Wikimedia Foundation elections/2017/Board of Trustees/Questions/1
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Why should you be a board member?
I will be an effective voice for the community on the Board and I have deep experience of governance in the Wikimedia movement.
It’s easy to say “the WMF should listen to the community more” or “we need board members who are active community members”. Doing it is the difficult bit. In practice, who’s going to help WMF work better with the community? Who would be best able to stop another Superprotect fiasco or handle an ED transition? Who's best able to help WMF get the best out of the new movement strategy achieve the most it can for our mission?
This is why I think I'll be a good WMF Board member:
- I have experience not just as a Wikipedian who writes featured articles, but also as a volunteer and/or staff member in many other non-profits where the objective is to win elections or cure diseases. The context is different but the dynamics of the relationship are similar. I have written on how these dynamics work and on why the WMF needs to listen, consult and communicate proactively, and avoid using its power to impose solutions wherever possible. I’ll take my own advice if I’m elected and encourage the rest of the Board to.
- I can influence and challenge effectively. I know my own mind and I’m not afraid to be in a minority, of one if necessary. Equally, there are times when I’ve started off in a minority of one and ended up winning the argument. I’ve done that quietly, behind the scenes, effectively - the opposite of public grandstanding. There is no point being “the voice of the community” if you lack the skills or judgement to make that voice effective, no matter how many edits you’ve made.
- After 5 years’ experience on the board of Wikimedia UK, not only do I know what the right thing to do as a board member is, I have actually done it - sometimes when I and the rest of the Board were under considerable pressure. The start of my time as Chair in 2012-13, dealing with the circumstances that led to the Wikimedia UK governance review, involved some serious challenges which I helped the organisation overcome, and I left the organisation in a much better position than when I took over. While WMF isn’t in a crisis now, at some point in the next three years the unexpected will happen, and my experience will be a real asset.
Once in the past our movement was at the edge of social innovation, capable to change the world. While the existence of our movement doesn't seem to be threatened nowadays, after changing the world with Wikipedia, our power to change humanity have rapidly diminished. The sole Wikimedian group responsible for that situation is the Board. We could see other factors, obviously, but those who haven't lead the movement can't be responsible for the faith of the movement itself.
If you think that the Board have been doing mostly a good job during the past decade or if you are afraid of changes, you shouldn't vote for me. There are much better candidates to keep business as usual.
But if you think the opposite and if you want to see radical changes inside of our movement, I am definitely one of your candidates. Not the only one, but definitely one of them. As I said inside of my statement, I am explicitly running to become a Board member, but implicitly I am running for the mandate to work on important and deep changes inside of our movement, which I could do not as a Board member, but as an ordinary Wikimedian with significant enough Wikimedian political support.
I've been leading a number of formal and informal, non-profit and for-profit organizations in various roles: from the positions like the president or top manager are to more nuanced roles of primus inter pares to being an equal member of various groups and collectives. Complexity of human interactions is something I usually navigate with ease.
Yes, a number of my visions have been already implemented into our movement; yes, in a number of cases I significantly improved our community and our communities... But, no, I haven't been always successful in pursuing my visions; no, I haven't always been able or willing to push my visions; yes, I've been making mistakes; yes, I am capable to admit them; and, yes, I am capable to change my position based on presented facts.
And, yes, I think our movement needs active persons in the Board, capable to manage the organization and to lead the movement, capable to fix others' mistakes; but much more than that, our movement needs in the Board those who are capable to say that they are wrong, capable to fix their own mistakes and, no matter how heated the situations could be, to be always ready to reset the dialogue, to emphasize our common grounds and to initiate again the work on our movement's near and not so near future.
The movement needs board members who, like me, understand our projects, bring real expertise and experience, are able to constructively work together, but also speak up and make a point. I have real expertise in management and strategy, as well as from other boards. I’ve done research on top universities. Through many roles (steward, CU, FDC chair, ombudsman…) I’ve acquired an intimate understanding of our movement. I’m effective: When I was elected in 2015 I had a plan that included, among others, removing the SuperProtect, developing anti-harassment policies, introducing community control over the WMF budget in the FDC. I’ve succeeded. I’ve also contributed to increasing transparency of our Board, and have proposed developing new pages for communication and commitments tracking. But most importantly, I’m both constructive and assertive. I’ve proven that I am able to stand up to defend our values, even against all other board members. I’ve worked really hard, for hundreds of hours, to resolve the leadership crisis we were in. Although I wasn’t able to persuade my fellows to my views in the very beginning, I’ve been able to collaborate and seek consensus, which eventually (yes, late) has brought good results. Keeping the institutional memory of the crisis is important to not let it happen again. This is important: we need Board members, who are vocal and able to think independently (so that e.g. in the situations like SuperProtect they immediately speak out). But we also need Board members who are able to cooperate with the others, and bring solutions, rather than gestures.
The movement needs board members who are actively involved with and have an excellent understanding of our projects. As someone who edits nearly every day and has contributed across more than 110 projects, I have a excellent understanding of our cultural norms as well as some of the more significant problems we face.
When I was elected to the board back in 2015 I ran, in part, on a platform of improving community / WMF relations. I succeeded in a number of ways with the rollback of superprotect, greater transparency, and helping bring about an ED who better reflects our culture and values. There, however, is still work to do and we still face some serious issues.
We need to tackle the problems of harassment as well as that of undisclosed paid editing. We need to see improvements in the software we use to edit. With respect these issues we will succeed most by working together. I have pushed forwards a number of collaborative efforts between multiple movement partners including: the development of our CopyPatrol tool our Medical Translation Task Force, our Offline Medical App (currently in 10 languages), and helped bringing back together the wiki community for travel under the Wikivoyage sister project.
As such I believe I have both the track record and experience needed to help us address the current problems we face.
