Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees/Call for feedback: Community Board seats/Main report
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At the end of the Call for feedback about Community Board seats, the facilitation team will present a report to the Board. The report was drafted here, taking the Weekly reports as the main source of information.
The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees organized a Call for Feedback about Community Board Seats between February 1 and March 14. This call followed the approval of Bylaws amendments last January, which brought three new community-and-affiliate seats in addition to the three existing ones that need to be renewed this year. With these changes, the Board seeks to solve problems of capacity, performance, and lack of representation of the movement’s diversity.
The Call started with 10 ideas discussed within the Board, and more ideas were proposed by contributors during the feedback period. The Board tasked a facilitation team to gather a broad representation of opinions, including people who are active in their own roles, topics, languages or regions, but usually not in global discussions on Meta. During 6 weeks, at least 878 participants took part in 99 regional and global conversations. This report, backed by 94 local reports and 6 weekly reports, documents the main opinion trends expressed in those conversations, as well as a wide range of ideas supporting or contradicting them. More about the metrics related to conversations held during this Call can be found in the appendix.
At a high level, we have two main positions and a range of very diverse opinions in between:
- One position puts the priority on achieving a diverse representation of the movement in the Board, with a special focus on regional diversity. This position comes with less attachment to current practices and more appetite for experimentation, also to address the problem of needed skills identified by the Board. This position is more popular among communities that don’t feel represented in the current Board and don’t participate regularly or at all in movement discussions beyond their language or region, especially in emerging Wikimedia communities.
- Another position places emphasis on holding the elections as soon as possible and is reluctant to consider any changes in the current process, especially if they may delay the election or move away from direct elections. This position comes with different levels of agreement or disagreement about the lack of diversity as a problem and essential skills for the Board. This position is more popular among long-time contributors familiar with Board elections and movement discussions who are mainly based in Western Europe and North America.
- In between we have many contributors and groups with very different profiles who might sympathise with any of these positions but have nuanced opinions about where the Board and the movement should experiment, compromise and, in general, invest more time in discussing important implementation details.
It is difficult to summarize in one sentence the sentiment about each idea discussed. Here is an attempt, loosely sorted by popularity:
- Election of confirmed candidates. Direct elections have received considerably more support than an indirect system mediated through a selection committee.
- Candidate resources. Everyone agrees that better support for candidates can help address the problems identified by the Board. The discussion, expected to continue, quickly moved to ideas that could be implemented before the next election.
- Regional seats. There is agreement that the Board should improve its regional diversity, but there is no agreement about how to achieve this goal. Quotas have been discussed in almost every conversation and the range of opinions has been very wide.
- Call for types of skills and experiences. There is broad agreement that the Board can do more to identify skills needed, provide training, and proactively seek potential candidates with these skills. Some participants think community experience (both wiki-editing and community organizing) is the only skill required for community candidates. The idea of Specialization seats was received with mixed feedback.
- Ranked voting system. Across multiple conversations there has been clear interest and curiosity in trying a ranked voting system to help increase the diversity of winning candidates.
- Vetting of candidates. Although vetting was understood as required, its extent was debated. Many participants say that vetting of community candidates is not a Board task but a community task.
- Community-elected selection committee and Board-delegated selection committee. Concerns about a model of indirect elections are widespread. In general, the idea is seen as unnecessary, removing the control of the community to directly elect trustees and adding complexity to the process.
- Direct appointment of confirmed candidates. Many participants feel that this change would be too disruptive and would undermine their trust in the Board. Many have responded that the Board already can appoint directly almost half of the seats.
Ideas discussed within the Board
Ranked voting system
Across multiple conversations there has been clear interest and curiosity in trying a ranked voting system to help increase the diversity of winning candidates. The majority of participants were not familiar with specific ranked voting systems or didn’t have a strong opinion for a specific method. There was a short discussion on Meta-Wiki about Single Transferable Vote or a Condorcet method. There were concerns about a new voting system being confusing, dissuading people from voting or making them vote wrongly by mistake. Some participants mentioned that the current Support / Neutral / Oppose system gives too much weight to Oppose votes. A few participants said that for them the possibility to oppose certain candidates was important.
- There is overall interest in improving the current system based on Support / Neutral / Oppose votes by using a ranked voting system instead. Reasons expressed by multiple people in multiple conversations:
- The current system doesn’t support the goal of diversity because it gives too much weight to “Oppose” votes.
- One former candidate said that in the 2017 election, about four Support votes were needed by candidates to overturn one Oppose vote.
- Ranked systems can promote candidates with more general, “centered” support.
- Ranked systems can improve the representation of the minorities of our movement.
- Some participants showed appreciation of this method because it allows for a more nuanced vote and allows defining preferences in a better way.
- One participant using the anonymous feedback form strongly advised to choose a ranked voting system due to its broad use in many organizations such as the OpenStreetMap Foundation.
- The 2019 ASBS facilitators and some other volunteers disagree with the idea of the Board deciding a voting system for community elections and say this decision belongs to the community, and ultimately the Elections Committee.
- Some participants from very different communities expressed a concern that a voting system perceived as more complex could reduce participation in elections. Some participants from emerging Wikimedia communities were concerned about this risk impacting their region specially.
- One ASBS 2019 facilitator said that a ranked voting system has been used for affiliate seats, and the results might not differ very much.
- A few participants said that they prefer to have a voting system where it is possible to oppose specific candidates, or even all of them.
- There are different opinions about which specific system should be used. Some support Single Transferable Vote (used in the last ASBS votes), some support a Condorcet method like the Schulze method (used in one Board election).
- One participant in a French-speaking discussion suggested Proportional approval voting and Asset voting as adequate systems for this case.
- Both participants familiar and not familiar with ranked voting systems agree on the importance of clear instructions and a good user interface to ensure that voters understand what they are voting for.
- One participant suggested consulting the article about Comparison of electoral systems on English Wikipedia.
- A couple of participants consider that there is a risk of influence by the votes of the growing number of Wikimedia Foundation staff and contractors. They want to avoid a voting system that could give the Wikimedia Foundation workforce more influence in elections.
