Values/2016 discussion/Transcripts/Y

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1 == preliminaries ==
2 2: I do feel that transparency is a protection against other principles and values being compromised. If I felt that they’re likely to be compromised and be traded off, I’d emphasize them. Transparency falls squarely in that category. If you don’t call it out it’s likely to fall through the cracks.
3 1: Meta question about values vs. guiding principles.
4 == your three values ==
5 === 1 ===
6 (overall meta point: making sure I’m hitting values I think are critical for the future, not only those that have served us well in the past)
7 Pluralism - of identities; of types of knowledge (not only Enlightenment-driven, but careful around distinctions of wisdom vs. propaganda!); of forms of knowledge (not only heavily textual, but visual, audial et al)
8 1: because there’s a very clear focus on the encyclopedia, historically driven culturally specific concept, highly Enlightenment driven form, what do we know about the world’s knowledge, that is well beyond that form. Careful about the distinction between knowledge, wisdom, propaganda. In terms of product: how do we make sure as we move ahead that the forms of knowledge that we are producing are multiple, diverse, plural. Different ways for people to access, understand this knowledge.
9 Hospitality - there’s a difference between open and welcoming, and while we value openness for many different reasons, key is to be welcoming at the same time. And this is a cultural value many communities (offline as well as online) understand in embodied practice.
10 1: What have we been missing in the last 15 years in terms of openness? Really significant way in which open doesn’t mean welcoming. Trying to think about a value that could be something that people think about in the real world. Hospitality is a value that most of our communities understand and can embody. Applicable to editors but also people who read and support Wikimedia sites.
11 Cooperation with collaboration
12 1: Feels obvious to me that the way that Wikimedia projects (Wp in particular) is structured is around a form of peer production, collaboration. But there’s a difference between the symbolic cooperation and collaboration. Strong tacit meaning that leads to practice certain kinds of behavior. What are the ways in which we can think of the hows and the whys about values.
13 === 2 ===
14 Useful to distinguish between the values of the foundation and those of the projects (e.g. Wikipedia: five pillars, what the community feels is important). If we make up announcement about what we think is important, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the community does. Something like friendliness hasn’t necessarily made it to the practices on the wiki. Model out what we’re trying to preserve and protect against. Within the concept of the WMF specifically, the models of what can go wrong are different from those of what can wrong with communities. E.g. for the organization, giving people space to lead while protecting the culture, whereas communities have other threats. What I picked are those that I think are important for the organization, and they’re already firmly anchored in the community.
15 * Freedom: free licensing and open technology protect our work in perpetuity and enable others to build on it -- relates to openness, long term thinking. Also speaks to free expression within the confines of a project’s mission and behavioral norms.
16 2: Crucial for the long term preservation of what the community has created. There have been internal discussions about possible walls, that shows the need for this value.
17 * Independence: we can only preserve our commitment to neutrality if we remain independent in terms of funding, external control
18 2: Avoid interference from governments, people with vested interests. It’s important to call out because governance decisions, composition of the Board, etc. don’t always reflect 100% commitment that the foundation must always remain free of unwanted influence and control.
19 * Transparency: by sharing the “how” of our work openly, we enable accountability, criticism and self-improvement
20 2: The organization as it grows will be inclined to build more and more processes inside the walls of the organization. Decreases accountability towards external stakeholders. If you want to uphold transparency as a value, it’s important to highlight this because it’s easier not to be transparent.
21 1: Question about foundation values vs. community groups, etc.
22 F: We can’t really declare values for someone else. We’re focusing on foundation values but we need to keep in mind the other parts of the movement. Model those values, be grounded in them, and hopefully that will have some impact.
23 == why are those good things? do they enable other good things? are they intrinsically good? ==
24 [Pluralism]
25 F: A lot of people are bringing inclusivity as a value, but inclusivity into what? Pluralism may be more outward-looking. Why is it a good thing?