I do believe that most board candidates are able to demonstrate a fairly high expertise in non-profit organization management and community engagement. My expertise is merely similar to most's, or probably a little subordinate to theirs, compromising just a few years of offline Wikimedia activity and only two years as a part of a freshly started user group. I am also not very active among the global community of the movement, since I have been extremely focused on my local language Wikiprojects for my entire career. As I value honesty, I had not like to make the false claim that I will be one of the brightest additions to the foundation's board. In short, I am making this proposal for the following particular reasons:
- I believe that my language community, my age, my region and my broader affiliation to the Global South makes me stand as a member of a bit too many underrepresented groups in the movement. My Wikimedia experience and contribution, even though not by any chance spectacular in the wider movement, are probably pretty good relative to Wikimedia’s presence in the communities that I come from.
- I am generally confident I have enough understanding, as well as a deep comprehension of the movement’s mission, as to help me overcome any potential obstacles related to my lower-than-usual accomplishments.
- I do have new ideas that I had like to introduce. Again, I would not claim that I am going to bring anything groundbreaking, but, as many other candidates, I can see that the future is drawing new challenges towards us and I do have my share of suggestions and thoughts as of how to deal with them.
My hard earned institutional memory, broad experience working in the Wikimedia movement, and life experience are the cornerstones of the positive contributions I bring to the board. I hope the impact of these contributions have been noticeable in the good decisions we have made over the past year.
In the current situation, the institutional memory I bring is critical for the board. We are coming out of a crisis, we have managed to pull our stuff together, but the reality is that the Board is still rebuilding itself. We have empty seats and could potentially have up to five new people - including appointed seats - joining the Board at Wikimania in Montreal. That will have a deep impact on the nascent dynamics of the Board - because this current Board is also very new, and functional dynamics do not happen overnight. Four out of seven of us (including me) were not in the Board when a community member was removed. Two did not hire the new executive director. But we all approved the new movement strategy. We all have been making high-level decisions to improve Foundation operations and the future of the movement. The last two members who joined (affiliated selected trustees) had to rise to the challenge and take key responsibilities right off the bat, and they’ve done so in an admirable way. With several trustees choosing not to renew their terms, it is important to provide the Board with a chance to build upon existing relationships and knowledge to ensure efficiency and coherence. I can do that. I get things done.
I have a broad and lasting experience volunteering for the Wikimedia Movement at large. I have been involved in a very wide range of positions within the Wikimedia world - as an editor, administrator, a chapter trustee and officer, an Affiliations Committee member and officer, a user group founder, a member of Iberocoop, and like many longtime community members other activities over the years that if I continued to outline - would make this list too long.
I can - and do - bring a point of view that takes into account many different communities and interests to the table when we discuss priorities and strategies. This is why I am running, to continue to ensure that our communities’ points of views are present in discussions when it matters.
We have an inspiring challenge ahead of us - the 15 year strategy plan, a truly great executive director whom I trust to help us get there, and a Board that has buckled down to get things done. I offer my experience as a Board member and Vice Chair to keep things high level and running smoothly, so we can see through the delivery of the most inclusive 2030 strategy we possibly can as a legacy for the movement and our communities.
(Please allow me to submit my one and only >1600 characters answer here) I believe that at least four things are important for the task at hand, and that they are, in the order of importance: Integrity, transparency, competence, experience. I think I fulfil these requirements, specifically:
- Integrity: We're supposed to represent the interests of the community. Nothing else matters more. Now, nothing will prevent me from raising points and asking questions about this, steering discussions into a direction suitable to achieve it, and voting in this way if no consensus can be achieved. The basis for integrity is independence and morality. I believe I possess both, and I invite you to check that.
Boards can be dark places. As you probably know, I haven't been on the Wikimedia Board before. My 2015 candidacy was successful from my point of view, but not successful enough to occupy one of the three places. So I don't know and can't speculate how much fishy business is done there. From experience elsewhere I know that several aspects of a Board membership involve considerable perks: free flights, generous allowances, a nice entry in one's CV, and perceived or real influence. It follows that the best fit for Board positions are people that are neither power-hungry nor in desperate need of money. I can assure you that this is the case with me, but I guess I don't have much that you would accept as a definite proof - give me a chance, and you'll see.
- Transparency: Let me state the obvious: The Board of Trustees' function is to oversee the operation of the Wikimedia Foundation. The Wikimedia Foundation's function is to ensure that the Wikimedia projects succeed. Wikimedia projects will not succeed without the editor community. A happy and thriving editor community is thus the prime focus of the Foundation, and by extension, the Board.
You will see many of my answers going into this direction. This is the first one I type, it is therefore a bit longer, and I say: If the community wants transparency, it should get transparency. (I also believe that transparency is good, but my personal views matter little should I be elected.) Nobody should hide behind laws that allow this and that, just in order to keep things secret from the only asset the Foundation commands, the editors. The WMF has no competition. Even if it gets competition one day, it would likely be supportive, not detrimental, to the vision of the Wikimedia projects. There is thus no reason to keep anything secret, other than for protecting the dignity of people: its staff, the editors, the Board members, the article subjects, et cetera.
Even this last aspect which has been brought up occasionally: Not stating the reason for some action under the pretext of protecting the individual, can only go so far. Because when I'm saying that someone, I'm thinking of Doc James, has done things so terrible that we cannot mention them, then this tarnishes the individual's reputation anyway. It would have been better to give some general reason, whatever it may have been.
- Competence and experience: I am a life-long learner, and I have done jobs of a variety that might seem exaggerated or crazy. It goes from street sweeper all the way to visiting professor, with excursions into childcare, office administration, artisanship, the arts and the military. The one thing I have always tried to do is to heed the advice an elder gave me long ago: 'If something is worth to be done, it is worth to be done right.' This is how I will approach my term on the BoT.
