News and notes
Affiliates' nomination of WMF trustees announced; FDC's straight talking to WMF
Since 2008, Wikimedia chapters (additionally, since 2013, the single thematic organisation) have been permitted to select two of the 10 board trustees for two-year terms that start in even-numbered years. Despite the widespread use of the term "affiliate-selected" on Meta and in announcements, user groups, which number 58 of the 90 affiliates, are still not part of the process.
On 9 May, facilitators Chris Keating, Lorenzo Losa, and Lane Rasberry announced that the successful candidates in this year's election are Christophe Henner and Nataliia Tymkiv. In this election, 40 of the 42 eligible affiliates voted, a marked turnaround from the 2014 election, in which only 27 of 41 voted, a poor showing that almost certainly affected the outcome. The voting of each affiliate is concealed from Wikimedians, except those who can log in to the chapters wiki. The election is conducted using a single transferable vote system, in which the participating organisations number each candidate in order of their preference; these preferences are then exhaustively redistributed in rounds (nine in this election). The first preferences received by each candidate are published, but the final distributions are posted only on the secret chapters wiki. Curiously, the facilitators stated that "it is the closest ASBS result for some time", while at the same time revealing that the second-highest vote was "between Nataliia (16.09) and Siska (9.91)", figures that do not appear to be close.
The numbers of first preferences received by each candidate were: Christophe Henner (9.00); Siska Doviana (6.75); Jan Ainali (5.50); Osmar Valdebenito (5.50); Nataliia Tymkiv (4.75); Susanna Mkrtchyan (3.25); Lodewijk Gelauff (2.50); Maarten Deneckere (1.50); Kunal Mehta (1.25); and Leigh Thelmadatter (0.00).
Christophe Henner (candidate statement and résumé) is deputy CEO of Webedia (google translation, website), the digital division of Fimalac. He has been a Wikimedian volunteer for 12 years, and has been a board member of Wikimedia France for 10 years.
Nataliia Tymkiv (candidate statement and résumé) is from western Ukraine. She has masters degrees in information management and public administration. Her career has involved the role of executive director and chief accountant in the private sector, and since 2010 she has worked for the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law, a think-tank and lobby group of media lawyers and experts specialising in media policy and human rights. Nataliia has been a member of the Ukrainian chapter since 2012 and a board member since 2013, with responsibilities for financial matters and programmatic work.
We asked Christophe and Nataliia a series of questions related to their nomination (which still has to be approved by the board itself). Are they concerned at the lack of consistency and transparency in how each voting organisation conducted its selection process? (The Signpost knows of only four affiliates that have publicised their votes: Germany, France, the UK, and Ukraine.) Nataliia believes the process "can be organised better and in a more transparent way", and described Wikimedia Ukraine's detailed and open process. "I think that WMFR was very bold and brave to share their reasoning first. ... Personally I believe that voting should be public ... though it seems to have its drawbacks", linking to a Meta discussion on the question. For Christophe, consistency is not such an issue, but he would opt for publishing the detailed results of each affiliate on Meta.
The pledge of personal commitment
that trustees must sign makes it clear that their commitment is to the WMF rather than a trustee's constituents: "In all matters that come before the board of trustees for a vote that may favorably impact ... any organization of which I am a part, I will reveal that relationship and abstain from a vote in the matter." To test the nominees' understanding of this requirement, we asked them how they will represent the interests of affiliates on the board. Nataliia's response was strongly in line with this legal undertaking: "The affiliate-selected board seats are not affiliate representatives, so the ones selected by affiliates would not be representing 'the interests of affiliates on the Board'." Christophe's response was not as legally clearcut: "I won't represent the interest of anyone except of the movement. ... we should see ourselves as agents of our mission belonging to a movement that happens to have separated organizations."
James Heilman has declared that he is happy to return to the WMF board. We asked the nominees whether they are in favour of appointing him to the recently vacated community-selected seat on the board. Christophe wrote:
||I am actually not in favour of appointing him. Whoever is right or wrong, in the coming month the board of trustees will have to reshape itself, to rebuild trust within the board, with the staff, with community, to build a vision and to lead us through change. Appointing someone that left the board a few weeks ago will make all of that harder. I do understand the reasoning behind that question. And even if it is felt as unfair, we must all focus on what we need to do to get better. We need to act always in favor of moving forward and build the movement we strive for. Right now we are in a mending process, having James appointed or selected during that process could reopen wounds. I'd [rather the board avoided] that for the coming month. Focus on the future, and learn from the past, not focusing on it.
Nataliia's attitude was different: "I do not have full information about the removal, but based on what I know I would say yes, it is his place by right. But it seems to me that maybe a healthy new community-selection process is needed. To confirm."
Our final question concerned the tension surrounding communications between WMF staff and the board during the upheavals of the past months. "Based on your considerable experience as a Wikimedia affiliate board member, how are you going to address what appears to be an institutional problem of how this communication should occur?" Readers may be interested in the considered responses of both nominees. Nataliia wrote:
||First of all I am going to learn more about how the current system works. It is almost impossible to improve something, if you did not investigate it. There was a discussion about it during [the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin], and one of the things I would suggest is creating an Ombudsperson position (probably an advisory role to the Board), so that staff could discuss issues with ED and C-levels with him/her instead of discussing them with ED and C-levels.
