Apr 172016

Ein Kriterium (gr. κριτήριον, „Gerichtshof; Rechtssache; Richtmaß“) ist ein Merkmal, das bei einer Auswahl zwischen Personen oder Objekten (Gegenständen, Eigenschaften, Themen usw.) relevant für die Entscheidung ist. (Seite „Kriterium“. In: Wikipedia, Die freie Enzyklopädie. Bearbeitungsstand: 13. November 2015, 15:14 UTC. URL:https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kriterium&oldid=148005116 (Abgerufen: 13. April 2016, 21:32 UTC))

These days the WMF chapters and thematic organizations are selecting two new Board members for the Board of Trustees. Frieda and Patricio are not running again, so definitely there will be a major change in the Board’s composition.

Unfortunately the selection process has become more and more like the Community selection since self nomination has been established. It leads to a slate of candidates which is quite exchangeable between both selections. The only difference is that eligible voters are our affiliates instead of individual community members. In my view chapters and thematic organization carelessly hand over a huge opportunity to influence the Board’s diversity and general composition by not nominating people from their networks. Why don’t they look out for people with extraordinary skills coming from GLAM partners, friendly movements, education or any other particular aspect of their activities? Why don’t they nominate at all?

As far as I know there is no consistent process how the heterogeneous affiliates come to their respective vote and I don’t know if the affiliates agreed on a set of common criteria as a basis for their vote. The selection of candidates for the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees has enormous impact on the Board’s stability, its decisiveness, creativity and efficiency. The Board should be supporting and promoting change and improvement rather than a being a millstone around the Foundation’s neck. Even with best intentions there is a good chance to be the latter more than the former.

If I were in the situation to vote, these are 5 criteria I would check with my favorite candidates:

1. Be a teamplayer
Being a Board member means to deal with several issues at the same time. You can’t deal with them all in the same intensity and you need to be able to delegate. Which also means that you have to trust your delegates‘ recommendation. Accepting that the time your colleagues can spend on board issues is limited is a must, and you also have to accept that your own time and energy is restricted as well.

2. Don’t be a second ED
Though our role descriptions, especially the boundaries of each function, may not be defined perfectly, there is at least a common distinction which is determined by the day to day business. As a board member you can’t push individual projects or ideas, neither your own nor others. You have to accept the ED’s responsibility for operational decisions, including setting priorities and assigning work. You just can’t make promises you can’t keep without staff’s support.

3. Pack your ego away
Boards are usually composed of strong characters. Same here. The challenge is to get the most out of this range of opportunities without getting lost in personal competitions. The organization’s health and wellbeing is the priority. Remember that in the end we have to come to a result which is „the Board’s opinion“. In some cases you may not agree individually, but it is your task to support the decision even so.

4. Beware of not getting obsessed with detail
Board members with a community background tend to look at everything under the microscope, weigh any option and discuss all different opinions.  The Board needs to be mindful of the time it spends on process issues, operational details and tasks which are not theirs. Time spent on details is usually not only Board time but also staff time. And wasted time can’t be spent to dig into what really matters. Call it the big picture, strategy, or whatever you want. This is what the Board exists for. Details won’t bring you there.

5. Focus on our future
What we desperately need to talk about on the Board level are questions like „How can the Wikimedia Foundation best serve its mission?“, „How should the organization look like in 10 years?“, „What are our threats and how are we going to respond to them?“. We need to know what kind of organization the Wikimedia Foundation should be, only then the Board can guide and advise the ED. Looking back provides necessary learning, but our energy has to be concentrated on our future. Our mission is much more important than our internal issues.

  10 Responses to “Criteria”

  1. This is interesting – your criteria are in my eyes nearly completely the totally opposite of a person, I would like to see as a trustee OO

    • So, Marcus, you really think that the new board members should be egoists, trying to do the EDs job, showing off her ego, focus on details and look back the whole time? Really?

      • I read this as summarized as „get along, don’t rock the boat“.

        That is why the ED crisis got so bad.