So I have been around the block a few times. This applies to my roles as editor, as Wikipedia activist, and as professional. My Wikipedia-related experience I have stated in my candidacy here. I have been on our university's Senate (the body just below the Board, which we call Council) for five years, and I have been line manager of a department of academics for seven years. My CV says that during my tenure I "retained all productive staff members"; This means that I also got rid of a few that didn't show this quality. It is important to say 'no', occasionally. I am now an ordinary lecturer in order to finally obtain my PhD. Yes, it is about Wikipedia, and I am happy to elaborate further should that be required.
I am a long term community member and a former WMF employee. Thus, I have a unique perspective on how WMF functions, as well as significant knowledge of the MediaWiki’s technical capabilities. In evaluating future directions, the board will greatly benefit from having a community-born technical expert. There are several directions that I find important:
“Fake news” should be countered with verifiable data. I have been implementing and promoting the data storage and visualization aspects of wikis. Reliable data sources, clear graphs / charts, and better editing tools will improve content reliability and help fight the proliferation of rumours and fakes.
I initiated the ruwiki bots and ”schools and universities” (ru) projects and made 2.6 million edits with various bots. I worked on a number of key new technologies designed to improve the quality and variety of content, such as graphs and maps, and continue to engage the community to integrate these technologies.
I firmly believe WMF needs greater transparency, especially while forming a product agenda and in accepting grants for specific projects.
Finally, I have put forward a clear and actionable vision of how Wikipedia’s content can be improved to engage new readers and contributors.
I joined the Wikipedia project because I was convinced that it rests on one of the fundamental values of humanity: freedom. I went back to its origins, I discovered its sister projects and also the Wikimedia Foundation which host all those projects.. Beyond that, I could also understand that this is a vertiginous growing movement. A movement without linguistic and social barriers. That good and even good but in theary. In pratice, I understod that this is not what it should be. There are communities that are underrepresented and other are claiming to be represented. In short, I soon understood that we are in a European-American masculine cleavage. Is Wikimedia movement only for European or North-Americans or male? NO, it belongs to all of us. So, we need to change something right now. And we need someone ready to take this chalenge. We must build a community that is representative of everyone. Stop racism, halt to masculinization. My battle horse is therefore to encourage and / or fight for the representativeness of communities long "forgotten" at all levels of the movement. I am their VOICE.
Community influence on the board
Sometimes - and hopefully very rarely - Trustees will need to make decisions where what is best for the community, what is best for the Foundation, or what is best for the mission may be in conflict. How will you deal with such conflicts and your legal obligations towards the Foundation? How will you prioritize your obligations to the Foundation as a Trustee, your obligations to the community as your electorate, and your obligations to the mission, if they come into conflict? How would you handle community influence and interest in the Board?
Like Milos, I note this was originally presented as two different questions and I'll attempt to cover them both. So apologies for the long answer.
Basic principles: In law, there is no separation between the interests of the WMF, and the effective pursuit of its mission. WMF simply has no purpose except to pursue that mission. When you become a trustee of a charity, you are undertaking to work for the best interest of the organisation’s mission. So that’s the simple, high-level answer: mission is everything.
In practice there are many views on how to achieve our goals. Often people use “the WMF’s interests” to mean “the WMF’s funding”, or possibly “the current priorities of the senior staff”. Trustees must guide the WMF to work effectively by providing scrutiny and challenge in line with community members’ values and perspective. Money, reputation and staff are important - but a thriving community is more important to us then a few tens of millions of dollars of income (not that there is any binary choice between the two).
In particular, WMF should not use its ownership of servers, trademarks and funds to shut down legitimate differences of opinion. Every Superprotect-type situation slows the Wikimedia movement from achieving its goals. If a similar issue happened again, and the Board decided to treat it in a similar way, I would find it difficult to remain on the Board. (I hope and expect this is a remote possibility - generally, WMF has got a lot better at this in the last couple of years).
In my view the issue is mainly about behaviour, not structure. I’ve sometimes heard calls for the abolition of appointed seats, or special status for the community-elected members, or some new community oversight body to supervise what the Board is doing. Generally, I am sceptical of these ideas. The dynamics of the situation (that I set out in my essay on community-WMF relations) mean that changing structures will probably just replicate problems not fix them. That said, this election is also highlighting problems with the diversity of community-elected trustees, and if we can find a solution to that which results in another one or two community-elected members on the Board, I would be very happy.
This question -- the way it's been presented here -- is shameful. It pretends to cover two separate questions -- one being a community question, dealing with the community's concern and supported by eight community members and the other one, lamenting on "philosophical" conflict between the Foundation and the community and not supported by anyone else than likely few other Board members -- while not mentioning the "community part" of the question at all!
Thus, I will respond here to both questions and it will definitely be longer than 1600 characters.
Let's stop living in the illusion that Board will do anything in relation to this issue. It's 2017 and we've been talking about this for around ten years. We saw that community Board members had various positions in relation to this issue: from openly denying that there is a problem to avoiding it (like this censorship attempt shows) to promising that they will change everything or something. But nothing happened.
Why? I am quite sure that the most of those who promised changes in the past were honest. However, something happens with their determination, will to change the things when they enter the Board.
I would say it's about the negative synergy: you have 10 very good persons, you put them together and you get a group of monkeys. If one of them is scared, all of them will be scared and because all of them are scared, they are becoming hysterical and highly anxious to do anything against their fear.
While I am almost sure that I wouldn't behave like that (based on my similar roles in the past), I am 50% sure that I would be able to fix it (again, based on my similar roles in the past) if and only if that's the only problem. And I am sure that's not the only one, making the chances to deal with anything as complex as Board's collective fear of community significantly lower. And I am sure I wouldn't be the first one who have tried that.
