hard to avoid restricted grants in the past (though I don't know the current policy). -Pete F (talk) 19:21, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
Not sure I understand what restricted grants have to do with accountability. As for checks and balances, aren't board elections supposed to provide those? If majority of Wiki community dislikes what the board does, wouldn't they be able to (eventually if not immediately) replace them? Looks like accountability to me, what I am missing? --Smalyshev (WMF) (talk) 01:07, 20 January 2016 (UTC)
Good questions, Smalyshev (WMF). I'll make two points about grants, and one about elections:
  1. Grants in general can create a framework for accountability: if an organization is reliant on funding from other organizations, the kind of persuasion that goes into getting that money is an opportunity to clarify purpose, and it's necessary to demonstrate that the purpose aligns with the funding organization. This is true of both restricted and unrestricted grants; restricted grants have a special ability to sway the funded organization from its general plans, though, because there's a very real temptation to say "we'll do this thing we wouldn't do otherwise" or "...that we wouldn't prioritize so heavily otherwise" in order to get the money. The Wikimedia Foundation's efforts to make individual ~$20 donations the main source of funding interrupt that accountability, though the WMF is not very reliant on any particular organization for funding (by design).
  2. But, the WMF still does pursue grants. In that sense, perhaps there is some accountability to other foundations; but the nature of it is not clear, because the nature of the grants is not generally disclosed (and what little is disclosed, is disclosed only after the fact).
  3. The community has the ability to nominate (not elect) three of the ten Trustees. In fact, in the last election, the community exerted that ability about as forcefully as it possibly could: in an election that had far higher turnout than any prior election, it removed all three of the community-nominated Trustees. However, one of the three Trustees was then removed by a vote of the other Trustees -- including the vote of only one of the community-nominated Trustees. If this is an indication of the amount of influence Wikimedia volunteers have over the Board, to me it's a clear indication that the influence -- when it matters -- amounts to almost nothing. -Pete F (talk) 02:35, 20 January 2016 (UTC)
I agree with Pete that grantmakers can provide accountability. It's not the only possible form, of course, but one form. One "advantage" to grantmaker-based accountability is that experienced grantmakers usually know what they're doing, what a functional organization looks like, and what's realistic under the circumstances. Explaining your actions and your results to a grantmaker is somewhat like having your job performance evaluated by an independent expert in field: you might agree or disagree with the expert, but the expert's review of your work is likely to be more helpful and more pointful than asking your next-door neighbor. WhatamIdoing (talk) 20:00, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

Whistleblowing[edit]

Could the Foundation's whistleblower policy be improved? It says: "If any employee reasonably believes that some policy, practice, or activity of Wikimedia Foundation Inc is in violation of law, a written complaint must be filed by that employee with the Executive Director, to the Chair of the Board of Trustees, or to the Chair of the Audit Committee." SarahSV talk 23:01, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

Well worth looking into. I find it surprising that only illegal acts are covered -- I wonder about acts that substantially contravene Wikimedia principles should be included as well. I also wonder about an avenue outside the normal chain of command, such as an ombudsman. I do not have much expertise around such policies though, so I'll just note that this area seems worth looking into carefully, and perhaps reforming. -Pete F (talk) 00:36, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
A catch-all ombudsman can work well. Sometimes it's possible to have one on staff, if there is a sufficiently independent branch of the org; but one that is on or reports to the Board also works. (Usually with larger boards than this.) SJ talk  20:19, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
This is something that WMF staff have repeatedly asked both the board and senior management to put in place over the last few months. Ironholds (talk) 19:52, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
There is demand for ombudsman services at the Wikimedia community level as well. There are a large number of community accusations of inappropriate behavior done by WMF staff. In my opinion, most of these accusations are unfounded, but right now, when they are made no one addresses them and they ferment and create ill-will over time. It is extremely upsetting for volunteers to feel that they have a grievance against WMF staff and there is no one available to take their complaint. I appreciate that in response to Grants:IdeaLab/Community discussion on harassment reporting community advocacy staff were hired, but still, no one at the WMF is ready to record and respond to community complaints against WMF staff. Blue Rasberry (talk) 20:08, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
+1 ombudsman good idea. you would need someone respected by community who reported to the board, and also presented results at blog and Signpost. another channel of communication. Slowking4 (talk) 00:30, 3 January 2016 (UTC)
Indeed, it is so weak a whistle-blowing policy as to almost count as a whistle-silencing policy. Illegal acts should be reported to the proper authorities, which may well not be internal.
Rich Farmbrough 20:47 16 January 2016 (GMT).

