Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Notes on the 2007 board election

After the close of the 2007 elections for the Wikimedia Foundatin's Board of Trustees, it's time to congratulate Erik Moeller and Kat Walsh on their retained seats, and to welcome Frieda Brioschi to the board. See the results page for vote tallies and all that goodness.

My own tendency is to look back over the election, and try to evaluate what I know of it -- the lessons learned can and should be put toward improving future elections. Meta has an open request for comment on the matter, aside from the thread or two that've cropped up on foundation-l. There's a few issues I imagine should be taking center stage.

Gmaxwell's mass mailings to eligible voters at en.wikipedia proved to be controversial, but they also highlighted the inadequacy of previous, centralized efforts to get out the vote. Small groups of users from other projects were quickly able to adapt Greg's methods to send out mailings of their own. Just a few users, with access to the right resources and information, were able to have quite a hefty impact on voter turnout -- clearly, our goal should be to enable individual users to be bold.

To that end, and following a few discussions on IRC, I'd recommend a bottom-up effort over what currently seems to be top-down organization. Greg's effort demonstrated the effectiveness of small, tight-knit groups, the sorts of groups which already exist in ready supply on all of the WMF wikis. Meta could easily be used to provide a space where interested groups and individuals could make themselves known, to allow easy communication and coordination with their home projects. This "project contact" status needn't be an official position with any particular authority, but even knowing which people are interested in being directly contacted, how they can be contacted, who shares which languages, who will coordinate efforts, and the like, would seem to be pretty useful.

Set up each group with guidelines on neutrality, make sure they avoid endorsing particular candidate(s) over others, maybe even give them some basic source material, but on the whole, I imagine they'll be more productive if we just let them get to it.

I'm looking mainly at efforts to keep communities aware of elections and developments within them, there, but translation efforts are another concern. I wish it weren't so, but I don't have nearly the vocabulary I'd like, for German or Spanish, so it'd be difficult for me to help out. Some people have suggested hiring out some work to professionals, at least for the elections; I sincerely appreciate and encourage current efforts at Meta in this area, but I can't help but wonder what we might do to be more timely and complete. I can only imagine how left out I'd feel, if the foundation didn't do the majority of its business in English; my sympathies to those who have difficulty participating, due to language barriers.

As Dmcdevit pointed out, in #wikimedia, there's no reason to wait on some things. Sitenotices, emails, and all the like should really be produced ahead of time. The majority of these don't need to be produced in real-time, and doing so distracts from efforts to produce the things that do need to be produced on the fly. We can recycle prior notices, we can leave dates to be filled in later, but advance preparation is surely a must.

On a larger point, the timeframe of the election should be generally considered. Do we want more time between candidate selection and voting? How far in advance should the preparations and campaigns begin?

The use of approval voting seems to be an issue. It's been rightly pointed out that the race was incredibly close -- Oscar van Dillen lost his seat on the board by 20 votes, and was ahead of Michael Snow by only 5. Once a voter selects their "serious" candidates, they're faced with the option of supporting everyone they like equally (essentially, a null vote) or not supporting candidates they otherwise prefer. Some degree of preference voting might be interesting, but I do worry that some of the rather elaborate systems I've seen proposed would deter community participation. Even allowing people to allocate single-, double-, or triple-votes to candidates would allow for a great deal more flexibility, and allow for a more accurate measure of the community's will. I don't think I have the best answer, here, but it's definitely an area that should be discussed.

No doubt, there will be discussion of the "400 edits, 3 months" threshold, or the various other requirements for participation, but I think I'm content to let that one go, for now.

Beyond that, it might be great if people got past the trap of only caring about foundation issues at election time. But that'd be asking for quite the miracle, history tells me.

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