Quotas have been discussed in almost every conversation and the range of opinions has been very wide. In practice, most discussions have focused separately on regional quotas or gender diversity quotas. Other factors like non-Wikipedia projects participation, minority languages, age, and skin color have been mentioned sporadically and inconsistently.
The majority of participants agree on the importance of having a Board that represents the diversity of the world. The majority of participants also recognize the difficulty of implementing a system of quotas that is fair, effective, and representative. The support to find diversity solutions based on quotas is stronger among participants from emerging Wikimedia communities as well as women and LGBT+ participants.
Some individuals had reservations to express opinions publicly or participate in the Call for Feedback at all. Aspects like gender and cultural background are closely related to people’s identities. In society, topics like social privilege, political representation of women and minorities, or contemporary colonialism are very controversial and difficult to discuss. All these factors were noticeable during the Call for Feedback. We organized targeted outreach to learn more about the opinions of participants in several groups, including Wikimedia LGBT+, WikiWomxn, Les sans pagEs, WikiDonne and Art+Feminism as well as informal groups of women and LGBT+. Some of whom noted feeling overworked by the quantity of discussions about the Wikimedia movement requesting their participation.
There are serious concerns about the implementation of quotas, including among groups underrepresented in Wikimedia. Disagreement about quotas among women and LGBT+ groups tended to be related to unintended consequences like tokenism and potential candidates feeling discouraged to run for “a quota seat”. On Meta-Wiki, a few contributors expressed their strong disagreement on principle, considering quotas discriminatory, and some of them disagree that the Board has a problem of diversity.
- Several participants said that the purpose of quotas is to overcome historical and systemic inequities, which the current practice of trustee election makes difficult.
- Many participants in all regions, also in Western Europe and North America, said that quotas may be the only way for certain underrepresented groups to ensure that their perspectives and presence are included on the Board any time soon.
- A Wikimedia Foundation executive noted that women are underrepresented in elected/nominated seats, and appointed seats should not be the only guarantee of balancing diversity.
- Some participants commented that the Board diversity should represent the world’s population composition and not just the Wikimedia community composition.
- Many participants said that a representative implementation of quotas may be hard given that there is a maximum of eight seats for community and affiliates.
- Some warned of larger communities overshadowing smaller communities due to influence and noted this may produce a silent minority as has happened in some countries with indigenous communities. For this reason, they say quotas should be based upon population and not the size of the wiki community.
- Several participants from underrepresented groups said that quotas may deter potential competent candidates from underrepresented groups from running for election because they want to be selected on their own merits, without the help of a quota system.
- They fear that these candidates may be judged as only on the Board because of the quota and disregard the experience or expertise of the person. Some said candidates using the quota may get less support because of this.
- Many participants in several regions were concerned about the risk of candidates joining the Board without having the proper skills thanks to quotas.
- Some participants feared that quotas may increase tokenism, that is, an apparent representation of diversity that is more symbolic than effective.
- A few participants said that candidates selected due to quotas may feel public pressure from contributors opposing quotas.
- They mentioned groupthink as a potential side effect, that is, trustees selected through quotas feeling forced to align with the trustees selected without quotas, defeating the point of diversity.
- Several groups from emerging Wikimedia communities mentioned the connotations the term “quotas” have in their countries.
- They described situations where governments are misusing quota-based systems that were created to include minorities, resulting in various forms of corruption.
- Especially on Meta-Wiki, a few users disagreed strongly with any system of quotas.
- One user said that quotas discriminate against certain people by denying them the ability to run for certain board seats based on their innate characteristics.
Regarding gender quotas
- There were many considerations specific to a gender diversity quota:
- Participants in several countries mentioned examples of gender balance laws or campaigns in their countries and considered it logical to explore a similar application in the Board.
- Many participants mentioned concepts like “50/50” or “50%” to refer to a gender quota for women, according to some of them following terms popularized by governments or the media in their countries.
- Other participants including members of the Wikimedia LGBT+ user group complained, saying that these concepts were binary and implicitly biased against non-binary, trans or genderqueer people. The Facilitation team acknowledged this problem and rectified the related mentions in their reports.
- A former trustee suggested the Board be proactive about diverse articulations of gender such as trans and non-binary and also diverse sexual orientations.
- A couple of participants suggested adding limits for overrepresentation instead of minimum quotas, like for instance a maximum of 60% of any gender on the Board.
- One participant suggested that gender representation should not come before regional representation.
Regarding quotas in general
- A few participants have said that quotas should be applied during the nomination process, not the election.
- Some Wikitech participants suggested ensuring that there is a minimum number of candidates from each group rather than having election quotas.
- A member of the Elections Committee considered it is not possible to cover all the diversity of our movement with quotas unless there is a system of short-term rotation.
- A former trustee suggested to look at “underrepresented” as a required expertise to avoid using a plain concept of quotas.
- Some participants said that the Board seats should reflect the current community, not the community that it is desired to become.
- Some participants from the Wikimedia Stewards User Group were of this opinion.
- Others said imposing restrictions on the community seats makes for ineffective representatives.
- A few participants commented that the feedback period was not long enough to discuss quotas.
Call for types of skills and experiences
The discussion about skills and experiences had recurrent feedback about offering training to potential candidates, trustees, and even the community at-large. This feedback is captured in the Candidate resources section below. This idea also connects with Specialization seats. Feedback related to dedicating seats for certain skills is captured in that section.
Some participants think community experience (both wiki-editing and community organizing) is the only skill required for community candidates. Others think skills to perform well as a trustee are important, and opinions differ about how strongly the filter should be applied. There is broad agreement that the Board can do more to identify skills needed, provide training, and proactively seek potential candidates with these skills. There are questions about how the Board plans to use the recently approved Board Candidate Evaluation Form and how skills will be verified.
About the skills needed in candidates, there is no agreement about the types of skills that should be required to candidates:
- Many participants, especially long-term contributors, express a strong opinion about not requiring specific skills to community-and-affiliate candidates. They say the role of these trustees in the Board is to represent the community and to contribute community skills. They say that the Board has the directly appointed seats to cover specific skills required. Even so, some said all previous trustees have been well-qualified so this is a nonissue.
