[Foundation-l] transparency or translucency?

Milos Rancic millosh at gmail.com
Sun Jan 11 06:34:49 UTC 2009

On Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 9:10 PM, Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> 2009/1/10 James Rigg <jamesrigg1974 at googlemail.com>:
>> Hi
>> This is my first post to this list - I'm a thirtysomething newbie from
>> England. After using Wikipedia for years without getting involved, I
>> thought I should look more closely into how it all works - and
>> possibly even join the project! However, as a strong believer in the
>> importance of transparency to any organisation
> I am increasingly concluding that the concept of organizational
> transparency can only be fully understood if one considers the concept
> of organizational responsiveness an important accompanying principle
> (whether one believes this to be an inherent subset of transparency or
> not). I consider them separate: it is possible to publish
> organizational internals but to never engage in dialogue; it is
> possible to engage in dialogue but to not publish facts.
> Moreover, I believe that in order to best serve the public interest,
> both principles are necessary. Transparency, by itself, can facilitate
> necessary organizational changes if organizational flaws are made
> visible through media and the legal system. This, typically, only
> affects the deepest organizational flaws, and if the organization is
> not itself responsive to questions regarding its general practices, it
> is meaningless for most practical purposes. Moreover, poorly
> articulated raw information can lead to damaging misunderstandings
> which remain uncorrected.
> As a practical example, we spent a lot of time this year drafting Q&As
> for documents like the Annual Plan and the Audited Financial
> Statements, to help people understand the meaning thereof. In
> addition, we are actively engaged in discussions like this one: many
> staff members and Board members participate in mailing lists with
> stakeholders (some of those lists are open to the general public, some
> of them have principles under which access is granted).
> In this basic understanding, it's important to recognize that an
> organization's ability to respond to questions is not unlimited. In
> fact, it is highly limited (which was exactly the point of the phrase
> "23-people-organization" in an earlier e-mail of mine). While most
> people understand this principle in theory, in practice, any
> individual petitioner will often feel that surely their argument is
> important enough, surely their e-mail or request significant enough,
> to be heard and carefully responded to. When this is not the actual
> outcome, they will feel deeply injured by this neglect. That is human
> nature from the cradle to the grave.
> An organization's ability to publish information in any meaningful
> fashion (i.e. with explanations that make it actually useful) is, of
> course, equally limited. With thousands of people taking an interest
> in organizational affairs, it is almost inevitable that some question
> will not have been anticipated, and some fact will not have been
> published.
> Where an organization's limits are is partially determined by its
> overall human bandwidth, and partially by its allocation of internal
> resources to publishing information and responding to stakeholders.
> Does every staff member spend one hour a day on it? 4 hours? 8 hours?
> Ultimately the organization must weigh the public service it performs
> through its actual work against the important, but separate, function
> of talking about it.
> Finally, there are limits to transparency which are not just
> defensible but in fact ethically necessary (privacy of individual
> human beings) or simply practical (most businesses and organizations
> don't operate at very high levels of transparency, and an organization
> is not an island - it has to be able to deal with other people's
> expectations in a reasonable manner in order to function).
> In sum,
> * I believe transparency and organizational responsiveness must go hand in hand;
> * both are limited by an organization's capacity and must be balanced
> with its other priorities;
> * both are further limited by both ethical and practical considerations.
> Where the Wikimedia Foundation is concerned, I consider it to be doing
> a pretty good job, but I hope we can publish and share even more
> information, and respond even more consistently, in the future. I know
> that WMF policies and documents, even its fundraising pages, are used
> as examples and templates by other non-profits, and I'd love to see
> more of that happening.
> I would be interested to hear about organizations that are weighing
> and using their own resources in a fashion that better serves the
> public interest. I don't think WMF is a fully mature organization yet
> - we've only just gone through a year of "growing up" - but I would
> love to see it collaborate with other organizations and OD experts in
> eventually developing and evolving sets of best practices for
> organizations which support purpose-driven communities.

Besides Erik's points with whom I generally agree, I want to say that
James has the point (or, at least, I see that point).

First of all, it should be noted that Jimmy's statement is a political
one. And according to his place at the Wikipedia and Wikimedia, it has
significant value. But, AFAIK, Jimmy has just some formal powers at
the English Wikipedia, which is the product of community's decision.
In the vast majority of cases his real influence is comparable to any
other Wiki[pm]edian. His statement is important (and I fully support
it), but it has to be read in the sense of proclaimed wish, not in the
sense of the rule.

But, James has the point related to gap between our (not just Jimmy's)
perception of our work and our reality; something very close to
doublethink. Because:

* Cabal doesn't exist, I may confirm that as someone who is following
a number of private lists.
* Elite exists. This is particularly visible at the projects. We are
very close to the position when we will be denying this fact even it
is an obvious truth. Becoming a part of "the elite" is becoming more
and more harder.
* Hierarchy exists, too. All over Wikimedia projects admins are able
to do much more than they should be. Complaining about admin abuse by
newcomers usually finishes somewhere in the corrupted nepotist system.
* Structure exists and this is a not so bad thing. I would say that
Jimmy wasn't enough precise about that.

I think that we need to do something before our structure becomes too
bureaucratized. Anyone who lived in one of the former socialist states
may confirm the path: from a great idea and friendly relations, via
very friendly relations between some persons, to a dysfunctional and
bizarre system. And, of course, doublethink was everywhere: Everybody
have to eat, except the most are hungry; everybody are equal, but some
are more equal...

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