However, that's not the only way to deal with this issue.
The only way community would be able to take its own place inside of the movement is to organize, create its own political bodies and articulate its own will through them. And I want to lead that process, but to be able to do that, I need community legitimacy expressed by the relevant number of votes.
In other words, if elected, I would assume that I have two roles: (1) being a Board member of a non-profit organization; and (2) being in charge of the process which would empower community by creating relevant institutions, like assembly is.
Foundation vs. community
This is one of the questions which should begin with: "Assuming that the cow is an ideally spherical being..." :P
I don't see any conflict between the formal WMF mission and WMF itself. For example, if the mission of an organization is to do a job, the job has been done and nothing else reasonably could be done in favor of that mission, organization should cease to exist. If the mission of an organization is to make one billion of matches and it makes one billion of matches, that's it, game over, sad. Organizations are defined by their missions and their missions are definitely above the organizations. Yes, an organization can change its mission, but that's completely other issue.
WMF Board members have legal responsibility for WMF itself and historical responsibility for the movement. I do not see that WMF Board members have been ever in position to have to choose between their legal and historical responsibilities. I would say that it was much more the product of the scaremongering inside of and around the Board itself.
I believe that our mission is something we shape. It evolves, and the Board’s role is to continuously return to the conversation and dialogue with the community about the mission’s strategic direction. This is, on a higher level, what strategic management really is – both coining the mission and vision for the future and making regular checks against the mission to keep on track. Therefore I believe that if in what we do we are in conflict with our mission, we need to stop doing it (or start a bigger conversation about making changes to it). The question about obligations to the Foundation and the community is more tricky. Ultimately, when irresolvable conflict occurs, and I face a choice between staying true to my beliefs or staying in my role on the Board, I believe I’ll quit, as I don’t want to sacrifice values for organizational posts – but I definitely treat the fiduciary duties deadly seriously. In our leadership crisis I’ve proven that I am able to do what I believe is right, even against pressure. For instance, I communicated with the community even when asked not to. However, the way I see it is that it was actually fulfilling my duty both to the Foundation and the community (even if some people perceived this duty differently). BTW, I believe the community influence on the Board could be bigger, and I even presented a proposal to make all Board seats elected by the community. I wanted, in principle, a system, in which we decide what kind of expertise is needed, and the community selects the people. Unfortunately, the Board has not agreed to proceed with this idea at the time, but I believe that a larger conversation can be carried on how to make all Board members (a) bring real, needed, board-level expertise and (b) really understand the Wikimedia movement.
Ultimately, the community is our biggest strength. We're not a tech organization, Google can always beat us there. But if we start talking about open collaboration knowledge production, possible thanks to the community, we're actually no. 1 in the world.
The parts of our movement are nearly inseparable. If I was asked to support a decision that would bring about short term gain for the WMF, but seriously hurt the communities, I would not support it. Harm to our communities will eventually harm the movement and ultimately harm the WMF down the road. The same applies to short term community gains that harm the WMF. I have been seriously involved with the Wikimedia movement for about a decade. I am here for the long haul.
From a more philosophical perspective. The WMF is the part of the Wikimedia movement tasked with raising funds for the movement and managing our trademarks. While they technically own the funds and trademarks, ethically they hold them on behalf of the movement. The funds raised from content created by the movement belong to all of us. This is why I believe the current strategy process is so important. The movement as a whole needs to decide the direction we want to go and how we wish to spend our funds. No one part of the movement should be allowed ultimate control.
When it comes to community interest in the WMF and board, we need to welcome it. The community is our strength. This is what we do better than every other top ten Internet company. With transparency our wider movement is able to pick up issues that a handful of people on a board room may miss. We are not Apple, we are not Google and we must not pretend we are.
I understand the committee would like to make questions as compact and as practical as possible, but I fail to see where this is going to. Naturally, a board’s member mission should be focused, according to my conception, on serving the community’s vision and expectations. If a situation arises where I absolutely and definitely have to rely upon my own judgement (which is what I understood from this question), then I will simply have to. I cannot possibly predict what my judgement will be unless there is a situation and I simply state what I could do. I fail to see a purpose in discussing this in any further theory.
Such situations can and do arise from time to time. As a trustee, it is my fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the Foundation. As a Wikimedian I believe there is no way the Foundation can succeed without holding the community’s best interests at heart. Both follow the same Mission - alignment is certainly possible and definitely ideal. When a conflict arises, I believe trustees should make decisions based on their values and after following a proper process of discussion with their fellow trustees, the staff, relevant community committees… If a proper discussion process is not followed by trustees and the Board misses key input or delivers half-supported measures - that is not optimal.
I have been part of a Wikimedia Foundation Board that delivered 7-3 or 6-4 decisions - a Board that does not work to achieve a shared understanding prior to decision-making is not ideal. But this is not all there is to it. You also need trustees who hold dear values similar to our own movement values, and who are familiar with what the role of a trustee demands - oversight of the Foundation, its operations, what the ED is doing. If trustees lose sight of the big picture because they were not paying attention or they were focusing on different things - that is how the Board gets into trouble. So what I would do - and believe I have been doing so far - would be to both keep trustees on track of the big picture and follow proper processes for decision-making. You can see this is something we have been working on - the Board has been dealing with very high-level decisions for the last year and a half - including a 15-year movement strategy process, an anti-harassment initiative and hiring a new ED. And all resolutions in this period have been unanimous thanks to rich, respectful and fruitful discussions. We are on a positive track.
