User:Peteforsyth/2015 board election Peteforsyth answers

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I ran in, but later withdrew from, the 2015 Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees election. Here, I have preserved my answers to most of the candidate questions (current up until the point where I withdrew). -Pete F (talk) 22:38, 29 May 2015 (UTC)

Pete Forsyth[edit]

Peteforsyth (talk meta edits global user summary CA  AE)

Candidate details
Photo by Ellis Christopher
  • Personal:
    • Name: Pete Forsyth
    • Age: 42
    • Location: California, USA
    • Languages: en-N, fr-1
  • Editorial:
    • Wikimedian since: 2006
    • Active wikis: English Wikipedia, English Wikisource, Commons, Meta, Outreach
Statement Wikimedia’s human engine makes it unique, beautiful, and successful. Its social dynamics are an extraordinary emergent phenomenon. One person creates something good, but imperfect; another improves upon it - frequently without arguing, grandstanding, or belittling. While negative behavior exists, Wikimedia has thrived on a bedrock of positive behavior. Wikimedia’s complex community can be frustrating to deal with; but those who care most deeply about our mission are within its ranks, and possess wisdom about how to engage the world in collaborative ways to build and document knowledge. The WMF must get to know its central asset, and find better ways to engage with its community. Some evidence:
  • 1000 people signed a letter to WMF, with no response.
  • Superprotect presents a stark new model for Wikimedia decisions, but lacks even a basic statement of when WMF will or won’t use it to override the community.
  • Media Viewer presents millions of pages that, for the first time, lack an "edit" button, or any invitation to the reader to get involved.
Verification Verification performed by elections committee or Wikimedia Foundation staff.
Eligibility: Artículo bueno.svg Verified
Verified by: --Varnent (talk)(COI) 23:21, 5 May 2015 (UTC)
Identification: Artículo bueno.svg Verified
Verified by: Jalexander--WMF 00:03, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

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Behavior towards new editors[edit]

In several recurring press articles in different languages the wikimouvement and its "star" project Wikipedia has been criticised for bashing and bullying behaviour from members of the community towards newcomers, and an unwelcoming attitude towards expert contributors/contributions. In part the current system of soft "community rules", code of conduct and unregulated hard enforcement of soft rules are at the center of those issues. Also the risks of abuse and outside censorship loom in the distance. All of those elements constitute a risk factor for contributions to the "sum of all knowledge". My questions to candidates : a) do you think WMF should be involved in this matter? and in what way could it be involved? b) how can WMF contribute to the Wiki-community to resolve some of these issues What are your ideas in this matter, there is no wrong answer? --DerekvG (talk) 10:47, 1 May 2015 (UTC)

The distinction between "the community" and "newcomers" is a false and dangerously misleading one. It does not accurately reflect reality. I have had numerous students, clients, and friends who believe "the community" or "Wikipedia" was unwelcoming; but on closer inspection, the one comment that formed that opinion in fact came from somebody who was newer than "the newbie." If civility and collegiality on our sites is an issue -- and it is -- the artificial idea that "the community" is mean, and in need of reform, will not move us toward a solution.
Yes, this is a matter the Board should take very seriously. The Board should seek the guidance of social scientists and experienced practitioners in social movements. Lecturing and assigning blame (example) may bring applause and headlines, but it will not lead to solutions. The solution to this kind of problem lies in studying what works well in our communities and others, and cultivating leadership. Social practices are a good medium for spreading social solutions; we should be more skeptical of technical approaches.

WMF role in disputes[edit]

In recent years, there have been several instances (<tvar|citations>1, 2, 3</>) where intractable disputes over content and/or user conduct have consumed a wiki community to the point where it can no longer work towards the goals of Wikimedia. Currently it is difficult to solve such problems since there is no body tasked with resolving these disputes. What are your thoughts on these issues, and do you believe that WMF staff or the WMF Board should play a role in this? Rschen7754 04:25, 2 May 2015 (UTC)

These are primarily concerns for the editor community to deal with; the Board of Trustees should concern itself with fostering an environment which, over time, helps subsets of volunteers (language communities, administrators, etc.) gain insight into what is happening elsewhere (both problematic activities, and the impacts of various efforts to resolve problems). This is the kind of thing that will help Wikimedia truly evolve into something that could be called a community; when people are able to gain insight into complex problems, they are better positioned to solve them. I do not have a specific, short-term idea to address this; for that, I would want to consult with stewards, and others who are more familiar with the global context of intractable problems than myself, to form a clear opinion.

Use of Superprotect and respect for community consensus[edit]

Please explain whether you believe it was the right thing to do for the WMF to disregard community consensus on the English and German Wikipedias regarding MediaViewer, and to forcibly prevent the German Wikipedia community from disabling MediaViewer by implementing Superprotect. If you are a current Board member, then please explain how your actions on the Board in supporting WMF's decision were consistent with your duties to support and represent the community. --Pine 22:30, 2 May 2015 (UTC)

My thoughts on this matter are well known: I wrote Letter to Wikimedia Foundation: Superprotect and Media Viewer, which was signed by 1,000 people, and which has elicited zero public response from its recipients (every Board member, and the Executive Director) -- even in this question, the three incumbent candidates (Phoebe Ayers, Samuel Klein, and María Sefidari) are not among those who have responded. This is the central reason for my candidacy: I believe none of those three should be reelected by the community, after declining to even address an issue important to 1,000 of its members.
Superprotect, in the absence of clear policies for its use, is a bad idea. I am open to the idea that Superprotect might be a worthwhile software feature. But look at its page, linked here. Approaching a year after it was deployed, there is still no statement about what conditions the Board or the Staff feels might justify its use, or what conditions it should not be used.
This issue must be resolved one way or another. The cleanest way to address it would be to disable it, and articulate the reasons why it should be re-enabled, and how it should be used. A good proposal should be easy to sell to a broad constituency; then, it could be re-enabled with clear buy-in from both WMF and the volunteer community. This would be a victory for all parties. It is attainable.