26 1: Great comment. There is something around the notion of inclusion as being by a community that already exists. Presupposes an homogeneous set of values, identities, etc. I want to break that a little bit. The notion of community itself is complicated and complex. Heterogeneous. Who has power, whose voice we’re hearing. If we’re to accept that there are multiple communities, with multiple forms of working and being, pluralism better encompasses who we are and who we want to be. And not using “diversity” because it’s used a lot and doesn’t mean much. Losing power in the way it gets coopted by companies. Loses the power of affirming difference. Pluralism affirms that there is difference and it says “we celebrate that”.
27 2: I like inclusivity and pluralism. What it ultimately enables for me is that you have a comprehensive source of information that serves everyone, not just people of a specific background / ethnicity / gender etc. Strong commitment to enabling participation by all those communities.
28 1: Ethical imperative to have multiple identities and people in our movement, but also strategic imperative. If we look at our communities right now, the real growth potential is in communities that have been marginalized so far in our movement. Pluralism matters from both of those lenses.
29 2: The objective is that you give an information source that is relevant to their needs, useful to them. Remember something about WikiAfrica / Wiki loves Africa. When I looked at the pictures on Commons, I was impressed. Example of helping people tell their own story, document their life, their world, and broaden the understanding of the world. Documenting culture as a whole, early parts of history, stories that have historically been suppressed, topics that haven’t been brought up much (women in science, etc.)
30 1: If you start slicing and dicing the data, the majority of the world is currently marginalized on Wikipedia. Most of the world (women, global south, lgbtqi, indigenous people), most of them are marginalized, or at best given a passing nod) on Wikipedia (and the rest of the internet). We can often as Wikipedians think of access to knowledge as a unidirectional thing. Victor’s movie on the Cape Town students helps bring that view (appeal for Wikipedia Zero). What does  it mean to show that multidirectional sense of knowledge? I loved seeing those students editing and fixing errors on Wikipedia. Deeper and more intrinsic: inclusion presumes a center of gravity that is already fixed. To make this enterprise of free knowledge something that is brilliantly and beautifully multidirectional, that’s what makes Wikipedia so exciting.
31 [Freedom]
32 2: If we remain true to this commitment that all the information is freely licensed, including the technology stack, freely usable, reusable, replicated, we truly ensure that the work that we do is available indefinitely alongside civilization. It’s an important way to think about the long term sustainability of what we’re doing. Absolutely fundamental. We’re here for the long haul. Always balance the short term benefits of a partnership or something with the long term implications. Different from the startup mentality. The freedom commitment is a sort of counterbalance to the startup thinking of let’s break things and see what works. Long-range commitment to the WMF’s mission.
33 1: couldn’t agree more. And also deeper layer: it’s the fundamental way in which the foundation and the communities are countering the forces of both capitalism and neo-fascism and state repression. Not just in terms of product, but also process, value, state of mind. Libre, not just free. We are the place that both students and policymakers go to for information. Very powerful to invert the frame in which most of the world leads right now: towards control, constraint, coercion, cooptation.
34 F: necessity of freedom for long-term sustainability and long range flexibility, replicability of knowledge. And also this dimension of taking the power back.
35 2: Without freedom, inclusivity, you’re not going to have that thing that you’re aspiring to build, whether in the short or the long term.
36 1: We’re also in a world where we are the data. Digital artifact open to everybody and that no one has control over. We have the least technical impediment to that artifact being available to everyone forever. Symbolic value.
37 [hospitality]
38 1: Trying to look at the kind of value that we already espouse, but this is also something we want to lead and model for others. Lessen the gap between the communities and us: how we talk about the values and how they’re framed. What does it mean from the point of view of framing? Hospitality for me was that hook. We mention openness, friendliness, etc. but none of that comes home to me like hospitality. More universal concept across the world. It may mean different things, but we ascribe a certain form of behavior to the word “hospitality”. Different from “open”.
39 2: It does speak to this notion that if someone wants to become part of this process, it’s a real and serious commitment to say that we want to help them as long as we understand they they truly want to embody the principles of the project themselves. You want to ease their way into the projects if they’re really committed to our mission. The organization has had this difficulty at times, same patterns of very authoritarian, corrective mode (“don’t do that, you’re terrible, you’re terribly incompetent for not knowing how this weird feature works”). WMF has gotten better at it over time. Less biased towards people who were Wikimedians, changed the tone.
