Reflective policies for participation and governance
By 2030 we envision the Wikimedia movement to have modified all policies, procedures, and guidelines which govern the movement to more clearly reflect the diversity in the movement.
By ensuring that the governing documents enshrine the inclusiveness of the movement, such change will encourage continued growth and participation. We want an organizational structure that allows transparency and gives everyone an equal opportunity for inclusion in movement governance and a participatory structure which is inclusive, safe, does not reinforce systemic biases, and is welcoming, open and supportive to groups who want to participate.
To be the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge, and to let anyone who shares our vision be able to join us, both the organizational and participatory structures of the Wikimedia movement need to change. Current policies, including bylaws, guidelines and procedures, whether they are organizational or participatory, do not adequately represent the movement’s diversity. They also do not address the dual nature and shared responsibility between stakeholders and clearly define stakeholder interactions. Despite this, we hold on to them and resist changing them. To become more proactive, we need to ask:
- How can our policies better reflect the diversity in the movement?
- How can our policies be modified to provide a safe environment for participation and encourage the elimination of systemic biases?
- How can policy facilitate pluralization and inclusion of all language groups, cultures, and knowledge systems?
- How can our policies be modified to secure knowledge equity and build a diverse global movement of free knowledge?
- How can our policies be modified to establish a global framework to support availability of resources and technology?
- How can our policies reflect both the autonomous nature of various movement communities, but incorporate our overarching values and strategic aims?
- How can the policy development process be made more transparent and inclusive?
- How can we mitigate the resistance to adopting new policies or revisions of existing ones?
Previous related recommendations for language diversity and inclusiveness in governance:
These recommendations were presented at Wikimania 2019 and have now been merged into one recommendation for Reflective policies for participation and governance:
By analyzing and modifying the policies that are used to define organizational structures throughout the movement, governing bodies, staff, partners and volunteers (all stakeholders) are more likely to feel included, be empowered and become vested in the movement and processes.
Likewise, by analyzing and modifying the policies that are used to define participatory structures and “rules of engagement” throughout the movement, content will more likely reflect our global diversity and plurality, providing value to our partners and readership.
People shouldn’t have to ask to be included. Policies for all stakeholders in the movement should be proactive in facilitating inclusion.
Many of the policies were developed during the infancy of the project, when the goal was simply to create an online encyclopedia by volunteers. Initially, subjects of importance/interest to the primary language group were added. As the project matured, it became evident that a more global approach to knowledge was beneficial for encyclopedic content. The subject base expanded to include topics from other geographic and linguistic groups. However, the policies which defined inclusion, remained stagnant, not taking into consideration contextual differences of various regions.
Over time, the Wikimedia projects and organizational structures that support them have grown and a strategic plan was adopted broadening the scope to become a platform dedicated to free knowledge in various media. Re-evaluating our governing policies as an on-going process ensures that they accurately reflect our diversity. While the Wikimedia Foundation has no control over who may volunteer to edit and thus cannot mandate that the actual volunteers be diverse, establishing leadership which is more representative of society could foster a more welcoming environment for recruiting diverse voices and expanding the available content on a more representative, global scale. Establishing policy which takes into consideration whether policies are promoting the values of the movement and not reinforcing systemic biases (such as board membership or language “default is male” because it’s customary) is crucial to growth.
Analysis of each procedural or organizational policy should include a diversifying set of criteria, such as:
- Does the current policy reflect the demographics of our stakeholders, participants and readers? For example, do governance structures include genders, ethnicities, races, age groups, disability sectors, classes, among other historically marginalized characteristics which are representative of the demographic profile of the larger society?; Can readers find content on topics which represent their diverse characteristics and the communities with which they identify?; etc.
- Does the existent policy have neutral and inclusive language? Or does it inadvertently exclude segments of stakeholders by using terms which might be perceived as discriminatory, like omitting gendered terms by assuming a “default of male” (chairman vs. chairperson: presidente(a); président(e); presidente(ssa), predsedatel(nitsa), etc.), excluding women and non-binary people?
- Does the current policy facilitate pluralization and inclusion of all language groups, people, cultures, and knowledge systems? Or does it inadvertently exclude groups by requiring prerequisites for participation? For example, does participation in the Board of Directors or other live events/meetings require that one speak Swedish, or are there provisions for translation services to include Finnish, Yiddish, Meänkieli, Romani and Sámi speakers; Does participation in adding content limit sourcing to reference materials of the dominant culture?; Does obtaining funds or applying for participation allow submission in one’s native tongue?; etc.