Project management experience[edit]

Please describe your hands-on experience with researching, designing, funding, staffing, coding, and deploying large and complex projects. Please provide links to examples of your work that demonstrate your personal involvement. --Pine 22:33, 2 May 2015 (UTC)

It's a bit hard to understand where this coming from; as I understand it, the high-level duties of the Board of Trustees do not involve project management. Perhaps you are interested in whether candidates would bring an understanding of certain staff members' and community members' roles? At any rate, my most relevant project management experience: I have run a Wikipedia-oriented business for five years; each of my numerous clients presents, essentially, a project that must be managed. I have played that role in most cases, but have also brought in staff for larger projects to serve as project managers, so I know the role from both direct experience and as a manager. Also, one specific project whose artifacts are generally all available for scrutiny is GLAMcamp DC, a $10,000 project funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. In this case, I worked closely with two other Wikimedians; but I handled most of the planning of logistics and execution (with my colleagues more focused on the program of the event). You can review the grant request and final report here on Meta Wiki. Finally, to stretch the question a bit: I have served on two non-profit boards, including an officer seat, and have provided strategic consultation in both a professional and a volunteer capacity to several other non-profits (both within and outside the Wikimedia movement).

Board composition[edit]

Do you think it would be good to reduce the number of appointed positions on the board and replace one or more of them with an additional community elected member or a member elected by user groups (which currently do not have the right to vote for affiliate-appointed board seats)? --Pine 22:36, 2 May 2015 (UTC)

The Board can and must do better; that much is very clear to me. But my understanding of the problems, at present, is limited to my perspective as a former WMF staff member, a WMF grant recipient, a volunteer, and a businessperson. Serving on the Board will provide a clearer view of the problems, and I do not wish to commit to specific reforms like the one proposed prior to learning more. Positions filled by all methods have value; professional expertise from appointed positions is key (no board should lack legal and financial knowledge, for instance, which might or might not be filled in elected roles). At present, the board composition problem I see most clearly is that current members have failed to adequately incorporate knowledge of social dynamics into planning and hiring, and have not been sufficiently transparent or accountable for some major decisions. My hope is that these issues can be addressed with much of the present board in place. I believe it is essential that the community remove the three elected Trustees in this cycle, and replace them with candidates committed to doing better on these matters; but from the election forward, my attention will be on reaching better decisions with the existing composition of the Board. All of this will inform any opinions about changing the bylaws to alter how new Trustees are brought in.

Time dedication[edit]

Time: The WMF BoT's work needs a lot of time. It includes at least four 3-day in-person meetings, with additional travel time, for some geographic regions travel can mean almost 24-hours travel every trip. This means that possibly you will need at least 15 days at least for travel and in-person meetings. Adding to this there are telephone conferences, mailing-lists, votings that need to be kept in time. And if possible, attending additional community events. Are you sure you have the free time, or can get time off work / study for all these works? --Wing (talk) 08:50, 5 May 2015 (UTC)

Yes, I understand the time commitment, and am prepared to make it.

Conflict of Interest disclosure[edit]

May I ask you kindly to disclose any possible conflict of interest, especially in relation to involvement in government agencies by you or your close sprouse please?--Wing (talk) 08:49, 5 May 2015 (UTC)

I have no broad conflicts of interest. The concept of conflict of interest with regards to Wikipedia writing (which has some similarities to the kind of COI you ask about, but is of course not the same) is a central concern in my business; my Statement of Ethics for that may shed some light on my thinking.
It is entirely possible that business opportunities would present themselves where a prospective client wants, for instance, to broadly influence the Wikimedia Foundation. (To date, I have not had clients whose wishes are quite that broad; but it's a possibility.) If elected, I would decline such opportunities. If concerns like that were to arise in an existing client project, I would either decline to engage, or if necessary, would recuse myself from any related votes.
I am generally proactive in disclosing and discussing sticky situations. If I saw possible problems, I would discuss them with fellow Trustees in order to ensure I handled them in a responsible way.
  • Addendum: I see some candidates have listed positions with Wikimedia-affiliated organizations. I am a member of the GLAM-Wiki U.S. Advisory Group, which is not yet a formal Wikimedia entity -- but might become one in the future.

Child Protection[edit]

WMF's Child Protection policy, or relative lack thereof, has been a matter of some debate and controversy. How significant of an issue do you believe Child Protection to be? Is there anything more that WMF can or should be doing with respect to the protection of minors from online sexual predators? What should be the formal process for filing a Child Protection case? Once initiated how should a Child Protection case be handled by WMF? Carrite (talk) 17:22, 5 May 2015 (UTC) (candidate)

Child protection is a vitally important topic for Wikimedia, as for all web sites. Wikimedia offers some unique challenges: we have a strong culture of personal anonymity, and request very little information of our users. We have many children as editors, some with parental supervision, some without; often, nobody is aware that a given editor is a child. And as a general knowledge project, there are many areas (violence, sexuality, etc.) that may not be appropriate for children to read or engage with, without parental awareness or guidance. I agree with the principle that specific violations should be dealt with by expert staff. The Board should always be ready to make policy or advise the Executive Director if there are opportunities to reduce the potential for abuses. I do not have specific proposals in mind.