- Many contributors who have joined more recently and some long-term contributors disagree, and believe that all candidates need to have a certain skill set to aspire to a seat in the Board. Some participants from emerging Wikimedia communities said that some skills should be required of all candidates.
- Each of these two positions includes contributors who usually don’t participate in governance discussions as well as contributors well-versed in these discussions, including former trustees.
- Many participants have said that a Board needs to be functional and effective, and to achieve this goal trustees require some skills. Even if there are different opinions about the specific skills required, there is agreement that this does not have to be executive or leadership skills, but a certain level of skills to be a productive trustee.
- This type of reasoning has been mentioned by several participants with experience participating in the board of an organization (the Wikimedia Foundation, an affiliate, or outside Wikimedia) or experience supporting boards.
- The same reasoning has emerged in several conversations with participants without direct board experience who consider that the role of trustee has a lot of responsibility.
- In the first comment received in the Call for Feedback, a member of Wikimedia Australia said that often nomination statements from candidates mention their on-wiki contributions or outreach work, but information about their training or experience in Board skills is missing. This participant suggests that, because of this, these candidates probably don't realize what a board does and what skills it needs.
- In meetings with the Odia and the Gujarati communities it was said that the Board is the highest decision-making authority in the movement, and skills should not be compromised.
- A former appointed trustee said that there isn’t any harm in having an eligibility criteria for everyone on the Board as it could lead to a more effective board.
- In a meeting with the North Africa community it was suggested that the Board can use committees or a new advisory council delivering the skills whenever needed, keeping the Board seats for community members who win elections. This idea also appeared in two different meetings with Women from France and Germany.
- The director of a European chapter said non-specialists can give perspectives specialists tend to overlook, and skills shouldn’t be overrated. The proposer of Regional Seats agreed with this during the “Regional Diversity” panel session.
Considerations for implementation
- Some participants said that the community should be allowed to express what skills they believe the Board should have. During the “Skills for Board work” panel it was suggested the community can vote and endorse skills they see as important somewhat like the community wishlist.
- There is overall agreement that needed skills should be identified by the Board and advertised well in advance.
- Some specific skills that were suggested are:
- Wiki editing
- Auditing, assessment
- Management, leadership
- Diversity lived experience
- Mediation and negotiation
- Knowledge about the global community
- Community experience
- On-wiki experience
- Programmatic work in the movement
- Connections to Wikimedia work outside their local community
- Some participants say that training for candidates or even trustees after being elected is enough and that willingness to learn is important. Some say that the terms are too short to train people with insufficient skills, so a certain amount of skills might be helpful for optimal use of the term.
- Some participants suggested on-wiki experience is important for all trustees including directly appointed.
- At a meeting of the Turkic community, they wondered: what will happen if there are no candidates with specific skills?
- One participant said that the Board should be more proactive about searching for candidates in the community before the election.
- The Board Candidate Evaluation Form was mentioned in several conversations. Many questions about its intended use and also about its effectiveness were raised.
- Some participants suggested in different conversations the idea of highlighting the skills of candidates, even if there is no hard requirement for skills.
- Several times during the Call for Feedback participants mentioned processes like job applications or submitting resumes/curriculum vitae (CVs) to assess a candidate's existing skills.
Vetting of candidates
Vetting of candidates received little feedback compared to other ideas. Although vetting was understood as required, its extent was debated. Many participants say that vetting of community candidates is not a Board task but a community task. In general these participants believe that the vetting should be minimal. Some participants prefer a strong vetting process to ensure that eligible candidates are fit for the Board. Several participants said that a stronger vetting process may introduce cultural bias and reinforce privileges for wealthy people especially in emerging Wikimedia communities.
- Some suggested a stronger vetting process comparable to a job application, reasoning that the role of trustee is a big responsibility.
- A participant attending an office hour shared an example of a board assessment and self-assessment form to determine skills possessed and skills needed on non-profit boards. She suggested its use as a way to vet or at least better assess candidates.
- Many participants say that the Board should only do legal checks to candidates to confirm them.
- Some say that it is the responsibility of the community to make sure that community candidates are qualified. They say if any additional vetting exists at all, it should be done by volunteers, not by the Board.
- Among participants who expressed their belief that the Board should not do a wider vetting of candidates, a few mentioned the case of the appointed trustee Arnnon Geshuri, who stepped down shortly after his announcement in 2016 after a community protest.
- Frequently it was mentioned that any vetting should happen before the election/process starts to all candidates, not at the end to the winning candidates.
- The ED of a European affiliate said that a vetting process might suffer from cultural and language bias, and its design should be considered carefully.
- A former trustee said that potential candidates might be deterred by a vetting process requiring candidates to publish an assessment of their skills or other personal information.
- Another former trustee stated that vetting based on skills might reduce diversity of candidates, creating a system that favors wealthier people, especially in countries where only a minority has access to the types of education required.
Although the ideas for a Board-delegated selection committee and a Community-elected selection committee are distinct, a lot of the feedback received applies equally to both. We have merged the feedback, having separate lists for the points specific to each case.
Concerns about a model of indirect elections are widespread, and especially the idea of a Board-delegated committee. There are some exceptions in Africa and South Asia. There, a few groups felt confident about trusting a committee formed by experienced community members who would become well-informed on candidates. In general, the idea is seen as unnecessary, removing the control of the community to directly elect trustees and adding complexity to the process. The main risks identified are a decrease of community participation, committee bias, and a compromised credibility of the trustees selected through this method.
- The idea of a selection committee (mainly community-elected) was more popular in several conversations held with contributors in different African countries and regions. A main reason for them to support this model is their trust on experienced community members to make good choices.
- Participants from the Goa and Odia communities said that it is almost impossible for every voter to read lengthy profiles and make the most rational choice. They said that, because of this, a selection committee could work better.
- These groups also said that a selection committee can eliminate the popularity bias that influences voting in an election process.
