[Foundation-l] governance

phoebe ayers phoebe.wiki at gmail.com
Wed Apr 11 06:27:06 UTC 2007

On 4/10/07, Jeff V. Merkey <jmerkey at wolfmountaingroup.com> wrote:
> cohesion wrote:
> >On 4/10/07, Jeff V. Merkey <jmerkey at wolfmountaingroup.com> wrote:
> >
> >
> >>It may be a good idea to air this type of stuff privately in the
> >>future.   The public posting sends a message of some sort
> >>of in-fighting as an external message to observers, which I know you do
> >>not intend.
> >
> >I don't know. It's pretty obvious that the foundation is going through
> >some changes right now. I personally am happy to see that people are
> >thinking of solutions. This seems like a very good plan on initial
> >reading, and it was certainly presented in a kind way. I prefer the
> >transparency, differences in opinion don't imply fighting.
> >
> >Judson
> >[[:en:User:Cohesion]]
> >
> My comments are based on several factors, and the laws related to how US
> entities are run not the least of them. Suffice to say that large
> financial
> contributors will be less than impressed with public debates about board
> disagreements. It just sends the wrong message
> and can be misinterpreted by casual observers. These types of
> disagreements and debate are very healthy, but a public forum is
> the wrong place to air them.
> Jeff

There's a fine line between airing dirty laundry and encouraging public
participation in making decisions about governance. As you know, WMF is a
very unusual organization in that our entire stock in trade -- everything
the Foundation has to "sell", so to speak -- is based on the willing
contributions of thousands of volunteers who have shaped everything from how
the Wikimedia sites look to how they are run and governed, and who often do
this work (millions of dollars of person-hours worth) because they have a
vested personal and emotional interest in the future of the site. In part,
that kind of personal relationship with an organization is possible only
when the organization is transparent, and transparency -- of code, of
content, and of governance -- has always been a key part of this

We have always told interested people that they can get involved in
Wikimedia on practically any level, as long as they can devote the time and
energy and are willing to work with the existing community. As the
organization has matured more people have taken on governance and "running
the projects" as a full-time responsibility; and while WMF now courts larger
donors and has a larger legal presence than ever before, there is still a
strong tradition of publicly discussing within the community fundamental
values and goals and how the organization should be run. You are right that
there are two audiences who read these list messages (and everything else on
Wikimedia sites): the community members who are deeply committed to the
projects, and the "drive-by" commentators, readers, and larger public
audience who are perhaps interested in Wikimedia happenings but are not as
deeply invested. Especially considering this dual audience, not many board
chairs would be as willing to put forth their ideas as publicly as Anthere
has done over her tenure on the board; but whether we agree with her ideas
or not, or whether they are perfectly formed or not, I think many community
members are very appreciative of this work of hers.

The trouble -- or the great thing -- is that in this organization there's no
good way to define "the community" -- am I a part of it? Are you? Of course
we are; and that gives us some right, interest and responsibility to comment
on proposals like Anthere's, especially when they directly affect governance
-- but there is no good way to "shut the door", draw the line, and say "this
is where discussion and supposition stop, and we're not making it public
beyond these people." I suppose one could think of this kind of open
invitation to comment as a step towards appeasing the biggest donor of them
all -- members of the community, which have in aggregate donated endless
time and money to something they believe in.

Legally, I don't know what vague threat you're referring to. But large
financial donors or anyone else getting involved with Wikimedia should know
-- and no doubt do know -- that we're not an average organization. We're a
growing and changing one, we're imperfect and willing to admit it, and we're
open to new ideas -- and we should consider for a moment how extraordinary
this commitment to governance with and by a community really is, whether
it's in questions of content or questions of leadership.

-- phoebe

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