WikiConference UK 2012/Elections/Questions/Ashley Van Haeften

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Answers[edit | edit source]

After taking up the Chair, I have some quite big new things to worry about in my diary, from the Wikimedia Chapters Association funding proposal, through to chats with the Science Museum. A delay here in my replying to questions is not intended as a snub or a lack of interest. :-) -- (talk) 16:01, 23 April 2012 (UTC)

1. What different groups and communities are you part of?

On Wikipedia I'm a specialist generalist (or less flatteringly a butterfly) article editor and tend to avoid particular labels of wikiprojects apart from GLAM related topics. Taking up responsibility for the UK GLAM budget and programmes means that I have the opportunity to mix with related communities such as the Open Knowledge Foundation Network through to the research community within the Wellcome Trust. Apart from GLAM and the wikiprojects I do a lot of vandal management, new user welcoming and spend time in the unseen and un-thanked volunteer "back-office" helping folks with problems they email in to Wikimedia. There are small determined communities that support this gnomic work and I sometimes hang out on IRC (as Fae) as well as using the related email lists. I have become more involved in the past year or so with Wikimedia Commons and gradually find myself challenging policy and better understanding the role of the small but complex, international and often fractious community there. Since 2010 my cross-project editcount is over 90,500 with another 21,000 by bot.
In that other place that most folks call "real life", I have a social network mainly in the spheres of IT management, gay culture and the strange world of academics. I have been a long term supporter of the Hall-Carpenter archive, the largest British archive of LGBT activism from records to artefacts, and helped during a series of transitions (including lugging endless archive boxes out of the garages of gay activists) so it is now part of the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive housed by Middlesex University and Bishopsgate Library, and another section is maintained at the London School of Economics, who hold a delightful wealth of fascinating archives relating to political history. Previously I was on the committee of the British Computer Society Quality Specialist Group and retain a long term interest in the development of standards and how third party bodies negotiate and promote professional standards; one of those areas where it was hard to define the boundaries of my hobby and my profession. Due to my husband being an ancient historian, most of our holidays stay within the Roman Empire, fortunately it was extraordinarily large and most of the modern countries within it no longer imprison or execute people for being gay. We are life members of Cadw, and free access to Welsh, English and Scottish Heritage sites (we were going to Dublin but a volcano got in the way) is a boon to getting a feel for the British landscape, even though I readily confess to being a complete duffer on history and am quite likely to believe what I read on Wikipedia until my husband tells me how badly written and out of date it is :-) I remain a proud Friend of Nunhead Cemetery (hilariously the annual open day is heaving with retro Goths in their best make-up and outfits) and a Friend of the small but world class Dulwich Picture Gallery (this first British public gallery happens to be a short walk away from my home) and I would like to do more to bring local history enthusiasts (and even local Councils) into our GLAM programme as part of our mission to preserve all knowledge, including the arcane, for those of us that enjoy finding out more about the worthy, the masses and the notorious who used to live in the same streets as we do now.