- About the Board-delegated option, participants in a couple of meetings from the Sub-Saharan Africa region said this process would be simpler than the Community-elected committee.
- Some of these participants suggested nominating former trustees and other experienced community members.
- A Nepali participant felt a board-delegated committee shortlisting candidates for election is better because it puts the onus of ensuring diversity on the Board, rather than on the election process.
- The idea of a Board-delegated committee was more widely concerning. Obstacles identified by different participants included:
- This system would remove too much authority from the community.
- Trustees selected this way would not represent the community.
- If everything is controlled by the Board, then it is better to let the Board itself appoint candidates.
- While concerns about a Community-elected committee were milder, they were still held by a majority of participants. These arguments were mentioned:
- Some participants said that if a community can elect a diverse and qualified committee, why can’t a community also elect diverse and qualified trustees?
- Several people said that an election to form a selection committee would unnecessarily add complexity and bureaucracy.
- Some participants said that an election before or after the filter of a selection committee would result in a more complex process. They said that it might make the selection process harder for people to engage in, and reduce participation in comparison with direct elections.
- Several participants said that a process starting with voting a committee would take longer.
- Other arguments were made against a selection committee in general:
- Participants from the Urdu and Kannada communities said that there were a lot of unanswered questions regarding a selection committee, and for that reason, they would prefer to keep direct elections for now.
- Several comparisons were made with political regimes:
- Participants of the Georgian community compared “when you choose someone and someone else decides” with communism.
- A former appointed trustee compared indirect elections with the two tier system in the US, and opposed any system where the community doesn’t have the final say.
- One participant compared the idea of a selection committee with the Council of Clerics in Iran.
- A couple of participants said that the Affiliations Committee was an example of how a committee’s intent on selecting people from diverse backgrounds actually ends up selecting people with similar characteristics as their own.
- Wikidata participants also shared a similar concern, on a note that “it is basic human tendency to favour people who are similar to us.”
- A couple of participants suggested consulting psychological research about groups of people selecting people like themselves.
- A CIS-A2K staff member felt that when a person is elected through community voting system, they will be accountable to all contributors, but if it is through a selection committee, their accountability may be limited to the committee itself.
- Participants from the Punjabi Wikimedians User Group said that the relation between the selection committee and the Board would affect the results. They said, if the relationship is good, the committee would be able to negotiate better for skills and diversity, but if the relationship is bad, then the candidates will suffer the consequences.
- An Election Committee member said that lack of diversity on the committee would affect the final outcome.
- A participant from the Telugu community suggested that the quotas are applied to the selection committee to ensure diversity in their choices, and a Maithili participant suggested distributing all seats ensuring gender and regional diversity.
- A Wikitech participant suggested having a large committee and final decisions regarding candidates should be made through voting among the committee members.
- A Karavalli Wikimedian suggested having a conflict of interest policy if a selection committee is formed, and the situation in which a committee member is also interested in being a board candidate should be addressed.
- Participants from Urdu community suggested having regional subcommittees, working in coordination with the main committee, to increase the involvement of grassroots communities in the process.
- A CIS-A2K staff member suggested having a monitoring committee that will keep a check on the process, behavior, abuse of voting processes, too much canvassing etc, just like in regular political elections.
Election of confirmed candidates
Direct elections have received considerably more support than an indirect system mediated through a selection committee. The exceptional cases of participants preferring an indirect system have been documented in the “Selection committee” section above.
- Most participants expressed their preference for Board elections when discussing related ideas like quotas, the vetting of candidates or the selection committee. Even when these ideas would be introduced, they expected elections to remain.
- Wikimedia CH (Switzerland) emphasized the importance of a direct community vote.
- At a European community conversation, one participant said that community votes are important as they can readjust approaches of the Board and its inner circle, creating new topics and enforcing different points of view.
- Another participant said that democracy is a better working principle than any elitist approach.
- Another participant added that broad elections are safer, as they allow different and critical perspectives to enter the Board.
- The ED of an European affiliate welcomed any combination of ideas preserving the direct involvement of the communities with a process ensuring skills and diversity.
- She said that enforcing skills and diversity should not lead to a loss of involvement of the community in selection processes.
- To her knowledge, this view was shared by a vast majority of the "Roles & Responsibilities" Movement Strategy working group.
- The ED of another European affiliate said that community involvement is important due to shared ownership in the movement.
- A participant from Wikimedia Norway said that a lot of work within the movement is done by volunteers, so they should be a major part of the selection process, as decisions influence their work a lot.
- Some participants said that Board elections were essential, and expressed their preference to convert some or all directly appointed seats into elected seats.
Direct appointment of confirmed candidates
The idea of Direct appointment of confirmed candidates did not receive support, except for a couple of conversations in the ESEAP region. Many participants feel that this change would be too disruptive and would undermine their trust in the Board. Many have responded that the Board already can appoint directly almost half of the seats. Some participants were concerned about a situation where the community doesn’t accept any of the trustees directly appointed.
- A participant from Malaysia said the Board knows the best candidate it needs from the selection committee’s submitted list of candidates. It should be implemented with utmost transparency.
- A participant from Hong Kong says the community-elected selection committee will choose the best and the brightest people that deserve to be on the Board.
- Several participants said this moves away from community norms and practices:
- One participant from the Indonesia community said there is no need for a call for feedback if the Board chooses this option.
- At the German Wiki Women conversation, all attendees said this might lead to a perfectly diverse and skillful board, but it would also cause a massive loss of trust in the Board itself. They said such a top-down solution would be emotionally impossible to realize with the communities.
- One member of the Elections Committee considers that with the direct appointment of confirmed candidates, you end up stripping some functions that the community understands are theirs.
- One participant on the idea talk page on Meta commented that direct appointment of candidates is not a good way to get buy-in from the participants in the different Wikimedia projects. They said this method does not represent the community ethic so prevalent in Wikimedia projects. They said there is an increased risk of appointing unqualified people.
- There are concerns about lack of broad community participation in this process:
- One participant said that It is unclear what would happen if a candidate appointed by the Board is not accepted by the community, similarly to what happened with a direct appointment in the past.
