keskiviikko 2. huhtikuuta 2008

Lumps and dents in the road ahead best missed.

The wikicouncil (whatever it will be) has notched up one gear, in its preparations of becoming real. Even though there is still a lot of noise and chatter about the procedural quirks of how the preliminary organ which will determine more closely the parameters of its operation is being set up, there is a qualitative difference to the positive in contrast to earlier discussion. Now people are discussing with a much greater degree of seriousness of purpose, and definition.

Still this does not mean that the sheer volume of noises off has necessarily a beneficient effect to the whole affair, even though it can be seen as inevitable. Inevitable, because Wikimedia Foundation matters, darn it!

I refuse to advise those who have been tasked with coming up with a sane recommendation for the foundations Board of Trustees for approval, on what they should adopt as a workable framework. I will make a few predictions (or rather suggestions of what to avoid) though, based on my own understanding of what cannot work.

  1. Don't go big, right away! If the council immediately on being officially instituted, is expanded to some number in the hundreds, by whatever method and form of representatitivity, it will take a long time before it can get itself organized in an effective manner, and many of those who are chosen will not have much active interest in participating in such a huge mass of people, where their voice and contribution will sink into the vastness without much trace of an effect. At best. (I refuse to give a worst case scenario, though I do think there are a few that would be much worse results from too speedy inflation of the size of the council.)
  2. Don't remain small for too long! If the preliminary council will recommend that the real council shall be at first at some size like two dozen or even less, and set hard and fast habits of work first; before commencing with plotting the method of expanding its numbers to a level of participation that can still usefully help in forming those habits of work, a very likely scenario is that the modes of habit it solidifies will be ones that will not scale to a more representative body, and it will needlessly hem itself in to forever being a body that is perhaps functional in some role, but will disenfranchise significant sections of the foundations communities from effective participation, and eventually cause friction that could have been easily averted by choosing a different route. I will add a caveat to this that it is possible to modify ways of operation while the route to participation is prepared and expanded at the same time, but there is some duplication and reduplication of effort there, having to revisit the same questions over and over again, and on the other hand the dangers of ossification of parliamentary procedures is well attested in history.
  3. Keep an ear to the ground! The easiest way to come up with something that will not be supported by anyone, and will not be able to claim any legitimacy from the community, is to present something that ignores everything and everyone else outside the tiny group of people plotting the new organ of governance. In honesty, I have zero fear that this is one of the mistakes the current group is going to make.
  4. Do not go around asking everyone what you should be doing, and try to please everyone! Have the courage to think for yourself, and stand by your convictions as a group when you have compromised amongst yourself, to defend your choices to the community at large, even where you are defending a compromise where not everything went precisely as you thought would be the best route. Internal rifts in a discussion group can be often easily mended, sometimes even very acrimonious ones (though of course it is ever better to steer discussion towards a cordial tone), those directed from outside or solicited from outside the group can be much worse. When discussing matters inside your group, never never never refer to opinion in the community at large, whether publicly or privately communicated to you, as justification for your ideas; only claim what is sensible and sane as the basis of adoption of them. "The lurkers support me in e-mail," gets very old, very fast. When you feel you have somewhere read wise suggestions, which you want to present as adoptable, do make yourself acquainted with the sense behind the suggestion to the degree that you are able to present these substantive points in your own words, so that in your internal deliberations those who feel differently can address those substantive points, and not the reputation of the source of the suggestion, or the number of people supporting the suggestion.
Okay, enough pontificating for ones initial blog-posting. I'll see if I can think of something more meaningful and useful in a constructive manner for my next one, since this one was so predominantly about the "Thou shalt nots."

Yours truely,

Jussi-Ville Heiskanen