Does Wikipedia have a governance crisis? Special interview with new trustees Dariusz Jemielniak and James Heilman

The Citation asked the newly elected community representatives of the Board of Trustees, Dariusz Jemielniak, James Heilman, and María Sefidari, to comment on the future of the board and the Wikimedia movement. The comments of Dariusz Jemielniak (User:Pundit) and James Heilman (User:Doc James) are published below.  María Sefidari (User:Raystorm) did not respond.

1. Congratulations to all of you. How was this election and how did it compare to other years.

James Heilman:

My running was somewhat controversial but I expected that. I was asked some tough questions by certain community members regarding my prior removal from the board. While my prior actions had some technical missteps, the spirit of the efforts were very much required. And I was sort of vindicating when the board subsequent, more or less, carried out what I had previously suggested.

Dariusz Jemielniak:

This election was extremely peaceful and tamed, as the candidates were asked not to answer all questions individually, but only after they were collated by the Election Committee. Personally, I’d rather encourage campaigning and interacting with other Wikimedians, as the more informed a choice we make, the better (and the candidates who cannot deal with the time load will have the same problem once elected).

2. Last year the Funds Dissemination Committee recommended the WMF board undertake a governance review.¹   Is there a crisis in governance, and is this where the board should be spending its energies. What are the issues for the future of the movement that the community should understand about these events. What would an ideal Wikimedia movement look like in terms of policy, structure, and governance.

James Heilman:

This is an exceedingly broad question 🙂 Many major improvements have already occurred over the last couple of years. For example we have a new ED and are now developing strategy collaboratively as a movement. We have also seen a significant change in the individuals on the board and IMO these changes are mostly for the better.

With respect to some further potential improvements:

a) We need to put in place further checks and balances on the removal of board members selected by the movement. IMO these members should not be removable without involvement of the electorate in some form (unless there are significant criminal or other legal issues). We need our selected members to be able to take strong positions without fear of removal.

b) We need clear and safe channels for staff to raise concerns that do not rise to the level of criminal misconduct. We have the whistle blower policy for criminal misconduct but that is an exceedingly high bar and we need processes for equally serious but non criminal concerns. From what I understand some of this has been put into place already.

c) We still need greater transparency. Our communities are our strength. For them to be involved in governance everyone needs to be looking at similar facts. We should be transparent by default with secrecy occurring only when legally or ethically required. I would like to see a regularly published “dispatch from the board” in either the Signpost or The Citation and plan to propose leading such a effort. This would provide details regarding what the board is working on, on behalf of the movement.

Dariusz Jemielniak:

There is no crisis in governance. We had a leadership/governance crisis last year and are hopefully quickly overcoming the fallout. However, to continuously improve our practices, we are going to go through with the governance review – not to specifically seek errors, but to do better in the future in all areas where improvements are possible. The question about an ideal Wikimedia movement in terms of policy, structure and governance exceeds by far what can be done in an interview – I wrote whole articles about this and I believe that the topic deserves a separate discussion. Ideally, such a discussion could be run by some of the affiliates in cooperation with the WMF.

3. Last November the board approved a statement on Community Health at their board meeting.² What changes can the average volunteer expect in the editing environment as a result? How does the board expect be involved in these issues in the future, now that the community health initiative and the Wikimedia movement strategy process have been set in motion.

James Heilman:

This is a good statement but a very hard problem to address. Further study is important. Some incivility is clear; however, most cases are shades of grey. We also need to work within the bounds of our self governing communities. Further discussions with the communities and getting the advice of external experts in this topic area IMO would be useful. A lot of this will require small iterative and reversible changes, with the realization that perfection is not a possibility.

Well we have talked about how we brand our projects I think we also need to work on / discuss how we brand ourselves. I have compiled a few thoughts here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Doc_James/Foundation#Wikipedians_are_Amazing_people

Dariusz Jemielniak:

New tools are being deployed on regular basis – new filters for recent changes, better vandalism detection and incivility flagging. I hope that the health initiative will make major, but incremental changes that will not affect the vast majority of our regular editors in any way other than making their daily experience on Wikimedia projects suddenly nicer.

4. What is the Wikimedia movement’s hardest problem.

James Heilman:

I view undisclosed paid editing as a critical concern. As we have become more popular and more established, organizations are spending a lot of money to alter our content in a promotional manner. We need to maintain our independence to preserve our reputation. We cannot allow our policies to protect good faith editors to be twisted to protect those who are not acting in good faith. Additionally when the core community spends a great deal of time dealing with undisclosed paid editors attempting to mislead them, this leads to less good faith towards actual new editors we wish to recruit. It is a tough balance and one I believe can only be more fully obtained through the collaboration between different parts of the movement.

Dariusz Jemielniak:

Many to pick, but I’d go with self-absorption. We are inwards oriented, and most of our discussions are about ourselves, and not the changing world. That’s dangerous.

 

¹ https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:MyLanguage/Grants:APG/FDC_recommendations/2015-2016_round_2#Governance

² https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Board_noticeboard/November_2016_-_Statement_on_Healthy_Community_Culture,_Inclusivity,_and_Safe_Spaces

 

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