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Special report

Wikimedia Movement Charter ratification vote underway, new Council may surpass power of Board

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By Smallbones and HaeB
A lively discussion on Meta-Wiki

Should the 10 June 2024 version of the Movement Charter be the governing document of the Wikimedia Movement?

The voting period started June 25 and goes to July 9, 2024 at 23:59 UTC. As reported in the previous issue of The Signpost, the Movement Charter would guide many governance decisions in the Wikimedia Movement by establishing a Global Council of Wikimedia community volunteer representatives. The result of this vote could permanently make this document a fundamental basis of Wikipedia governance, and difficult to amend.

There is widespread agreement that many functions of the WMF should be decentralized, according to Nataliia Tymkiv and Lorenzo Losa, two WMF board members who are liaisons with the Movement Charter Drafting Committee (MCDC), including

decision-making on Fund dissemination, decision-making on Affiliate recognition and strategy, and advice on Product & Technology. We (the WMF) shall also soon be sharing considerable trust and safety work with the upcoming Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee.

The drafting process for this charter started in 2021 and was part of the same overall process that drafted the Universal Code of Conduct and its enforcement arm, the Universal Code of Conduct Coordinating Committee (U4C).

A final version was submitted for the ratification vote on June 10. To pass, the charter must receive 55% of the votes of individual Wikipedians, 55% of affiliates votes, and approval of the WMF board. Since the two liaisons have recommended that the board reject the proposed charter, it might be expected that it will not be ratified, but that can’t be certain until all the votes are announced.

What’s in the proposed charter?

The proposed charter includes a section on the movement's purposes and values, and some material on the mechanisms that will govern the Global Council’s operations. It will start with 25 elected or selected members, but may later grow to 100 members. It will have a steering committee, called the Global Council Board (GCB), that is selected by the Global Council (GC) from its members. The GCB would start with five members, but may grow to twenty as the GC grows. Given the powers of the GC, it is clear that the GCB will be one of the most important institutions in the overall movement, rivaling or even surpassing the WMF Board of Trustees in influence.

Much of the material that would normally be included in such an important document – such as the length of a GC member’s term – has been divided off from the proposed charter into 14 supplementary documents. These documents are not subject to ratification in the current vote. The GC could presumably change the policies in these documents after the GC is formed.

The Central and Eastern European Hub has given its view of the important points of the proposed charter. Some of these are included below and may include personal comments from the original authors. The Signpost has edited these for length.

  • An "Independent Dispute Resolution function" will be put in place to resolve conflicts among movement bodies, theoretically including the WMF.
  • Governance structures of the WMF stay the same.
  • The WMF is supposed to align its strategic direction with the Global Council.
  • The WMF will still distribute resources, but at the direction of the Global Council.
  • There’s no mention of how long the terms of GC members are.
  • GC is responsible for global strategy development and to “shape the future … of the Wikimedia movement”.
  • Unclear if Global Council members are to be paid.
  • There’s a commitment that certain demographics not dominate the Global Council, so there will most likely be quotas for certain regions, but there are no guarantees.
  • The Global Council defines itself, i.e. its own processes, structures, membership(!) and accountability.
  • GCB election processes are similar to how the WMF board of Trustees is elected, with the same problems of being dominated by members from Europe and North America.
  • The relationship between the WMF Board of Trustees and the GCB is still not mentioned, but the GCB is assigned the decision-making role.
  • "Resource distribution" – GCB manages the "funds of the Wikimedia Movement", including the budget of the Wikimedia Foundation. All fund distributions to affiliates will be determined by the GCB.

The case for ratification

The Supervisory Board of Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) posted their decision to support the proposed charter.

They believe that the current state of concentrating all power in 12 WMF board members is not equitable and that "the vast majority of (WMF board) seats has always been in the hands of people from North America and Europe and attempts to change that have failed." So that ratification of the proposed charter "is a good first step" and that "it is good enough for now, safe enough to try."

The case against ratification

The WMF Board of Trustees liaisons have recommended on the Wikimedia-l mailing list and on Meta-Wiki that the board not ratify the charter, which would force another round of feedback starting with written comments that can be included in the ratification vote.

The liaisons believe that the costs and risks of the charter's current approach outweigh the value it adds to the movement and ask for concrete recommendations. Reflecting on the current state of the proposed charter, they don't understand how the purposes outlined in the draft charter actually align with the mechanisms included in it.