Flow[edit]

WMF has spent many thousands of dollars developing a new talk page conversation system called Flow. Not a single Wikipedia project has requested such software and the project remains bug-laden and largely unloved. What is the way forward with regards to Flow? Is it time for WMF to cut its losses and drop the initiative or should it continue to spend money to continue work on refining the software? What should be WMF's approach if the various language Wikipedias resist a move to Flow; to wit: is use of SuperProtection merited to force Flow upon unhappy and unwilling communities? Carrite (talk) 17:30, 5 May 2015 (UTC) (candidate)

Flow is a proposed communication system. Improving a community's ability to communicate can have great benefits; but disrupting a community's ability to communicate can be catastrophic. I think we can all agree that our current wiki-based tools for communication are frustrating and negatively impact engagement; but by the same token, we have achieved great success even with a sub-optimal communication system.
I think it's worthwhile to consider how communication technologies have evolved more broadly. Was email introduced as a replacement for fax machines? No -- and it would have been crazy for somebody to confiscate all fax machines when email was launched. Still, as of 2015, email and related technologies have rendered many use cases for fax machines obsolete, and few people would regard faxing as a critical technology these days.
If Flow's design necessitates immediately eliminating past talk page functionality, it had better be flawless. If not, the consequences will be devastating. Although public displays of disagreement or hostility draw a lot of attention, another terrible consequence is when quietly productive contributors quietly fade away. Difficult to measure, but highly important. The stakes are very high with Flow.
The use of Superprotect to enforce software deployment will only be considered if WMF has failed to earn buy-in to the software. Superprotect would be the symptom, and something that fans the flames. Quite separate from Flow or any other software feature, it is essential that we have some broad agreement around when Superprotect will or won't be used. In the absence of that kind of agreement, Superprotect is a threat to Wikimedia.
One final thought about Flow: as with many other large software initiatives, the focus on Flow has (for years, now) distracted from making basic tweaks to the existing software that would make a big difference. This is a cost that should be accounted for.

WMF involvement regarding abuse[edit]

Dear candidate. Our current Terms of Use prohibits some activities that disrupt our projects, or are unlawful. Actually if an user egregiously violates those ToU, the response from the office seems to be a global ban. However that does not prevent the banned user to come back over and over (abusing multiple accounts, etc.) and continue with the abusive activities, with the communities and the affected users having to deal with the problem again. Certain problematic long-term abusers and vandals had already caused that some good editors leave the projects as they could not stand anymore (e.g. continuous harassment towards them, death threats, stalking, vandalism, etc.). As such, would you support a greater involvement of the Foundation at all levels, including pursuing civil or criminal actions towards specially problematic long-term abusers, where previous measures have demonstrated to be inefficient? Thanks. -- MarcoAurelio 11:04, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Foundation resources should certainly be directed at this issue. Having a framework for global bans is certainly a step forward, but it will not in itself solve all problems. There appears to be pretty strong consensus among candidates; this is an area worthy of attention and action, and the input of stewards, who are generally the most qualified and most familiar with these issues, is essential. At the moment I do not have insights into this issue beyond what my fellow candidates have said.

Questions, page 2[edit]

Ombudsman Commission[edit]

On 2013 the Ombudsman Commission (OC) opened to the community Requests for comment/Scope of Ombudsman Commission asking people to consider whether their remit should be ammended to reflect current situation and also to consider whether their scope should also be expanded, based on the complaints that body gets, and the unability to process most of them. The OC was created following Resolution:Ombudsperson checkuser to investigate on behalf of the Board possible violations of the Privacy policy. The RfC closed nearly 2 years ago, so time to decide upon this proposed ammendment obviously existed in my humble opinion. Are you aware of the discussion? What are your thoughts on that? Best regards. -- MarcoAurelio 14:15, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

I have been aware of this issue, but am not intimately familiar with it. I agree that letting two years lapse on a significant matter is a problem in itself. Without a deeper review, I cannot comment on exactly what action should be taken.
I have now read the page more closely, and note the answers of Maria and Phoebe above. The RfC appeared to lead to clear consensus, appropriately summarized by the closing administrator at the top of the page. But if the Ombudsman Commission initiated the RfC, and then declined to present it to the board for two years -- which appears to be the case -- then any failure to move forward is more of an OC issue than a Board issue. I'm curious, MarcoAurelio, has there been any effort prior to this question to bring it to the Board's attention?

Statement of principles by Jimbo[edit]

Do you endorse Jimbo's Statement of principles (dating back to 2001) to its full extent and would you say that these principles are still in force? → «« Man77 »» [de] 14:47, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Like Carrite above, I am a longtime, engaged contributor, and I have delved into many historical documents; and this one is not something that has caught my attention before. It makes for an interesting read; I like its spirit; I could quibble with some details. I'd be happy to comment on specific points if asked, but this does not strike me as an especially important "founding document."

[edit]

Paid advocacy editing and advertising in general continue to be a problem. A year ago the Terms of Use were changed to require that paid editors identify their employers and their status as paid editors, but very few of them are following that requirement. Paid editing scandals continue to appear in newspapers and other media about every 3 months. Do you think this is a problem? If so, what could you do about it if you were elected to be a trustee?

