[Foundation-l] About transparency

Sebastian Moleski sebmol at gmail.com
Sat Dec 22 11:09:15 UTC 2007

On Dec 22, 2007 10:43 AM, Florence Devouard <anthere at anthere.org> wrote:

> I think the last paragraph is interesting. Indeed, what some of you are
> asking is radical transparency at the organization level. And radical
> transparency is not really suitable for us, in most part because we are
> in the eye-storm of the media interest and that any scandal (or
> non-scandal actually) is likely to raise the interest of a journalist,
> and likely to spread at light-speed all over the planet.

I agree completely. This kind of transparency is detrimental to any
organisation of significant size because it sacrifices the level of
confidentiality and trust commonly needed in inter-organizational
relationships in favor of an, in the end, unreachable ideal. Any
organization that wants to accomplish something outside of its own
capabilities has to work with other organizations. And in many cases, these
cooperations can't be disclosed 100%, especially not while they are in the
process of being set up. If, for example, a business has a tentative
interest in a deal with the Wikimedia Foundation to publish Wikipedia
content and use the trademark, those following negotiations will necessarily
be confidential as will be the terms of the agreement. They have to be
because incorporating Wikipedia content in a new, innovative way can be a
significant competitive advantage - just think of the recent announcement by
Spiegel in Germany to create a new knowledge portal combining a variety of
sources with Wikipedia articles.

But I think that's not really an issue for most people if they have some
experience of how the business world works. The kind of transparency
Wikimedia, like any organization, can engage in, however, is related to how
agenda topics are set up, how involvement in the decision-making process is
organized, how decisions are announced, and how they are carried through.
There are specific ways how those parts can be improved with minimal effort:

   - Publish the non-confidential topics of the next board meeting agenda
   and invite comments.
   - Set up working committees for some areas where one of the board
   members serves as the chair. Keep them alive even if, for some periods, the
   board member is the only one actively working in the committee. Use these
   committees to address recurring or upcoming agenda topics and prepare some
   possible solutions for the board to adopt (with or without modifications).
   - For each resolution made, explain the reasoning behind it, what the
   problem is, why the problem is a problem, why the solution found is a good
   solution, what are its advantages. But also explain what are the
   shortcomings, what's missing. Nobody expects the board (or any organization)
   to come up with perfect solutions. Accepting that perfection is not
   achievable and every decision will have weakness is the first step.
   Identifying those weaknesses, assignig them to a committee to sort out, and
   inviting community feedback to address them will create a level of trust no
   "radical transparency" will be able to. And you will already be prepared for
   the questions and criticism every decision inevitably and understandably
   - Make sure the key people behind carrying out a decision are fully
   behind it. This means involving those stakeholders in the actual
   decision-making process by soliciting their feedback, making necessary
   adjustments to the proposed decision yet standing firm on the principles.
   Wash, rinse, repeat until there's no one left out of the loop who needs to
   be in the loop.
   - When there's criticism, address it in private. Don't respond to
   direct criticism on a public mailing list, in a wiki, or any other public
   place. And if your decision is questioned or if you don't think it's carried
   out correctly, address that in private too. There's no easier and faster way
   to lose someone who wants to help (paid or non-paid) than by attacking their
   work in public.
   - When there's a screw-up, some sort of bad news, be forward about it.
   Don't try to conceal something that will inevitably come out. As Forrest
   Gump found out, "shit happens". Be open about what happened, show that you
   understand this isn't good, and demonstrate what you are going to do (1)
   about the current situation and (2) to prevent it from repeating.

A decision that includes these steps will earn you the respect and the love
of the people that Wikimedia really needs. Wikimedia or "free content
movement" is a fantastic cause, something that brings an incredible benefit
to this world in ways that we won't see completely until years to come.
Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikisource and the other projects all have an
incredible impact on everyone's ability to access well-written infomation
about virtually anything. This is a movement whose goals, values, and ideals
almost everyone can love and support. And the only thing that's standing in
the way of realizing that potential are we ourselves. Let's do something
about that.


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