- Indirect elections are almost always a bad idea as there is too much opportunity to sway the decision.
- The majority of the participants from the Open Foundation West Africa group meeting did not support this idea. One participant said this could mean the Board could appoint someone the community may not support.
- At the German LGBT+ conversation a participant said any failure during the selection process would be on the shoulders of the few volunteers in the selection committee.
- During a meeting with the Georgian community all participants unanimously rejected this idea as not democratic nor transparent. They added that the Board already has this ability to directly appoint members and it is not possible for all members to be appointed by the BoT.
Ideas from the community
There is agreement that the Board should improve its regional diversity, but there is no agreement about how to achieve this goal. Opinions about regional quotas are mixed, and support is stronger in underrepresented regions. Many participants have mentioned that the regional diversity should be considered for the entire Board, not only the community seats. Some participants have suggested treating regional diversity as skill required in the Board, rather than a simple geographic quota.
The questions about implementation include how many seats would be allocated for regional diversity, how regions would be defined, who would be eligible (natives, diaspora, members of local communities...) A general concern is how to ensure that trustees elected through regional quotas have as much credibility as the rest.
- There is broad agreement that the Board has a problem of regional diversity but no agreement on how to address it.
- Some participants in discussions in Africa and the Middle East believe quotas are the only way someone from their region would get on the Board.
- One participant said that there have been many candidates from Africa and none of them made it.
- Many participants argue that the definition of regions is complex, especially considering the limited amount of seats. Some contributors say that quotas for continents or emerging communities won’t solve the problem of understanding local needs, because these regions are huge and diverse, and no single person can represent them.
- One participant at a German LGBT+ conversation said that these seats might be taken by privileged persons from the region, and that candidates from privileged countries of the region will have more chances to win the seats.
- A couple of participants from Asia and Latin America stressed the risk that trustees of regional seats have a bias towards their own country/group within their region, marginalizing different countries/groups and smaller communities.
- A few participants have said that the Global Council will be more capable of regional representation because it is expected to become a larger body, at least compared with the potential number of regional seats the Board could offer.
- On average, participants in different regions responded differently. One possible explanation is that opinions differ based on how much hope participants have about candidates from their region being elected without quotas:
- The proportion of participants convinced about the need for geographical quotas is very high in Africa and the Middle East.
- In South Asia and the ESEAP region, there is more disparity of opinions.
- Feedback from CEE and Latin America is less supportive in general, due to uncertainty about how representation can be established in large, diverse regions.
- Feedback from Western Europe and North America is mixed, with some participants opposing strongly and some in favor of quotas for emerging communities. Discussions in favor also deal with uncertainty of how representation can be established with a small number of seats and a large number of unique communities.
- During the regional diversity panel, participants suggested:
- To treat regional diversity as any other skill or expertise, as they bring knowledge of a particular context of community, similar to any other subject.
- To have preference towards people with experience in countries that are not in the top twenty democracies, as their knowledge about systems of oppression would be helpful to do better in regions where using Wikimedia is forbidden.
- Not to force candidates to run for a particular regional seat, even if they are eligible. It should be left to the choice of the candidate whether to run in an open election or for the regional seat.
- Questions raised regarding deciding the next steps are:
- How many seats, and how will that decision be made?
- The definition of regions - emerging communities, continents, regional groups etc.
- Who is responsible for all this - the elections committee, the facilitation team or the Board?
- How can it be done in a way that the process gives these seats the best possible credibility within the movement? So that they are not seen as “lesser” seats or leading to hierarchies between seats.
- Implementation of regional seats:
- An attendee on the WALRUS call suggested having 3 seats directly elected and the 3 new seats split amongst regions not represented.
- One representative of Wikimedia Russia said that the process needs to take into account the number of the population and size of Wiki Projects by region. A participant from the Gujarati community suggested distributing the seats based on ratios of user bases and/or number of languages in a region, and review and update these ratios every 3-5 years.
- Some groups proposed a regional election for each regional seat e.g. South Asia votes for the South Asian representative to the Board. Other participants opposed the idea of regional votes, with the reasoning that we are a global movement and “volunteers without boundaries”.
- Several participants with experience in governance (including former trustees, Elections Committee members, and CIS-A2K staff) said the candidates should represent the movement globally, even if they are elected through a particular regional seat
- There are several discussions about who would be eligible as a regional candidate:
- Whether only people living in the region or people from that region in the diaspora?
- What about people who just live in that region but are from somewhere else and don't represent it?
- One participant suggested keeping the system as simple as possible: hold a single election for all Board seats. If the quota is not met, replace the lowest-ranking winning candidates with the highest-ranking unsuccessful candidates from underrepresented regions.
- A participant of the Regional diversity panel suggested something similar, to host separate elections for underrepresented seats, if diversity requirements are not met with the results of the initial election.
- One participant suggested as an addition to this, the Board use 2 of the appointed seats to appoint runners-up from the community elections who are from underrepresented communities.
- One participant of the Brazilian community said that the existing regional groups should not be used to define regional quotas, because originally they were not designed for regional representation.
- One participant said that every regional seat should take turns every year. For example, 2021 ESEAP, 2022 Wiki Indaba, 2023 SAARC, and so on.
- An election committee member suggested having regional specialization seats with rotation between regions. For example, region A will have an open seat on technical skills, the following year the region B would have the same seat open.
- A Wikitech participant suggested having regional community-elected selection committees to finalize candidates for regional seats.
- Participants from West Bengal suggested considering affiliates in a region for the same, however, some participants felt that communities without an affiliate would get disempowered and voiceless. They also said that there is a risk of favoritism.
- A Spanish participant suggested using variables such as GDP, HDI, and the level of Internet coverage or access, should be taken into account, rather than existing groups such as Iberocoop and CEE, as country to country conditions change radically.
The feedback was mixed. Some participants felt specialized seats would be too complicated to implement or not important enough to the Board’s success. Others felt each trustee has an important role to play and this idea could help solve the Board's capacity problem. Participants who liked the idea suggested some specialized seats, frequently mentioning technical and GLAM specialized seats.
