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Wikimedia Foundation Board noticeboard/Board liaisons reflections on final Movement charter draft

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This message, "Wikimedia Foundation Board liaisons reflections on final Movement charter draft", was sent by Nataliia Tymkiv on 21 June 2024.

Wikimedia Foundation Board liaisons reflections on final Movement charter draft[edit]

Dear all,

We are grateful to the Movement Charter Drafting Committee (MCDC) members, who have dedicated their time and energy to putting forward this final draft of the Movement Charter. They have demonstrated tremendous resilience and perseverance in grappling with ways to increase our collective sense of belonging as a movement, and outlining roles and responsibilities intended to help us all make better decisions in steering the Wikimedia movement into the future.

For some, this final draft Charter represents an extension of the Movement Strategy process that began in earnest in 2020. There are many reflections on this history, some nostalgic and others less so. The 2030 strategic direction has guided and continues to guide the Wikimedia Foundation’s strategy. As the Foundation’s annual plan this year observed, there is much to celebrate in the collective advancement of the original ten movement strategy recommendations, including shared progress in creating more equitable and decentralised decision-making structures.

At the same time, we should all recognise that the world around us has shifted significantly since the movement strategy process began, that our limited resources require much more pragmatic trade-offs and choices, and that the Board has a duty to consider the risk, value, cost and benefit of any significant commitments being made to advance the mission.

As requested by the MCDC, the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees has, over the last few months, shared with the committee its direct feedback on the previous Movement Charter drafts, including its perspectives on the Global Council and its feedback on a previous draft that we posted publicly. Liaisons have also engaged in regular and ongoing meetings with the MCDC members, including inviting the MCDC members to all Board meetings and Strategic retreats since June 2022.

Our general observation, which is elaborated in the body of this letter, is that the final draft of the Movement Charter still does not address the significant concerns previously raised by the Board. Thus, as liaisons, our recommendations to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees are:

  • not to ratify the final draft of the Movement Charter as proposed; and
  • support the Foundation in developing concrete, time-bound next steps on a more practical scale, allowing us all to evaluate progress, and see what to change or build on.

We believe that approving this version of the Charter, despite the tremendous amount of work and resources already put into it, would not be the right call. Instead, we think it is better to continue pursuing the same goals the draft Charter also sought to pursue in a different way, by identifying key areas where the final draft Charter provides us with guidance on concrete steps that can be taken towards increasing volunteer and movement oversight of certain core areas of responsibility. We believe this will allow the Foundation, and all of us, to live into the recommendation of Movement Strategy to evaluate, iterate, and adapt as we go, rather than too quickly to agree to new structures that may not yet be fit for purpose.

As liaisons, we first shared this recommendation and our reflections with the MCDC on June 18 and then with the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation Board on June 20 (including a short draft brief). The Board is reviewing the final draft of the Movement Charter now and plans to vote during a special meeting between June 25 and July 9, during the voting period for all affiliates and individuals.

Context for sharing these reflections: why now?[edit]

As liaisons, we believe that the final draft does not address the concerns previously stated by the Board of Trustees in its feedback on previous drafts of the Charter. Specifically, the final draft still falls short of providing a clear enough explanation of how it will advance Wikimedia's public interest mission and effectively address the shortcomings of Wikimedia's current structures to enable more effective and equitable decisions.

These points are not new and were shared in previous Board feedback to the MCDC, including the January 22 letter (shared publicly in February) in response to the first public draft and the May letter in response to the second public draft. In response to both affiliates and individual contributors who have asked the Foundation to speak more clearly about its views, and do it sooner, we felt it was important to reiterate these points in the interest of transparency and learning.

Process accountability[edit]

We, as liaisons, have heard concerns and frustrations about the Movement Charter process. It faced significant challenges and constraints from the impact of the pandemic limiting travel and in-person meetings; resignations of several members of the MCDC; and other issues that extended the timeline to 2.5 years. It was a shared hope by all to have this process successfully wrapped up sooner.

For some of this, the Board certainly must take some responsibility. This is the purpose of the Board’s oversight, as well as its governance responsibilities. An important lesson learnt through this experience is that large-scale processes should have more explicit and clear expectations up front so that as a stakeholder the Foundation can engage directly and openly earlier about its own positions, views and boundaries. It is not easy to find this balance, but this is essential to moving forward differently. These and other lessons should be documented, and built upon in any future processes aimed at hard-to-reverse movement-wide commitments (for example, the Playbook that was developed after the Wikimedia's Movement Strategy process).

