Wikimedia Conference 2014/Documentation/13

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13 Meet the WMF Board of Trustees

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Category:Wikimedia Conference 2014 - Meet the WMF Board of Trustees
Board member Samuel (SJ) hosted the "Technology" table
Board member Alice hosted the "Relationship between Board & Community" table
Board member Stu hosted the "Money" table
Board member Jan-Bart hosted the "Strategy" table

tl;dr: Jan-Bart says the strategy process won't start before the new ED is announced, the whole community, explicitly the affiliates as well, will be included. On the technology side, SJ says Wikidata and Etherpad integration will be the next steps, as well as he supports more local development teams. Stu concluded that the board talks to much about details and that the FDC & GAC are still not perfect, but on a good way. Alice is unsure about the difficult role of the chapter/affiliate-selected board seats, they don't represent the affiliates necessarily. Furthermore, Alice would like to have an space for sharing and developm [policy] ideas and resolutions. Phoebe talks about the board's composition and its power. The board members regreted the bad communication regarding the "November decision" (FDC cuts and chapter recognition).


There were five tables, each hosted by one of the Board members. Each table had a different topic.

Table 1 - Strategy (Jan-Bart)[edit]

  • Past strategy process:, 5-year plan (this is unlikely to be repeated because it is too long and some things have lost relevance).
  • Chapters didn't all participate, individuals contributed but there was no organized chapter effort
  • Expecting more chapter level participation, also expecting less change in the strategic goals because of grant tie-ins and success of the present goals
  • In a transition phase - hoping to announce a new ED in May
  • Not a lot of insight into what happens after strategies are formed and "what people are doing"
  • New strategy process will not start before the new ED is in place.
  • There will be an expectation that grant requests has clearer connections to the strategy.
  • There is opportunities to make almost any activity/project at all, as long as it can be connected to the strategy.
  • Reduce strategy to specific goals, which can be tied to the people who will achieve the goals.
  • Projects database!

Table 2 - Technology (Samuel)[edit]

  • Questions about developing local software teams (e.g. WikiData), and Finding first projects for these groups.
  • Future of technology in open knowledge.
  • Open govt / open data: how do we use it?
  • Re-use of our data
  • How to engage with large technical opportunities, e.g. Europeana.
  • Grantmaking to make sure that projects can be supported.

Q: What are the next big technicological implementations planned by the Foundation team?

  • Technical roadmap on Media WIki- group roadmap for the next 12 months which covers all the work that the WMF staff is doing.
  • Software team at WMDE (Wikidata) - integration with WMF and their own roadmap
  • Partnerships/collaborations - Sam is hopeful for feedback from linked open data standards w/regard to Wikidata
    • Etherpad integration

Q: How can the UK Chapter or other local chaptersget more involved with the tech work of the foundation?

  • Could lead to more staff employment by chapters
  • Hoping for lots of support for chapters to develop.
  • Code documentation

Q: Should Wikimedia Switzerland invest in Kiwix? Other offline resources? What board support is anticipated/what is the board pushing for with regards to offline resources?

  • WMF's role is to help coordinate and facilitate those conversations.
  • Ownership of offline resources, Wikipedia Zero, etc. is sometimes convoluted. Communication between local groups and/or chapters. Aggregating resources.

Q: Know if WMF takes into account the issue of infrastructure of development team. WM Indonesia doesnt have internet access everywhere, but how can people support the movement anyway?

  • Lots of interest in supporting proposals of infrastructure and outreach in places with less infrastructure, but no specific proposals
  • A number of chapters have invested in supporting other areas, supporting offline outreach and by distributing offline content to local schools
  • Kiwix: Runs a wiki server.
  • Needs people to define what will be successful in their areas - often easy fixes once the problem is identified. This is where chapters come in - getting their own infrastructure.

Q: What involvement will the board of trustees have in the development and implementation of Visual Editor? Future role?

  • It will eventually come out to all WIkipedias, what bugs need to be fixed and what opt out options will be there?
  • There's a defined list of things that need to be fixed before certain communities opt in to VE

Q: Divide between technical and non-technical Wikimedians? What role does the Board and the WMF have in developing technical literacy and bridging the technological gap?

