Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees/Call for feedback: Community Board seats/Reports/2021-03-12 CIS-A2K

Conversational Report
Centre for Internet and Society - Access to Knowledge - 12 March 2021





The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) is a Bangalore-based non-profit multidisciplinary research organisation. Access to Knowledge (A2K) is a programme of CIS, that supports and facilitates the work of Indian Wikimedia projects located across various Indian language communities. CIS-A2K has been a crucial movement partner for the Wikimedia Foundation since 2012, and has a substantial institutional knowledge about Wikimedia movement in India. The objective of the meeting was to collect feedback from staffers of CIS-A2K on the proposed ideas.

Note: Even though the participants of the meetings are staff members of CIS-A2K, all of them also have been long-term volunteers in the Wikimedia movement. The opinions shared during the meeting and presented here should be considered as individual only (drawing expertise from both as staffers and volunteers), but not of the organization itself.

Topics and Notes


The participants were first introduced to the structure of Board of Trustees, their roles and responsibilities, along with the previous round of changes to the by-laws, in which the number of board seats were increased from 10 to 16, and the trustee evaluation form was approved. This was followed by the problem statement for the call for feedback, and discussion on the ideas proposed to address the problem.

Feedback on specific ideas

  • The word “quotas” can be very triggering, perhaps alternatives like “affirmative actions” or “affirmative position” can be considered.
  • A participant felt that, the movement and the organizations within the movement have become mature enough to provide equal opportunities to underrepresented groups. Some groups are being referred to as “underrepresented” because they are not aware of the available opportunities. Being aware of an opportunity is different from attempting to use an opportunity, the latter can’t be forced. The focus therefore should be on increasing awareness rather than having quotas because, even quotas won’t be of much help if “underrepresented” communities are not aware of the opportunity they have.
  • A participant felt that appointed seats are better suited for quotas/affirmative actions. If there are not enough community candidates from South Asia, then why not get more people through appointed seats.
  • For implementation, a participant suggested having certain seats allocated for certain groups, with a defined criteria, and only candidates meeting the criteria would be eligible for that seat. Also, elections for that seat should be separated from the rest.
  • A participant shared a concern that reversal of quotas is practically very difficult, if not impossible. If a group or region is given a quota now, and if later there is no need, removing the quota for that group is going to be very problematic. Also, since this is being considered for board-level, the implications of having quotas will be across the movement. It can set a precedent for other committees and election processes across the movement, which may not be good always.
  • A participant highlighted the risk of generating a negative hunch among voters because of having quotas or against candidates using the system. There might be a case where, since this candidate is coming using quota let us give him/her a negative vote or a lower rank. As we observed all throughout the call for feedback, there are a lot of opposers to this idea, and this risk is quite possible.
  • A participant said that for every historical injustice quotas have been seen as a final solution, both in the movement and outside. This thought process needs to change, and other options have to be explored.
Call for types of skills and experiences
  • A participant said that inclination with overall vision of the movement, knowledge about ongoing policy issues, government-related legal issues, and being able to strategize will play a key role in being a successful board member. Certain skills are quite essential and “just a popular person doesn’t make sense.”
  • A participant said that inspiration can be taken from English Wikipedia’s Request for Adminship; along with voting, a discussion also takes place where candidates answer questions, and depending on the responses to those questions, many make their votes. These questions are a great way to understand a candidate’s efficiency.
Board-deleted / Community-elected selection committee
  • The selection committee approach doesn’t sound very good. Firstly, the perspective will be limited to a small number of individuals. When a person is elected through a community voting system, they will be accountable to all volunteers, but if it is through a selection committee, then their accountability may be limited to the committee itself.
  • Instead of a selection committee, a monitoring committee would be better. Such a committee will keep a check on the process, behaviour of candidates, abuse of voting processes, too much canvassing etc. In general society, an election commission keeps a check on corruption, bribing, code of conduct violations etc. - there has to be a similar mechanism for board elections as well.
Regional seats
  • The voting process should not be limited for a certain region only as “we are volunteers without boundaries!” It makes sense when only Indians vote for the Prime Minister of India, but it is not the case for the Board. A board member may be from India, but is not a board member for India, but for the entire movement - it is like a global prime minister and everyone should get to vote.
  • As it is one of the most important and largest election processes in the movement, it has to be multilingual. If we want to increase the voter turnout and candidate nominations from emerging Wikimedia communities, important pages related to the election have to be translated into as many languages as possible. A participant felt that translations should not be dependent on volunteers, but should be outsourced. As there is translation support for more languages, we will have more informed voters, thereby a better result.
  • There needs to be a mock election process to create voter awareness. Animated videos can be produced to create awareness of the voting process and why it is important.
  • Since it is a very important election, it needs to be made sure there are no parallel consultations happening around the election dates. This will ensure that this process will get maximum possible attention from across the movement. The dates have to be informed well in advance.


Ranked voting system
  • What will be the basis on which, how many ranks a voter will have to vote for, be decided? For example, the example video shown says that citizens have to give their top three preferences, is that the standard and if not, how will that be decided?
  • For example, each voter will have to give his/her preferences until six ranks, will “until six” be mandatory or anything below that is fine? For example, one can rank until four and leave the remainder two positions - is that okay? The reasoning for asking this is, for example, in steward elections, voters can choose between “support”, “oppose”, and “neutral” and by default it is neutral. This will allow a voter to choose not to vote for a candidate if they don’t wish to.
Regional seats
  • What criteria will be used to determine eligibility of a candidate to a regional seat? There are several possible scenarios - a person being born or has citizenship of another country but is substantially involved with communities in a region; a person is citizen of country in a region and is involved with communities in the region; a person is citizen of country in a region and is not involved in communities in the region. There needs to be criteria for which cases would be eligible for a regional seat and which won’t.
  • What are legal formalities that an elected/appointed board member needs to comply with? If a candidate from India is being appointed, will the information about the person be shared with the US government? Should there also be some intimation to a government department in India? The candidates need to be aware of any such legal requirements/expectations, and where the private information about them is being shared. In the case of India, Wikipedia has some opposition in countries in India, including from the government. If someone announces themselves or is announced by WMF, it might attract unwanted attention, and pose risk.