As in the past election, I’m posting my candidacy statement for the Board of Trustees publicly. I’m running as a part of the chapter-selected seats process, which is outlined here. My term is up in July; the chapters aim to have a decision made in May.
It has been a true honor as well as a stressful endeavor to be on the Board the last two years! My statement, which is in the form of a letter, follows. It’s long; my apologies. I was feeling reflective.
I write this on the way home from the 2012 Finance Meeting, which was an unexpectedly joyful event. At the end of the meeting, we were all asked to write down a word summarizing the weekend. Mine was “community.” To me, the idea of community — people brought together over shared experience and shared work — is the essence of Wikimedia: it is what defines us as more than just a website or reference work. On every level, whether it be financial decisions, organizational communication, software development, or writing articles, remembering that we are all part of the same community is what makes our work and mission possible.
After much thought, I am running for another term on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. To say that being on the Board is difficult is an understatement; it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it is also important, exciting work. I have been honored to have been a part of it the last two years, and I would be glad to continue on behalf of our community.
I believe I bring the following qualities and experiences to the Board:
* Familiarity with the Board and the WMF
Becoming a trustee involves a steep learning curve. It can be particularly difficult to negotiate the transition from being an outspoken community member with many friendships and connections to a position of impartial and hands-off organizational leadership. In addition to this (sometimes painful) transition and learning to work collegially with the other trustees and Sue, in the last two years I’ve also learned a good deal about non-profit governance issues and best practices though books, conferences and my fellow trustees. Continuing education and professional development is a priority for trustees, and if reappointed I would continue my governance education. I have also spent many years closely following WMF developments, and bring knowledge of both our history and the organization’s current projects to the Board.
* An academic background, specifically a background in libraries
Over the last two years my background as an academic librarian has strongly influenced my viewpoint in certain discussions, including those around how we should do planning; I believe that it is imperative for us to think of our role as stewards of the projects, and as such to plan for long-term site operation funding and preservation mechanisms. I also bring a belief in access to knowledge for all as a fundamental right, the academic values of shared governance and open scientific debate, and as a researcher, a specific familiarity with our own vibrant wiki research community. I think it is important for the Board to include at least one trustee with this type of background. I am proud to have been the first librarian on our board, and I have tried to make the most of the opportunity by promoting Wikimedia within the library community (though talks and outreach) during my service.
* Commitment to good organizational communication
I ran for Executive Secretary of the Board because I think organizational communication is critical to Wikimedia. As secretary, I’ve followed up on the great work that my predecessor SJ did to improve internal communication processes (such as developing better resolution voting mechanisms), with trying to improve Board communication with the wider community. In addition, I have also focused on internal communication, including summarizing Board discussions and bringing community discussions forward to the Board. I think I have done a fairly good job as secretary, but there is still a great deal more that I would like to do in terms of reporting Board activities, clarifying meta pages, posting information in a timely manner, and making it easier for the community to give input to the Board. Communication is one area where I feel my specific skills, background and interests can really help the Board as a whole succeed.
* Commitment to understanding and supporting our community, and the individuals and groups in it
I have a sympathetic and consensus-based approach to managing relationships and problem solving. I sometimes feel that my role within Wikimedia (in and out of the Board) is to engage in a certain self-reflection and to bring empathy for the situations of others. I have wide experience within our community, including meeting many Wikimedians around the world; I try to always bring those viewpoints and my own experience as a community member to the table. An example is in the fundraising and funds dissemination discussions, where I have attempted to understand and bring in the perspective of what it means to be an independent organization affected by our proposed changes.
* An open mind
I bring an open mind to Board and community discussions; I listen carefully, take the time to reflect, and am not afraid to change my mind based on what I hear. An example is the controversial content discussions, when I entered soon after I joined the Board. I was initially skeptical of the need for action on the issue; but I listened carefully to trustee and community concerns (as expressed in the Harris report and in discussions) and was convinced that there was a real thread of concern that should be addressed. I worked with fellow trustees to carefully craft a proposal around the Harris recommendations that we felt wouldn’t go against Wikimedia principles. After much outcry and reflection, today I think our specific proposal for an image hiding feature is not the right way to address those concerns (which are still quite real), and I support rescinding that part of our resolution. In all of this long difficult process, I have tried hard to keep an open mind and to listen to concerns fairly in order to come to the right decision.
* Time, energy, and the ability to keep up with the challenges facing us
This is an intense period to be on the Wikimedia Board. It is difficult to commit the amount of time and energy that is needed, and I had to think carefully before deciding that I was up for the challenge again. However, I am in a good situation personally: I have the support needed from my job to spend time on Wikimedia, I have the energy to do it, and I have the skills needed of being able to read, parse and summarize a vast amount of material, and of being able to write well and quickly. And I am responsive and responsible to my obligations — something that is important, as the Board very often relies on each member being available for a particular question or vote on short notice. On the Board, you can’t quit or go on an extended wikibreak; each trustee must be consistently reliable.
All that said, there are certain things I lack that the Board does need:
* Direct chapter experience
I do not have Wikimedia chapter experience, although I do have experience running a local chapter of another organization (a professional library association), and I have spent a good deal of time working and socializing with Wikimedia “chapters people” in a variety of settings globally. I have also worked hard to learn about the chapters. However, my own personal experience as a community member has been one of individual volunteer work and empowerment.
* Global diversity
I am a monolingual American. Though this makes parts of trustee work easier for me — speaking English natively enables me to keep up much more easily, and living in California means trips to the WMF office are faster and cheaper — nonetheless, I feel the lack of having a truly global perspective. Our Board has discussed our pressing need for more diversity, particularly for geographical diversity and especially perspectives from the “global South.”
* Other special expertise
I do not have special financial, management or strategic planning skills related to large, international organizations, nor do I bring a deeply technical perspective. Though we currently have a skilled treasurer, other trustees with financial expertise, and a highly competent staff, the Board is always in need of trustees who have a deep financial and nonprofit background. In addition, we do not currently have anyone who comes from the technical development community on the Board. While a number of us have done our share of minor hacking, and several trustees have managed large technical organizations, it would be helpful to have a voice directly from the tech community on the Board.
The next two years, the Board will face multiple planning challenges, including setting up a new funds dissemination structure (probably including a “funds dissemination committee”); changing how WMF annual planning is approved as a result; figuring out how to do movement-wide and continued WMF strategic planning, and setting up long-term support for the projects. We also face the growing and unsolved editor retention and recruitment crisis; must guide the WMF as it rolls out changes to update and improve the projects (including a visual editor and continued global infrastructure); and continue to set the tone for what kind of an organization we are.
I know there are many good candidates running for the Board this year, including people who have run in past community elections; many of the other candidates would be great on the Board, and I would be glad to see them seated. I am excited about the work facing us and the chance to continue; regardless of the outcome of this election, however, I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this during the past two years. Thank you for it.