Some specialized seats that were suggested are:
- American lawyer
- Digital freedom defender
- Some see Specialization Seats as directly connecting with regional knowledge (see: Regional Seats). Some panelists said during the “Regional Seats” session that the Board needs people who understand the context and understand the community and people coming from specific regions will bring new, diverse perspectives to the Board.
- A participant from the Noircir Wikipedia group suggested that the specialization should be based on the knowledge of the candidate of a specific region or community. For example, a candidate who has the best understanding of the African community and its needs.
- One participant from Malaysia said that a trustee that specializes in helping small communities is necessary for mentoring and growth so they can be as strong as other communities. One participant from the Philippines said specialized seats are necessary because some smaller communities do not have the membership to have a specialized expert.
- It was suggested during the “Skills for board work” topic panel session that the community can vote and endorse skills they see as important, somewhat like the Community Wishlist.
- At the German Wiki Women conversation one participant said diversity was more important than broad and vaguely-defined skills.
- One participant on Meta-Wiki said appointed seats should be used to fill skill needs. They were concerned that specialization seats might reduce the pool of candidates.
- One participant in a French-speaking African meeting said an advisory committee could be filled with experts instead.
- One participant felt this could lead to inclusion of popular skills and ultimately lead to more ignorance of less popular skills.
- One participant on Meta-Wiki said skills have been overemphasized and the Board should be a generalist body. Not having specifically requested skills has also been said to be a good thing because an outside perspective can be helpful to identify missed items.
- Some Wikidata participants felt it is tricky to evaluate a specialization and how someone can be considered an expert in a field. They said that, while it is possible, it would be more of a job selection process rather than a board election process for community seats.
- One participant in the Spanish Telegram chat said this idea would only work if training is provided, since access to education is different globally. Another participant said this proposal would be less inclusive if training is absent.
Facilitators reported frequently that all participants in the discussions that followed agreed on the idea. In a panel session dedicated to this topic, everyone was in support of the idea. Some participants welcomed the idea as the least intrusive, less controversial of all, bringing less friction to both the Board and the community. The discussion quickly moved to implementation details about identifying target groups, encouraging potential candidates, organizing coaching programs, and providing logistical support during campaigns.
About encouraging contributors to consider and assess themselves as potential candidates:
- Provide an opportunity for contributors to encourage others to run for the Board:
- Task a team to actively search for and invite contributors with the potential to run for the Board.
- Make the Board’s regular work more accessible, so that potential candidates better understand the Board’s workload:
- Run at least partially open Board meetings and host open sessions.
- Release minutes in a timely manner
- Provide up-to-date information on the Board’s duties
- Review and update the Wikimedia Board manual
- Provide up-to-date and clear information on the nomination and election process
- Provide a possibility for potential candidates to assess themselves before they run for election
- There have been several mentions about a questionnaire to assess oneself on necessary and desired skills, available time, and other criteria to be aware of before deciding to run for a Board seat.
About coaching potential candidates:
- Most participants agreed on a program to offer coaching and training to potential candidates. It has been said that mentoring/coaching support is the most important resource to provide to candidates.
- Some participants proposed to make such a program available to the general movement and not only to potential Board candidates.
- A few former trustees said that systematic and organized governance training should be available to any member of the movement, not only Board candidates, as governance skills are beneficial for the movement in general.
- While mostly an approach of coaching and training ahead of elections was discussed, a few suggested considering coaching and training for members of the Board after being elected as well.
- One participant suggested a policy and safety net be implemented to ensure that candidates who use resources do not abuse it but follow through with their candidacy.
- A few participants said that such support might be especially helpful for potential candidates from underrepresented groups.
- A former trustee recommended inviting parts of the community to imagine how to best support this goal.
- Some said that it was important to have equal availability of support for everyone, and that individual support should be avoided to avoid discrimination.
- Mentorship has been discussed occasionally. One former trustee suggested pairing people with past trustees.
About campaigning support:
- Some participants considered video formats to present candidates in interviews, organized debates or a group discussion among candidates. It was pointed out that this might help to reach out to younger voters and voters who have difficulty reading long texts. To support all candidates equally it was suggested to make that happen in the candidate’s own language, translating it afterward.
About financial support:
- Some participant discussed remunerations for trustees and the feedback was mixed. It was argued that a decent payment might help to encourage a really diverse group of people.
- There was mixed feedback by a few that it undermines the moral dimension of the movement. One participant found it to be corrosive and especially unfair to non-Board contributors in socioeconomically weaker countries.
- A proposal of reimbursements was supported by some to overcome obstacles for trustees. It could be provided for instance to parents who need to hire a babysitter or a nanny to take care of their children while they are away on Board duties.
- The idea to offer a financial grant to campaigning candidates was mentioned as well.
The call for feedback process
Most feedback came from online meetings organized by the facilitation team in Eastern Europe and emerging Wikimedia communities. A few contributors from big wikis commented directly on the Talk pages. After a bumpy start marked by contributors feeling overtaxed and a request from the 2019 ASBS facilitators to stop the call for feedback, the process ran rather smoothly for the rest of the period.
Some long-term contributors from Western Europe and North America expressed their disagreement with the Board starting this call for feedback instead of running elections directly, and mostly disengaged. During the Call, the Facilitation team detected a lack of information by most participants about the use of gender quotas to increase diversity in organizations, and we published a page with some research. A few participants qualified this publication as biased.
- Through the Call, facilitators received positive comments about the call for feedback process.
- Many participants told us that they appreciated the effort the team was putting in communication and outreach.
- Some groups from emerging Wikimedia communities said that this Call was the first time that the Wikimedia Foundation had asked them directly for their opinion about a topic.
- Many groups told us that this was the first time they were discussing the Board, elections, and Wikimedia governance in general.
- In a statement, Wikimedia CH (Switzerland) “regards the presented ideas as rather complete and well-thought through” and they “put their trust in the process that will lead to a convincing and best possible result.”
