Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees/Call for feedback: Community Board seats/Reports/2021-02-13 Wikipedians of Goa

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Conversational Report
Wikipedians of Goa User Group - 13 February 2021

Attendees[edit]

Objective[edit]

The objective of the meeting was to talk to Wikipedians of Goa, who primarily edit on English and Goan Konkani language projects, and collect their thoughts, feedback and questions, on the proposed ideas for candidates for community-sourced seats on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees.

Topics and Notes[edit]

The community members were first introduced to the structure of Board of Trustees, their roles and responsibilities, along with the previous round of changes to the by-laws, in which the number of board seats were increased from 10 to 16, and the trustee evaluation form was approved. This was followed by the problem statement for the call for feedback, and why it is important for them and the larger community to be involved.

Feedback on specific ideas[edit]

Quotas
  • Some volunteers felt that it may not be the most deserving candidate who is going through the quotas system. Given the scale of the movement and also the range of diversities, it is not necessary that people from similar groups will understand each other. For example, in case of geographical quotas, people who have migrated from a region (expats) don’t tend to fully understand issues of people back in their native places. Given the complexities involved with this idea and negative connotations attached to it, it doesn’t seem to be the best way to ensure diversity.
  • Some volunteers said that the quotas can be dynamic and be rotated between different groups for each election, however, the process of deciding quotas each time needs to be established. Questions like whether quotas will be decided based on groups that have conventionally been underrepresented in the Board or in the society at-large, what groups need immediate representation/voice and how that is decided etc. can come up. There needs to be some authority above the Board to work on these aspects, but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as of now. Though the Board Governance Committee works on these aspects, how independent the BGC of the Board, in practice, is a question to explore. By making the BGC more independent and involving community participation, it can help to navigate through quotas in a fair way.
  • A volunteer suggested that, since there can be countless combinations of diversity, it can never be possible to give a chance for everyone with just eight seats. It would be good to approach this by defining maximum limits for certain groups. For example; instead of saying, “South Asia has been underrepresented, let us allocate two seats for South Asia,” it can be said, “There have been a lot of board members from North America till date, so from now, at any given point, not more than 30% of the Board will have members from North America.” This also helps to mitigate the negative connotations attached to the quota system, as the rest of the members are not individually identified by their groups because of quotas.
  • A volunteer suggested that, if at all quotas are implemented in one way or another, reconsidering the word “quotas” would be good. The word doesn’t give a good first impression to many emerging Wikimedia communities.
Community-elected Selection Committee
  • There are a lot of elections that happen across the movement - ArbCom, Stewards etc. and most of them have a lot of candidates. For an editor who is not very involved in governance and meta-level discussions, often there isn’t enough time and the competence to decide the best candidates and then vote. It is also hard to assess the candidates for an individual, just from the profiles they put out and their responses to certain questions. It is almost impossible for every voter to read lengthy profiles and make the most rational choice - eventually, instinctive feelings make the vote, which is not good for an election. Also, people showcase their best side in these profiles, for a majority, it is quite hard, if not impossible, to find the “not so good” side of these candidates. For that reason, a selection committee sounds better. A selection committee can also eliminate popularity bias that influences voting in an election process.
  • Having said that, the trustee evaluation forms become quite important, to make sure that committee’s decisions are objective, rather than subjective. The extent of consultation for finalizing the trustee evaluation form is not as deep as it is happening in this call for feedback - so it would be good to consider having extensive community feedback on this when this approach is implemented. It is because it is kind of a make or break situation, and becomes a very important reference to understand how someone is chosen by the committee.
  • There should be a conflict of interest policy for the selection committee, which addresses questions on the members candidature for the Board seats, being related, closely worked together on projects before, from the same home community etc.
Regional seats
  • It would be good to have a rotational system for regional seats. For each term/election, the region should be changed and rules for reconsideration of allocating a seat for a region that already had a regional seat should also be decided. Though it makes sense to restrict who is voting on regional seats, it has several practical challenges - what about expats; what about people from another country but are deeply involved with the community in India.
  • There should be more stringent criteria/filtration of candidates for regional seats, on top of the general criteria. If a candidate is being taken for a regional seat, for example South Asia, it has to be made sure that the person(s) understand the issues, the communities, and the society at-large in this region. Just being there only for the reason that the person is living in a or a citizen of a country in that region, doesn’t solve the issue of regional representation.
Misc
  • Irrespective of the quotas and the diversity, the Board should always strive to understand the complexities of legal systems across the globe. The Wikimedia Foundation has an international network of affiliates, which may be struggling with a myriad of issues with their local compliances. The Board should try to develop institutional knowledge that is publicly documented about different countries, regions, communities in the region, and the legal complexities. This will help the Board and the community to build mutual trust, and also public documentation will push the Board to have more understanding of various regions/groups in the movement.
  • The notion of “only people like us, can represent us” often fails in practice. It doesn’t always have to be someone from India or South Asia, anyone who has faced issues with being underrepresented, might also be able to understand our concerns well enough. That experience of underrepresentation brings in certain empathy towards similar backgrounds. For example, someone from Africa might be as good as a listener as someone from South Asia, even though the issues are different.

Questions[edit]

Community-elected Selection Committee
  • What will be the basis on which the selection committee will select the candidates? How much will be the importance of trustee evaluation form, and of other factors? It is a hugely important responsibility that the selection committee is being entrusted with, and it should not become controversial at the end when the decisions are announced. That will lead to more disconnect between the Board and the community.