- Does the current power system promote one language or language group over the others? Is it the knowledge of a language a prerequisite for participating in the movement? And is the knowledge of a language a must for any decision taking or even understanding? Are we promoting new languages inclusion in our movement?
- Does the current policy promote equal participation or empower some sectors while disenfranchising others? For example, vocal members can shut out other voices in policy discussions. Are there provisions in place to allow free discussion of policy development, change, review, while providing anonymity in actual voting?; Does the policy/procedure easily allow users to interface using multiple technologies to allow for braille translation, voice activated technology, cellular connectivities, translation programs like QRpedia, etc.?; Does the difficulty of searching for and finding policies impact peoples’ ability to participate and understand the rules of engagement?
- Does the current policy protect the privacy and safety of community members? Or does it inadvertently make members targets of others? For example, does the policy fail to properly mask identity making members targets of state-sponsored censorship or other forms of curtailing participation?
- Does the current policy/procedure provide clear and concise instructional overview, including use, modification, dispute resolution, steps involved in reporting problems, roles and responsibilities, communication flows and potential outcomes/ramifications?; When multiple stakeholders are involved, does the framework of the policy spell out who is responsible, what level of policy applies, what communication channels and what protocols are to be followed? For example, many policies are fragmentary, addressing a single aspect of a solution, rather than leading one through the various steps or phases involved in securing a desired outcome.
- Does the policy reflect the dual nature of the interfaces between stakeholders? For example, is the policy an umbrella for the Wikimedia Foundation and used by all stakeholders? Is it clear if local stakeholders can modify it to suit their own needs or is it a finite policy that cannot be modified by the stakeholders?; Does it clearly define all roles of all actors?; Is it balanced in the application of regulation? Or is it over-regulating or under-regulating certain segments, behaviors, etc.? For example, do the policies restrict growth in small communities because they were written for a larger demographic with more resources, access, and funding? (On a related note, is sample policy available so that stakeholders are not endlessly reinventing the wheel?)
- Do existing policies address the needs of underrepresented languages? Are these inclusive, non-discriminatory and welcoming towards especially oral/colloquial/minor languages?
To facilitate diversification, roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders and their partnerships need to be defined and clarified within policies. Access to technology to facilitate inclusion should be anticipated, not added as an afterthought. To implement diversified policies, the following systems need to also be analyzed:
- We need to develop a platform that allows broad constructive and inclusive discussion to build wide-spread consensus among the various stakeholders. For policies to work, buy-in and communication are critical components. Present system-wide communication challenges block collaborative work between stakeholders. (Ideas to consider: Appendix: Ombudsperson/Community Liaison)
- We need to build partnerships with other open source and free culture organizations and work together to solve challenges (See Diversity WG's Partnerships recommendation and Partnerships WG set of recommendations). Such partnerships should include experts on ethics, as well as those suited to analyzing impacts of policy on the various stakeholders, including underrepresented groups and under-resourced content. Analysis using a wide-lens, rather than the narrow focus of individual communities of stakeholders, needs to recur and evaluate if stated policy matches movement strategies. (More on this can be referred on the Content Diversity Recommendation and Appendix: Developing Inclusive Policies for Notability and Reliable Sources).
- Policies are difficult to find with the present search engine, especially those that impact multiple stakeholders. For example, if a newbie wants to find out what policies apply to contribute, from the main page, three clicks are necessary to arrive at any page that mentions “policy” or “guidelines”. Search is not intuitive.