- A participant in the Wikimedia Stewards User Group conversation said that such discussions are already a good step of interaction between the Board and the community.
- The facilitators of the 2019 Affiliate-selected Board Seats process published a message at the beginning of the call requesting its cancellation.
- Their main arguments were:
- This Call for Feedback is unnecessary.
- This Call for Feedback and discussion of ideas is seen as transferring control of elections away from the community.
- There is concern about the Wikimedia Foundation influencing the process.
- There is concern about the Wikimedia Foundation staff silencing communication.
- Trustee Nataliia Tymkiv posted a response from the Board.
- A few weeks later, one of the facilitators published an opinion piece in the Signpost about the Call for Feedback.
- Their main arguments were:
- Several participants expressed their mistrust toward the Call for Feedback and the intentions of the Board to organize it now. These were their main reasons expressed:
- Some said that organizing the overdue Board election is more urgent and important, and it could be organized without changes.
- Some said that the Board should prioritize the Movement Strategy conversations instead, especially those related to the creation of the Interim Global Council.
- Some said that participation was meaningless because they believed that the Board would make their decisions regardless.
- Many contributors expressed their reluctance to participate in the Call for feedback because of the extra effort it takes.
- Especially in the first days, many contributors told us they were exhausted because of the quantity and the overlap of calls for action with the Universal Code of Conduct, the Movement Strategy, and more.
- Participants in a Wikimedia Uganda User Group meeting were doubtful about the outcome of the Call being beneficial to Wikimedians in underrepresented communities if their opinions were different from those of the majority. They said that groups like them would be underrepresented in the Call as well.
- At a European community conversation, one participant said smaller wiki projects do not have the resources to take part extensively in calls for feedback like this one.
- A member of Wikimedia Argentina expressed a similar thought, saying it takes a lot of time to coordinate feedback as an affiliate.
- Some participants considered inappropriate the expression “Western men" or similar characterizations of groups of users in our draft report.
- A former trustee proposed this approach: “Present a recommendation, the period for suggesting revisions, and the evaluation process and timeline for evaluation of the recommendation. Talk about how this process is going to impact the balance of the Board of trustees.”
- A few participants said about the first weekly report:
- Be more clear about who said what and where.
- Be careful to use proper English in communication.
- Include linking to places where things were said.
- Starting with the second weekly report, we followed this advice.
- The facilitation team published some research they had collected on quotas to support community discussion. Three participants viewed this information as activist material. A participant placed a neutrality banner on the page and suggested deleting the research on quotas and linking to a Rotman piece about quotas instead.
Participation in elections
Some participants of this Call for Feedback found increasing the number of community members taking part in elections to be important to prevent skewing results in favor of a region. Many participants had never taken part in Board elections, especially participants from emerging Wikimedia communities, and many knew nothing about them before being contacted for this Call.
Reviewing and assessing current practices
- One participant suggested research into practices that motivate community members to take part in elections.
- Another participant suggested publishing data about the number of community members taking part in elections to illustrate how elections favor people from Western countries.
- One participant had the impression that people don’t take part in elections because there is a feeling their voices don't matter.
Several ideas were mentioned:
- Communication about elections should be announced well in advance to better encourage candidates to run as well as motivate community members to take part in the election process.
- Clearly communicate the meaning of the elections and the importance of voting in the communication materials distributed.
- Engagement should include translation of materials through volunteer translation if available or paid translation to ensure broad awareness and engagement.
- Communicate with communities in the channels where they are most likely to meet and discuss as a community.
- Use general banners and direct invitations to vote.
- One participant mentioned it takes a lot of time and energy to learn about each candidate and suggested using a tool like the Wahl-O-Mat (a voting advice application used in Germany).
During many conversations it became clear that governance structures within the Wikimedia movement are not clearly defined or understood by many community members. One former trustee said the Board manual needs to be revised. Additionally, there is a desire to know how the Board and the Global Council will interact with each other and how governance will be distributed.
- There is a strong desire to have the community deeply involved in the election process including the design of the election processes and the implementation of the election. Some participants felt this Call for Feedback about selection processes meant the Board was intent on removing community elections.
- Throughout the Call for Feedback period, some sort of staggering of election terms was mentioned. This was suggested largely for the following considerations:
- Allowing candidates and communities to prepare and build capacity around finding and supporting candidates.
- Thinking of the capability of the Board to be functional with a large influx of new trustees during a time of much transition, with the Global Council, the search for a new CEO, and experimenting with new selection processes, as a former trustee put it.
- Planning for an analysis of the upcoming elections to see how the updates worked toward the goals mentioned in the Call for Feedback: “form a more diverse and better performing Board of Trustees."
- Early in the Call for Feedback, one community conversation suggested that trustees should not be able to serve successive terms to enable a more diverse and broad membership on the Board.
- A demand to eliminate the Board's legal ability to overturn election results was discussed, linked to a prior proposal by Yair Rand to create a closed legal Wikimedia Foundation membership. This is suggested to include volunteer stewards, Global Council members, and presidents of affiliates.
Connection with other governance structures
- Many participants wondered how the Board community-and-affiliate seat selection process will interact with the Global Council selection process. There were concerns about the pool of qualified candidates being depleted with too much demand.
Connection between the Board of Trustees and the community is unclear. The participants suggested better communication and transparency to improve the relationship, trust, and understanding between the Board of Trustees and the community.
- Many participants from emerging Wikimedia communities noted they did not know about the Board before this Call for Feedback or what the Board specifically does.
- Some participants said direct communication from trustees instead of via Wikimedia Foundation staff is desired.
- One group of participants said they would like more transparent communication about budget decisions.
- There have been requests throughout the Call for Feedback to efficiently publish meeting minutes after Board meetings.
- During the “Support for Candidates” panel session it was suggested that the Board host open office hours for candidates to learn more about serving on the Board. This is related to the suggestion of posting something similar to a job description for the Board of Trustees role. This will allow people to better understand what the role is like before submitting for candidacy.
- One participant suggested having a communication committee to assist the Board in stressful situations especially with communities.