Christophe, similarly, said he needs to gain a better understanding of where the failures were on a board level.
||That actually is a first step for the board, to assess and own its own failures and build on it. This kind of failures are actually quite common in organisations. This is not a unique situation, to some extent we went through a similar one few years ago within Wikimedia France. It has happened before to many organisations, and will happen again. The question really is to learn from that and build a structure with the right people and the right processes. From the challenges I can foresee as a trustee, this one is actually one of the easiest one to tackle.
The WMF's volunteer Funds Dissemination Committee has announced its recommendations to the Board for funding the annual plans of applicant affiliates, with a total of US$1.138M. For the India-based Centre for Internet and Society, $153k is recommended (100% of the ask, 12.5% down on last year's funding for this applicant); Wikimedia Armenia $180k (93% of the ask, 50% up on last year); Wikimedia France, $620k (89%, 5% up on last year); and Wikimedia Norway, $185k (87%, 31% up on last year).
The FDC's review of the submitted WMF 2016–17 annual plan mentions "the extended period of turmoil within the Wikimedia Foundation, at the Board, executive, and staff levels ... The organizational stabilization phase has now begun and the FDC applauds the professionalism and passion for Wikimedia’s values shown by Foundation staff, executives and Board of Trustees." The FDC repeated its call for an external assessment of WMF governance—both the internal organisation of the Board and its relationships to other parts of the movement. In particular: Board composition, including selection processes, recruitment and diversity; the relationship between the Board and the ED; communication channels between the Board and the staff, community, and affiliates; the selection process and criteria, and onboarding, for appointed Board members; advisory board constituents, roles, and duties; and resources allocated to the Board to fulfil their duties/responsibilities.
The FDC pointed to the Foundation's short-term strategic plan that has been developed, on which the annual plan has been based: "The lack of clarity in strategic direction since 2014 has caused significant waste of time, money, talent, goodwill, and momentum."
On staffing, the FDC noted that: "while staff numbers are only increasing by 5 FTE in the forthcoming financial year, in the last 3 months of this year the plan is to hire 15 people—which sounds like a rush to fill positions before the year end, after a year with significant staff turnover. The FDC encourages the WMF to not rush hires, particularly given that C-level staff positions need to be filled. It is also not clear whether staffing matches the stated goals in this annual plan or in the strategic plan as a whole." The WMF, it advised, "might want to evaluate how the size of its staff and its staffing structure are organized" to meet the organisation's set goals, and pointed out that "the rationale for the new staff is missing from this proposal."
For the FDC's review of individual WMF departments there was trenchant criticism, including:
- an unexplained decrease in the results for key performance indicators for grantmaking and the Wikipedia Library;
- too few product programs dedicated to editing and little coordination on analysis and research on product. "The FDC expects the Product department (and the WMF in general) to improve the use of organizational memory, avoiding redundancies and focusing on more tangible activities that can lead to impact."
- "Communications’ plans are unclear and unfocused. The plan does not make clear when the communication team plans to promote the Wikipedia/Wikimedia movement brand vs. the Foundation brand. The programs and the goals are repeated, sometimes in an inconsistent way (e.g., blog readership target is "increased by 10%" in Goal 1 and "increase by 5%" in Goal 2). Moreover, most of the goals seem very functional / operational, and very focused on social media." (A comms staffer has replied to one of these points on the talkpage.)
- "The Talent and Culture (Human Resources) team has been chronically understaffed and has not had a permanent C-level representation for over a year." T
Voting for round 2 of the Picture of the Year contest has started on Wikimedia Commons.
- Picture of the year: Voting for round 2 of the Picture of the Year contest has started on Wikimedia Commons. Round 2 will end on May 28, 2016. AK
- New administrators: The Signpost welcomes the English Wikipedia's newest administrators, Maile66 and Amakuru. AK
- WMF staff departures: May 13 saw a further three senior staffers removed from the Foundation's list of staff and contractors: Kevin Leduc, manager of special projects; Rachel diCerbo, director of community engagement (product); and Sara Benson, senior learning and development manager. This follows another eight departures over the past six weeks (not including an intern and a volunteer): Moiz Syed, design manager; Kaity Hammerstein, user experience designer; Rosemary Rein, director of program capacity and learning; Yana Welinder, legal director; May Galloway, visual experience designer; S Page, technical writer; Floor Koudijs, senior manager, Wikipedia Education Program; and Michael Guss, research analyst. The Foundation's total staff numbers have dropped to 274, from a high of more than 290 a few months ago. T, AK
- Board minutes: The minutes for the March 21, 2016 WMF board meeting have been published. The main topic of the meeting was a governance discussion, followed by a closed executive session. AK
- Endowment: The Wikimedia Foundation has announced that venture capitalist Annette Campbell-White has joined the new Wikimedia Endowment Advisory Board as its second founding member, after Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. AK
- Cross-wiki notifications: The Wikimedia Foundation's Collaboration team has developed "cross-wiki notifications", a tool that allows users to get updates from all of the projects they contribute to, regardless of which project they're currently working in. AK
- The Core Contest: It's on again—a 30-day competition to improve Wikipedia's most important and most viewed articles, with prizes in the form of electronic store vouchers. The competition lasts from 15 May until 30 June. Enter the competition here. T
- RFC on creating page-mover permission: Discussion and supporting/opposing is well underway in an RFC on a proposal for page-moving permissions, which might include some or all of the following rights: suppressing redirect (moving a page without creating a redirect); moving subpages (moving a page and all its subpages in a single action); overriding title blacklist (moving a page to a title on the title blacklist; and overriding page-move throttle (moving a larger number of pages in a short time). T
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