User:Alecmconroy/Letter to new leaders
Written in 2011 in anticipation of an unknown board. See Part 2 for issues specific to 2011.
I don't know who the new board members are yet, but it's not important-- I'm content that I will endorse whomever is fairly elected to the post-- or who will be similarly elected to the post in the future. It seems wise, therefore, to write a bit to whoever that ends up being.
- There were 969 possible outcomes to the 2011 election. The actual outcome was that all incumbents were re-elected-- the single outcome in which a "letter to new leaders" would be least needed. hehehe -- added after election results
Lead the movement
- (aka "Congratulations! You're officially a cult leader.")
At Wikimedia, we don't spend our lives selling sugar water, we're not just another internet service provider, we're something more. Maybe Wikimedia is a movement, maybe it's a religion, a revolution or a cult. I think we are a spark destined to alight the entire globe, illuminating humanity from the pre-digital "dark ages" once and for all.
Don't just lead the board, lead the movement.
Dream big, then dream bigger
Wikimedia is not about building a set of multilingual reference books-- this is the multinational moonshot of our generation. We are an amalgamation of countless individuals contributing their time or their money to using information-sharing to empower the whole planet.
The English Wikipedia project, in its current form, may have been our first Big Dream-- but we dreamt bigger. We added other the content projects, but we dreamt bigger. Now we're also expanding to every language we can get our hands on, and that's the current biggest dream we've all agreed on.
Now it falls to you to do what we've always done: Dream Bigger.
You're not there to be a spectator. If the staff were always right, we wouldn't need a board. The worst possible kind of board member is a 'yes person'. You've been recruited because at some point, the executive director, the staff, or more-experienced members of the board are going to be wrong about something, and it's up to you to notice that error and shout it out when you see it, and help other people see it too. Oversight is the very opposite of "just go with the flow" and it's not a spectator sport.
Show us the debates
The global community has never really been asked to make a 'substantive' decision in a way it could see was a substantive decision. For the history of the board, the board has tended to keep its debates very quiet. Based just on the resolutions, one might easily suspect we are governed by a panel of clones.
I do not see board members as clones, of course, but many still do. That's because board members have so often acted a little 'cloneish' in their behavior upon being elected. Namely, that they keep their debates hidden behind closed doors a little more than they should.
There may always be a need for confidentiality, but that should be the exception, while openness the norm. In the future, the board needs to offer the community meaningful choices, draw real contrasts between each other or between philosophies, and then let the community clarify its intention.
Show us the debates, or we will assume you have no debates and that your job is pointless. (and I know that's not so).
When stuck, innovate
When people are getting stuck, spending more of their time unproductively and unpleasantly, becoming demoralized-- turn to innovation. The subtlest of technological changes can resolve the thorniest of social dispute. We have robotic minions that do billions of things a second-- remember to put them to good use.
We are currently 'stuck' in a few ways. The most famous instance is the inclusionist/deletionist debate needs to find a win-win, so people can stop arguing over which of two equally-valid methods is better. "All" is one set, "Best of" is another set. We musn't argue over it eternally, we must build a win-win that will make all happy. We are also stuck in the sense that for some articles in Wikipedias, they aren't necessarily getting better with time. A third "stuck" is the fact that we haven't started a new type of project in quite a while, and the process for creating them has lost faith as a functioning process.
In all these instances, these problems are truly just opportunities for improvement. And when you improve, don't push or arbitrate-- instead innovate and build the win-win for everyone.
Trust the librarians and the free software movement
More than any other group, Librarians and Free Software are the two well-established institutions that fall perfectly in line with our goals. These two groups are the "professionals" in our society most responsible for information sharing. Both groups are widely-loved for their work, just as Wikimedia is.
Learn from their experiences and understand how they did what they did.
Start taking "Net Neutrality" and "Internet Access as a Human Right" seriously
It's important to preserve the global internet as it is. Toll roads on the internet would kill us. It's also important that we encourage the recognition of unfiltered internet access as a basic human right-- for what good is all the world's information if you aren't allowed to access it.
Our non-editor critics aren't your constituents
Wikimedia gets bad PR. It's going to happen. Inevitably, there will be bad press, maybe even horrible press. There will be scandals-- one of our staff or board members may turn out to be a dark lord of the sith-- that happens to people all the time. Don't panic. If we keep our cool, the people who "get" Wikimedia will keep on "get"ting us. The people who don't "get" us probably aren't truly sold on the idea of a free internet anyway. There are people who hate libraries and protest them, there are people who hated the World Wide Web. There were lies about free software, free-licenses were called "a virus"-- there will be lies and confusion about our movement too.
But our critics aren't our audience, and they're definitely not your constituents. Consider their words, manage the response. But don't panic. As long as the community understands, it will be okay.
Don't let Jimmy hypnotize you :)
Jimmy Wales is an amazing guy whose own celebrity is intrinsically linked to Wikimedia. He inspires people for a living, and he inspired us all. So just remember not to get starstruck-- if the community trusted him with 'the keys', there wouldn't be a foundation or a board, there would just be Jimmy and Bomis. The community is sending you to the board to be an independent voice.
Always obey community consensus
Wikimedia ultimately depends upon the deeply held belief that community consensus governs the movement. User confidence in this principle is the heart and the currency of Wikimedia. Just as loss of faith in a fiat currency could lead to catastrophe, so too any loss of faith in governance-via-consensus could lead to a loss of faith in the foundation and potentially even the movement itself.
The foundation is very secure in a lot of ways-- we have strong participation, a relatively-stable funding source, and an ever-increasing reach. But on this issue, the board must be very, very careful-- one real danger to the movement would be a clear and transparent schism between the community and the foundation leadership. A schism could cause some portion of the community to move to a different non-profit, or worse, to splinter apart into dozens of pieces.
We've got a group of people willing to work for free AND pay us to host their content. They don't see themselves as serfs, they see themselves as co-owners-- they expect and demand editorial autonomy. If the foundation ever stops being able to provide that forum, they won't take it well, and they'll find an ISP that can give them that autonomy.
Always respect community consensus when it exists-- He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.
2011 and beyond
See Part 2 for issues specific to 2011.