- Participants from Goa suggested the Board publish its understanding of different countries, regions, communities, and the legal complexities. This is suggested to help build mutual understanding and trust.
- The definition of diversity is complex and not universally understood.
- Some participants expressed the Board doesn’t have a diversity problem.
- Other participants noted the lack of diversity leads them to not take part in elections.
- Some participants don’t feel like the Board understands the unique needs of some regions of the world.
- Several participants mentioned having a process for Board candidacy similar to a job application process. Some suggested people should share their resumes or curriculum vitae (CV) to better help the community to evaluate candidates.
- One community of participants mentioned the idea of a system to nominate candidates. Some participants suggested this might be complicated because perhaps that person may not want to serve on the Board.
- One participant mentioned the idea to have a neutral third party provide feedback on the Board candidates.
- Some participants noted they did not think the English language requirement to serve on the Board was very inclusive or supportive of diversity goals. The post-mortem of the 2017 Wikimedia Foundation Elections discussed this as well.
- There was a lot of discussion about the Evaluation form. Many participants asked how it will be used in the next election.
- Many participants were concerned that the skills and experience specified in the form were too demanding, too professional. They feared the current form could drive away potential candidates, especially among those who can contribute the diversity the Board is looking for.
- Some participants felt this form would not accurately reflect the experiences of people without years of professional board experience.
- Some participants were concerned about the fact the Board designed the form to evaluate candidates of the community, without community involvement.
- Participants from Goa said that the trustee evaluation forms are quite important to make sure that decisions are objective rather than subjective.
- One participant asked how accountability is measured for the Board and Trustees.
Methodology of the Call for feedback
During the Call for Feedback period from February 1 to March 14, a team of 10 facilitators organized open and inclusive community discussions to gather feedback about ideas for trustee selection processes for community-and-affiliate Board seats. Some facilitators had a regional focus; some had a language focus. The intention was for the combined facilitation team to obtain a fair representation of the movement’s global diversity.
Facilitators organized these conversations on multiple channels and in various languages, providing translation support of written materials and discussion in conversations. The facilitators reached out to projects, affiliates, and user groups communicating with them personally or with local volunteers’ support. The facilitators used talk pages, mailing lists, Telegram groups, email, and social media to engage with contributors. The facilitators followed a standard process to inform every group and get feedback from them, but the facilitation team adapted as needed to each group’s preferences. The facilitators found flexibility in communication methods resulted in productive conversation.
The facilitators also engaged with the conversations happening on the Call for Feedback Talk pages on Meta-Wiki. The facilitators responded to questions, connected comments to aid continued discussion, and shared information captured in each weekly report on each idea’s Talk page.
The call for feedback resulted in complex, nuanced conversations. The facilitators aimed to document what was being said by the participants and connect feedback across regions. These conversations and connected feedback are documented in reports and were used to complete this main report. The feedback in the main report informs the Board’s decision about these potential changes to trustee selection processes, procedures, and tools to meet the goals of the Board.
During the six weeks of the Call for Feedback 878 participants took part in 99 regional and global conversations, resulting from 142 invitations. For regional conversations the largest number of participants attended in Asia, followed by Africa, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Oceania.
The Call for Feedback pages on Meta have been at least partially translated into up to 13 languages (many by volunteers). The main Call for Feedback page has been viewed 5821 times and the idea pages have been viewed 2930 times (English versions). Idea talk pages received between 23 and 67 contributions per idea, mostly by editors hailing from English Wikipedia.
The Call for Feedback has been promoted outside of wiki projects in 35 social media channels worldwide. A complete list of conversations is available on the Call for Feedback: Community Board seats Reports page.
The 99 conversations in total resulted from 142 invitations.
Of 878 participants 340 attended office hours and panel sessions hosted by the facilitation team. These have been scheduled across time zones to include participants from all over the globe.
Additionally, 85 participants took part in seven global conversations, special meetups with groups whose participants spread over the globe either by language (Spanish, French), roles in the movement (SWAN, Stewards), or participation in global projects (Wikidata, MediaWiki).
Eighty-one of the conversations with 453 participants were regional conversations, 33 took place with communities, 31 with regional user groups, 17 with chapters, and seven with thematic user groups.
Geographical distribution of regional conversations
Of all regional conversations, participation was especially strong in Asia (197 participants of 453 globally).
All over Africa, there were 15 regional conversations with 91 participants. Nine conversations took place with regional user groups, five with communities, and one with a chapter.
All over the Americas, there were 12 regional conversations with 87 participants.
In North America there were four regional conversations with 47 participants. Three conversations took place with communities and one with a chapter. In Latin America there were eight regional conversations with 40 participants. four conversations took place with a chapter, three with regional user groups, and one with a thematic user group. Two conversations for the global Spanish-speaking community (22 participants) have not been counted though many Latin American participants were present, but as global conversations.
Asia (including Oceania)
All over Asia and Oceania, there were 35 regional conversations with 199 participants. Fifteen of the conversations took place with regional user groups, 11 with communities, six with a chapter and one with a thematic user group.
All over Europe there were 19 regional conversations with 76 participants. Four of the conversations took place with a chapter, 10 with communities, two with a thematic user group and two with a regional user group.
The facilitation team continuously provided translations of all major pages into six languages during the Call for Feedback. The range of languages extended to 13 thanks to the help of 27 volunteers, whom we appreciate for their commitment.
During the Call for Feedback, the main page received 5821 views and the idea pages in total received 2930 views (English language version). Extended participation took place on idea talk pages, where participants developed new ideas, proposed corrections, and placed their opinions on the ideas by editing 443 times in total.
|Week||Idea pages||Talk pages of respective ideas|
Viewers engaged with some ideas more than others. Here are the page views by idea:
A view on the participants home-wiki (the wiki they registered at in the first place) indicates that discussion was dominated by participants hailing from the English Wikipedia (65.5%), followed by participants from the German (6.9%), French (5.2%) and Spanish Wikipedia (3.2%). Further participation aggregated: 8.5% hailed from European language versions and 6.8% from Asian language versions.