2. What motivated you to stand for the board of Wikimedia UK?

(I got a bit over-enthusiastic writing about governance, I promise my other answers will be shorter.)
In 2011 I first stood based on friendly separate approaches by Joseph (a retiring director) and Andrew (the Chair at that time) who, I think, recognised that my professional management experience would be useful. My personal commitment came from a late night chat in the pub with London wikimeet regulars Johnbod and Victuallers. The three of us were major Wikipedia contributors but chapter newbies, we were fired up by having a lot of fun helping with GLAM projects, but we agreed that the chapter's number one priority should must be to become a charity and achieve a massive leap in credibility for all future GLAM partnerships, as well as making a thumping saving on tax on donations. The three of us ran in the 2011 election. John did not make it onto the board but he still went on to do a fantastic job delivering the majority of the leg-work for the charity application while Victuallers (Roger) has given us 12 months of great leadership and enthusiasm as the Chairman.
This year my primary motivation to stand again, is to realise the larger promise that good governance offers our global movement and I feel responsible to put myself forward as one of the few board candidates with the commitment, personal skills and knowledge to roll up my sleeves and get my hands deep into it. The Wikimedia Foundation has been struggling with the perception of being cast as the hard-ball governance police for chapters. After having the chance to meet and chat a couple of times with the Chair of the WMF board (Ting) and the CEO of the WMF (Sue), I know that they *really* would like some effective alternatives that can prove that the charitable donations are always going to the best possible charitable projects that meet our open knowledge mission. The UK is in an astonishingly good position on governance. A year ago we were being criticised by the management in the WMF, now everyone can see we are well ahead of the pack as the *only* chapter with consistent green lights every single month (even the well managed WMF and German chapter have some yellows). Be assured this is no accident, and has taken hard work and heartache of trustees, volunteers and staff behind the scenes. I have every possible sympathy for fellow chapters that struggle with reporting and achieving credible governance.
(I think this drifts away from the original question, so I'm de-emphasising it as something that can be skipped; however many readers may be not that well informed about these organizational changes so I think it usefully supplements my answer for those in that position. Please follow the links for independent full details about these new bodies, though you may find that even the source details may be partly draft.)
The Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) that will be established later this year, working hand in hand with the Wikimedia Chapters Association (WCA, to be launched at Wikimania) is a truly wonderful step forward for our movement to become self-governed and side-step the potential issues of chapters being defined by national boundaries. The FDC will ensure all funds, grants and activity plans are reviewed in a global context and the WCA will provide direct help for chapters to assess and plan how they can mature as organizations to manage their own funds, large projects and joint projects transparently and efficiently. The UK has the benefit of rigorous standards for accountability and ethics enforced by the Charities Commission, these external standards have been enormously helpful during our first year as a charity to plan what is important and necessary. Similar standards and advice available for all chapters can only increase public confidence that donated funds will be spent wisely around the planet with accountable and visible charitable outcomes.
The FDC is a temporary body. Only four chapters are now in a position to do their own payment processing. As one of the four, this means we in the UK benefit from the tax saving boost to our funds. It is my personal aim that by 2014 (the year that the FDC will come under review), the Wikimedia Chapters Association will have been effective enough so that any chapter that has good cause, and the desire, to do their own payment processing, has a maturity improvement plan and credible independent assessments that would make the choice theirs, rather than waiting for bureaucratic permission from a central or "parent" authority.

3. Wikiversity has been set up as a sister project to serve as a platform for Open Educational Resources. Many people feel that it is not really meeting its potential. In light of a serious commitment to education probably emerging from the WMUK Strategic Plan, please name at least one element you feel might help take things forward.

For those unaware, Leutha has been doing some great practical work with Wikiversity and is a champion of the education side of open knowledge. We have had many happy discussions in the pub, scheming on how to promote and make better use of this project. It is true that Wikiversity has not fulfilled its promise, and for a time became distracted by internal politics. We need a rallying flag to attract new users and turn this side project into a main contender.
I have suggested before that a well planned and professionally executed series of language courses would make a brilliant vehicle to promote Wikiversity globally. If I go to wikiversity:Topic:French I see a dry text course on the basics of French, which misses the opportunity to have an engaging, well illustrated course, with audio and video helping to flow you through the process. There are lessons to be learned from TEFL principles where language can be taught with almost no assumption of a base language, by relying on video and context. This would enable someone with poor or no English skills who happened to live in a Swahili spoken environment, to have a free chance of picking up life-changing basic French skills (or one of the other popular Indo-European languages in Africa such as Afrikaans, English, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish). If a team were to make such a proposal, I would be a keen supporter for funding professional quality media to make this a launchpad project to boost Wikiversity into becoming major contender on the open education scene.

4. What projects should WMUK pursue over the next five years. Where should we be in five years time? See Counterproposal for some ideas. What's your idea?

There are plenty of good ideas being punted on the counterproposal discussion. I have already chucked in my own idea of a UK wide intangible heritage initiative to help preserve knowledge about contemporary events, festivals and traditions along with video and audio material. That's pretty big, wonderfully British and delightfully local (esp. if capturing dialects and the various languages used in the UK).
Five years is a far horizon for us and rapidly becomes science fiction. I would like to see much more support of innovation, even though this brings ethical challenges of partnering with organizations with commercial interests. The Monmouth project is touching the surface of virtualizing the environment and it is not a big step to imagine much more spontaneous use of our open knowledge projects by people just looking around and finding geotagged or pattern matched information that they never expected. We should be talking with, and advising, mobile device retailers to get the most from our projects, from smart phones through to the new generation of wearable displays.
There is a lot of work going into planning, but I know that a lot more effort is needed to ensure value is added from community consultation on our long term strategic vision. We have yet to try creative scenario planning, and my attempts to push risk management as a wide community consultation exercise is the underpinning of identifying external threats to help determine the most realistic scenarios to consider. With scenarios envisioned, we can then test our how our "portfolio" of services might adapt or grow in these circumstances.
Our five year plan should not be focused on office growth or fund raising for the sake of it, these are not true strategic goals. Using organic principles we can grow breath-takingly quickly, and must avoid limiting ourselves to a hierarchical empire, but instead see this as our charity supporting a natural stage in how our open movement is realizing itself. Trustees have a duty to seek out opportunities to factor out (or in) parts of our service that would be more effective and efficient to run under the expertise of other charities. Our mission is wider than Wikimedia projects (don't tell the Foundation), and there are many other charities and not for profits in the open knowledge sector that we could partner with in interesting ways. I don't want to drop names here, it would be speculative and sensitive, but stop me in the pub with a diet coke(tm)and I'll talk through some candidates that I think are interesting and some might find challenging. I have no doubt that you can think of partners that I would find challenging too. Exciting times.

