Wikimedia Foundation Board Governance Committee/Agenda 2012-2013/Appointed seats/What makes a good Trustee?

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What makes a good Trustee? A question worth to spend some time with. There were several mail threads and discussions which dealt with it in the last years. Now, that one of the appointed seats needs to be filled again we can try to find some general criteria which fit to us, our mission and the special requirements which come with a growing organization.

Matt Halprin has collected his thought last year on Traits of a great WMF Trustee and there are some starting points. They are based upon the Board manual, where some requirements are named. There may be more skills and characteristics that are desirable, let's talk about it.

What do you think makes a good Trustee? If you could bake one, what would be the result?

  • I'm very weary of the following point in Matt's page: «One of the most difficult challenges, particularly for community elected/chapter selected trustees, is to step outside of a particular interest (local chapter? long-held perspective?)». We've heard it many times in the last 5 or so years, and it doesn't seem to have produced any good, see Democratizing the Wikimedia Foundation#Board mystery on marginalization. --Nemo 10:39, 12 November 2012 (UTC)
  • A good board member is one that is continuously able to pro-actively involve and include the largest variety possible of community members, and their views and needs, in the board's discussions and decisions. Of course this is more of a problem with non-en.wiki and non-English speaking people. Sometimes board member wonder why there are so few questions during elections, or so few proposals during the mandate, or so little response to announcements and requests for feedback... or [maybe] so little input during trustee appointment processes: well, either people don't care about the WMF, or they feel they can't influence it positively (choose your answer). This is the board's duty to change. --Nemo 10:49, 12 November 2012 (UTC)

You can't custom order a trustee. The entire idea underpinning these thoughts is that you will be able to tailor-make a candidate - things like gender, nationality are perhaps still easier to control than someone's personality traits. The entire idea of "ideal board members" while being idealistic, is not something that seems realistically approachable. Let's see, elected members are incumbents who have been picked twice, so any characteristics agreed on by the board would not apply, unless they were considering their own self, which should be an internal exercise. The chapter elected members too, come through a limited pool of candidates, which are voted on. The voting itself, negates any custom order that the board might have envisioned. There are multiple issues with voting, to select a candidate from a pool of 10-12 who would fit a custom order would not be easy, then to have the "ideal candidate" win would require the voting public to share the same opinion and agree on the requirement. Even then, the majority of voters don't know, or want to know a lot about the board's need beyond the candidate's statements and their familiarity with them. That just leaves the appointed members, that is perhaps the right place where the ideal candidate discussion should apply, but then again, that entire exercise is self-contained and internal within the board. All the communication about who the board wants to be among them is pointless, since the board itself will be the only one deciding. Theo10011 (talk) 14:19, 14 November 2012 (UTC)

So you don't think it would be helpful for the community to think about it before the next elections start? I see a huge community, a lot of potential candidates, many of them don't have any idea what expectations they have to met if they run for election. And as a result they just don't try and perhaps we never get to know them. Wouldn't it be more inviting, more open and less self referential if there were a more or less common set of criteria the community wanted to have matched? Before you can customize something you should know how you would like it to be. I see some underlying complaints and prejudgements, and I don't think that that is enough to make better decisions in selecting candidates. We need more creativity and clarity to describe what we expect. That's the same for appointed and s/elected Trustees.
And a side comment: The community has the power to change three seats of the board every 2 years. That's a lot and you know that even minor changes in a group always reflect on the whole group and its dynamics. The last time the community decided to leave it as it was. But that's not the Board's fault. It's the decision of the community. Alice Wiegand (talk) 20:18, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
Alice, you may remember that before our last election there was a list of ideal trustee, based on the current and past participation, what the board needed for better representation. I think the analysis was, a female trustee from the "Global south" possibly Iberocoop would be the most ideal candidate. We didn't have a candidate for that exact specification, but we got a mix in the chapter election at least. The community elections had even less representation and variety. It is a leap to consider if we create a mold someone will step-up to fill it, there was no inclination that happened with the community election. It was interesting, but I was suggesting instead of giving time to discussing what might fit us best, let's work with what we have. Anyway, that was my thought on the matter, I don't have strong feelings about it either, so you might be right as well.
BTW someone made this point elsewhere. En.wp is the deciding factor in the community votes, it is by far the largest voting block, and majority of them are just not involved in most of these developments. en.wp will dictate the term in the near future as well, and given how little involved most editors are with governance issues, they would rather side with incumbents or their own wiki's candidate than bother researching anyone new. Theo10011 (talk) 20:48, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
Yes, there is something to it. All in all there is not only this misbalance but also the general low participation in the elections that worries me. If you or someone else find the link to the list you mentioned above, please share it. I would like to collect some thoughts here. Alice Wiegand (talk) 21:03, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
Might have to comb through Internal-l. I'll ping you if I happen to come across it. Regards. Theo10011 (talk) 21:07, 14 November 2012 (UTC)
See,[Internal-l] Desirable characteristics for a WMF Trustee. Also, [1][2]. Theo10011 (talk) 22:15, 14 November 2012 (UTC)