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Wikimedia Foundation elections/2024/Questions for candidates/Question 1

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The creation and implementation of a Universal Code of Conduct has been a Board priority since 2020. The original timeline for the implementation of the UCoC was wildly unrealistic, the UCoC was implemented by the Board without community ratification, and the first Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee was recently elected without a sufficient number of members to form a quorum. What lessons should the Board take from the UCoC process, especially about how the Board interacts with volunteers?

Bobby Shabangu (Bobbyshabangu)

I think the first thing we all need to acknowledge is that as the movement grows, communication becomes increasingly complex and challenging. This means that more time must be invested in community consultations, and we need to use a variety of communication channels. Most importantly, the board needs to engage with people where they are. For example, we cannot only rely on Meta and Wikimedia-l to reach out to the community, board should have put together a Communications team dedicated to this project and put in place a full Communication strategy that equally utilised other social media platforms like YouTube to create video messages about the UCoC and share them on sites like Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp on top of speaking to community leaders. We are masters in our own Wikimedia domain , but these platforms are highly effective at reaching people, and many Wikimedians use them.

Deon Steyn (Oesjaar)

The Afrikaans Wikipedia is in the 79th percentile of the ranking list (69th out 331 Wikipedia's). From this stat we should be seen as big but in reality are deemed to be small. The bigger Wikipedia'a can be divide into two blocks, America and Europe and they dominate Wikipedia. This is not a negative remark but a realistic one. We get very little news re events, incidents from anybody. Sometimes a WMF user would dumped something about something on our version of Village Pump and we would jokingly refer to it as another solution looking for a problem!

The first time I got involved with the UCoC was when I was asked to assist with translating it into Afrikaans which I end up doing. Thereafter no formal communication re the UCoC reached my ears. The problem that I have though with the UCoC is as follows: In South Africa there is a chapter called WikimediaZA which Afrikaans is part off. It is registered as a Non-profit Company in South Africa meaning that it must comply with the Companies Act and most importantly - South African Labour Laws. In South Africa WikimediaZA is thus seen as a legal person, it can sue and can be sued. Wikipedia Users in South Africa will thus be seen as members of WikimediaZA and any labour actions re grievance, disciplinary hearings must comply with South Africa Labour laws. Where does this leaves the UCoC? I am curious to know, I have been involved with labour issues in my corpoarte life. This matter need to be resolved. What is the situation in other countries?

Erik Hanberg (Erikemery)

No response yet.

Farah Jack Mustaklem (Fjmustak)

No response yet.

Christel Steigenberger (Kritzolina)

I think I understand the perspective this question is coming from. It is a good and important question. And I want to suggest to look at the whole process from a different angle: To see the creation of the UCoC and its enforcement guidelines as a combined success of the community and the Wikimedia Foundation. The Board had strategic oversight over this process, but little actual influence. The Wikimedia Communities put the creation of the UCoC as a very high priority in the 2030 strategy - and the board supported this. It asked the Wikimedia Foundation to create a participatory process that would bring results as quickly as possible. And so the Wikimedia Foundation tried and mostly succeeded - only "as quickly as possible" took quite a bit longer than expected.

Of course the results of this process can and should be improved upon, but I still see it as a success that we have a valid and widely accepted UCoC. And we have more, we have guidelines for implementation that made a first trial run for a U4C possible and that many communities already apply to their needs. Yes, it took longer than we thought when we started. Not all problems are solved yet. And yes, the way community at large was called to vote on the Code certainly can and should be improved. But still - we as a movement moved several important steps toward the goals of the 2030 strategy. Now it is time to evaluate, iterate and adapt.

Lane Rasberry (Bluerasberry)

To improve this and many other interactions between the Wikimedia Foundation and user community, the WMF must practice budget transparency. A major source of conflict is that the WMF hires staff who advocate in one direction, while volunteers without money want different things. Investment is a Wikimedia Foundation signal that a something is important. When the Foundation assigns its own staff to a project without sufficient support for community engagement, then that signals the value of staff development and the optional nature of community input. The result of such projects is an outcome that is more attractive to staff than community, and that is designed for the people who fund it rather than the people who use it.

I organize LGBT+ programs. Because LGBT+ people get extra harassment and have few options for support, I hear harassment reports from around the world. With others, I have been advocating for Wikimedia victim support services since 2014, and still the LGBT+ community in Wikimedia projects has never had appropriate protection. I appreciate the Universal Code of Conduct, but it is the latest of many investments which prioritize the protection of the WMF as a corporation rather than the Wikimedia community. Of course I want both WMF and the user community to have protection, but the Wikimedia community must have freedom to speak for itself and financial independence to design its own community safety services.

