Democratizing Wikimedia Innovation

Through the end of this month the Wikimedia community is electing 3 members of the Wikimedia Foundation board. You qualify to vote if you’ve made at least 300 edits before April 15 and 20 between October 15 and April 15 to any Wikimedia project.

If you don’t quality to vote, it won’t be hard to do so for next time if you get started now: Log in or create an account and be bold when you see a typo, incorrect or missing information in a Wikipedia article. Familiarize yourself with Wikipedia’s sibling projects; edits to any of them count. Play the Wikidata Game. I heartily recommend doing these things as a matter of learning and sharing knowledge regardless of desire to vote in Wikimedia elections or lower threshold and more fun votes such as for the Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year. The current election is just an excuse for inserting this Public Service Announcement. ;-)

If you do qualify to vote, please do. I voted for Denny Vrandečić and give him the strongest possible endorsement. I also voted for and endorse James Heilman.

The election uses approval/disapproval ratio to determine winners, so disapproval votes are powerful. I made a few but don’t want to publish because frankly all of the candidates are excellent and extremely qualified for a Wikimedia Foundation community board seat.

community-centered theory of changeThe central issue in this election is evident in the Candidate statements, discussion, structured Q&A (1, 2, 3, 4), in a series of blog posts by Pete Forsyth (who was briefly a candidate but stepped aside), and outside the context of the current election, in blog posts by Lane Raspberry and Nimish Gautam., and the one message I’ve sent on the issue, which the first paragraph of Vrandečić’s candidate statement sums up:

Wikimedia is a modern wonder – and yet, it must change: most of our projects, as they are today, cannot truly succeed. To achieve our mission, we must increase the effectivity of every single contributor. At the same time, the communities are often seen as change resistant – but falsely so: they do welcome change, done right, as I have shown with Wikidata.

Along these lines, I especially commend Vrandečić’s and Heilman’s answers to the following Q&A topics: Use of Superprotect and respect for community consensus, Retaining current volunteers versus recruiting new ones, Improving content, and Diversity and scope.

It’s commonplace for central organizations (of which I am a fan) to neglect or denigrate communities they serve, whether the relationship is one of collaboration, constituency, or consumption. Sometimes a version of neglect is even the right behavior, e.g., a product or project with some users may need to be EOL’d. But most organizations could do much better. It is essential that the Wikimedia Foundation do so, as the people who edit or otherwise contribute to the various Wikimedia projects are its key competitive advantage. If Wikimedia and other commons-based peer production projects are to stay relevant, nevermind helping achieve world liberation, they need to figure out how to become more effective, starting with embracing the idea that most of the vision and innovation needed to do so will come from the community, not the central organizations, and implementation done in partnership with the community.

Unrelated to the community issue, I’ve previously blog cheered Vrandečić’s and Heilman’s work on Wikidata and Wikipedia/medical journal collaboration respectively.

Tangential ex-Wikimedia Foundation links:

I was very sad to read that Erik Moeller recently left the foundation, where he was Deputy Director. Though he seemed to endorse the organization/community vision dichotomy (my one message linked above is a mailing list reply to him), in my view he is perhaps the best example in the Wikimedia universe of community vision — he had written about and many cases prototyped most of the innovations the foundation is still working on implementing, many years later, before becoming an employee.

Moeller has since started a podcast, interviewing another ex-Wikimedia Foundation person, Sumana Harihareswara, for the first episode.

Harihareswara has two recent posts on Crooked Timber, Codes of conduct and the trade-offs of copyleft and Where are the women in the history of open source? I found them both very interesting and left comments.

Former Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner is now “developing a strategic plan for and with the Tor Project” and separately researching “the broader state of ‘freedom tech’ — all the tools and technologies that enable free speech, free assembly, and freedom of the press.” That’s great news; Tor and other ‘freedom tech’ tools are incredibly exciting and important. But, a moment of critical cheering: as I noted around the time Gardner stepped down as WMF ED, I’m inclined to think that re-routing the knowledge economy is even more important than tools that can route around censorship for a good future. The former is what Wikimedia projects do.

6 Responses

  1. Pete Forsyth has published his voting recommendation for each of the 20 candidates, with their responses to a question about ‘superprotect’ (which allows WMF staff to override a community consensus) as a primary consideration. Frederico Leva’s notes on each of the 20 candidates add consideration for their experience in collective decision making bodies. There’s substantial overlap in their recommendations. The Wikipedia Signpost has a survey on the views of each of the candidates. I haven’t noticed other evaluations of the field but would enjoy pointers, even after the election.

    One note on the Signpost survey: you might expect me to really want candidates to rank ‘Advocating for freedom of information on the internet’ as a high priority. I mostly ignored this data point, as I don’t expect that even if the WMF board were to prioritize this activity more than it already is that the delta would be carried out in a way that I’d find productive (specifically advocating in the interest of commons-based production). Further, Wikimedia movement (non-WMF) people (such as Leva) are already doing productive advocacy, mostly in Europe as far as I can tell. I’d be happy to see this calculus change in the future.

  2. Pete Forsyth says:

    Thanks for the excellent coverage and the mention, Mike. I would add the Signpost’s followup piece as well:

    While it doesn’t make specific points about individual candidates, it does a good job concisely summing up what’s at stake, and has expert commentary on the tactical considerations around voting.

    There are also a couple questions on Quora related to this election:

  3. The Signpost followup is linked from “approval/disapproval ratio” above but indeed something any voter should understand.

    Thanks for the Quora links. I agree (also see the comments) with Amir Aharoni’s answer on the need for much greater resources to support language diversity. I didn’t mention above as I didn’t feel any of the candidates successfully differentiated themselves on this. Three of the candidates in their statements mention wanting to help South Asian language communities, but I didn’t see any explanation of what they would do on the board to further this.

    I also agree with Josh Lim’s answer that more diversity (he mentions geographic, I’d add gender) in governance is needed. I have no quibbles with anyone who categorically rules out voting for white males, for example. It’s a pity no candidate seems to have taken strong positions on this, e.g. by advocating for geographic and gender quotas on the board, which would set hard restrictions on who could fill the board-selected members to the extent not met by the community-selected members.

    On the topic of board-selected seats, the most recent one made me downgrade my estimation of the board, before and after the selection of someone I consider a charlatan. (I realize that sounds harsh; it’s my feeling. I don’t know the guy and there’s probably some really solid rationale for the selection.)

  4. The results are in. The two people I endorsed (Vrandečić and Heilman) as well as Dariusz Jemielniak were elected.

    Vrandečić’s thoughts on the election from before the results were announced is a good read. Further post election discussion.

  5. Pete Forsyth says:

    Mike, I appreciate your thoughtful and informed perspective on this election (and am of course pleased with the alignment in our endorsements, our reasoning, and the results!) Regarding that recent appointment, I have it on good authority that he has good instincts on community engagement — I am hopeful.

  6. Pete, that’s good to read, I’ll temper my skepticism with a dash of hope. But my skeptic asks ‘what kind of community engagement?’ ‘Evangelism’ treats community as consumers or at best ‘the product’, and the guy is a pioneer of ‘tech’ evangelism. Perhaps all those scare quotes make my skepticism self-refuting. :)

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