A similar problem is that an administrator has been caught doing long-term paid advocacy editing, involving the promotion of an unaccredited business school in India. One commentator asserts that 15,000 students were affected by this advertising on Wikipedia. Another admin bragged on a prominent page that he was a paid editor (this was before the ToU change). It should go without saying that administrators should owe their loyalty first, last, and always to the community, so that paid editing by admins is incompatible with adminship. Is there anything that you can do about it? Smallbones (talk) 19:57, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Editing while in a conflict of interest is an area I know well. Better than most, in fact; I have run a business, Wiki Strategies, since 2009; our core service is advising on how to approach it responsibly. Readers may be interested in my blog, or in the op-ed columns I have written for the English Wikipedia's Signpost newsletter (including one offered alongside that of Smallbones, who asks this question). I believe my everyday practice (as a volunteer contributor and as a trainer and consultant) offers better opportunities to combat unethical paid editing than a Board seat.
The Board's attention does not belong at a granular level. The "paid advocacy editing problem" is one of many instances that highlights a broader, more philosophical issue, which is where the Board's attention belongs. Wikimedia (and specifically, Wikipedia) has historically held two values to be very important: (1) the right of individual contributors to be anonymous (see the the privacy policy), which is traditionally invoked by a great many Wikimedians; and (2) the requirement that content be neutral (browse neutrality policies on Wikidata). When private interests are involved, it is easy for somebody to violate #2, either intentionally or unintentionally. So #1 can interfere with the social dynamics of working together. If one party is being paid for their time on a page, that impacts neutrality. If one party is being fed information from an extensive body of research, that impacts neutrality. Those impacts can be mitigated if all parties are aware of them.
The Board's role should be to make sure that this basic philosophical tension in Wikimedia values is visible, and ensure there is continual public discourse around it, that can inform policies and practices within the projects. All of Wikimedia's stakeholders -- writers, readers, etc. -- should contemplate this issue, and how it impacts their work and what they read. On this specific issue, I believe a Trustee has more power to do good through communication (public and private) with a variety of parties, than via resolutions or advice or directives to the ED.
It's certainly worthwhile for the WMF to provide tools that help to expose and defeat blatant ethical violations, and the Terms of Use amendment does accomplish that, though it has some undesirable unintended consequences. Although I would have voted against it at the time, I am happy to work with it as just one more piece of the complex policy puzzle we call home.

Concerning which seat a trustee has[edit]

You are applying for one of the community-selected board seats. How do you interpret this part in comparison or contrast to a chapter-selected, appointed, or founder seat (or any future "special" seat)? Does or should it matter after all in which way one obtained a board seat? → «« Man77 »» [de] 09:53, 7 May 2015 (UTC)

Once seated on the board, I don't think trustees should allow themselves to be distracted by the path that brought individual members to the table; the responsibilities are the same regardless.
But the path does have implications for accountability, especially in this election. Every board member (and the body as a whole) made a bad decision, in declining to address a letter signed by 1,000 people. Three of those 10 are up for reelection by a broad constituency; it is especially appropriate for community members to express their level of satisfaction with that decision via an election.


Level of board involvement in major decisions[edit]

The WMF Board of Trustees is an oversight group, not a "working" board. However, what do you believe should be the appropriate level of consultation for major decisions? For example, the current Board of Trustees was not specifically briefed on the WMF decision to sue the NSA, nor was it specifically briefed on the recent major restructure of the largest department (engineering). Do you believe the Board should have known about these major decisions beforehand? If so, how do you ensure that the Board is not "meddling" in the Executive's ability to lead the way they see fit? If not, how do you ensure that the Board is accountable for the WMFs decisions "under your watch"? Wittylama (talk) 13:59, 7 May 2015 (UTC)

The board should be focused on higher-level issues. In fact, I think the two examples you bring up were clearly within the authority of the ED, according to the principles established by the board. That doesn't necessarily mean the decisions were perfect, but I do not see a problem with the board's role in those examples. Certainly, I think notification of major decisions is important; I assume that the level of the ED's communication to the board more or less reflects the wishes of the board.
There are times when executive decisions merit board intervention. If all is working well, such cases will be exceedingly rare. But at the moment, all is not working well. Superprotect is a good example; the board as a whole, and/or individual board members, should have taken steps (through private communication to the ED, public communication to the community, and/or passing a resolution) to address a situation that is actively damaging the trust and collegiality that are the lifeblood of the Wikimedia projects. Though the hour is getting late, the board should still do so.

Bad faith edits[edit]

Do you think a version of w:Wikipedia:Gaming the system should be added to Meta-wiki? What are your opinions on identifying and tolerating habitual bad faith edits? How important do you think it is to distinguish and be patient by assuming good faith edits, such as by new or enthusiastic editors at Wikipedia? Thank you. -- Sidelight12 02:44, 9 May 2015 (UTC)

Sorry, I'll clarify a little. I'm concerned with systematic bad faith, not with insignificant acts. There is some overlap with above questions relating to abuse, disputes, and child protection. -- Sidelight12 21:55, 9 May 2015 (UTC)
Specifically, if you or anyone think that page should be added to Meta Wiki, I encourage you to add it! More generally, these are issues that should be handled by the volunteer community with, when necessary, assistance from staff. We do have a basic and recurring philosophical challenge around this kind of issue, though: this type of framing begs the question. Of course, we should not allow systemic bad faith edits to proceed unimpeded; but the challenge is in identifying what is a systemic pattern of bad faith edits, and what isn't. We have the same problem with discussion of "paid advocacy edits"; talk of paid advocacy doesn't do much good, unless it helps us determine what constitutes advocacy and what doesn't. In general, assuming good faith is an important starting position; it's simply good advice, as it prevents a great deal of needless drama. But we shouldn't let it blind us to situations where somebody is, in fact, trying to undermine Wikimedia, or our basic principles.