I think the community can be a line of defense when the Board misses the mark, like with the Arnnon situation - it does require that trustees parse what is honest concern from what is not. I don’t think community influence at the Board level is a problem - just that we need to remember that the community is more vast than what we might see or hear in the usual places. That is why it is important for Board members to go off the beaten path and interact with different groups and communities. Aside from being a regular participant in events in Madrid and active editor on Spanish Wikipedia, I interact daily with people from different countries, such as the people from Iberocoop, I support initiatives like Wikimujeres and Whose Knowledge? which allow me to be in touch with people around the world and around the wikis, and try and participate in the new channels that community members have been using to interact.
I am also slightly confused about the scope of these questions. But first, a Board has certain duties. In a run-of-the-mill business it will rubberstamp and agree to the vast majority of the proposals senior management makes. Hardly, if ever, will it make own proposals or interfere even with major strategic decisions.
Here at the WMF we have a totally different situation. Senior management has, until the not so distant past, been freely roaming in their own dreamland, poisoning the work atmosphere for the majority of their employees, and angering the stakeholders (the editors) in almost every way possible. In their desperation the editors have then taken the Board to task to improve the situation. This is how it is even possible to imagine that something might be good for the Foundation but bad for the editing community... Look harder! If it is bad for the community it is bad for the mission, and by extension, for the Foundation, too. So in such situations I will prioritise the view of the community.
The second part possibly hints at the amount of community influence in the Board. I'll say that theoretically, the community already has 6 out of 10 seats. Just somehow the editing community does not feel represented by the people on the affiliate positions, nor by Jimmy Wales. That is the problem. I think that the affiliates can try harder to send someone acceptable to the community. I think that Wales could make his position clear as to where his allegiances today lie. And I think that the appointed positions do not need to be Silicon Valley officers but could be people connected to education and free knowledge.
As “Superprotect” calamity has clearly shown, WMF should not separate itself from the community. The goal of WMF is to support community, bring various language and local communities closer together, and to provide the technical platform for the community to further our mission. There is no way to guarantee this without ensuring a good feedback mechanism, so that every community member would feel their opinion is heard.
There has been times when acting in the best interest of the board, such as keeping silent and resisting public discussion resulted in a much greater harm to the mission and community trust than acting with a full transparency. I was in the Discovery team during the Knowledge Engine debacle, and strongly objected to some of the non-transparent approaches being taken.
My slogan is simple: "everything for the community and only for it".
The Foundation, the mission and the community are three inseparable things.
The Foundation ensures strict respect for the values and mission voted by the community. Our organisation is a transparent one. So, everything we do must be known by our community. The major role of the Board (and in addition that of the Foundation) is to listen to that community, to apply what it votes. If one day, while I am on the Board, the community expresses the need to change our vision whereas the Foundation doesn't agree, I'll join my voice to the community one.
Potential conflicts of interest
Is there any connection between your employment (or other financial interest) and the position on the board? If so, please describe how you can ensure this does not interfere.
No, I have no financial conflicts of interest.
However, I would likely need to recuse myself if the Board found itself was dealing with any issue connected with British politics. Say hypothetically there was some SOPA-style blackout aimed at what the UK government was doing. My involvement with the UK’s Liberal Democrat party means it’s safest for me to recuse myself in that kind of situation. (Just in case anyone is curious what that involvement is: I used to work for them until 2010, and I have stood for local councils as recently as 2014)
I’d also naturally recuse myself from any Board decisions directly concerning Wikimedia UK, where I was a board member until 2016.
No. I am a GNU/Linux admin and have my own small company.
But it should be mentioned that the organization that I lead, Interglider.ORG have done three projects in cooperation with WMF (bootstrap of Afrocrowd, Wiktionary Meets Matica Srpska and Wiki Loves Monuments Serbia 2017, with various success). Neither myself or my organization had financial benefits based on those projects. In all of the cases I've been personally financially contributing to the projects.
It's exclusively related to my Wikimedian interests, meaning that if elected I would pursue my Wikimedian interests (like creating Wikimedia projects in thousands of languages, for example) through WMF. If others in organization would be willing to work on other Wikimedia-related projects, I would resign from the position of the chair of the organization.
No. I am a clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and work as an Emergency Room Physician. My work as a Wikipedian is entirely as a volunteer.
I guess I should not have anything else to say than absolutely not.
No - I am a professor at the Digital Communications, Culture and Citizenship Master’s Degree Program at Rey Juan Carlos University in Spain. The way COI disclosures work at the Board level is by signing a COI form when you join, and proactively informing Legal, the ED, the Chair... when a potential or perceived COI may occur. So in the case of me having a COI, I would make sure it was properly managed and the Foundation was aware of it, so I could be excused from any decision making even remotely related to it - I have proactively done this every time I believed there could be an issue.
I am sitting on some unspent WMF grant money that will be returned by the time the Board term starts. I have no other financial conflict of interest. In relation to my work: Board meetings might give me insights that would be useful for my Wikipedia related research. I believe I have the wisdom to separate my roles appropriately.
I am currently employed by Elastic, the company that built Elasticsearch - the open source engine behind the Wikipedia search. At Elastic, I work on further improving Kartotherian - the maps server that I originally built for Wikipedia. My work at Elastic, as well as my volunteer contributions, continue benefiting wiki mapping capabilities. I am also in a constant contact with the engineers on my former team at WMF, advising and helping in volunteer capacity with maps and other projects.
Fortunately I don't have any financial conflit. I am currently working in a High school and do have time for Wikimedia movement.
Diversity of the board / movement
The majority of the Wikimedia affiliates' Boards and leadership are composed of males. At the last Wikimedia Conference 2017 in Berlin, the Board Chairs meeting was a totally male event. What are your proposals to reduce this situation in your potential future board role? Do you recognize any other gaps which should be addressed by the Wikimedia Foundation, and how would you address them?
Along these lines, please provide two ways that you believe you are different from the members of the Board you would be joining if elected, and two things you believe you share in common with them.