Others make major criticisms of the proposed charter, some of which overlap with the liaisons':

Joe Mabel, who had not yet decided on his vote, gives several reasons not to ratify. He notes that the length of members' terms have not been specified, nor are there any term limits, or even rules on extending members' terms once they've been elected. There are also no clear provisions for removing someone from the Global Council or the GCB. And "while there is lip service to diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is nothing concrete."

He also believes that the three-part ratification process does not set a high enough bar, even though three groups (individual Wikipedians, affiliates, and the WMF Board) must all ratify the proposed charter.

Darwin and Danilo.mac at the Portuguese Wikipedia say that the charter would let affiliates have a strong advantage for gaining control of the Global Council. Later Darwin told The Signpost, "In general, this Charter seems to treat onwiki communities as the underdog of the Wikimedia Movement, when in fact they are the core of the whole thing, where it all starts and where almost all Wikimedia funding comes from."

Sm8900 gives an overall negative view. "I think the Movement Charter is not a good idea. The voting process gives it the illusion of a formal new legal structure and government system. IMHO, it has the drawbacks of both a core formal government process, and an informal grassroots process, and none of the benefits of either one."

Sj (WMF Trustee from 2009 to 2015) warns that the current "draft has lots of rough edges, and yet is designed to make amendment almost impossible." He also criticizes that "It delegates a lot of power to affiliates with few checks and balances, without addressing either the potential double-counting of affiliate members in governance, or the challenge of the Affiliates as a bloc being made up primarily of small, informal user groups which were not intended to be units of governance." Sj has also drafted an alternative "Minimalist charter" that is "focusing on coordination and making specific collective decisions".

What to do now?

With such a lengthy process behind us and an ongoing lively discussion during a possible turning point in the Wikipedia movement’s governance, Wikipedians may be confused about how to vote.

It all comes down to three possibilities when you are voting. Your choices are "Yes" (to support ratification), "No" (if you don’t), or "--" (to which you can supply your own interpretation). No matter which one you choose, you can write a comment on your digital ballot which will be published after the results are known, with your name or user ID removed. These comments may be the most important result of the vote, so that the process can move forward.

Pharos, a member of the MCDC, speaking only for himself, told The Signpost that –

Each of the three voting stakeholder groups (Wikimedia Foundation, affiliates, and communities) has their own valuable perspective on advancing our shared vision of free knowledge, and naturally believes theirs is the wisest course and pace of change, and it has been the drafters' rocky path to reconcile all these.

Here is a referendum not just on this specific text, but on whether we are willing to evolve our institutions in response to a rapidly changing and challenging world – in addition to saying "yes" or "no", we urge you to take advantage of the write-in comment to express what you like and dislike, and if you support the principle but not the final product, tell us to "try again", as this unique opportunity for change will fade away without your continued voice.

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I say "No" because the following issues, from the bullet points above, need to be resolved:

That needs to be in place from the beginning. I would recommend a mediation procedure be specified, not just the creation of a "function."

Absolutely need term lengths and limits.

Without resolution in advance, this could be a source of endless headaches.

Please specify the quotas in advance and make them binding.

This is asking for trouble. The constitutional document should not be able to be modified solely by the body it governs, but only by the ratifying constituency.

As above, need firm quotas. WaikikiVice (talk) 23:48, 4 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]

The number of maximum GBC members (20, 15, …) is still open, see m:Talk:Movement_Charter#Inconsistency_about_maximum_number_of_GCB_members. Best, —DerHexer (Talk) 10:48, 5 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Further clarity around costs of this new structure is required. The WMF board has an entire legal and finical team which we spend many millions of dollars on a year. I am not seeing duplicating this being a good use of funds, but would such teams be legally permitted to advise the Global Counsel? Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 14:48, 6 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]
Duplication of legal and financial staff is not at all proposed in the charter. Of course WMF staff would be permitted to advise the Global Council, as indeed they advised heavily the MCDC in drafting the charter and making sure it met with all of the WMF's legal requirements. Pharos (talk) 16:03, 7 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]

WMF Board has voted not to ratify the charter

See mailing list, board resolution, board minutes. Only board member opposed was Mike Peel. --Andreas JN466 12:15, 11 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]


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