Retaining current volunteers versus recruiting new ones[edit]

In a discussion at the ED's talk page, the Chair of the Board opined that We want to attract new editors ... All of this is going to require change, change that might not be acceptable to some of you ... if you decide to take a wiki-break, that might be the way things have to be. [1]. Where would strike the balance between alienating existing contibutors and attracting new ones?

The best way to recruit new editors is by improving the dynamics among existing editors. Approaching the issue as an "either/or" choice is terribly short-sighted; and yet, it is a perspective that is deeply ingrained in the Wikimedia Foundation's culture. Wikipedian in Residence Lane Rasberry recently blogged about the phenomenon; I recently blogged about the specific statement in question here from Jan-Bart. Former WMF engineer Nimish Gautam recently put together some specifics about how to approach community engagement in a way that builds goodwill all around. Building community is not a terribly difficult task, but the most important ingredient is having the clear intent to do so, and a willingness to seek out best practices from experts, other communities, and less-visible pockets of our own communities.

Question regarding working environment[edit]

As a prospective trustee of a US-based non-profit, are you generally supportive of maintaining the standards for non-hostile working environment as defined in US civil rights/employment/education laws for our online volunteers as well as our employees ?

As an American, I have a general familiarity with the laws you mention, Djembayz; but for the sake of our international candidates, it might be helpful if you could link to a summary or characterization of those laws. Yes, I am a strong supporter of the principle that Wikimedia projects should be collegial places, where all people are comfortable participating without worrying about harassment and hostility. We have a long way to go, and the responsibility for improving things is broadly distributed through our projects, and communities, and organizations. A WMF that invests in expertise around social dynamics may be able to bring positive change; but the WMF as currently constituted lacks the mandate and expertise that would enable it to do so, and often furthers hostility, rather than reducing it.

Question regarding non-hostile online environment for women volunteers[edit]

Do you feel our efforts to maintain a non-hostile online environment for women volunteers have been adequate over the past two years ? Why or why not?

No, our efforts have not been adequate. Research has clearly shown that female participation in online discussions on news sites is very low, and points to hostility as the most plausible reason. Wikipedia clearly suffers from this dynamic; in some ways it is a Wikipedia problem, but in many ways it is a broader social issue. We have pockets of hope: English Wikisource, it seems to me, has a friendly social dynamic, and strong participation by women; I am told that data confirms the latter, though I don't have a link handy. As LiAnna (Wiki Ed) describes in this May 2013 video (starting at about 51:50), university education programs have had strong success in helping women engage with Wikipedia. I have personally taught a Wikipedia course four times; female enrollment and Wikipedia participation was quite strong. And the recent "Inspire" campaign of the WMF Grants program appears to be funding some worthwhile efforts.

What is most lacking, though -- as I argued in http://wikistrategies.net/when-experimentation-is-no-such-thing/ this blog post] -- is a clear and consistent methodological framework for evaluating levels of participation by gender, and studying the effects of various interventions. Wikimedia is not the first social movement to combat hostility directed at women. What can we learn from the efforts of other movements? What can we learn from the various efforts in our own communities? What can we try that, although it might be culturally difficult, might lead to strong successes? We need to be addressing all these questions more proactively.

Community participation[edit]

Do you agree that the WMF board, and especially the community-elected board members, have a mandate to constantly expand the participation of the community at large in Wikimedia Foundation governance? (I personally include all users, registered or unregistered.) What are the main issues? (I'd say the ever-decreasing number of voters in WMF board elections.) What is being done or should be done by the board about them? What are you personally doing to involve more people in the current elections and what will you do to increase participation during your mandate (or what have you done during your past mandate(s) if any)?

Those who have a stake in Wikipedia and Wikimedia (which I believe includes everyone in the world) should pay attention to how its name and trademarks are used, to how the money donated (generally out of good will toward those trademarks) is spent, and to how relevant decisions are made. Yes, declining numbers of voters is worthy of concern. I am not sure it is specifically a board concern to grow the interest in such issues, or participation in elections. The board's main responsibility in this area is to model open, transparent, and accountable behavior; doing so makes it easier and more appealing to individuals to track what it is doing, and form opinions and align their actions effectively with others. This is especially since WMF is the largest/most central entity in a movement that launches numerous organizations, which need a good example to follow. As of now, the board does not model that behavior well: we rarely see board members modeling constructive dissent on matters the board votes on, we generally only hear about the outcomes of meetings and votes many months after they take place, etc. As for my personal efforts in this area:

Questions, page 3[edit]

Accountability, democracy, community majority[edit]

In my opinion a structural problem WMF has is its technically absolute lack of accountability to anyone: nothing can stop WMF from going off-track, hence few trust WMF. IMHO the solution is simple: make WMF democratic (in Bobbio's very specific sense; see a one-page summary at §2). So, do you agree with ensuring community majority and why? What will you personally do on this matter if elected, or what have you done if you already served on the board? Nemo 07:30, 11 May 2015 (UTC)

There are three important considerations for accountability for a non-profit: (1) Structural accountability for decision-makers (the main focus of this question); (2) Funding sources and accompanying planning and communication; and (3) Consistently transparent decision-making, with clearly defined opportunities for broad input and participation. #1 is always going to be challenging in the Wikimedia world (which I'll get to below), but all three play important roles in the overall accountability structure. I believe the most easily addressed shortcoming is on #3, and there are important considerations around #2 as well.