- Technology needs to be seamless and transparent to stakeholders. It should not require that stakeholders be knowledgeable about programming and markup to participate in the movement. Technology should anticipate needs, promptly correct defects, and provide support structures for facilitating things like language translation and mapping gaps in content and/or contributors. A robust structure for making, testing, improving and maintaining tools which monitor gaps in functionality and the work with closing them is paramount to allowing policies to be shared across varying platforms and settings. (Ideas to consider: Appendix: Global templates and modules)
- We need to develop structures for peer to peer mentoring for different levels of organizational and participatory involvement in the Wikimedia movement. Our structure should focus more on participants than content. The content is now in the center, and all processes, tools, platforms and even communication channels are orbiting around the content. (Please read the Introducing people-centered principles within the Wikimedia movement document from the Diversity Working Group) It is the people who drive content creation and our policies should make it easier for people to participate and be included. For example, it’s not enough to say you want a diverse board, you have to start by building interest among the groups that are underrepresented and coach pipelines of diverse candidates. (Ideas to consider: Appendix: Governing Body Quotas) Likewise, it is insufficient to say that you want inclusive policy, if the language with which those policies are written exclude (even if inadvertently) groups of people. (Ideas to consider: Appendix: Using Inclusive Language in Stakeholder Bylaws, Policies and Communication)
- We need to ensure that adequate resources (people, funding, distribution, etc.) are available to support a body of diverse stakeholders and experts whose primary role is writing, rewriting, and review of policies. (See Resources Diversity recommendation)
- We also need to onboard languages which are not a part of our movement yet. Regional and national affiliation/s may take steps to onboard and nurture new communities and create enabling conditions in this regard. In particular:
- The WMF, as the leading and most powerful organization in the global movement, will have to practice global language diversity in its own Board appointment and hiring policies, and to be an example to all other relevant organizations and individuals, and to empower them.
- The WMF should promote language diversity from its communication channels, especially understanding that the main Wikipedia branded channels are understood as English language and community channels. For instance, the official Twitter for @wikipedia is really focused on English Wikipedia, and not about Wikipedia as a multilanguage channel.
- Country-level chapters in countries where multiple languages are spoken will have to strive to reflect the language diversity of their countries in their hiring policies and their activities.
- User groups and chapters will also have to find ways to partner with other relevant organizations and practice mutual assistance. For example, chapters in countries with highly developed languages can help chapters in countries with less developed languages, or to help developing languages in their own countries.
- Creating new projects in new languages will be easier in the shortest possible term. With the inclusion of new languages we will increase the number of voices, cultures, world views and diversity. (Further on this can be found in the Diversity WG Partnerships' recommendation and the Appendix on Creation of new language projects).
This recommendation can have a negative impact because it will require resources and new ways of collaborating and working for both the volunteer and the organized part of the Wikimedia movement. The possible negative impact will depend on which structures the Wikimedia movement will have in place at the time of the implementation of the recommendation. These structures are listed under Question 3B. There may be resistance to the acknowledgment of shared responsibility to the movement strategies, as some communities operate on a strict autonomy basis. Once the new or rewritten policies are implemented there will be risks connected to how the Wikimedia movement interprets and follows the policies and how disagreements are resolved.
One of the most prominent risks is that for smaller or new affiliates it will be difficult to meet the level of diverse representation and governance we are outlining in this recommendation. User Groups can start off small and often have a narrow focus on a single language or culture.
Another risk is that making room for underrepresented groups and content can be challenging for the people who have been active over a long time in the Wikimedia movement and there is a risk they will want to leave.
The risks with a shift to Reflective policies for participation and governance can be mitigated by making sure structures for inclusive processes for writing, rewriting and review of policies are in place. A key point will be to make sure there is a balance between local autonomy and a unifying structure for the Wikimedia movement and shared decision-making model in place. To eliminate “reinventing the wheel” sample policies with neutral language should be widely available for reference to those reviewing and writing policy.
The Diversity and Roles and Responsibilities WG should work tightly in order to mitigate the risks, especially about who and how must solve the disagreements.
Because policies and procedures are the foundation of how an organization works. Our current system evolved from the development of separate communities with no harmonization of policy so often it is unclear who, how, or what steps are involved in a process. Over time, people change, norms change, technology changes, etc. which makes it logical to assume that our policies should be reviewed regularly to confirm that they still meet the needs of the Wikimedia movement or whether modifications/rewrites should occur.
Diversity and diversifying our policies, guidelines, and practices connect to every other working group.
As policy is the foundation of organizational structure, it connects to all other recommendations.
It should be implemented as soon as possible, but requires that an actual organizational structure which defines the roles of the various stakeholders precedes its implementation. It would also be helpful if safe space policies and improved communication channels were established as precursors to enable consultation to begin with all stakeholders at the earliest possible juncture.
The WMF Board of Trustees and the Executive Directors of Affiliates are the appropriate bodies to evaluate and implement a decision on this recommendation.
It should be reviewed in conjunction with input from the Diversity Working Group.