[Foundation-l] wikicouncil

Florence Devouard Anthere9 at yahoo.com
Sun Dec 30 16:46:32 UTC 2007

Erik Moeller wrote:
> On 12/30/07, Florence Devouard <Anthere9 at yahoo.com> wrote:
>> So... I take it you support board members having the right to comment
>> and debate publicly on every issue under the sun.
> As I said, my preference is to contextualize open debates as such:
> Implicitly, by asking for opinions on foundation-l and other public
> lists, and/or explicitly, by labeling them as such. And an open debate
> should be just that.
> Outside the scope of an open debate, we should be more careful and
> judicious when commenting: because we are agents of the Foundation,
> whether as Board or Staff members, and because constant public
> dissonance would make it more difficult to execute decisions.
> So, to me there is a difference between an open discussion about a
> Wikicouncil, or about the fundraiser, or about offline reader
> technology, and an announcement of a decision that is contradicted by
> individual Board members, or the people who are supposed to implement
> it; there is a difference between an open discussion about hiring
> policies, and sticking to an established communications framework for
> something like the Carolyn Doran incident.
> Obviously there will be borderline cases, but I'd much rather at least
> have some basic structure to start with.
>> There is an inconsistency here: how do you suggest that we have open
>> debates, whilst at the same time presenting a shared vision ?
> For this, too, we need to establish structures and processes. What is
> the Board's role in defining the strategy of the Foundation? Different
> non-profits have answered this very differently: The scope ranges from
> non-profits with huge volunteer Boards that want to get involved in
> every operational detail, to those with small hands-off Boards that
> merely give their ED a thumbs up 2-4 times per year.
> The best practice for us is probably somewhere in the middle. For the
> organization with strong Board involvement, it typically becomes a
> problem to find competent staff members. The kind of ED who can make
> the trains runs on time is also the kind of ED who wants a certain
> amount of influence over the vision, and a certain amount of freedom
> to implement it: if you want skills, you also have to grant freedoms.
> And of course, the more people are involved in strategy-making, the
> more likely it becomes that a consistent strategy cannot form at all,
> and that there is a constant back and forth between several internal
> forces.
> Our situation is complicated by the fact that the Board doesn't just
> exist in the Board room: It's a permanent presence on mailing lists,
> IRC, and so on, to some extent even more so than the staff. And of
> course the Board is the ED's boss, and by extension, positioned higher
> than any single staff member.
> In a worst case scenario, we end up with confused staff receiving
> direction from multiple places, with mixed messaging, with a strategy
> that is constantly being called into question. In a best case
> scenario, everyone knows and understands their role, and conflicts and
> tensions arise only infrequently and, preferably, privately.
> Here are some parameters that could be the basis of an alternative
> framework. I'm not saying these exact parameters are the ones we
> should use, but they could be a starting point:
> * The Board meets, online or in person, four times a year. Beyond
> emergency decisions and unusual situations like the absence of an ED,
> it is within the scope of these meetings that the Board should
> exercise its high-level decision-making power.
> * The Board can define high-level goals such as
> http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/4_wishes_for_year_2007 ; these
> could also include more specific high level goals such as "achieve
> greater licensing compatibility" or "ensure that our projects are in
> compliance with the principles of free content". This would be my
> preference based on the experience e.g. with the licensing reform.
> * The ED and staff will typically be responsible for preparing a more
> detailed roadmap which will be approved by the Board, with some
> feedback and refinements during the Board meetings.
> * Outside the scope of Board meetings, the Board and Staff would be
> permitted to begin open debates on a topic, if clearly contextualized
> as such. The Chair and ED would typically initiate higher level
> debates ("Should we have a Wikicouncil", "What is the role of the
> Board", "How should we allocate our resources"), while staff members
> would do so within their domain expertise.
> Staff and Board members are equally free to comment in such debates,
> keeping in mind the obvious constraints such as previous agreements of
> confidentiality, no personal attacks, etc. Comments are understood to
> be personal opinions, not policy.
> Beyond open debates, both Board & Staff members have to be more
> judicious when commenting, and should generally try to follow agreed
> upon lines of communication or comment within their area of expertise
> (e.g. to answer a community question).
> This is under the assumption that there is no Wikicouncil. In my
> opinion, a Wikicouncil - if it is to make matters better, not worse -
> needs to literally assume some responsibilities currently handled by
> the Board, rather than merely being an extension to the Board's
> community members. That is, to the extent that the Board currently
> makes decisions which have a high community impact, the Wikicouncil
> could make at least some of them in the future.
> Where significant domain expertise is required, my preference is for
> the council or its committees (if it does create committees) to
> function in a consultative, rather than a policymaking role: simply
> because an elected body is not going to accumulate through processes
> of candidate election all the expertise necessary to actually make
> fully informed decisions, and because it lacks the agility (quickness)
> to acquire that expertise externally.
> So, in a three-body system, a process like the licensing reform could
> have worked as follows:
> * The Board defines greater compatibility between free content
> repositories as a goal.
> * The ED creates a workgroup of staff & volunteers to implement this
> goal. It consults with Wikicouncil, Board, Advisory Board & wider
> community members as it deems useful.
> * The final decision to implement a particular license on Wikimedia
> projects is approved by the Wikicouncil.