40 1: Agree and disagree. There’s a way in which WMF is going to be its own community even as it reaches out to other communities. Something around how within WMF as an org, there is hospitality across work (different kinds, different ways, different things we care about). It’s improved but there’s always improvement to be made. We can be sitting on Meta/Phabricator for ages and talking to a very specific thin slice of our community. For the majority of our community, they don’t feel invited to those conversations. People asking if they can write in Spanish on Meta. Deeply limited in hospitality. As I have conversations offline, that immediately changes. How do we bring the immediacy and closeness of face to face communication to online?
41 F: Hospitality: like the word. Someone sitting in the right place, tell them politely to move, but people coming in and smashing things, you don’t want to keep them in.
42 1: Also use non English words on enwp and Meta. What if we were to call some of meetings or conferences “Majlis”. Playing with language and semantics and symbolism. As volunteers, we enjoy being playful. We can embody some of our values in fun and playful ways.
43 [Independence]
44 2: Big differences in funding models between reliable/unreliable sources of information. Each model has consequences in terms of what those organizations can do. All of those funding models influence and compromise to some degree what an organization can do. Ultimate end goal of neutral content in any language: in order to accomplish that we must preserve that notion that it’s funded, supported by everyone. Not one single source of funding. That independence is very linked to what the projects can create. If Wikipedia turned on ads tomorrow, and they started appearing on controversial content, it wouldn’t take long for people to say “we don’t want our ads on those topics” etc. By choosing our funding model, we’re committed ourselves to a high level of independence that other organizations can’t achieve.
45 1: Agree. Separation between what we act for and how we act. One of the interesting things about funding: great strength in the way you can push back against cooptation by funders. The WMF also has institutional funders and individual subscribers. Independence is important in not only the funding model it offers, but we’re also bigger than our funding model. Having that credibility and legitimacy…
46 2: and long term notion. Comes back to that perpetuity aspect of the mission. We don’t want to be tied to any one organization/entity. Ratio of large vs. individual funders.
47 1: Stability. When I was thinking about independence, I wasn’t thinking about funding, but about independence of voice, of space. Process vs. product piece again. What is the process through which you get to that content.
48 2: Another way to unpack independence: how the Board is structured. Because WMF is so unusual in the world, the risk or cooptation is really high, when it comes to recruiting Board members, staffers, etc. People who understand that WMF is different for a reason is important. It’s very easy for the outside norms to become the inside norms. And to see the WMF as something that should be more like Silicon Valley. It’s something that we know can happen; idea that the WMF should be run like a for-profit, with standards of efficiency, of agility, etc. taken from silicon Valley. So it’s absolutely not just about funding. Value that people must speak up in its defense.
49 1: Agree. Related piece: Being mission(driven rather than profit-driven. Call it independence, or deep commitment to the mission. Thinking of this in terms of actual strategic choices.
50 F: Relationship between independence and commitment to the mission?
51 1: For me, it’s primarily related to the fact that we’re about knowledge production. We want to continue to matter to the world. For us, that mission in service of humanity means that we primarily have to be independent in a way that we’re not in collusion, cooptation.
52 2: Agree. Being independent means reasoning these things out. What thing I thought characterized our SOPA action well was that we weren’t blindly following others. There was a lot of deep thinking inside the organization and the community. They reasoned that yes, it was a real risk, a real threat. Wikipedia was willing to go through a path that was truly its own. Example of independence. Even the slightest hint that the WMF might not be independent undermines its position in the eyes of some. It’s so central that people will sometimes expect the WMF to live to a standard that no one can.
53 1: The Foundation was also led by the community around SOPA (Italian community). Listening to your own communities and acting in the interest of your communities in a way that many organizations can only aspire to. Another strategic point.