Regarding #3 (transparent behavior), WMF lacks clear and consistent practices to make its proceedings sufficiently accessible to scrutiny or, where appropriate, participation. Board meeting minutes are typically published months after the meeting. It is better than it used to be (in 2010, for instance, the February meeting's minutes were published in June); but it's still slow. More importantly, the agendas of meetings should be established and readily available well in advance of the meetings, so all interested parties know when issues will be considered; even with closed meetings, this would create the possibility of asking questions or providing information ahead of time. (Perhaps meetings should be open, as well.) And past activities should be easy to browse by topic, by date, etc. The organization's web site has a category for meeting minutes, but it doesn't contain anything newer than 2013. More recent minutes are not categorized at all. Resolutions are not categorized systematically either; I started the process last year, but it's a huge project, and would require either paid staff (my preference) or a strong commitment from many volunteers to do it well. Recently, Wikipedian Martijn Hoekstra suggested that the volunteer community could take responsibility for cataloging and organizing this information; while that is far better than nobody doing it, it should be a WMF priority to make sure records of its own deliberations and decisions are readily searchable and accessible. One specific example: last year's amendment to the Terms of Use generated substantial interest from Wikimedians, and externally, with substantial press coverage. It was a high profile decision, with vigorous arguments for and against; many felt that the decision was a significant moment in determining the future of Wikipedia. The Board voted on it in April; I asked a board member about it shortly after, but got a vague response. In June, the minutes were published, and the decision was finally visible. What was the value in keeping the decision secret for two months? I believe a decision like that should be announced as soon as it is made, unless there is a clear reason to delay.

Let's consider #2, money. During the time I worked for the WMF (much of it in fund-raising), there was a deliberate effort to eliminate "restricted grants" from the funding model, and to focus on small individual grants (I believe the average has been reduced to below $20 per contribution) in favor of even operational grants. I do not disagree with this general approach, but it's a very significant one; one of the paths to accountability for a large non-profit organization is typically through the kind of deliberation that typically accompanies large grants, in which philanthropic foundations with aligned goals can probe and challenge the strategic and tactical approaches of the board and executives. This can be an uncomfortable process, and when handled poorly it can be very damaging. But when handled responsibly, it can provide a worthwhile kind of accountability. As an organization, WMF has chosen to broadly reduce that kind of accountability.

To get back this specific question (and consideration #1), I must say that the outcome of this election, in particular, will give us great new insight into the question of accountability for individual, community-elected trustees. All three community-elected trustees (along with their peers) chose not to address a letter from 1,000 people for many months, right up until this election (see Page 1, Question 3). This decision is incomprehensible to me, and in my view if things are working properly, they will be held accountable by being voted out of office this month. My opinion about accountability will thus be largely influenced by events in the near future. In your example, Nemo bis, you have attached more importance than I would to this specific decision, because Phoebe is indeed elected by the community; again, there is an opportunity here for those who consider her decision on that resolution inappropriate to hold her accountable, regardless of whether she holds an officer position. I have more questions than answers at this point about board composition; do community-elected seats carry true accountability? How about chapter-selected seats? Accountability is not the only consideration for board composition, though. I am concerned that the community-elected positions are only available to candidates with rigid qualifications; do we truly believe no people with fewer than 300 edits to our wikis are worth electing? Should voting eligibility really be restricted to voters with more than 300 edits? Do we trust popular elections to fill all necessary skill sets, such as financial experience? I believe these questions are all worthy of careful consideration, but to be honest, I would want more information, and the opportunity to deliberate with other Trustees, prior to firmly committing to any specific plan. Yes, I value the democratic process; but I am not confident that adding one or more additional community-elected seats will, in itself, solve any problems.

Improving content[edit]

How can the WMF most effectively devote its resources (time and money) to improving the content of the various projects? Didcot power station (talk) 17:37, 11 May 2015 (UTC)

According to the "theory of change" model produced by the 2010 Strategic Planning Process, improvements to quality are driven by improvements to participation. The Wikimedia Foundation should use that principle as guidance, and focus its efforts on the dynamics of participation. This includes the social dynamics within the projects (e.g., striving to understand and eliminate the causes of unnecessary hostility and exclusion), understanding and addressing issues with things like dispute resolution and long-term abuse, supporting efforts to improve participation by institutions (e.g., GLAMs, Wikipedian in Residence models), in-person efforts like Wikipedia Loves Monuments, etc.

Technical oversight[edit]

Do you believe that the Board has, or will have, sufficient technology expertise to adequately oversee and advise on technical aspects of the work of the WMF? If not, how would you enable the Board to develop that capacity: for example, would you support the Board establishing a Technology Committee, composed of members of the Board together with outside experts? Didcot power station (talk) 20:43, 12 May 2015 (UTC)

About a year ago, there was a proposal for a Technology Committee. I argued there (as I have also argued in other venues) that expertise in social dynamics and broad decision-making is the broad area that should inform the technical plans and decisions WMF makes. Yes, technical expertise is important to the Board. I trust the Board to make use of various avenues to gain the insights it needs. I do not see a pressing need for a formal Technology Committee, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

Access to nonpublic information policy[edit]

What is your view of the current status of the Access to nonpublic information policy? Do you believe that the current state of affairs is satisfactory? Didcot power station (talk) 06:07, 13 May 2015 (UTC)
If I might be allowed to amplify that: by status I was refrring to the fact that the policy in question was decided by the Board over a year ago but has still not been implemented. Is that satisfactory? Didcot power station (talk) 05:48, 14 May 2015 (UTC)

I am not aware of any major problems with the policy, and it seems plausible to me that there might be legitimate obstacles to fully implementing something like this. I would be open to hearing an argument that there is a problem, but I have not yet heard one. I assume that you do see some problems, Didcot power station; if you would like a more thorough answer, I would like to hear a more detailed analysis from you or somebody with more familiarity with the (purported) problem before going deeper.