Low-hanging fruit[edit]

This section is intended for items that are easy to implement -- and in some cases, could even be implemented by staff without the need for any kind of formal directive or policy (though clear policies might be beneficial in their own way). Such changes could have a small, but undoubtedly positive impact on the smoothness of day-to-day interactions, and they could also help the organization move incrementally toward a higher standard of transparency. -Pete F (talk) 00:31, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

  • Useful transparency of professional role: When emailing a list, an individual, posting on a wiki page, etc., staff should generally identify their job title, and (where appropriate) indicate ways to communicate with them. This can be done with an email signature, in a wiki signature, or even just in the prose of a message. -Pete F (talk) 00:31, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
    • An email signature and a wiki signature are very different things. For on-wiki comments, the user page would IMO serve the purpose with less disruption. Anomie (talk) 16:20, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
      • If you want to get in touch with me, en:wp:talk page is the way to go. Many staff however do not edit on a daily, or even monthly basis. They may well be better served by linking to the "email this user" page. Rich Farmbrough 20:49 16 January 2016 (GMT).
  • Staff use of the disclaimer "in my volunteer capacity" is so ubiquitous that, in my opinion, the phrase has become utterly meaningless. When you comment on something that relates to your job, I believe it should generally be done in your job capacity; that expertise is part of why you were hired. If it doesn't relate to one's job, staff members should be circumspect about whether any public comment is appropriate (and in some cases, maybe it is). Even when it doesn't directly relate to your job, that doesn't rule out the possibility that the comment is "in your professional capacity." I would like to see the use of this phrase substantially reduced, to the (IMO very few) instances where it is actually meaningful and necessary. -Pete F (talk) 00:31, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
    Great point! I agree that staff should be encourged to make time to think and act critically, go beyond simply following orders, and also engage with Foundation projects that aren't in their direct line of work. Speaking for myself, I'm maintaining a distinction between my staff and volunteer actions only to emphasize that I'm not on the clock, donors are not paying me to comment here. Thanks for challenging this murky compartmentalization, though--I've never been good at that. Adamw (talk) 18:57, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
    OTOH, without such a flag it's very easy for people to misconstrue something that a person says as some sort of official WMF statement when it's really just the opinion of someone with no actual job responsibility in the area. Even with fully transparent job title and team information included inline, it may not be clear to onlookers whether e.g. an engineer commenting on some technical issue is speaking in their job capacity or just using the general knowledge any software engineer volunteer might bring. Anomie (talk) 16:20, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
    I agree, but perhaps there's a better way of expressing thoughts without either
  1. Appearing to speak for the WMF
  2. Worrying that there will be WMF objections to what you say.
The second is potentially a big chiller of free exchange of ideas.
Rich Farmbrough 20:53 16 January 2016 (GMT).
  • Wikimedia Foundation personnel could commit to improving the data structure and the substance reported on wikimediafoundation.org, and also here on Meta Wiki about the Foundation. For instance, setting and executing high standards of categorization for board resolutions, Metrics & Activities meetings, grant reports, etc. etc. I have personally done a great deal of such categorization; but I have never done so in the belief that it's appropriate for volunteers to shoulder that burden. I've done so in the hopes that the organization might eventually pick up the slack, and that it might be easier to do so if there is some good underlying structure to build out. -Pete F (talk) 00:31, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
    • Here's a specific example -- when a Foundation employee leaves the organization, whose ultimate responsibility is it to ensure that their user page [ 2 ] no longer reads as though they work for the organization, lists their email address, etc.? I am personally a little reluctant to edit official user pages, even when there are obvious errors; I suspect other Wikimedians are like me in that regard. I don't think we should have to worry about tidying up stuff like this. -Pete F (talk) 21:42, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
Strongly agree. While I was active at the Signpost I was aware of hirings and going at the WMF, but hesitant to touch the officially ordained staff list. It took over a month for Gayle Karen Young to be removed from that page after her official end date. I am sympathetic: it is so easy for these things to slip through the cracks. Which is why it is important to keep track of them. ResMar 20:41, 2 January 2016 (UTC)
I am less sympathetic. There is an exit procedure for employees, which HR should implement. We have an HR department, which in my opinion is overweight for an organization of this size (10 people!). If they can't update staff pages on a wiki, then we are probably still paying most of those who have left a salary! Rich Farmbrough 21:04 16 January 2016 (GMT).
  • Use less jargon! Even substituting WMF for writing out "Wikimedia Foundation" (cf the title of this page) can be problematic; if and when those less familiar with governance issues come across it, and/or people in whose native language "WMF" has no meaningful/obvious connection to WMF. -Pete F (talk) 00:52, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
    It doesn't have to be Wikimedia specific, either. The jargon can be corporate/organizational (cf. WMFers Say The Darndest Things). Killiondude (talk) 23:12, 16 January 2016 (UTC)

Board and executives should set a high standard for generative communication[edit]

Acknowledging substantial dissenting views -- which is separate from granting their requests -- is an important practice. Summarizing the dissenting view and commenting on it in detail is also valuable, as it helps many stakeholders in the analysis of an issue, and creates an opportunity for misunderstandings to be discovered.