        The Board’s *job* is to oversee; make sure that the organization’s day to day activities and the ED’s actions are OK, and that the organization’s future is being cared for. This advice seems to miss the first part.

      • Wow, Mr Richter – you know, it is impossible to talk with these answer of yours. So I’m out of this discussion before it could start to become one.

  2. There are two problems about not spending time on details, one is that what is detail to one person may be strategic to another. The other is that an anomaly may turn out to be unimportant detail or important. You do need to move the conversation on when something is agreed to be detail, but board members, especially on a board with many inexperienced board members, need to accept that they will have very different attitudes as to what counts as detail.

  3. I am one of the election facilitators for this 2016 election.

    I think it is unfortunate that you are posting this now at the end of the election process instead of earlier when your views could have been shared with voters and people organizing the election. I wish that I could respond to your post in a meaningful way that shares these ideas with people in a way that could guide the voting but nothing comes to mind, especially since many chapters have already made voting decisions. Perhaps I wish that I could archive your thoughts on wiki, or create an archive of this and other essays from community members.

    If you have suggestions for how your ideas and the ideas of other board members might be shared for this election or future elections, then please post to the election page. I care about making your perspective accessible but I am not sure what is reasonable to do. It is a favor to the community that you wrote this, but I am afraid that I would need to ask for another favor from you in the form of helping to distribute this if you want this made more available than it is only on your blog. It might be that this post could be more read in future elections even if no one finds a way to share it for this one.

    My impression of your writing is that I have not seen or heard other people talk in this way about what is desired of a board member. I think this post is valuable for presenting a new perspective.

    • Hi Lane, it’s cc-by-sa, so feel free to share it when and where you think it makes sense. My reason to publish it here is easy: This is the only place where it is more or less obvious that I’m sharing my personal view.
      During the Wikimedia conference there should be a chance to talk with current Board members, during the related session or in the breaks. Unfortunately I can’t attend, but especially Patricio, Maria, and Darius will probably also be happy to share their thoughts (which may also be different).

  4. I mostly agree with the first commenter, Marcus. Specifically:
    1. „Be a teamplayer“ – this reminds me of the James situation where the story appears to be that the board said to James: ‚we got this, you aren’t allowed to join the investigation‘. Not really legal, for a good reason.

    2.a „you can’t push individual projects or ideas, neither your own nor others“ – you can and must push to improve an organization. Organizations are often resistant to positive change, the bigger and less market (or otherwise externally) driven, the more static. If you don’t have ideas for improving the situation, then why are you involved? For example, one of the first things I suggested when I joined the WMF Audit Committee as an observer was an internal controls review/audit, and I kept asking for it.
    2.b. ED „sets priorities“ – the board sets the strategic plan, so it should be setting top-level priority.

    3. „it is your task to support the decision even so“ This is groupthink talk. You are not obligated to publicly support a decision that you do not believe supports the organization’s health and wellbeing. You should bury the hatchet for the time being if you can’t change it. Not going to deny that it is common and often advised to be a ’single voice‘, but most boards are also known to be dysfunctional.

    4. You need to be technical. Start from the top but be able to drill down to a more and more granular level as needed. That’s how you effectively manage anything in the world, whether it’s an investment portfolio, codebase, your personal health, whatever. The board needs to be familiar with all the basic top-level investment (alpha, beta, diversification) and software metrics (test coverage, regressions shipped, code complexity, etc).

    5. Don’t focus on 10 years out – it’s not agile and you can’t set realistic 10-year goals. Make your strategic plan for the next year or two. It should be actionable so you can evaluate how well the organization/ED is hitting the objectives you set out. And these objectives should be as specific as necessary. The WMF Board, which represents the community, should be determining the allocation of software resources and major features, not someone imported (the ED) and the technical implementers who that person has hired.

  5. We (WMCH) did approach a potential candidate that had a profile somewhat fitting with what is described above. The response was a swift and unambiguous „No“.
    Fact of the matter is, this Board failed at so much and so hard that it has made itself quite unattractive.

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