It's sadly ironic that this question is being asked of a group of candidates who are almost all men and very largely white!
Two key things:
- We (by which I mean Board, Election Committee and movement as a whole) need to take a close look at the process for future community elections. Last time we had 3 white men from the Global North elected, this time have fewer candidates and the candidates are even less diverse. That's clearly a bug, not a feature, of the community-selection system. I want us to review everything about this election to ensure that next time is more representative of the whole global Wikimedia community: we need to look at the call for candidates, communications, translations, timelines, process and voting system, and we need to proactively look for a wide range of feedback about it. Also, we should look at mechanisms that we could use to guarantee a more diverse result, including potentially adding an additional community-elected seat or two.
- I believe we (by which I mean the movement, specifically WMF and larger affiliates in particular) need to invest in what many non-profits would call "capacity building" - training, supporting, and developing the capacity of volunteers to do more. I personally took some steps in this direction setting up Board training workshops, but there is far more we can do for both online and offline volunteer roles. If we're doing that, we have the chance to proactively support more women and Global South Wikimedians into leadership positions.
Turning to me: Obviously, I’m a white man in a professional job from a wealthy English-speaking country. By any realistic standard I have a lot of privilege. The only form of prejudice I’ve encountered myself is homophobia (I’m bisexual), though fortunately that is relatively rare in my life at the moment. I try to be aware that my personal experience is markedly different (and a lot easier) than that of many other Wikimedians. That awareness is why I think diversity of backgrounds and experiences is genuinely very important in enabling the WMF Board to do its job.
How am I similar to everyone else? Everyone I've ever known who's involved Wikimedia in any way has a kind of fundamental curiosity about life and an insatiable desire to find out more, and I'm just the same.
Ten years ago I was the first to try to understand why women are underrepresented inside of the movement.
What I concluded then and what is still true is the fact that it's harder for women to edit the projects because of generally hostile atmosphere and more or less harsh patriarchal culture all over the world. However, even then and especially now it's easier for women to participate inside of the organizational structures of the Wikimedia groups.
So, the obvious initial answer is to care about women representation inside of the Wikimedia bodies and among the employees of the Wikimedia organizations.
In relation to the latter, my impression is that we are doing a good job: top managerial positions have been often held by women, it is common to see small chapters with more women than men as employees and similar.
However, when we come to the elections, Wikimedians prefer to elect people with strong background in on-wiki work. That makes the task much harder.
I would generally say that we should be improving our movement and it would bring more women into the movement and thus making them more likely to be elected at the top positions inside of the movement groups. It is better to have less hostile atmosphere all over the projects; it is better not to have highly competitive atmosphere, which makes on-wiki work stressful; and so on.
It is also a good idea to help women in our movement to feel less threatened and more appreciated. We've proved to be very good in nurturing male newcomers and we should do the same with female ones.
However, we should keep in mind that we are not tackling a shallow, Wikimedia-exclusive issue. We are tackling a widespread problem of thousands of years of inequality, the deepest one ever existed among humans. We could be a vanguard in relation to the particular issue, but our results will be heavily limited by the dominant trends inside of the contemporary civilization.
A good thing is that I could see that women participation in "geeky" areas of the Internet -- and Wikimedia is one of such areas -- is higher than ten years ago and definitely much higher than twenty years ago.
In other words, I would say that we should keep working on this issue in various, creative ways. But much more important than the decree-based policies, their blind implementations and fundamentalist tendencies -- it is, I would say, to really take care about each other, including our fellow female Wikimedians.
Personal questions like "How do you feel? Anxious? Threatened?", "Why you've stopped contributing?", "How can I help you?" and similar are giving much better insight into what we should do to improve the situation than any theory based on completely different context. Not to mention that everybody would feel better if being asked such questions.
I also think that we don't have enough data to conclude anything more relevant than common sense insights because it's about quite personal experiences, not possible to be gathered by ordinary questionnaires. Thus, besides addressing visible issues, like tackling hostile atmosphere and harassment, we have to spend more efforts in understanding the background of the problems we are dealing with.
"[T]wo ways that you believe you are different from the members of the Board": (1) Most importantly, I am often the voice of underrepresented Wikimedians. (2) Not that I would say that I am an extraordinary conflict-solver, but it turns out that I would be a strong reinforcement if elected.
Gender gap in leadership roles is a serious issue. At the WMF Board level not so much (currently the gender division is 50-50 of the non-permanent seats, and after two experts are elected the majority of the Board in fact may be female). However, the gender gap is visible at the affiliate level. Still, I believe that the affiliates should be sovereign in their governance decisions. While I would definitely like more female leaders in our movement, I think it would be highly divisive and aggravating if the WMF imposed hard rules on the affiliates in this regard. We can, however, work on making people realize that diversity, in all aspects, is one of our fundamental values - that should be reflected not only in governance, but also in Wikipedia entries. A great campaign addressing such a systemic bias is Whose Knowledge?.
Diversity problem on the Board is much more acute in terms of geographical/cultural focus. The vast majority (all but Nat and me) of the Board is from Northern America or Western Europe. I believe that even though I'm from Europe (really happy and grateful how things have turned out over the last twenty years!), I do contribute to diversity in this respect through my experience. I lived in a totalitarian regime, with actual hardcore censorship. I also have experience of living for less than 30$ per month, and remember looking up the Western countries with real envy and frustration (at their "good advice", colonial perception, disparaging, assuming I'm just worse because I'm from the Soviet block, etc.). My first trip to the Western Europe (and second ever trip abroad) was when I was already an adult. This allows me to better understand the problems that countries outside of the Western bubble have.