The most significant example of this, I believe, is the open letter I wrote in 2014, which has been signed by more than 1000 people, but thus far has never been acknowledged in any formal, public statement by its recipients.

The United States presidency's approach to this is worth considering as an example; petitions.whitehouse.gov has clear standards for when a petition will receive a formal response, and even when the White House declines to act on a petition (that has met the participation standards), they explain why. -Pete F (talk) 00:45, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

Note, Qgil-WMF did create a task tracking whether/when this happens recently: https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T119595 -Pete F (talk) 00:50, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
Let us sing Qgil's praises. SJ talk 
An organizational commitment like that of the White House would be a far better way of constructing a community-board channel than the publication of board meetings suggested above, and is much more feasible. Very strongly agree with this idea. ResMar 20:43, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

In which way is current and former board members' free speech restricted?[edit]

Reviewing the Pledge of Personal Commitment board members are required to sign, I confess I don't quite understand in which ways current or former board members are actually restricted from speaking freely about any matter related to the movement and its work.

I understand that board members only sign this Pledge of Personal Commitment, and that there isn't a specific or separate non-disclosure agreement. The text of the Pledge doesn't mention non-disclosure explicitly (although it may well be implicit in some of the phrasings).

The Pledge also seems to say nothing about how board members should conduct themselves once their term has expired.

The Pledge begins "As a member of the board ...", then goes on to say "I will conduct my activities with the board of trustees ...", "In every instance in which I represent the Wikimedia Foundation ...", etc., implying that this is a pledge that board members have to observe while in office.

Is there anything else board members have to sign that has a bearing on what they are permitted to say after their term is over?

I would be very grateful if someone with more insight than me could explain, for everyone's benefit, in which ways the free speech of current and former board members (and, indeed, staff/contractors) is restricted. Andreas JN466 11:43, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

See also the board statement, which refers to "board confidentiality". Andreas JN466 13:29, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

IANAL and I'm not sure of how it works in the US, but in France board member would be restricted legally from speaking about HR stuff publicly (staff may sue the organisation and the trustee). There are also lots of good practice that would restrict the commnunication from the board to staff (in order to let the ED do it's job). So I could totally understand a removal if a trustee does not accept thoses restrictions. --PierreSelim (talk) 00:43, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
PS: That's also why we maintain a board member handbook, so that candidate are on the same page than everyone on the role and responsability (and restrictions). --PierreSelim (talk) 00:48, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
Making sure that everybody is on the same page seems like a good idea. Is your board member handbook public? There are clearly different ways of approaching the topic of communication between staff and board (see #Staff_communications_discouraged above). However, whichever way a particular board handles this issue, it would seem essential to be completely open and transparent about the standards and conduct expected, so everybody -- board members, staff, volunteers -- knows about it and can adjust their expectations and behaviour accordingly. If that transparency is lacking in the Wikimedia Foundation, as seems to be the case, then that's indeed a "transparency gap". Andreas JN466 15:02, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
and make it open before election so that expectations are clear; so that those unwilling to sign, could elect not to run. Slowking4 (talk) 00:36, 3 January 2016 (UTC)

Some related documents:

Some relevant quotes from the Wikimedia Foundation Board Handbook:

  • "The duty of loyalty also includes protecting the confidentiality of nonpublic communications and information, including nonpublic donor, user and employee information and legally-privileged communications. A Board member cannot disclose confidential Board discussions without the agreement of the Board."
  • "Board members should use the appropriate channels of communication within WMF. Official Board member communications are appropriate to the Executive Director, the Secretary and his or her delegates, the Treasurer and his or her delegates, the Board Liaison (for Board meeting scheduling and other logistics, and expense reimbursement), and the Travel Coordinator (for Board-related travel). Direct official communication with other WMF staff – without coordination with the Executive Director – is not encouraged. Individual Board members may not give work assignments to staff members without approval of the Executive Director. Board members should keep the Executive Director informed in advance of substantive contacts with staff, other than those where the Executive Director has a legal conflict of interest."
  • "[...] the Board is legally required to keep certain information confidential. This includes: general counsel presentations and other legally-privileged communications;[86] conflict of interest disclosures, unless the affected party consents or the General Counsel approves disclosure; and private donor, user and employee information. Board visitors must sign a non-disclosure agreement (provided by the Secretary) and be excused from legally-privileged portions of Board meetings. Non-public information is redacted from the public Board minutes but available to Board members in hard copy in the Board's books." Andreas JN466 22:04, 3 January 2016 (UTC)

Hammurabi[edit]

The "additional information" says that the reason for expelling James was «not about a difference of opinion [...] came to the opinion that we were not able to reach a common understanding with James», which is IMHO a contradiction. It's not responsible to expel a member on the basis of unwritten and unknowable rules: one would expect Wikimedia to prefer Hammurabi to a masonic law.

