[Foundation-l] Board restructuring and community

Samuel Klein meta.sj at gmail.com
Sun Apr 27 16:58:24 UTC 2008

I have not devoted much time to governance issues over the past year, so I
wasn't sure at first how this latest change came to pass.  The more I read
and think about it, the more the pit in my stomach grows...  Anthere: too
horrible, but perhaps not in the way you meant.

On Sun, Apr 27, 2008 at 6:09 AM, effe iets anders <effeietsanders at gmail.com>

> Without asking any feedback from the community before the decision has
> been made, the Board decides to convert two community seats into
> ... bringing down the community share in the board from
> 71% to 50% or 30% (depending whether you count chapter seats as

This was indeed an extraordinary change, and not signalled in advance.  The
alteration of the latest two community seats into something more restricted
feels wrong to me... like a committee compromise between two better
alternatives.  Procedurally, this wasn't even brought up in the March
minutes and makes me very nervous about what else might happen without
notice or consultation.

Effe notes this sets a poor precedent.  It also shines a light on the
elephant in the room, which we have long ignored -- our community is
dissipating, our Foundation is not designed or motivated to deal with this,
and yet we are distracted from finding a solution; but more about that in a

Community representatives on the board are literally supposed to be that,
and I don't see how they could represent us without direct input and
engagement.   For curiosity's sake, I would be interested to know what
outside advice was solicited on the restructuring.   Frankly, I haven't felt
'represented' since the Board stopped holding open meetings and inviting
discussion in advance of proposed agendas.
((trivia: how long has it been since there was a commentable public version
of a board meeting agenda?))

> I know it is not customary (unfortunately) any more that single Board
> members speak up.

I would also like to hear individual perspectives.  This shift suggests a
weakening, not a strengthening, of the Board's ability to effectively carry
out its role and its duties to the Foundation.  I would like to see
dissenting opinions posted for all resolutions and opinions, but especially
for this one.

More importantly, for those on this list who haven't noticed yet : the
wikipedia community is weakening.  This is not inherent; we are nowhere near
our potential even as a meme; it is due to restriction and neglect.   This
is also not new; though easier to see over time -- the community has been on
a broad decline since 2006.  We have stopped founding major new projects,
poured cold water on various community initiatives in the spirit of
unification of brand, and generally eroded the community's boldness,
authority, and implicit entrustedness with the success of the projects.  I
saw "we" here because all 750+ people reading this list have had some say in
this as it has happened.

Wikipedia-l traffic is down to 15k a month; wikien will drop below 300k this
month for the first time since the Indian Ocean Earthquake.  There are fewer
and fewer newbies who post to lists such as this, or feel they can have a
say (or have a stake!) in project governance.  It embarrasses me every time
a wikimedian I respect trashes the foundation-l list, as this is one of our
few thriving community channels, something we should all respect.

The community's sustainability been hampered by a foundation structure that
regularly sees itself at odds with its communit[ies], has arrogated
authority for various tasks away from community members, and has absorbed
some of the best community members and then slowly, unwittingly incented
them not to speak their mind.[1]

The foundation has faced its own internal struggles, so there are of course
reasons it has not balanced its necessary bureaucracy with transparency, or
been open about its direction and priorities[2].  However, the result is
current priorities that (as might be expected) match the needs of the new
bureaucracy -- including funding, expedient decision making, and
professional staff -- and not those of the projects.[3]
((trivia: how long has it been since the last open board meeting?))

If we don't aggressively address this, the Foundation will soon oversee a
useful, grantor-friendly, but increasingly ossified set of works; no longer
one of the active wonders of the world.   This is the sort of thing that
Board, advisors, and all 800 people reading this list should care about[4].
Worrying about minimizing public discussion and criticism when we face a
fundamental crisis with no obvious solution is misdirected.

Decisions like the latest board revision, made in haste, without discussion,
and viewing the community's interests as secondary to expedience, are felt
throughout the projects! and are a major part of this decline.

((answer[s]: 1. since before the start of the community's decline | 2. far
too long ))

 [1] another part is the rise of a generation of newbies that no longer has
the bold founding spirit and has not been imbued with it by others --
something a greater focus on project sustainability could address.  Jimbo,
among others, used to be very good at this.
      As for absorbing good community members : the foundation's take on
privacy and control filters out, into the projects and chapters and into
community bodies such as arbcomms, and contributes to the rise of local,
ehm, cabals.

 [2] the major exception was the public discussion of the revision of the
foundation's mission and vision statements.   presumably a board that
chooses to restructure without public discussion would feel free to change
other founding documents without public discussion.

 [3] Perhaps this simply means that the foundation does not wish to address
the specific needs of the projects, and instead wants to be a
self-sustaining pillar handling funds and professional relations with other
organizations.  Perhaps we need a separate concept, if not a body, to
represent the core social and practical needs of the projects is needed. I
don't know., and I'm on the fence about proposals I have seen for the
latter.  But avoiding stagnation should be foremost on everyone's minds, and
this board restructuring and shift away from public board deliberations feel
like steps in the wrong direction.

 [4] is there a public place to contact our advisors? if not, can someone
forward this to them?

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