More or less agree on the description of the process, hinting that the 
proposition you make below, does not reflect your original suggestion

For memory

Should a decision like the licensing reform have been made by
- the Board
- the Executive Director in consultation with her staff
- a Wikicouncil
- the entire community?

I think that question should be open to debate -- and to me the answer
could very well be, in future: "The ED in consultation with staff,
experts, and Wikicouncil members" or "The community through a
project-wide vote".

In the original suggestion, the ED was making the decision; in the new 
suggestion, the wikicouncil is; and note that this procedure fits pretty 
well what we are currently doing. The board passed a first resolution, 
defining greater compatibility as a goal. Erik, as near staff, is 
actively trying to find the best solution for all. And the community 
will be asked its input.

The critical part right now is "how to get this community feedback? ".
In the near impossibility to hold a global vote (referendum system), a 
wikicouncil seems a good solution.


Let me suggest another example, which I think is currently a bit broken: 
board membership. Beyond the issue of expertise, the board has 
expressed, strongly, in the past, its desire to have a majority of 
community members on the board.

First problem: who can be defined as a community member ? What is 
community ? We worked on that problem a year ago during the chapter 
meeting and no satisfactory solution was found.

Second problem: the board must find a balance between 1) having skilled 
professionals on the board, 2) making sure the foundation is not taken 
over by outsiders who will lessen the community input and 3) avoiding 
elections being merely a popularity contest.
As a reaction, the board may have as a tendency to be overprotecting and 
self-appointing, thus preventing the community to throw a revolution if 
things go really wrong.

Right now, the board is the one deciding who may be eligeable to be 
candidate. I do not think the board should do that. My suggestion (for 
elections) would be

1) The board defines the number of board members (eg, 11), and basic 
rules to respect to be on the board (eg, over 18; eg, no felony in the USA
2) The board defines the number of seats which will be elected, versus 
the number of seats to be appointed, as well as duration of each seats, 
renewal rules etc...
3) The wikicouncil defines the rules of eligeability for being a 
candidate and the rules of eligeability for voting, and establish, in 
agreeement with the board, the replacement rules in case of vacancy
4) Ed and staff implement the elections

In this case, the board stays high level in his definition of who could 
be elected as community representative; and merely indicate his desire 
to have at least xx members from the community.

And the wikicouncil, being made of representants of the community, is 
the one in charge of defining who is actually legible to be a community 
representative on the board.

Note that in this case, the wikicouncil is deciding if elections should 
be direct or indirect, if Jimbo is really a community member or not, if 
the pope is allowed to vote or not. Rules being flexible.


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