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.

Jul 082015

Although we are a community where sharing is key for what we do and what we want to achieve, we sometimes struggle upon our best intentions. Board work is an area where the nature of discussions is often confidential, sometimes personal or just happening among a small group of Board members. That makes it hard to let anyone outside know what is happening inside that obscure bubble. And there certainly is some risk that the reserve to tell too much results in a concrete or perceived lack of information over all. I’ve experienced that dilemma in several committees I’ve worked on and of course it is also true for the WMF Board of Trustees.

So I’m trying to find a balance, write a short blog post once or twice a month, talk about my personal thoughts and make the bubble less opaque. I’m just starting and I don’t know where it leads me. Stay curious. So do I.

Jun 302015

The community election results for the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees are already published and it’s great to see DariuszJames and Denny adding their expertise and skills to the Board soon. The result also includes that we lose María, Phoebe and Sam, which means to lose three markedly dedicated, experienced members. And Jan-Bart and Stu are going to finish their long terms at the end of this year.

That’s a huge turnover within only a few months and quite a challenge for group dynamics, working capacity and transfer of knowledge. And it does not only effect our Board’s internal relationships but also the relationship to our ED Lila and to our staff.

There are good reasons to be worried about the situation. There certainly will be some loss in stability and institutional knowledge which probably cause one or another difficulty and confusion. And there will be a lot of things to explain, to discuss and to agree upon. We will find ourselves in a situation where we can’t (and shouldn’t) fall back on our own history, because there won’t be anybody who was actual part of that history. But we won’t find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, since whereever we need to follow legal or organizational requirements we can rely on our dedicated staff and their experience and support.

And there is more than just challenges, there is the chance to fuel ourself with the positive spirit which comes with such a change – the motivation of new members, the innovation capability and the critical reflection of our established habits, methods and procedures. Yes, we have a huge opportunity to renew and update in its best sense. We can take the Board to a next level of supporting the ED and the community. We have to work on it, and we will. So rather than being anxious I’m curious and excited. And I hope you are as well.