Apparently there were «multiple conversations around expectations for Trustee conduct, responsibilities, and confidentiality», which however never produced a resolution. Such "expectations" should be written down immediately, especially as candidates (and voters) in the next elections need to know what they are going to face. Nemo 18:59, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

Yes, they should be written down. These expectations may have been what is already covered in the board handbook, and its 'standard of conduct'. If any new ones came up in discussion, an update to the handbook would be appropriate. Bonus points @Nemo for using Hammurabi properly in a section heading. SJ talk  02:01, 3 January 2016 (UTC)
Yes. Please let's have that information in the public domain, so it is transparent what people must not be transparent about. The community should have an informed understanding of what its elected representatives are at liberty to share with them, be they WMF staff or volunteers. Andreas JN466 11:54, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
+1, but I'd add replace "elected reps" with simply "trustees" as it should apply to all of them, and I'd add "...or other stakeholders..." (e.g. readers, subjects of articles...) -Pete F (talk) 19:18, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
Indeed, Pete. Andreas JN466 11:10, 2 January 2016 (UTC)

Wikimedia Foundation's committment to transparency[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation's guiding principles and values have surprisingly little to say about our concrete committments to transparency. As a member of the Foundation's Fundraising Tech department, I engage with this contradiction on a regular basis and it impedes my work to not have clear organizational directives that mandate openness. My work also treads a fine line regarding privacy (donor tracking) and on-wiki advertising (e.g. promotional partnerships with payment processors), which makes it even more important to work transparently and with public oversight.

  • Draw a very explicit and public line around the few topics that must be handled in private.
  • Use public, logged IRC channels.
  • Internal coordination should happen on public mailing lists.
  • Even when producing statistics that must be kept private, there should always be equivalent public data, and any omissions should be publicly documented.
  • Research and literature reviews should never be secret.
  • Planning should be done in the open (and collaboratively), from the very initial stages through execution and iteration.
  • Contracts the WMF is a party to should be made public.

The few exceptions should be made explicit.

We continue to make slow progress towards a few of these aspirational goals, but it bothers me that this has been an elective effort. Transparency (as with ongoing training, respect for individual privacy and diversity of opinion, and otherwise following staff codes of conduct) should be a core responsibility of all staff rather than something we "aim to do". Adamw (talk) 08:57, 3 January 2016 (UTC)

Adam, I'm not sure your idea of radical transparency would actually be helpful in helping anyone understand anything. I would also describe them as rather thoughtless in their scope, in contrast to aspirational. For example, "Internal coordination should happen on public mailing lists" means "Please broadcast the internal coordination necessary for your vacation to the world". I'm sure that savvy local burglars would find this convenient, but it won't actually help anyone in the movement understand what the WMF is doing.
I think you need to spend some time thinking about the difference between having access to a flood of unimportant information and actually being able to understand what the WMF is doing. Burying people in irrelevancies and trivia is a time-worn bureaucrat's trick for making people think you're being transparent, without actually telling them the things that matter. WhatamIdoing (talk) 20:34, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
The one proposition might imply the other but it certainly does not mean it: that is, they are not logically equivalent. There seem to be three major positions here. You are not in favour of radical transparency in principle; you are but believe that the specific proposals here have disadvantages that outweigh the advantages; you would be in favour but sadly believe that every reasonable set of arrangements has disadvantages that outweigh the advantages. Which of these most closely approximates your position? Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 17:47, 31 January 2016 (UTC)

Employee engagement survey[edit]

In 2012 and 2013, the Wikimedia Foundation published results of an employee engagement survey, indicating (anonymized) staff sentiment about various matters. There are no published reports from 2014 or 2015. Peteforsyth (talk · contribs)

I added a link to a discussion on a 2015 survey on page 144 of the latest quarterly report. I have no background on it, just noticed it in passing. Results are published on the private office wiki. ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 04:14, 4 January 2016 (UTC)
The transparency of the survey is the issue at hand; but a plausible reason why the organization has been reluctant to release it was just published in the English Wikipedia Signpost:
A key issue has been the WMF's annual evaluation of employee engagement, conducted and analyzed by a third-party consultant in late 2015. The results were made available on an internal office wiki, and it is now public knowledge that an internal discussion among staff has begun about making the survey public. As of publication, more than two dozen staff members have spoken in favor of releasing the survey as soon as possible "with no dissenting voices". The Signpost has been apprised of the results by one of their number. We understand that there was a healthy 93% response rate among some 240 staff. While numbers approached 90% for pride in working at the WMF and confidence in line managers, the responses to four propositions may raise eyebrows:
  • Senior leadership at Wikimedia have communicated a vision that motivates me: 7% agree
  • Senior leadership at Wikimedia keep people informed about what is happening: 7% agree
  • I have confidence in senior leadership at Wikimedia: 10% agree
  • Senior leadership effectively directs resources (funding, people and effort) towards the Foundation's goals: 10% agree
The Signpost has been informed that among the "C-levels" (members of the executive), only one has confidence in senior leadership.