I have also been an invited member of the Honorary Committee of Pride Parade in Poland for over 4 years, and I’ve been consistently supporting equality. I've also published about the gender gap, including a paper in the Feminist Review (a highly respected and ranked peer-reviewed journal), and have been active in the areas of anti-harassment.
Two things I share with the others: believing in our global mission, passion for free knowledge.
If elected to the board of the WMF, the position of chair at Wiki Project Med Foundation (WPMF) will most likely be taken on by Shani Evanstein. Our current board of 12 there has 3 (25%) members who are women and 2 (16%) members from the Global South.
I have published some on the gender imbalance among our medical editors in 2015. At that point in time our editor community described themselves as about 80% male, 10% female, and 10% as either other or would rather not say. This is concerning.
Some of my efforts to address this have included collaborating with medical school such as UCSF (generally more female than male students) and Translators Without Borders (were the volunteers are mostly women).
To increase the numbers of women in positions of leadership within the affiliates we need to increase the numbers of women within the editing communities from which these affiliates generally pull. During the medicine pre conference at Wikimania we have a talk scheduled by a new female Wikipedian about her experience joining the community over the last six months.
When it comes to recruiting new long term editors we need to experiment a little to figure out what is effective. I believe that efforts to improve civility will help. As will improved abilities to deal with sockpuppeting, which is often used in harassment. Two things I share in common with members of the board, a desire to improve Wikipedia and a desire to see it last long into the future. Two ways I likely differ, one I grew up (until age 15) without electricity or running water on a farm in the countryside. My family's yearly income was less than a year of my medical school tuition.
The matter of diversity is not as simple as the number of males or developed country citizens on the board. These are such select a few roles that are extremely hard to diversify, since they are strictly restricted to the quality of the candidates who are willing to engage in the challenging election process.
I do have a different approach of developing the representation of these communities, which would be focused on exchanging experiences with them according to their own needs. My example to explain this is very extended for a 1,600 letter limit, but I will simply state that the common Wikimedian folks, even though absolutely thrilled to share what they know with others, generally tend to discuss movement's matters on a very high-level scale when speaking to emerging communities (e. g. Middle East), so that they end up doing little good to the members of such communities in spite of those being in a desperate need of experienced guidance.
According to what is required in the question's description, I think I am unique to other potential board candidates in:
- Believing that movement does not need to be overly concerned with diversity issues. I do agree that better support is needed for many underrepresented groups, but I disagree with the sophisticated approaches that are usually suggested to achieve it. What regions like the Global South really need could be some very simple things (e. g. providing them an expert guidance on certain matters in their native language, or blessing them with minor forms of sponsorship/official support from the Foundation). On the other hand, such underdeveloped communities do not usually benefit from massive grants, and while throwing big amounts of money at them could make them a little happy, it will produce little else than that.
- Being less interested in the broader movement, and more concerned in what our individuals need and/or desire. I have been active on the low scale of the movement for far too long that I can not help to think of Wikimedia as a community of writers and editors, rather than a bunch of crazy tech geeks and non-profit board members whom thoughts are way too focused on regularly scheduled meetings.
Now, two things that I believe I share with the rest of the candidates:
- Admiring the movement’s great mission and desiring to be a part of it, which is possibly a main reason of participating in the elections for most of us.
- Viewing a need for change in many minor or major aspects of the movement in order to keep up with the developing scene of the internet and the world as a whole around us. There are many challenges that we will have to face together during the forthcoming years, which each of us do have their own vision of how to best handle them.
There are multiple gaps to be addressed in our Movement such as languages, knowledge transmission cultures, knowledge gaps, and on and on. This is something I believe we will see come out from the strategy consultations in all the projects and affiliates - we need to be more diverse. The simple reason is that the cost of not achieving this is too great - we fail our Mission. Addressing these gaps will require a willingness to experiment and trying things like we are currently doing in the Movement Strategy process - I believe we will see many interesting learning patterns come out from it.
If we cannot add all the voices that we are missing, if we miss content from around the world - we have failed to provide the sum of all Human knowledge. We also need to understand and adapt to different realities than ours - countries with awful internet connection, emerging communities and their needs, countries where the government can cut access, geographies and cultures where English is the exception rather than the norm. We have to move away from simplistic explanations such as “They just aren’t interested”. If people aren’t participating, we need to know why. If the decision-making bodies of affiliates are comprised solely or mostly of men - we will not not get the chance to look at the problems with all the right perspectives. You get better decisions with a more diverse Board. If you don’t have one, well - I subscribe to the theory that women are the canary in the coal mine: if air becomes rare, they leave.
We do know that there is a harassment issue on the projects - we have taken steps to deal with it. First through our public statement and by allocating specific extra resources to help provide communities with better tools to handle on-wiki harassment.
I am a woman, and I am also the only non-white and openly gay person in the Foundation Board. I am half Spanish and half Persian. I bring in a completely different set of life - and editing - experience to the Board and a different point of view, which I believe is highly appreciated. I don’t just intellectually understand issues related to diversity - I live with them every day of my life.
I know what it is to have the outsider perspective - and feeling - because in my daily life I have often been the only woman, the only non-white person, the only gay person in the room. With four of us on the board, there is a healthy number of women on the Board currently, but we can always do better in terms of diversity and life experience. The only recourse the Board has to do this is through the appointed seats, where there is certainly room for improvement and I know for a fact this is in the radar. But it is not just that. In the last community elections, affiliate selections and Board appointments, every single trustee chosen was white and from Europe or North America. Two out of the seven were women (one appointed). And in the last two community elections - including this one - we have had no new women running for the Board. We have to find a way to change this - people tend to choose other people who are similar to them, and this is an opportunity cost. Research shows diverse Boards make better decisions - multiple points of view help keep pace with change and avoid the echo chamber effect. Diversity is not just good Public Relations, it is also extraordinary common sense.