54 [Cooperation with collaboration]
55 1: So much of what our product is is based on this process. Thinking about mimetics and semantics. Clusters of values and what they mean. Does collaboration truly underscore cooperation? Both for the foundation within itself, and as it works with its communities and others. People not assuming that individual people editing on a page is collaboration.
56 2: Interesting notion. Useful perspective. To emphasize cooperation resonates with me. For the foundation it extends beyond the mass collaboration aspect. Notion that you’re talking to an organization to invite their content. Decentralize cooperation, affiliates, etc. I don’t know many examples at that scale. Collaboration doesn’t necessarily capture that, cooperation does it better.
57 1: Good point: it’s a key value to a movement. Even as we think of ourselves as a movement, we’re an org in service to a movement. Whatever the label, there’s something about the notion of cooperation that not only makes us work in partnership with others, but work towards something that is greater than the sum of its parts. WMf can sometimes be more insular than it should be in the way it relates to other entities. Cooperation might be an interesting framing for that. Collaboration is still a hugely problematic word in some places because of WWII. In some places cooperative movements (milk producers forming a cooperative) have had a stronger symbolism.
58 2: Collaboration: more about a process. Cooperation is a values-laden term, contains meaningful connotation. May not resonate with everyone. You can only create an encyclopedia that is updated in real time, products that reflect the whole of humanity, if the process of collaboration is cooperative in nature.
59 1: Vision in my head of what I’d like to see the WMF in 15 years.
60 [Transparency]
61 2: Went back and forth between openness and transparency. Reason why 1 and I have different lists: 1’s is more aspirational (where we should be going) whereas mine is more about what to protect. Both are relevant. For me transparency is one of those things worth protecting. Where can the organization go off the rails, and what can go wrong. A part of what happened in troubled times: things were misrepresented, miscommunicated, lack of accountability. If you can’t talk about what you’re doing, you can’t be criticized for it either. Can break down in subtle ways not immediately visible. Ripple effects that can be negative. Another reason is calling it out of that it’s the thing people have to speak up for in order for the organization to repeat past mistakes. Some of the public (mailing list) communication can be messy, painful, but at the same time some of the best conversations came out of the org being honest not just with a few people, but with the movement, and acknowledging failure, and being willing to expose yourself and say “yes, I’m not perfect, this is why I did this, and did it this way, bring it”. It always will come under attack for legitimate concerns; it has to be something that the organization explicitly values so that those who speak up for it are not marginalized.
62 1: Completely agree. The worry that I have with words like transparency is that they can sometimes be used to pretend without practicing it. It becomes so much this empty word unless you embody it and know how to practice it. Thinking about cluster of words like integrity, honesty, vulnerability, willingness to fail, etc.
63 2: Radical transparency means that whenever you’re unsure whether something should be public or private, and you decide to make it public, you’ll never be penalized by the organization. You may be penalized by people yelling at you, but not by the organization. Different from business-as-usual release of documents.
64 1: Something about empowerment of staff to embody these values. Empowerment of communities to ask the question without being jerks. How do you empower not just your leadership, but everyone in the org to embody and practice those values?
65 2: “Shared power” in the guiding principles. Not give away too little or too much. There are decisions that the WMF can’t discuss (e.g. we need to take this content down because of liability). Distinction between devolution of shared power, stewardship, and be as transparent as you can be for decisions that can’t be done through consensus.
66 1: important for the practice of those values. “Power over”. Sometimes you can’t be in a position where someone has power over you or you’re in power over someone. But you can have power with someone.
67 2: Talking about power, and governance, needs to happen. That’s how you negotiate those boundaries in a way that people can agree with.
68 1: Ultimately this is power and privilege and how you’re reflective about that.
69 == feedback on the session ==
70 What surprised you? What did you like?
71 2: Question to F. about what this discussion mean to them, and the remaining gaps.
72 1: If we’re thinking about a foundation that’s taking us towards the next 15 years, it’s important to think about who’s making up that foundation. Who’s within  the foundation to serve those communities? The foundation is still very white and very male (especially in tech), very global-north. This should also push us to think of the people and their values who aren’t yet here but will be in 15 years.