Murder of Meredith Kercher Article[edit]

What about the Murder of Meredith Kercher article in the English language Wikipedia? Most of the other questions are quite general but I believe examination of a specific topic is sometimes necessary.

The Kercher article is probably the most troubled entry in Wikipedia's history and one that has caused profound harm to living human beings. In the words of Jimmy Wales the article was "highly biased because one side was taken out." He also identified "systematic exclusion of reliable sources" and "censorship to promote an agenda." It strikes me that in a highly contentious criminal case that lack of inclusion of reliable sources who have heavily criticized the trial and police investigation raises grave BLP issues. For more information Google "Amanda Knox Wikimania" and see my Groundreport article.

The problem is worse today than ever. About a dozen editors were blocked because of their POV. The harm caused to Knox and Sollecito by Wikipedia's irresponsible coverage of the case is far worse than anything ever faced by John Seigenthaller. The RS banned from the article include four CBS documentaries, three retired FBI agents, an American Judge, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist and many other respected journalists. These people are all breathing fire.

Is there a place for the WMF to act in this case and others where there appears to have been a breakdown of Wikipedia's system? What happens when apparent "consensus" about violations of policy is different from what an impartial finder of fact would conclude? Do you agree or disagree with the statement that many editors were blocked as part of an effort to expel those with a POV opposed by the administrators who controlled the page? Is the article in its current form a BLP violation against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito? Thanks in advance. PhanuelB (talk) 14:18, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

I do not feel the Board has any proper role engaging in a dispute like this, and I wish a Trustee had not engaged in such a forceful way (although I am generally sympathetic to the position he took). I have some familiarity with this case, but I have not studied it exhaustively. My impression: (1) There does appear to have been a pattern within the editorial community to prefer one editorial position over another; while this is a problem, it does not necessarily point to a systematic effort attempt to distort the truth; (3) The most vocal advocate for the marginalized position (PhanuelB, who asks this question) appears to have persuasive skills that are not well suited to a wiki-based deliberation process; although I generally agree with his position, I am sympathetic to the choices of the administrators who admonished and blocked him. There is surely much more depth to be explored in this issue, but I don't think it pertains to this election.

Accurately measuring the reliability of Wikipedia[edit]

I read the first few days' responses to the 2015 Strategy/Community consultation and - at least from the unregistered respondents who I assume to be readers rather than community members - there was a clear theme emerging: they don't - but would like to be able to - trust Wikipedia. In its 2015 Call to Action the foundation listed a number of objectives reflecting its commitment to excellence, community, and innovation. Among those objectives was: "Improve our measures of ... content quality..."

Do you think the fact that our readers can't trust us is a problem, and do you support the foundation's commitment to improve our measures of content quality? --Anthonyhcole (talk) 09:09, 14 May 2015 (UTC)

Thank you for taking the time to browse the input and reporting your perspective. The level of trust our readership places in the projects is of course an important topic (and closely related to the #Improving content question above). Broadly, it is more important that academia, the media, and the general public engage with the questions of trust, and the WMF does not have a primary responsibility to address it; that is the responsibility of the authors of our projects' content. But the WMF can certainly facilitate the efforts of academics, journalists, etc. to take a serious look at quality. This is one of the reasons I was excited to join the WMF to plan the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, the 2010 pilot project that was the basis for today's Wikipedia Education Program and Wiki Education Foundation. One of our goals was to shift the way academia looked at Wikipedia from the simplistic "can our students cite it?" to more substantive questions, like "what educational opportunities does it offer?" and "how can we help our students determine when it can and when it cannot be trusted?" We approached this problem by investigating the interests of teachers and academics, and supporting them. The WMF has supported efforts to produce an updated version of the famous 2005 Nature study that compared Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica. It has produced a brochure about "evaluating Wikipedia quality." These are all appropriate activities that will support many constituencies in (1) improving the reliability of Wikipedia, and (2) assessing the reliability of Wikipedia. These are the kinds of activities the WMF should pursue in this area.

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Long-term vision for Wikipedia's direction?[edit]

Which of the following two directions would you prefer as a long-term vision for Wikipedia? Why?

  1. A non-profit software company leveraging open data efforts of volunteers.
  2. A respected cultural and educational institution providing general access to knowledge to everyone, over the Internet.
Holding narrowly to the question as asked, the emphasis should be on #2, and many of the problems we face today result in too narrow an emphasis on #1. The board chair has said that Internet projects are "passing us by left and right"; while there is a point to discuss there, the emphasis is very strange, considering that Wikipedia has recently, rather decisively bypassed more traditional encyclopedias. Celebration of success and embrace of opportunity, in my view, would be a more appropriate disposition than panic.

Last summer, an article in the Guardian offered the Executive Director an opportunity to broadly lay out her vision. The article presented the choice differently, in a framing she did not question: "technology company" or "media firm." Media firm?! What a strange concept -- I don't know of anybody who has ever argued that is the proper identity for the WMF. (Side note, I was quoted in that article, but the reporters -- who did not contact me -- utterly misinterpreted my words, in service to their editorial objective. I have never suggested, nor believed, that Wikimedia experience is an essential qualification for the ED.)

