[Wikimedia-l] Office hour inside out (program evaluation)

WereSpielChequers werespielchequers at gmail.com
Mon Mar 25 10:14:35 UTC 2013

> Message: 5
> Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2013 15:57:44 -0300
> From: Everton Zanella Alvarenga <tom at wikimedia.org>
> To: Wikimedia Mailing List <wikimedia-l at lists.wikimedia.org>
> Cc: "gyoung at wikimedia.org" <gyoung at wikimedia.org>,      Nitika Tandon
>         <nitika at cis-india.org>
> Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] Office hour inside out (program evaluation)
> Message-ID:
>         <CAEXLhE9T3ci=
> iFnwN1h313530MpJKqcYg0HeZGriVDr+1Vv9RA at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
> Hi, Pine.
> On Sun, Mar 24, 2013 at 3:41 PM, ENWP Pine <deyntestiss at hotmail.com>
> wrote:
> > Tom, I'm glad that you studied the IEP.
> I did this in the beginning mainly through Jessie Wild's support, who
> always kept articulating the SF staff for improve the education group
> learnings, and Nitika Tandon, now at CIS - a pity I barely talk to Nitika
> since a long time ago, although I have called her independently to learn
> more once.
> Although I have studied, we should have had more time for that. And I
> believe now with the learning team this will be improved at WMF. I'll share
> here also some thoughts I sent to my colleagues at the former global
> develoment efforts mainling list...
> "I discovered some time ago an organization with interesting ideas
> regarding failures, Admiting Failure <http://www.admittingfailure.com/>.
> They say in the main page
> "We have a conundrum. It is really hard to talk about failure. Admitting
> Failure is here to help. This is a community and a resource, created to
> establish new levels of transparency, collaboration and innovation within
> civil society.
> Fear, embarrassment, and intolerance of failure drives our learning
> underground. No more. Failure is strength. The most effective and
> innovative organizations are those that are willing to speak openly about
> their failures. Because the only truly "bad" failure is one that's
> repeated."
> Pretty interesting. :)
> Also, I discovered an interesting article of professor Daniel Dennett these
> days, which I would like also to recommend, How to make
> mistakes<http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/howmista.htm>,
> where I quote
> "The main difference between science and stage magic is that in science you
> make your mistakes in public. You show them off, so that everybody can
> learn from them--not just yourself. This way, you get the benefit of
> everybody else's experience, and not just your own idiosyncratic path
> through the space of mistakes. This, by the way, is what makes us so much
> smarter than every other species. It is not so much that our brains are
> bigger or more powerful, but that we share the benefits that our individual
> brains have won by their individual histories of trial and error.
> The secret is knowing when and how to make mistakes, so that nobody gets
> hurt and everybody can learn from the experience. It is amazing to me how
> many really smart people don't understand this. I know distinguished
> researchers who will go to preposterous lengths to avoid having to
> acknowledge that they were wrong about something--even something quite
> trivial. What they have never noticed, apparently, is that the earth does
> not swallow people up when they say, "Oops, you're right. I guess I made a
> mistake." You will find that people love pointing out your mistakes. If
> they are generous-spirited, they will appreciate you more for giving them
> the opportunity to help, and acknowledging it when they succeed, and if
> they are mean-spirited they will enjoy showing you up. Either way, you--and
> we all--win."
> Which reminded me a TED talk of Igor Nikolic on Complex Adaptive
> Systems<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS0zj_dYeBE> I
> saw sometime ago, where he says
> "What we really do is make mistakes all the time. The question is, how can
> we make mistakes in such a way we can recover from them? How do we do
> social experiments? [...] How do we do without making a big mess? How do we
> try different things in a environment without distroying it? And how do we
> learn from things that went wrong? That is something that we really have to
> address.
> We have to grow. What do I mean by that? It has to be a step-by-step thing
> evolving, adapting, learning. You cannot jump in the future. [...] And
> maybe most importantly, we have to do it together.""
> Best wishes,
> Tom
> --
> Everton Zanella Alvarenga (also Tom)
> "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful
> than a life spent doing nothing."
> -----------------------------

If we try out a new initiative and it turns out not to work we should  not
regard that trial as a mistake. Rather as something we have tested and
found not to work. Our focus should be on what we should learn from such
experiments, not who we should blame and fire. One of the downsides of a
hire and fire culture is that people who are running a failing project have
a vested interest in keeping it going until they can move on to something
else. It is much healthier if such people have the attitude that ending a
failing project as soon as it is clearly failed is a positive thing to do.
More importantly a culture of willingness to end experiments that have
failed would have seen both the IEP and the AFT killed far more quickly
with far less waste and angst in the process.

One of the things that the IEP and the AFT had in common was that they
required a lot of support from the existing editor community, and they were
seen by some as disrespectful to the existing community because of their
substantial cost in editor time. (Disclosure, I was one of the early
critics of the AFT, but IEP I largely ignored until February 2012 when I
made a number of proposals in edits on Meta, for example
but I found that no-one else was editing the IEP pages there). Another
thing they had in common was that they were top down initiatives in a
community that works better with approaches that stem from the community
and start by seeing consensus.

If we truly want to learn from these two, I would suggest running an
election on meta where editors can lobby for the next initiative. This is
what I'd hoed that the Strategy wiki would foster, and it might have done
if the Strategy debate had been on Meta rather than hidden on a separate
wiki made more complex by liquid threads. Maybe the result would be Global
watchlists, maybe it would be software changes to resolve more edit
conflicts without losing edits (both currently languishing as low
 priorities in Bugzilla). The important thing is that the resulting
initiative would be likely to make a positive difference to the project and
unlikely to share the fate of liquid threads, the IEP or the AFT.


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