5. When Wikimedia UK submits information to the Charity Commission, a parliamentary committee, or another public authority, is it more important to present Wikimedia in a positive light or to answer questions as accurately and completely as possible even when this might cast WMUK, Wikipedia or the individual answering the questions in a negative light?
& 6. If Wikimedia UK submits information to the Charity Commission, a parliamentary committee, or another public authority, and that information subsequently turns out to be inaccurate, incomplete or liable to be interpreted in a manner that places Wikimedia in an overly positive light then what action should WMUK take?

Hi Peter, your soapboxing questions are a bit obvious. I hope sometime soon you will be able to rejoin us and make positive contributions within our GLAM programme.
Yes, being accurate is the important thing and making corrections if we make everyday human errors; it is often better to say less rather than say something which may be hard to verify. Please keep in mind the constraints of the audience, launching into a detailed technical 20 minute diatribe about all the faults and flaws of Wikimedia projects, the UK charity or the Foundation to the press, or for a regulatory body who are only interested in certain aspects of what we do, is not always the best way to use our valuable interview time, or the most appropriate way to meet our charitable mission.
For those that may be unaware of our new governance policies, I personally pushed for our Whistle-blowing Policy to be extended to ensure anyone who felt they had important complaints to raise had an independent and confidential process, that records the issues and ensures prompt action. These procedures have already been applied in practice and I firmly encourage anyone with a complaint to use them, including complaints about our staff, our organization or complaints about the ethical behaviour of trustees. Our policy goes beyond the basic requirements of the Charity Commission or common charity best practice. We are fully committed to seeking out improvement opportunities, assuring ethical behaviour by staff and trustees, and sticking to an open-book policy, given the obvious limitations of personal confidentiality or legal requirements.

7. As the elected representatives will be charity trustees, have they read and understood the legal requirements and obligations of being a charity trustee and have the current trustees brought these obligations to your attention?

The process is being improved, and I discussed this point during my PQASSO/quality plan review with our expert (Peter Williams) and our CEO Jon Davies earlier this week. Three things that are going to happen to ensure that trustees are committed to goals of the charity and fully aware of their duties and legal obligations:
  1. All trustees will be required to sign the Trustee Code of Conduct once elected. Though this is, to my mind, non-controversial in content, I would personally recommend any candidate to take time to read and carefully reflect on it. It is in final review, so if you would like to make simple recommendations for improvement to the code, now is a good time.
  2. All trustees will be strongly encouraged to attend standard charity trustee training within a few weeks of taking their position. Earlier this year I attended a one day course supplied by the charity Community Action Southwark, it cost just fifteen pounds for the day and was tailored for any charity trustee to understand their duties and obligations. Having a chance to speak with a range of other local charities was very helpful for me to understand common best practise for trustees. Even when trustees have been previously trained, it is a jolly good idea to go to refresher courses due to Charity Commission improvement to guidelines and on-going legal changes with regard to the interpretation of Trustee responsibilities (such as the greater expectations of liability in certain areas such as finance or legal matters if the trustee has special professional experience).
  3. All trustees will be expected to attend the special induction workshop that will be part of the first scheduled board meeting weekend on 16-17 June. Last year our strategy weekend held in June was fantastic for team building, reaching a group view on the Charity Commission requirements, deciding how best to collaborate and communicate with each other, and helped the trustees create our short statement of values and mission.
By the way 77.100.19.115, with regard to your edit comment, I support the essay HUMAN. So long as anonymity of this type is not being disruptively used to by-pass a block or ban rather than dealing with behavioural problems directly. As a trustee I had no choice but to compromise my anonymity, I do not expect that to apply to our contributors or wider community, and have high regard for those that deal with difficult topics and may rely on anonymity to avoid personal harassment. Please be aware that your anonymity is better protected by having an account rather than using a traceable IP address.