From w:en:Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2016-01-06/News and notes -Pete F (talk) 16:33, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

Providing for important translations without having to be asked[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation has a remarkable resource at its disposal, in the volunteer translation community. But it frequently does not use it effectively. Two important things:

  1. The WMF should proactively seek translation of important documents; and
  2. The WMF should not take free translation for granted, but should be prepared to pay for services when the volunteer community is not willing or able to meet the WMF's needs.

For an example, see here: Talk:Wikimedia Foundation Board noticeboard/James Heilman removal FAQ -Pete F (talk) 01:31, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Once upon a time, the WMF cared about this and used the transcom to ensure certain quality standards. However, since then, chaos has ensued (every WMF person acts at whim, or more often doesn't do anything) and foundationwiki has been abandoned. Nemo 17:23, 7 January 2016 (UTC)
Once upon a time, the membership list at Transcom wasn't all marked "inactive", too.
Requests for translation are usually made on the translators-l mailing list. However, to do that, then someone (staff or volunteer) has to believe that the document is "important", and reasonable people can hold different opinions about that.
The WMF also pays for translations, particularly for large community consultations, e.g., the Terms of Use and the 2015 Strategy discussions. One issue to note is that community-based translations are sometimes better than paid ones. For example, "free as in freedom" sometimes gets translated as "without paying money" in paid translations. WhatamIdoing (talk) 20:58, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
Of course it would be easier to reactivate the transcom if WMF didn't work against it.
As for paid translations bought by the WMF, most of those I see for Italian are worse than no translation at all and make the volunteers work more, not less. Such paid translations are only a way to trigger Cunningham's Law, not to provide service. Nemo 07:16, 29 January 2016 (UTC)

Transparency about grants received by the Wikimedia Foundation[edit]

In January 2016, the Wikimedia Foundation announced a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. It appears to be a restricted grant (as opposed to a grant funding general operations); and it's unclear exactly what the grant will fund.

In general, it is an important principle that the terms of restricted grants should be clearly disclosed. I just published a more detailed blog post on this topic, outlining the WMF's apparent evolution away from Open Philanthropy in its grant-seeking activities. We should have a clear statement of principles around grant transparency, and the WMF's practices should be upgraded. -Pete F (talk) 02:24, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

Another useful link is this one which words what we are building as "To advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet." Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 08:20, 7 January 2016 (UTC)
This says,
  • DATE AWARDED 09/01/15
  • AMOUNT $250,000
  • GRANT PERIOD 09/01/15 to 08/31/16
Why is this grant only being announced now, almost half a year after it was given? Andreas JN466 11:16, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

My main curiosity is who approved the grant, given it exceeds the 100 k$ limit per wmf:Gift policy. Nemo 17:21, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

Hi @Nemo bis:, the Board is informed of any significant restricted grants (possibly even those not reaching that limit). And it has a straw poll on the Board mailing list to approve gifts of any kind over that limit. While this grant came in after I left the board, we were informed that it was a possibility in Q4 last year, and no concerns about it were raised. I imagine it was approved routinely at the end of August.
I see no problem with this grant, nor is it a particularly new practice: the WMF has taken or pursued a number of lightly-restricted grants over the years, when they have aligned with existing projects. For instance, the Knight Foundation have already supported offline / WP Zero work with a $600K restricted grant; this is small in comparison. SJ talk  00:43, 10 January 2016 (UTC)
Sure, I'm not saying it's extraordinary. As for this grant, if I interpret the gift policy and authority delegation resolutions, there might be multiple bodies (collegial or monocratic) which are allowed to approve such a grant, so it would be useful to know who has responsibility over it.
Since 2013, when the grant you mentioned happened, some new things happened, for instance the "decision" by the WMF that «any grants that are not unrestricted will receive a special high level of scrutiny before being accepted». Nemo 10:53, 10 January 2016 (UTC)

The apparent absence of a publicly recorded resolution approving the grant is indeed distressing, especially given the grant's reported start date. There have been several board meetings since September 1. -Pete F (talk) 19:18, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

Where is the open discussion about the new strategy?[edit]

A strategy for this community enterprise is only valid, if it's discussed in the full open with the whole community from the very beginning. Any secrecy about such discussions is bad. If there was discussion about such central things somewhere in the WMF not in the open, this is a clear proof of acting against the community. Anyone involved in such discussions, that didn't even try to blow the whistle to the bosses, i.e. the community, should get the boot for this anti-wikimedia behaviour. --Grüße vom Sänger ♫(Reden) 07:50, 8 January 2016 (UTC)