Reflections on the final draft[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees has a legal and fiduciary duty to consider any significant commitment or decision in light of the expected risk, value, cost, and benefit to Wikimedia's public interest mission. The value of new structures proposed in the final draft of the Movement Charter has to be weighed against their risk, their cost, and the resource demands of this movement at a time when we have all seen that the growth rate of revenue is not increasing at the same rate as in the past, while demands to invest more in the Wikimedia platforms, projects, and communities are increasing.

As liaisons, we believe the risks and costs associated with the currently proposed form of the Global Council outweigh its potential value.

Firstly and most importantly, the proposed Global Council's purpose is not clearly connected to advancing Wikimedia's public interest mission. It lacks a compelling explanation of how it will ensure more equitable decision-making and support the mission of sharing free knowledge. It also does not guide us on how to address many of the most pressing issues facing community governance on Wikimedia projects. We recognise that for some, the status quo also does not provide that clarity, but we do not believe that the final draft Charter moves us closer.

Secondly, we note that the proposed structure and makeup of the Global Council have changed significantly with each iteration of the published drafts (from a small body to a large assembly to a flexible-sized body in the most recent text). This may have been done in response to feedback from multiple stakeholders, but it raises an ongoing concern we have expressed in all of our feedback that this proposed structure is not based on the form following function principle -- we do not see a deliberate or intentional design that seeks to meet the purpose of such a critical and important new body.

Finally, as liaisons we believe that important elements within the final draft Charter, including, most critically, the Values and Principles, require more consensus of communities before attempting to incorporate them into a larger document that enshrines binding commitments on us all. Ensuring values are understood, shared, and – importantly – prioritised similarly across the movement is essential to relying on them to help craft an effective and accepted decision-making framework.

Wikimedia Foundation’s commitment: what to do irrespective of the outcome of the ratification vote[edit]

As liaisons, the proposal that we are making to the Board is that, instead of ratifying the Movement Charter in its current form, it is better to follow the Movement Strategy Recommendation to experiment more quickly with key areas of responsibility before establishing a more permanent body with a wider scope. That is why, irrespective of the outcome of the final draft Charter vote, the Foundation has already begun to work on shifting core areas of decision-making to increased volunteer oversight, including fund dissemination, and volunteers offering more immediate input on Foundation decisions, such as advising on product & technology.

More specifically, we propose that by January 2025, fund dissemination, which is one functional area of the proposed Global Council, be handled by a global decision-making body to determine the Wikimedia Foundation's regional allocation of grants budgets for the rest of fiscal year 2024–2025 and to plan grantmaking estimates for the next two years. A global, but narrower scope, will help to experiment with more accountability for the results.

This process, which we shall ask to be co-created with affiliates and individual community members, would build on the experience of the Regional Funds Committees, and the past Funds Dissemination Committee, in line with the Movement Strategy 2030 Initiative #27 and the work currently taking place with Affiliate EDs and Regional Funds Committees to determine the Wikimedia Foundation's regional allocation of grants budgets for FY 2024–2025. It is important to document and publish the lessons learned from each step of the process and use these to inform future decision-making and the possible creation of permanent committees and/or movement bodies.

Additionally, as liaisons we also propose moving forward with the establishment of a Product & Technology Advisory Council, following a proposal from the Foundation that was shared with the MCDC. This is in line with Movement Strategy 2030 Initiative #31 to advance shared decision-making and co-creative spaces in technology spaces that are fundamental to support the mission.

Next steps[edit]

As all affiliates and individuals prepare to vote on the final Charter draft, we as liaisons hope that voters will also take the time to provide written comments alongside their “yes”, “no”, and “--” vote so that everyone will learn as much as possible about how we all can move forward with decision-making structures that are more effective, with an equity lens, for our complex global community to advance Wikimedia’s mission in the world.

As previously noted, the Board is reviewing the final draft of the Movement charter now and plans to vote during a special meeting between June 25 and July 9, during the voting period for all affiliates and individuals. This will allow the Board to consider all public comments available before the start of the voting while casting its vote alongside affiliates and individual contributors.

At the MCDC’s request, the results of the Board’s vote will be shared only after the vote of individuals and affiliates has concluded, so as not to influence their voting, but likely before the outcomes of those votes are published, and not before July 10.

As we all await the outcome of the final draft Charter vote, it will be important to be ready to take concrete steps that will help move us forward as a movement. Wikimania will be an opportunity to begin constructive and productive conversations on these and other immediate next steps, informed by the comments left by individuals and affiliates during the vote. Working together on practical, time-bound steps will shape a better and more equitable framework for making decisions. With a shared commitment, this moment of change can foster a greater sense of belonging, one that can sometimes feel elusive in this widely diverse global movement.

Best regards

Nat and Lorenzo

Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees liaisons to the Movement Charter Drafting Committee