Jump to content

User:Denny/Thoughts Board Election 2015

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

Votes in the Board of Trustees elections. 2015 not confirmed yet.

The 2015 elections for the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees community elected seats are over. In many ways it has been a massive success: we had a record number of candidates (20), we had a record number of questions (39), and we had a record number of votes (more than 5000, as per preliminary count). The election committee can be gratulated for their impressive work (especially Greg, who has been the most visible for me), and I am sure many people will join me in the next few days in congratulating them. Sure, critics will easily find things that were less than perfect: there have been quite a few technical glitches which might have prevented people from voting, we had less than 10% of the eligible voters casting their vote, and - in my opinion the most unfortunate point - we had only two female candidates (on the other hand, although this number is low, it is actually consistent with previous elections, 2013 being possibly an outlier).

I wanted to write and publish these thoughts before the results are out, in order to make sure that they are not biased by the outcome. Partly due to the voting scheme - the winners being determined by the ratio of support vs non-neutral votes - I don't have very high expectations for myself, but I am very confident that the elections will lead to three very strong Trustees.

Since this is the first time I participated in the elections as a candidate, I had more thoughts about them than usual. Here I want to collect a few of these thoughts.

My largest criticism, unfortunately, goes to the community. Many of the questions that were asked were rather weak, and invited rhetorics over substance. Don't ask whether it is important to do X. What do you expect as an answer? "Sure, it is important to do X. Vote for me and I will support X". That's not helpful. Phrase the questions in such a way that the candidates have to make trade-offs. To show what is more important to them. Ask them "You know, X is really important, but it seems to contradict with Y. How would you balance that?" This will allow you to discriminate among the candidates and find those whose priorities align with yours most. In this vein, here are a few example questions that I have feared but didn't materialize:

  • how important do you think is net neutrality, and how does Wikipedia Zero fit into your answer?
  • considering Commons categories like this, what are your thoughts on being a safe place for underage readers or editors? On censorship? How do you define the educational scope of our mission?
  • considering articles like this, how do we make sure that the smaller projects don't become a refuge for sexism, racism, and other currents contradicting with our core ideals?
  • what are your thoughts on how to close the gender gap and how important that is? What programs should we fund, if at all? (there were several questions on conduct on the projects, but most of them do not address issues where I guess the Board can be effective on)
  • what's up with Wikispecies? Wikiversity? (the latter was mentioned in literally the second-to-last question asked, when most of the votes were already cast)
  • if you could close three of our projects, would you, and which?
  • what is more important - increasing page views or increasing our reach, even if it is through third-parties?

A few good questions have come up - on Wikipeda-centrism, on the staffing of the Foundation, and obviously on Superprotect (at least here I was not disappointed), etc., but most of the questions were actually far too easy to be answered. Some of the questions were so obvious that their were useful to filter out those candidates which would obviously do a bad job, because they don't understand the job. The Signpost was by far the most informative source for voters - considering how much punch they packed into how many character - because they forced the candidates to sort topics by relevance, etc. Kudos to Ed17!

Also, plenty of candidates could have been asked much more interesting questions. I hope that all of the candidates I mention will forgive me, this is not meant as an attack on them, but since all of you know me I am sure you understand that this is not an attack. These are just examples:

  • I should have been asked about my role in the events surrounding the Croatian Wikipedia in 2013 (and if I didn't have one, why not), and more on my job at Google.
  • Josh should have been asked whether he would do anything about Wikimania 2016 going to Esino Lario once he is on the Board.
  • Peter should have been asked about paid editing in relation to his daytime job.
  • Dariusz should have been asked about his commitment to open licenses, and how this fits together with his book on Wikipedians which is published under a closed license.
  • Sj and Phoebe, who both were positive for limits on Board terms, should have been asked how this fits with their own candidacy.
  • Ed should have been asked about how credible he is as a representative of our community, given that he had so far eleven edits to the actual contents of our projects.

Again, these are just examples.

One reason the questions were so weak, I think, was that there was no way to vote for and improve the questions. 39 questions is far too much. Sorting them chronologically is... probably not the most informative way to do so. I think we would be much better served if we would have only six or eight questions, submitted and chosen by the community (maybe with input from the election committee), and also the ability to refine them before selection. It will avoid many questions that actually do not fall into the Board's sphere of responsibility, or where it is about a single editor and their personal axe to grind. Also it gives a much more reasonable chance that people will actually read the answers and use them to decide. Another point is that maximum length on answers was entirely not enforced. Considering that we used templates to capture those answers, it could have been enforced automatically.

In general, I think that the current Q and A setup is not encouraging discussions. I saw discussions amongst the candidates on Facebook, on Quora, on SIgnpost - but almost none on the election pages themselves. A few candidates referred to previous answers from other candidates - especially Phoebe is to be mentioned here positively - but the fact that the answers are always sorted in the order of when the candidates submitted their candidacy, makes reading the answers and understanding the references really hard. I would prefer a system where

  • answers are timestamped and displayed in chronological order of their submission
  • each answer is visibly marked with the candidate, e.g. a small version of their portrait, which gives them a more recognizable voice
  • where answer length is limited and enforced

I believe that such a system would lead to more discussion actually happening on the page, and the result would be more organic, much more engaging, and thus easier to read. It would also show us whether the candidates are trying to discuss possible solutions, and not just trying to come up with the most pleasing answer.

One piece of advice to my fellow candidates: you are running in an election where Wikipedians and other Wikimedia project contributors are the voters. These are among the most critical people on the Web. They are writing an encyclopedia! Expect that they will sometimes have harsh words about you. Expect to be criticized. Don't be offended the first time someone mentions something negative about you, and don't get defensive about it. Seriously, if you think that you have to start defending yourself now, given the minimum scrutiny that most candidates received - then I am actually not sure you have the maturity to be on the Board and work effectively there. If you think you are being criticized now, you can't probably imagine what will happen on an actual term as a Trustee. I sure would not want to work with someone who keeps whining about someone somewhere saying something negative about them on the Internet. Fortunately, for many of the candidates I did not perceive such behavior - they were mature and responded very well in the places I have seen. I won't list who's who according to me - not only because it doesn't matter, but mostly because it would obviously lead to discussion I don't want to engage in.

Finally, a very minor point: I am not very happy with the voting system: support, neutral, oppose, and the winner based on the ratio of support vs non-neutral votes. But this might be bias, because I think that the voting system does not play in my favor, thus I won't discuss it too much. Also, more importantly, I do not have sufficient background knowledge about voting systems, and I know that the voting system has been discussed in previous elections by people far more knowledgeable than me. One thing that I appreciate is that the election committee was not afraid to change the voting system and to experiment with different systems in the past, in order to come closer to a possible ideal solution. But since the committee this time had almost no time to do their work, it is absolutely understandable that they chose the same voting system as last time. I think that's the most sane choice they could have made.

In summary, if I may suggest changes, it would be:

  • allow the Election Committee considerably more time
  • preselect a number of edited questions in some community-organized way
  • change the format of the QnA to allow for more organic and engaging discussions

Everything else that I am complaining about above cannot be changed by rules, obviously, but I hope that expressing these thoughts will help us to grow in a desirable direction.

To say it one more time: thanks and congratulations to the Election Committee for doing a marvelous job, thanks to the community to come up with a number of really good questions and for their votes, and thanks to the other candidates to be willing to devote a major part of their next two years for the mission of Wikimedia. I am very confident that whoever the community has elected, will do a great job. And now I am looking forward to read the results in a few days. Good luck to all of us! --denny (talk) 01:36, 1 June 2015 (UTC)