@Sänger: That's quite an active boot you've got there! Yes, there's a strategy process underway. I have no special role, but I can tell you the bits I know. Many departments are building siloed strategies, notably the Reading group. As for collaborative, Foundation-wide strategy, staff were invited to an initial set-up meeting on November 13, but it was focused on process thus too boring to relate here. That meeting was done openly, feel free to read or watch if you develop insomnia. Nothing else was heard for a month, but we did restart the process recently. For some reason, it has been hosted on a private wiki (officewiki) so far and only limited community feedback was solicited, but there's a timeline that says the broader community will be invited to collaborate beginning January 18. I can't say for certain why the process has been "underground", but if I had to guess, I would say that it's a healthy and understandable desire to present a well-considered first draft that staff can feel proud of.
Perhaps the community beyond Foundation staff should start their own strategy discussion, so when we meet in the middle everyone is on roughly equal footing?
Thanks, Adamw (talk) 08:45, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
The start of such a thing should be a) on an open wiki page here somewhere, or, if real human interacting should be there first, b) at a Wikimania. After all, this is about the community, not the staff. The staff of the service organisation for the community definitely should be included in this discussions, but I fail to see any reason why they should be the starting point. Or is it just the strategy for future hiring of personel in the service agency, so more something for ED and Works council? --Grüße vom Sänger ♫(Reden) 09:04, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
I personally agree, collaboration is done best between equals, which in my view means that everyone gets to have a hand in the earliest moments of the conversation. Since it's too late for that, my suggestion is that the broader community throw their own strategy party, so that it's not overwhelming when the Foundation imports a dump of all the planning documentation we recently generated. Adamw (talk) 09:25, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
I would say: Ditch all time planning for this. If something will be made open, and discussion started, it will probably take at least half a year, perhaps a bit longer. But so be it, it's not the fault of the community. And the service agency WMF will have to live with the decisions of the community. At least that's how it should be. --Grüße vom Sänger ♫(Reden) 09:40, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
So all the stuff you mention was developed on officewiki from the very beginning? If so, I'm positively surprised: it would be a great improvement in internal staff communication around the Wikimedia budget, compared to the period when C-levels privately assembled their own separate pieces of plans in Google Docs and then the ED forwarded a collage to the board (or rather, to the treasurer; the board could only vote yes or no). Nemo 10:25, 8 January 2016 (UTC)

.wtf short link[edit]

Who owns this domain, what is being tracked when I click it, and why is is necessary? I would like to see us use links that we can trust and that are transparent. -unsigned message from 107.138.50.50

From a Whois query, the domain is owned by Ijon. I have the utmost respect for Ijon (Asaf), and cannot imagine he would have set up the short link for any purposes other than those stated; but perhaps it would help persuade others if he could address the question directly? -Pete F (talk) 18:59, 10 January 2016 (UTC)

Moved from the page. SJ talk 

"For easier referencing, this page has a short URL: <http://wmf.wtf/>"
That's correct. It's a direct forward to this page, and no tracking takes place; nor did I use it anywhere formal. I hope to feel able to retire it very soon. Ijon (talk) 11:54, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Selection process for board nominations[edit]

Wikimedia Foundation transparency gap#Selection process for board nominations

I've started a section about this on the page. I'm hoping that Dariusz might be willing to comment here, particularly on how Arnnon Geshuri came to be nominated and what was known when the board supported the nomination. SarahSV talk 15:18, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

Dariusz has said on the mailing list that Geshuri's involvement in the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation was 10th on google.com a few days ago (this was roughly fourth when I looked on 8 January), and wasn't in the top ten on Google.pl / .de / .it. He said he is investigating with the Board Governance Committee what went wrong with the process. [4] SarahSV talk 03:01, 12 January 2016 (UTC)
The Google search ranking is a distraction. The Governance process should ensure that prospective trustees are directly asked to explain their role in any legal issues within the last 5 or 10 years, and be asked to raise with the governance team anything they have done that was challenged as unlawful or might be reasonably judged as unethical during their entire lifetime. Frankly, any trustee knows that when new of the WMF board, anything unethical they have ever been involved with will be scrutinized, and may result in lots of pointed questions in public; there is no expiration date for public interest. The prospective trustee has a duty to the WMF and themselves to ensure that anything that may be uncovered that could be serious has been discussed in advance, and if something undisclosed blows up in their face, they should be bounced off the board immediately by the Chairperson, as they were misleading their fellow trustees (as the rest of us that don't get a say) as to their eligibility or competence to steer the WMF and control the strategy for our open knowledge legacy.
Oh, yes, I think this is obvious but maybe not for everyone - if whoever nominated Arnnon happens to be a trustee, they need to resign as their judgement on this was not just flawed, it is embarrassingly unacceptable. -- (talk) 14:24, 12 January 2016 (UTC)
Well, not really. "Nomination" is not necessarily the same as "endorsement". Rich Farmbrough 20:05 16 January 2016 (GMT).
Thanks for tip Rich, though just imagine if a trustee used this as a form of excuse to not resign, it would be classic. In my book, if you are a trustee and you nominate one of your notable pals to join the board, then you do so knowing this will be seen as you putting your cards behind the candidate, no matter which terminology technically applies. I suspect the current board of trustees thinks the same way, hence the profound silence in reply to the basic question "Who nominated Geshuri?". -- (talk) 22:35, 16 January 2016 (UTC)
Well indeed, a more transparent system might enable someone to say that they said "Perhaps we should consider this Geshuri chap." rather than "Geshuri is a first-rate fellow I recommend him unreservedly." If all the information is available, all bugs are shallow. Those resisting transparency perhaps do not realise that it is more likely to reflect well on them than obscurantism, even when they do get it horribly wrong (as we all do sometimes). Rich Farmbrough 20:06 17 January 2016 (GMT).
it's all very high minded, but given the worship of steve jobs among the clique, actually following jobs' direction is a qualification not demerit. it's only the outsiders who consider unfair labor practices a problem. the horatio alger group think prevails because our founder wants it. if he wanted a diverse board that spanned cultures and disciplines he would get it. just as if the community wanted a welcoming collaborative workplace, we would have it. we have met the enemy, and they is us. Slowking4 (talk) 00:28, 19 January 2016 (UTC)