The idea of the UCoC is immensely popular in the Wikimedia Community, especially among vulnerable demographics. The community did ratify the code, and is aware that it is supposed to be community-led. I am very grateful to the volunteers who drafted its text and developed its different parts, because their contributions are essential even while we still need a few more community pieces. The ratification and community input to this point demonstrate enthusiastic consent for many parts of the UCoC. The failures around implementation and lack of quorum are indications that the stakeholder activists who demanded this for years do not overall see themselves leading this program right now. If all of this design were community-led rather than foundation-led, then there would be much greater enthusiasm.

Lorenzo Losa (Laurentius)

The creation and implementation of a Universal Code of Conduct stems from one of the 2020 Movement Strategy recommendations, Provide for Safety and Inclusion, and was picked up by the board.

While, as mentioned in the question, there was not a community ratification vote for the UCoC itself, we had one for the UCoC Enforcement Guidelines and another for the Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee (U4C). I'm not sure what motivated that choice, but which decisions should go through community ratification, and which ones shouldn't, is an important question to reflect on. Ideally, we want to select the ones that are the most fundamental and impactful; and limiting to a few votes per year, to avoid creating a burden on the community (which would result in fewer and fewer people casting informed votes). Whether or not there is a community-wide vote, in any case, a community-wide consultation should always take place.

The results of the Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee election in May are interesting, with most candidates having a high level of opposition, so much that almost half of the seats were not filled. Understanding the reason is important: is it because most voters believe the candidates are not good enough? If so, how can we push more people to nominate, and how can we support volunteers to grow in these roles? Is it because the candidates were not well known to the global community? If so, how can we help them be more visible? Have some voters voted against most or all candidates to oppose in principle the implementation of the UCoC?

I also believe we have a pattern of underestimating the timelines of such processes. If we look at the whole 2030 movement strategy, the process started in 2016, and it's still on - resulting in volunteer fatigue, and many people disengaging from the process. We should be more realistic when estimating how much time is needed for movement-wide processes; while at the same time designing iterative processes with shorter cycles, and striving for greater community engagement in movement governance.

Maciej Artur Nadzikiewicz (Nadzik)

I worked on the Universal Code of Conduct as a part-time contractor for a few months in 2021; I was responsible for consulting the Polish community about it – these were the most extensive consultations with the Polish community. They started with the community rejecting the idea of anything being moderated and controlled "globally", as it is not how the Wikimedia Movement was planned to function. The community rightly demanded the distributed model of control.

It took many days of work to ensure every community grievance was heard. Explaining what the Wikimedia Foundation wanted to do also took a lot of effort. With historical hindsight, it now strikes me that the Legal team could have done a much better job explaining that the UCoC was not only one of the Movement Strategy Initiatives, but also a requirement put on us by regulators and lawmakers (for example the European Unione with the Digital Services Act). While some communication regarding that was put out there, it was hidden in places where regular community members rarely look ([1]) or done much after the fact (2).

I think the UCoC was one of the best-consulted projects in our Movement, but it still fell far short of what we needed. Only a handful of communities got individual attention, others were just spammed with MassMessage. The way it is done is not always the fault of the staff, as you can only do so much in 10/20/40 hours a week; it is the fault of the entire model and management understanding. The community must be talked to in local languages by people who know the communities, not just in English and by someone who came to work at the WMF without a clue of what our community is and what we do. They must be consulted during their volunteer time, not at 10:00 AM on a Wednesday when most volunteers are at work or in school.

There are people in the community who would like to engage in projects like the UCoC and its development. There are people that need to be convinced and then would become the project's allies (look at the en.wiki ArbCom implementing the UCoC to their ruling ([2]).). But it is the job of the Wikimedia Foundation to find these people and meaningfully engage them, not the other way around.

The Board should prioritize the community by stressing the importance of contacting the people locally, at their designated spaces (some communities meet on Telegram, some on Discords, some on Facebook; it is not universal!), and IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGES. It may take more resources, but why do we have money if not for supporting the volunteers?

Mohammed Awal Alhassan (Alhassan Mohammed Awal)