In my view, the proper long-term vision for the organization is that it should excel at easing the work of, and promoting harmony, among one of the most incredible assemblies of volunteer energy in history. The organization should embrace the unique and beautiful opportunity to study, empower, and enable the volunteers who create the projects -- coders, copy editors, writers, administrators, and so on. From that perspective, #2 is a good organizing principle for Wikipedia and the projects, which should always serve the interests of those accessing (i.e., reading)) their information; but the organization should be focused on social dynamics within its communities, more centrally than on the products the volunteers produce.

Responsibility for content dissemination[edit]

The WMF mission statement has a major point of unresolved grammatical ambiguity regarding whether the Foundation has the responsibility to disseminate free education content, or to empower and engage people to disseminate said content. Currently, either reading fits well with the general behavior of the Foundation (maintaining the Wikimedia projects could be considered as aiding the communities in disseminating content, or disseminating content itself), but they could be conflicting at some point in the future, if there is a dispute between the Foundation and its partners as to how content should be disseminated.

In your opinion, does the Wikimedia Foundation itself hold direct or indirect responsibility for disseminating free content effectively and globally? --Yair rand (talk) 17:23, 14 May 2015 (UTC)

Indirect. The kind of conflict you suggest has already come to pass, in a thankfully narrow area. The Wikimedia Foundation's response (including the creation of Superprotect and the absence of any guidance around how it should or will be used) suggests that the Wikimedia Foundation would answer, "direct". In this election, I seek influence the organization toward reconsidering that view.

Skills and capacities for working with others on the Board[edit]

I am concerned that certain current debates have the potential to threaten the Wikimedia enterprise as a whole, due to apparent divergence of opinions about the relevance of different frames of reference (us in relation to Facebook or Twitter; Board in relation to Editors; balance of focus on people vs. focus on technology for examples). Such tensions can become exacerbated by interpersonal conflicts related to personal style and manner of interactions. What skills and capacities would you bring to the Board that would help keep debates constructive and avoid avoidable conflict? What principles or outlooks do you think are necessary to keep current debates from driving the Wikimedia enterprise as a whole off the rails? Cclowe (talk) 01:46, 17 May 2015 (UTC)

Pete's answer to come

Diversity and scope[edit]

Hi! Thanks for volunteering as a candidate for the Wikimedia Board. I have two questions. This one is about diversity and scope. Various projects by various Chapters and individuals had been funded during the last few years. I would like to ask you about your opinion on their diversity.

  1. What do you see as the key problems or challenges in the distribution of funding?
  2. What would you say about the past and current projects language diversity?
  3. Would you say that smaller wikis are adequately funded?
  4. What is your impression on these projects breadth of impact (as opposed to depth, seeing every project complete)?
  5. What do you think about funding of work on the wiki software? Would it be better to decentralise the wiki software development and do it with active participation of Chapters and individuals instead of being centralised around the WMF Engineering Team, or would such change make it worse?

Please take a moment to pick any relevant points from the above and comment, and ignore the ones which are less important. Thanks. --Gryllida 01:56, 17 May 2015 (UTC)

Pete's answer to come

Distribution[edit]

Hi! Thanks for volunteering as a candidate for the Wikimedia Board. I have two questions. This one is about distribution freedom. As you know, free information implies freedoms to get, modify, and distribute content. Wikimedia Foundation is there to support and advance such information freedoms. In my opinion the 'anyone can edit' concept is an attempt at exercising the 'free to get and modify' freedom, but I have two concerns.

1) I believe that the current implementation of «anyone can edit» is a failure because of MediaWiki's bugs in flaggedrevs regarding templates, and because of inadequate diff viewer for reviewing edits.

The way 'anyone can edit' works right now is encountering problems, especially on large wikis, as some pages are being protected and people are being shelled out of editing them, especially templates.
  • Thanks to flaggedrevs, some pages are still editable, and a reviewer needs to approve the edit for it to be visible to other readers. But flaggedrevs has two bugs which prevent it from being used and scaling properly:
  • a) For templates flaggedrevs is buggy and even a latest (even if unapproved) version of a template is always included.
  • This bug impact is full protection of popular templates and introduction of the template editor right for lack of sysop human power to review the requested edits on the English Wikipedia.
  • b) Instead of relying on git or other good old tested diffing software, an in-house mediawiki's php diff viewer is used, and as it is inadequate, the review backlog is increasing, making the sysops think that the flaggedrevs process is not successful. T
  • This bug impact is full or partial protection from popular pages.
In both cases, newcomers are assumed bad faith and driven away from editing.
  • Most people would be too lazy to request an edit after realizing that the page is read-only.
  • And there is no way to measure how many people closed the tab after seeing that the page is read-only.
In my view, the WMF Engineering department consistently ignores the two above problems but doing so is a mistake.

2) I believe that providing adequate decentralized infrastructure for distributing content is vital for the success of the Wikimedia movement.

The right/freedom to distribute content is not supported by the existing infrastructure. There is Wikia, but it is still centralized and making modifications to mediawiki or extensions on it is not possible. I would like to see the Wikimedia Foundation run a decentralized wiki program where anyone can copy a page or a number of pages (i.e. category members) to his own instance and edit them at leisure, including re-distribution and making them published. Running such program would also foster an increase in the number of mediawiki contributors. As with software, any useful edits from the copied versions can be cherry-picked back to Wikimedia projects.
An interesting related essay: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html

Please comment on these two problems. Thank you. --Gryllida 02:17, 17 May 2015 (UTC)

Pete's answer to come