What do I share with the Board? That is easy. A passion for the Mission and a strong commitment to fulfill it. I have dedicated a third of my life to this Movement, it is part of who I am.
The most important action to combat those gaps (I also see North-South and rich-poor) is to leave the symptoms alone and cure the disease instead. I am against quotas in any way, and I wish that whoever gives me their vote does so because they think I am suitable, and not because I reside in Africa. Now, what this disease exactly is we do not always know. I see the role of the Foundation partly as an enabler and funder of research of questions really important to us, and I think it could do much more in this regard.
I read the second part of the question as asking about demographics, so here it goes: I think I am a middle income earner with formal education, and in those two ways I am like all other candidates. Where I am (likely) different is that I am a single parent, and I just noticed in shock that I am the senior of this group of candidates.
I think the board’s lack of diversity is a sad reflection of the, 90% male, editor community. Improving the movement’s diversity would naturally create a more diverse board. Several causes for the movement’s lack of diversity have been put forward. Some of these, such as improving interface usability, may be easier to address. Changing the way the community functions and interacts is much harder, particularly due to editor anonymity, but would be significantly more meaningful to the movement.
Another aspect of the lack of diversity is “English”-centricity. Much more can be done to encourage other, especially smaller language communities to grow. For example, templates is one of the most used wiki features, yet it is incredibly difficult to reuse a template in another language. Some of my work with Module:TNT and Datasets on Commons addresses this issue, but more should be done to simplify and encourage participation of non-English speakers.
My deep passion for the movement, willingness to do what it takes to make it better, and dedication to open and transparent process is clearly shared with the other candidates. However, my “insider” perspective formed by working at WMF for four years and my in-depth technical expertise with MediaWiki are unique and, as such, will greatly contribute to the board and benefit the movement.
The issue of gender is a society fact today. Every community is thinking on how to overcome it. To succed, we need to build effective strategies.
- First, begin strong sensibilization. In my opinion, if we have a small number of women involved in the movement it's because most of them are not informed. The sensibilization must be done in every level of our organisation, and especially the possible lowest level: the user community group.
- Secondo, encourage and support existing women initiaves in their activities.
- Tertio, oblige chapters and others to have at least one woman in the delegation when attending conferences and other Wikimedia offline activities.
- Quartio, create Women award (or call it like you want) to reward active wikimedia women.
Something else I remarked, as I mentioned above, is that the movement tends to become Americans and Europeans property. To fight that situation, we can only apply what I mentioned for women; sensibilization and encouragement. In addition, we must work hard to have user groups in all countries (especially Africa, Asia, South America). For this to succeed, the best thing we can do is to cooperate with existing chapters and user groups in order to set up a sponsorship system of new chapters and user groups.
I've been asked to provide what makes me different from others. Here is my answer: I'm the voice of under represented communities and I can say NO where everybody says yes. This is to say that I'm ready to resign from the Board if the cause of the community is not highlighted. Things that I share with others are : we all have (or will have) legal obligations that we must follow (Code of Conduct). We are also linked by the sense of open knowledge.
Public policy and political stance
What is your opinion of the Wikimedia Foundation Policy and Political Association Guideline, specifically how to collect feedback from the community?
It looks pretty sensible to me. If there's any feedback about how it's working in practice I think the best place for that would be on the Meta talk page, though the public policy mailing list or direct email to the Legal team might additionally be appropriate.
Having in mind the purpose of the policy, which is strictly related to WMF, not to any other movement factor, it is well written. At the other side, we should have a similar movement-wide document. But we first need to find how to do that as a movement.
I support the need for such a guideline. However, I believe that the community should always have a final say through an RfC. For practical reasons, political advocacy sometimes requires quick acting, and I believe that we can trust the WMF to act within a reasonable trust credit – but definitely not when it is clear that some idea DOES NOT have the community’s support.
The policy looks well thought out. The minimum community involvement is a "general notice". For more significant actions an RfC as mentioned is generally required. With good transparency community members will provide the WMF feedback regardless. It is one of our strengths :-) Can how the WMF collects such feedback be improved? Sure. For one, board members should be watching Wikimedia Foundation Board noticeboard.
No response yet.
It is a sensible guideline. It applies to Foundation staff (not to the community) and provides a clear protocol that requires community consultation and consensus on the major initiatives. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, there are legal and financial limits to the amount of political work the Foundation can engage in. And I think it is a very good idea to have a transparent and inclusive of the community process.
As to specifically how to collect feedback from the community - well, we haven’t figured out a better system than Requests for Comment so far. We are trying something new with the Movement Strategy process, and it may be that from that we can learn a few things about engaging as many different communities as possible in a constructive way, that we can then incorporate into the Foundation’s processes for facilitating community input.
Cool, a guideline on policy ;) I have to say that, considering how regularly the general population confuses Wikipedia with Wikimedia I would wish for a more conservative guideline. The responsible Public Policy Advisory Group is just an open email list, if I got that right, and for several items in this guideline I would think that a consensus should be achieved, whether time permits or not. I'd rather miss an advocacy opportunity than overlooking something that the community could make the Foundation aware of, and that later causes the inevitable drama.
The policy is well formulated, and important to the movement, as long as it does not diverge from the mission. We, as the movement, can try to address many “wrongs” of the world, but the thinner we spread our resources, the less likely we will find any solutions. For example, SOPA was a clear and actionable target, the site blackout made a difference, and I am very happy we did that.
The community should always provide guidance on the issues, and every member should have her voice heard. Our job is to find the best way to assure this, perhaps with help from a dedicated issues committee.
I spend one night and half reading the guideline to well understand it. After understanding each point I support the document. One thing, not big even, I propose is about Promotional Use of Website Assets to add Possible Consultation for Board.