Well, it is an undeniable fact that volunteers play a crucial role in Wikimedia projects, and there should be adequate support for their efforts. In order to be empowered to contribute effectively, they should be given a significant level of recognition, and provided with training and resources. The Board should consider establishing support systems that address the diverse needs of the volunteer community. The Board should as well adopt a collaborative approach in interacting with volunteers rather than a top-down approach. Engaging in dialogue, listening to concerns, and co-creating solutions with the community can build stronger relationships and trust. This collaborative spirit should be embedded in all Board activities. For instance, it is apparent that the initial timeline for implementing the UCoC was ambitious and failed to recognize the complexities involved. Future projects should therefore involve more realistic planning phases, with enough time for community feedback and iterative development. The Board should ensure that volunteer perspectives are integrated early and throughout the process to build a more inclusive and representative outcome. Also, it appears that there was a significant gap in engagement with the community which resulted in the implementation of the UCoC without any community ratification. For any policy or guideline to be effective and respected, it must be perceived as legitimate by the community it intends to govern. The Board should therefore prioritize mechanisms for community approval, such as referendums or comprehensive consultation periods, to ensure buy-in and adherence. To bridge the engagement gap, the Board should deliberately set consistent and clear communication channels to provide regular updates, explain decisions transparently, and spell out how community feedback is incorporated in the process. That way, there will be trust, and is equally a demonstration of respect for volunteer contributions. Electing the Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee without members forming a quorum means there is the need for careful planning in governance structures. To avoid such situations, the Board should ensure that committees are properly constituted and have enough members to function effectively. This might include setting clear criteria for elections and having contingency plans for filling vacancies. The implementation of a universal policy like the UCoC should not just be a one-time event but rather as an ongoing process. The Board can learn to adopt an iterative approach, where feedback is continuously gathered and used to refine the policy and as well be made flexible in responding to emerging community needs and challenges. The Board should adopt a collaborative approach in interacting with volunteers rather than a top-down approach. Engaging in dialogue, listening to concerns, and co-creating solutions with the community can build stronger relationships and trust. This collaborative spirit should be embedded in all Board activities.

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight (Rosiestep)

In 2018-20, I volunteered to serve on the Movement Strategy 2030 Community Health Working Group (WG). Our WG included WMF staff, WMF board, affiliate representatives, and community members. We met weekly for more than a year, and developed the 12 Movement Strategy 2030 Recommendations/Initiatives related to community health, including “Number 1: A joint set of rules we all agree to live by (a.k.a. Code of Conduct)”.

The Board should take this lesson: our WG worked so well together, as equals, with no one person having a greater voice than another. No cabal. No back-channeling. This is a lesson and a great gift, as I believe a cooperative effort that assumes good faith is the cornerstone of the Wiki way. I don’t see my thinking as utopian. I believe it is how we are at our best. So I live it… as a first-term WMF Trustee, a founding/participating member of multiple affiliates, and a day-to-day Wikipedia editor.

Tesleemah Abdulkareem (Tesleemah)

I have always know the Universal code of conduct as way back as 2021 when I joined the movement as a kind of guideline that protect individuals from getting mistreated within the community, it is that important that it got read before the commencement of any wiki event. I feel that volunteers need to get involved in these guidelines aside editing as a volunteer, as I can see from here that an election actually took place passing through the first and 2nd ratification even, with 1746 votes across 107 'home wiki'. I understand that some volunteers feel there is lack of representation underrepresented communities within the movement who are either not fully involved or whose votes are not really reflected due to their small population. My suggestion is that volunteers can engage more through the English, German and French Wikis as they are the official languages of most Countries. These three languages has more votes and indeed, will reflect our voices. For instance, my home wiki is Yoruba however, I engage more on the English Wiki and I have been carrying out more of my volunteer work through that. Also, the board can hold more engaging sessions with community to hear their concerns and suggestions. I believe all these will go a long way in having a unified community, satisfied volunteers and a functioning Board.

Victoria Doronina (Victoria)

The statement about the absence of the UCoC ratification is incorrect. After a consultation on Meta, which included open calls, the UCoC was ratified by around 2000 people from from 107 “home” wikis representing 74 of Wikimedia’s project languages voting and 74.87% of voters supporting the UCoC. Despite the UCoC passing with a healthy majority, the Board had noticed that the Enforcement guidlines were causing the majority of the negative comments accompanying the vote, so they were returned for the corrections.

A small number of engagements between the majority of volunteers and strategic discussions is an ongoing problem. The same people turn up for the call for volunteers for global structures such as the Affiliation Committee or Sister Projects Taskforce, mainly from the Global North. On the other hand, there are also candidates from the Global South who are very enthusiastic but have insufficient experience and often don’t understand the fundamenta wikimedial policies, such as copyright. We have a generational and geogrational gap, which is reflected in the difficulties of the Movement governance.

The absence of the quorum for the Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee also raises the question about the feasibility of the current proposed structure of the Global Council, which starts as a 25 person body and potentially can be expanded to 100 members. In my opinion, we simply don’t have 100 diverse volunteers who are prepared to work on this level additionally to their other projects.

As for the lessons, WMF is implementing variuos training opportunities for the people to be prepared for work at high level, for example training academy WALDO, which the candidates will take part in. In this election we have 12 candidates and only 4 of us will be elected. I invite everybody who will not be appointed to the board to apply taking part in the other global governance structures.