Wikimedia Foundation Board Governance Committee[edit]

A gap seems to have opened up here, where the Committee has provided no information about its agenda or proceedings since 2014: see discussion at Talk:Wikimedia Foundation Board Governance Committee#Meetings. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 22:26, 9 February 2016 (UTC)

Community Broker[edit]

A modest proposal to help bridge the gap that has unfortunately opened up between the Board and the volunteer community -- a Community Broker. A member of the community, elected by the community, attending in a speaking but non-voting capacity at all Board meetings and business. The Broker would be charged with gathering concerns from the community, raising them in a frank and constructive way at the Board, and reporting back to the community on the results, and the other Board business, within the obvious limits of confidentiality. The Broker should be supported by the secretariat and have travel expenses defrayed on the same basis as the full members.

This is an arrangement that I have seen work well in some of the charities and other leadership boards I have been on. There seems no reason to believe that it would not work here.

I have also posted this at Wikimedia Foundation Board noticeboard#Community Broker and would suggest centralising the discussion there. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 07:37, 12 February 2016 (UTC)

Transparency about donor-funded work supporting commercial re-users[edit]

A recent celebratory article on Wikidata by Mark Pesce ends with the following comments:

In contrast to Wikipedia, it’s easy to imagine an ecology of very lucrative apps built atop Wikidata. [...] The data may be free and universally accessible, but how that data gets put to work to solve a problem will be a fertile area of commerce for at least the next generation.
Wikipedia has wisely resisted the siren’s lure of advertising, staying true to its ideals. Paradoxically, if Wikidata stays true to its own ideals of connecting and opening all the data, it amplifies the value of the commercial ecosystem it supports.
There was a time, back around ten years ago, when everything factual was being sucked into Wikipedia, It grew from 14,000 articles to tens of millions. That same virtuous cycle is nearly upon us with Wikidata, as everyone comes to understand the power - and the huge commercial value - of connecting and sharing data designed to be efficiently searched, explored, and built upon.

I think Pesce's assessment of the economic value of this work is accurate. It made me wonder how much donor money actually goes into building the Wikimedia APIs etc. that form the basis of these commercial applications.

I'm not just thinking of Wikidata here, but also link-ups between Wikipedia and Amazon, Google, Bing etc. For example, I recall reading an Engineering report on the Wikimedia blog that spoke of the Wikipedia Zero team doing "side project" work for Amazon Kindle and Google Play.

I was thinking, Why are donors paying for that? – especially at a time when the Foundation worries about being able to sustain fundraising growth. Wikimedia content is worth billions to its various commercial re-users. Sure, Wikimedia is committed to using its donated funds to make that content freely available under an open licence, but does that mean donors should also be paying for programming work that is primarily designed to support commercial re-users? That could be done by self-financing cottage industries built up by Wikimedia volunteers, or even a for-profit arm of the Foundation. All the Foundation would have to do would be to provide basic documentation.

It's clear that even in 2008, the Foundation was inundated with "multiple product-specific pitches" from Google (see the last pages of the linked doc). It seems to me the breadth and number of these pitches from Silicon Valley companies can only have increased since then.

The astonishing thing to me is that there seems to be very little or no publicity and transparency from the WMF about developments in this area. For instance, I was unable to find any WMF communication about Wikipedia Smart Lookup being integrated in the Amazon Kindle (something that happened in 2014, I believe), even though WMF teams clearly have done programming work on this. You'd have thought having Wikipedia search embedded in a major product like the Kindle is a big thing.