  • Efforts to fun workshops for less-technical or differently-technical people
  • Nothing done so far for non-technical people
  • WM Finland tried to run a Wikidata workshop, but discovered that there weren't many people who are knowledgable about the project. SJ responds: document more experiences like this, so that we may better identify what resources may need to be shared.

Q: Defining large scale technology (quarantine for bulk uploads) may fit into WMF timeline for priorities. Reasonable way for WMF to get involved is for one chapter to be the main point of contact and receive funding that way.

Table 3 - Money (Stu)[edit]

  • With enormous fundraising ability comes enormous responsibility to manage that trust.
  • The struggles on the board are often around continuing to earn that trust and show that responsibility.
  • GAC and FDC (community peer review processes) are still imperfect, can be improved, but they're very important.
  • Sometimes the board talks too much about detail and too little about principles.
  • WMF is a black box.

Table 4 - Relationship (Alice)[edit]

  • So many open questions and people who want to add something to the discussion.
  • It's a topic which needs to be tackled again.
  • Comparisons between board and communist party and politburo.
  • Need a platform to share rough ideas before they're seen as unchangeable.
  • Both tables were talking about the representation issue.
  • Community thinks board is disconnected from community. Have their head in the coulds, not interested in community.
  • From the board's side, want to serve the community, but it's not "the community", so struggle with the attempt to communicate to whole community.
  • When we make decisioins in November, still talking about it in Feb, that's not good.
  • Alice is a chapter-selected board member. Feels as if the chapters put her onto the board, and deseerted her there.
  • That's why she took this question to the table. Don't want to talk abou the November resolution, but rather want to find out what chapters need from board, which is not already there.
  • Itzik (WMIL) selected as board member, are you representing the board or the chapters? Don't recall the communication back to chapters. "Nov decision": board made a decision that for 2 years, will not approve any more chapters except if they had been a user group already for 2 years with programmatic work.
  • Sandra (WMNL): WMF board often needs to take tough decisions, so when you're there, do you feel that you're a member of the WMF board, or a member of the Chapters?
  • Alice: Feel a split responsibility. See myself serving with priority one the Foundation, and supporting the idea and the work done by the Foundation to develop the Foundation and the movement. Don't have a mandate from the chapters on each point, so can't ask the chapters about each point. The chapters are also not unanimous. Then the minority needs to support the result. Can understand why chapters ask where their voice is, but the chapters can again make a selection today. Think about not only who supports your own chapters, but also who has a good feeling about how the movement is ticking. This should help you feel not just well represented as an individual chapter, but also as a movement.
  • How could it be done better?
  • Alice: Many things could be done better. This was discussed in the discussion between AffCom and the rest of the board: We need a platform to openly develop ideas, e.g. around roles and responsibilities of AffCom by (for example) opening AffCom wiki to the whole community for input. Then rough ideas could be presented before each detail has been sorted out, and get input.
  • Grijz: You have your own responsibility, but it's a good idea to make a straw poll before moving in a given direction.
  • Most chapter members are inactive, so how to solve this problem.
  • Alice: Starts with definition of "active members" and how you see yourself as an organisation. WMF is different: don't have "membership" as such.
  • Where is the point to start to strengthen the relationship between the boT and the Community?
  • Cornelius: Your role is difficult. Are you representing us? Are you our guides?
  • Alice: True, good question. Even for us (Patricio and me), as affiliated elected board seats, it's difficult. At the beginning we got a lot of support of the chapters, but it changed after a while. How should be the relationship between the [affiliate-selected] trustees and the chapters? How do you imagine that? Actually, this representation question is still unresolved. The trustees say "we can't represent you", the chapters say "but you should represent us in a way".
  • Tomasz (WMPL): It feels like, that sometimes the Board is like the Political Bureau of the Communist Party. Internally they discussed a lot, but the discussion are totally hidden to the public. How your discussion go? What are you're arguments?

