Sonntag, 22. Februar 2015

Why oh why board? #wikimediafoundation #wmf

The Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation

The Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation "oversees the foundation and its work, as its ultimate corporate authority." It is made up of volunteers who oversee the work of the Wikimedia Foundation, guide its strategy and are, in a very abstract way, the embodified ultima ratio of decision making inside the Wikimedia Foundation.

The make-up of the board and its composition are grown historically and organically. That means, they are not really suitable for standards of applied logic. They somehow they came into being. Right now the board consists of "1 founder (Jimmy Wales for eternity..), 4 appointed by other board members, 3 elected by the communities in a complicated process and 2 selected by affiliate organisations (mainly chapters) in a process one really doesn't want to know.

So it is a good idea to think about the composition of the board and if there are ways for improvement. The way I would think about it: is: "What is this board supposed to do? What is the doing? Is there room for improvement? Is there any way the composition of the board can be changed to cover this room?"

The Board thinks about its composition

The reason, why I'm writing all of this: the board really is thinking about its composition:

As to the:


..this text by the board remains utterly silent. The only reason given is "we started to think about ways to improve". So of course it is very difficult to comment on some propositions if one has no idea what these propositions are supposed to achieve. So I really don't know why. But at least the board tells me what it would like to achive. The board writes about its objectives:
    (1) A continuous process of looking for potential trustees
    (2) Diversity (gender, geography, expertise, background, different Wikimedia experiences)
    (3) Finding talent inside and outside our communities
    (4) Providing governance experience and training to potential candidates in our movement
    (5) Providing lower overhead ways to contribute to WMF governance and advise strategic decisions
    (6) Limiting bureaucracy and/or staff involvement
    (7) Flexible Board composition: e.g., allowing for an extra 1-2 Trustees in some years
I would say: two of these (1 and 6) are about process in a narrow sense. For somebody not involved in board-action this is almost impossible to answer. Two of these objectives (4 and 5) are about process in a less narrow sense, two objectives (2, 3) are about the composition of the board and one (7) I really don't understand at all. 

So I will focus on composition and on process.


 As said, the board consists of 10 members. Focusing on diversity, these are:

* 1 is the founder (a North American male from inside the community)
* 3 are selected by the communities (due to the election process heavily favoring people from North America from inside the community)
* 2 are selected by the chapters and amical (due to the composition of the movement favoring candidates from Europe and South America from inside the community)
* 4 are appointed (the board is basically free to do what it likes, As far as I can see in the last years it selected one male from the USA (Matt Halin), and three females, one from India (Bishakha Datta), one from South America (Ana Toni) and one from Europe (Alice Wiegand) .

So of the 10 seats, six have a heavy regional bias by system and four are in principle available for candidates all over the world. So of course one could increase the number of appointed members to get more regional diversity. Unluckily these four (plus Jimbo) have a heavy bias against democratisation and participation. Increasing the number of appointed seats would at the same time decrease the democratic legitimsation this board has.

The other way is to change the composition of the board is to change the ways single seats are given: Since the board is already free to appoint whoever it wants (and I basically I have no idea at all how it decides) I have no idea as well, how this could be changed. Abolishing Jimbo would lead to more diversity but could bring some other problems. Changing the ways the community and affiliate seats are given could be a good idea, but also could create a lot of problems on a democratic/representative level. There we really would have to talk about details about how this is playing out. 

On another level: yeah, I like diversity and on a general level I'm deeply convinced that more diverse organizations work better than less diverse ones. But there are other factors as well that make an organizsation work better and that are not part of the boards reasoning From this board statement I cannot see why diversity in this case is such a special need and overall priority, I as well cannot see what kinds of diversity are primary goals (which should have a huge effect on the kind of process finally chosen). 

So I'm not really sure how this is supposed to playout and how the board will overcome the gap between its goal of a globally universal compositon of a board and an electorate that heavily weighs towards North America, Europe and South America. 


Volunteer structures inside WMF and responsibilities

About process: the two objectives: "Providing governance experience and training to potential candidates in our movement. Providing lower overhead ways to contribute to WMF governance and advise strategic decisions." This is a great idea. Right now the only way for volunteers to have a responsible position at the WMF is a board members. There is no tenure track, no way to hold responsibilty at a lower level and the only organised entities of volunteers on foundation level are in grantmaking. In these committees there is already a pool of potential candidates, but I'm not sure if the board is really aware of this. And of course there needs to be more - more volunteers involved, in a more defined process with more responsibilities. This is a way to develop a large pool of potential candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds, give them experience with foundation work and let the people at the community and the chapters already come into contact with them and know them.

Of course this is more demanding than a simple change of procedure in selecting board members. But at least it is sustainable and actually solves problems long-term :-)

So what to do

So, let's just assume the board has answerde the "Why?" already and the proposed "what" is the ultimate answer to the why. What I would do:

(1) Abolish Jimbo
(2) Maybe change the appointment process (although I don't know enough about it to really say so)
(3) Maybe change the election processes (but this is a matter of details and finetuning and could easily backfire)
(4) Create a lot more ways and positions for volunteers to have responsibility inside the movement / create a tenure track.

2 Kommentare:

Marcus Cyron hat gesagt…

Warum ist es nicht möglich, aud Planet-Wikimedia.DE wirklich nur deutsche Texte zu publizieren?

dirk franke hat gesagt…

Weil der Verwaltungsaufwand das für dieses Blog so einzurichten, in keinem Verhältnis dazu steht, zweimal im Jahr einen Blogpost auf diesem Blog kurz wegzuclicken.