In short, I think the WMF should collate and publicise more information about commercial re-use applications, and the work it's doing to support such re-use. --Andreas JN466 15:17, 28 February 2016 (UTC)

Further steps[edit]

Does anyone propose to take any further steps with these discussions? Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 21:21, 17 April 2016 (UTC)

Six weeks without any reply suggests that the answer is "no". I propose to mark the page as {{outdated}} shortly. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 20:30, 29 May 2016 (UTC)
Ho hum. — Scott talk 20:02, 1 August 2016 (UTC)
I'll take that as an unhelpfully phrased "no". Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 20:27, 1 August 2016 (UTC)
It might be worthwhile to reach out to some specific people (e.g., the staff people who started this page) and ask some specific questions. I agree, a great deal of useful information was collected here, and it's unclear how it might be put to use in the foreseeable future. -Pete F (talk) 21:49, 1 August 2016 (UTC)

Hi there. So, let's see:

  • Budget transparency. This year WMF's annual budget was presented to the FDC. Of course, the process is not the best one and we need to think how that can be improved. But it was a step in the right direction.
  • Board minutes. The Board minutes for June 22-23, 2016 and June 29, 2016 have been published. And they are detailed enough. As for other suggestions in the sessions, some ideas from this page were discussed during June 22-23, 2016 meeting. And I am going to talk with Juliet Barbara about things that can be done now (after August 9, 2016).
  • Staff communications discouraged. The Board has reviewed a draft of the revised Whistleblower policy, it is now for the staff to comment and modify.
  • Where is the open discussion about the new strategy? It just hasn't happened yet. But that's one of the main goals and WMF is working on the process
  • Selection process for board nominations. Well, Board Governance Committee works on getting non-board members --NTymkiv (WMF) (talk) 21:02, 2 August 2016 (UTC)
Thanks for that update. It is refreshing to hear about what is being done. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 21:35, 2 August 2016 (UTC)
Indeed, great to hear the progress. Does the board have any sort of shared todo list like a Trello board to help them organize these projects, NTymkiv (WMF) (talk · contribs)? I know you and the other new board members have been pouring a lot of time and energy into this. I hope you can figure out a way to have staff help out however they can so that board members don't burn out. I'm not sure that depending on super-energetic board members to be around to fill the gap in transparency in their free time is a good long-term solution. Ben Creasy (talk) 04:51, 3 August 2016 (UTC)
@Ben Creasy: I agree that the process right now is not all right, but it seems we cannot expect the staff to help us a lot, as this additional work was not planned originally and this year budget won't allow it. So, I guess we shall work as we work now for some time and see how we can organize the work better and include any additional resources we might need in the next WMF budget. And I am not entirely sure I understand correctly about a shared todo list. Could you please explain more? --NTymkiv (WMF) (talk) 11:08, 5 August 2016 (UTC)
It beggars belief that the WMF, with over 200 staff and a budget of many tens of millions of dollars, currently fund-raising for an endowment of a hundred million, cannot find the resources for a small but important project like this. I have asked the ED on her talk page to address this issue. Perhaps the Board should look into this astonishing lack of flexibility. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 18:34, 5 August 2016 (UTC)
Thank you :) I was going to ask Katherine myself if there are any human resources available, but I was going to wait a bit 1) as she is travelling now; 2) to understand better how much staff time is needed and for what tasks exactly --NTymkiv (WMF) (talk) 07:44, 6 August 2016 (UTC)
Time can of course be replaced by money. It seems to be standard practice for WMF to bring in consultants for specific projects and this would seem to be an entirely suitable use of that sort of money. I am sure that in an organisation with a planned expenditure of the order of $60M, a few thousand can be found for something that is actually important. I am also sure that a well-scoped request from a Board member carries more weight than a random comment from a mere volunteer with a track record of asking awkward questions. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 08:04, 6 August 2016 (UTC)
Do you think the time is yet ripe to ask for resources (time and/or money) to take this little project further, or should we regard it as indefinitely suspended? I do not wish to carp, but I think there is an important lesson to learn here. This is by no means the first exercise in community engagement I know of which has started off with plenty of enthusiasm and engagement but for which there has been no plan for success. In other words, there is no plan for what to do once the ideas have been gathered and discussed. The discussions may, and in this case have, produced useful side-effects, and some low-hanging fruit may have been plucked, but it is not an effective or efficient use of volunteer and staff time and donor money, and tends to reinforce the belief, by no means uncommon in the community at large, that the WMF not only does not care about community opinion, but actively seeks to divert the community attention and energy into tasks that are consciously intended to have no effect. I do not susbscribe to this point of view, but it has to be said that it is possible to see why it might be held. Rogol Domedonfors (talk) 05:27, 13 October 2016 (UTC)
NTymkiv (WMF) (talk · contribs), when I work on team projects, I find something like Trello very helpful to ensure that everyone can see what everyone else is working on, chime in, and so on. In my day job as a software developer, I use a similar but more high-powered tool called Jira. The WMF uses a similar tool called Phabricator and they have a guide on using it. For some reason I've found the Phabricator UX pretty unintuitive, but I think it be worth the board's time to use it for their own governance project as it will help you get familiar with reviewing the various WMF projects using Phabricator. Ben Creasy (talk) 05:37, 6 August 2016 (UTC)