Frieda (WMIT) : If I understand you right, you want to know if your candidate was the right one. Bengt (WMSE): This will be always like this, you're sitting at two chairs at the same time. You're part of the board, a kind of team, but you're elected as a representative. Actually, it's our responsibility to foster your knowledge.

  • Alice: true, true. But at the moment there is no platform where we can exchange ideas openly, where we can talk, where we can let grow ideas. I don't know if it's Wikimedia-l. The board woud be happy to get any ideas, where we could talk, any rough ideas.
  • Tomasz (WMPL): I would renew this ideas of like governments act in democratic countries. They have like consultation phase.

Table 5 - Decision making (Phoebe)[edit]

  • Board of Trustees for WMF is a governance board, not an executive board. Look at finances, staff, activities.
  • Foundation is a big enough organisation that there is a whole structure. Board is not in close contact with all the activities of the foundation.
  • The Board approves anual plan, makes certain decisions about the board (elects officers, selects appointed members, evaluates itself), makes logistic decisions, approves major grants (only accept unrestricted grants), approves affiliate applications recommended by Affcom
  • The ED is the only board employee: evaluate her performance, appoint new one, etc.
  • Presentations from different [groups? e.g. tech] to support decisions on annual plan.
  • If there's an issue with grant paperwork, for example, board will refer you to the staff. If there is a quesiton about (for example) new ways to get grants, processes, etc, then will discuss.
  • For example, trademark work was done based on consultation with community.
  • Question from WMUS-NY: Question from NY: How much power does the ED have? How much does the board steer? What about Jimbo?
  • Phoebe: 5 elected members, 4 appointed members, Jimmy (founders's seat). Jimmy has no special power, position is renewed every 2 years. He does take all the media calls. ED is constantly talking to the board. Has significant power over the foundation's activities due to her position; works full-time. Her job is to be strategic and to take important decisions. Rest of the board also influences the annual plan and strategy, and also signs off on them. Her strategic view comes from many sources (inside community, Engineering group, etc.). Board member could spend about 10-15 hours on board matters. 4 in-person meetings per year. Being a Wikipedian is difficult transforming from being a contributor to a more observive person with a broader view. The board is quite stable at the moment.
  • Erlend (WMNO) could you talk more about the 4 appointed trustees?
  • Phoebe: Jan-Bart (longest serving member, from the Netherlands), Stu West (working in Silicon Valley), Bishakha (from India, working on women rights), Ana Toni (most recent appointed trustees, runs the International Board of Greenpeace) Appointed and elected seats are staggered, renewed every two years. Jan-Bart's term ends at the of this year, then we have to look for a new trustee. Being chair you're more in contact with the ED, the chair has more responsibilities. We meet at least three times in real per year.
  • There is a calendar of the responsibilities of the board (elections, approval of certain things..).

Question for us is: a what point an issue is important enough for the movement that the BoT should take care of it?

  • Is consensus hard to achieve?
  • Phoebe: Our statements are often very careful because of attempts to achieve consensus.
  • Question from Nepal: How does the board respect editorial freedom?
  • Phoebe: Board doesn't touch the wikis.

Further questions[edit]

  • Itzik (WMIL): November decision was made without consultation. This is problematic. Split board decision, but board didn't open up to improve the resolution?


  • Jan-Bart: Did have a really long session with AFFcom yesterday. Should have been done differently. Lots of miscommunication.
  • Phoebe: Consensus: are the decisions by consensus? Not always. Sometimes consensus is not appropriate.
  • Stu: Decisions were very tighlty related. Both reflected a view that we need to figure out movement roles. Need to figure out the role of a chapter / thematic organisation. We were just adding more to the numbers and the budget without having a good framework: need to figure it out.
  • Alice: The good part of the decision is that we realised that our language was bad. We were not able as a board to translate the reasons for this decision in any way that would have reached the community. Huge gap. Need tow work on our language and way that we communicate.
  • Samuel: Process was bad; need to find ways to listen to suggestions from groups such as affcom - easy for board to respond to this kind of communication