8. The vast majority of Wikimedia UK's activities are undertaken by volunteers, who are the lifeblood of the organisation. How do you think you, as an individual trustee, and the board as a whole can better support those volunteers, especially those who live some distance from the chapter's headquarters in London?
& 9. Given that volunteers conduct so much of the charity's work, perhaps even fulfilling roles that would be fulfilled by paid staff in other organisations, what role do you feel trustees should play in ensuring that, as Wikimedia UK professionalises and its staff expands, volunteers remain at the heart of the charity's activities and actively participate in the running of the organisation?

Hey, trustees are unpaid volunteers just like everyone else! You might have noticed that 5 out of 7 trustees live outside of London, so we are acutely aware that London is not the be all and end all. When establishing an office we consulted widely and looked hard at all the alternatives, the strongest probably being Bristol (mostly thanks to Steve Virgin putting up a strong argument), however on balance London remains an ideal hub for the majority of our community. I am up for secondary locations and we had offers of free space in Bristol and Milton Keynes that we can take up for local project support. Part of the job descriptions I helped negotiate for our staff includes the requirement to support locations across Britain, and they are all personally interested in travelling more as part of their role. Policy changes can help, and I firmly proposed and persisted with getting per diem payments in place for volunteers, to make it easier for those on fixed incomes to travel and support events. I hope that you have found this a simpler system as an ambassador on our network.
Harry, you are aware of my complete commitment to seeing Scotland and Wales thrive independently of England (and in the future Ireland and maybe my home country, Cornwall :-) ). I remain disappointed that our community in Scotland is, frankly, limping along. As well as honest discussions and plotting our strategy with key advocates (such as Brian in Edinburgh), I take every opportunity to play the record of diversity and regional support at every board meeting and every event. In comparison, Wales is doing well mainly due to John Cummings' fabulous work with Monmouth Council along with support from committed folks such as Roger Bamkin and Robin Owain. I am fully aware that Monmouth is not Wales and is not the best place to start engaging with the Welsh language, but you cannot doubt the passion of those living in the West have for expanding across Wales. Expansion in any region comes down to one person at a time making a difference, growing their local community and persisting with Wikimeets even when attendance seems slow to start at the beginning.
I have pressed the flesh in Edinburgh to support Scotland wikimeets and negotiated some early partnerships that have yet to be realized, and would have done more in York had my physical abilities at the time been more reliable. Being the ambassador in various ways is an important part of being a trustee of our charity, and I fully expect trustees to regularly attend Wikimeets and events to be seen, engage and support our community. At the same time, trustees are human, the role of Ambassador does not work well for everyone, and we want a range of trustees on the board with varied skills and who may unfortunately have limitations on mobility, for example, due to professional commitments or health reasons. The most effective ambassadors may well be off the board (in fact I hope that becomes a feature of the coming year), I don't see that as a problem. I have encouraged the board to consider how reasonable day to day budget responsibilities can be delegated to volunteers taking up project roles rather than continuing to rely so heavily on trustees to make these decisions. Personally, I would have little problem with established and trusted volunteers such as yourself having responsibility and authority to make commitments on enough money to decide how your local network of volunteers can be supported by our events budget under the umbrella of our Activities Plan and general policies. I do not want to be spending any more time making the call on whether we can pay £100 for sandwiches at a GLAM event when you understand the budget constraints and what represents value for our charitable funds. I am in the process of re-inventing the GLAM Task Force, these sorts of sub-committees are an effective delegation mechanism for many charities and whether I get re-elected as a trustee or not, this is a topic I will take up at a GLAM social networking event that Daria and I are plotting right now.

10. While I have the utmost respect for our four current staff, only one had an extensive background as a Wikimedian before being employed by the chapter. How important do you think it is that Wikimedia UK seeks to recruit from within the Wikimedia community, and should it try harder to recruit staff who are Wikimedians as it expands?

Here's my personal commitment - I will always give serious bonus points during recruitment to members of our community in good standing. It's not bias, it is common sense and a critical success factor for our charity. Like you, I feel very strongly on this issue and want to see profound understanding of our community and our movement integrated into our permanent staff.
Now, as this is between you and me, let's get real. We (the current board) tried gawd-damn ruddy hard to recruit from within our community for the 4 staff positions we now have. I myself ran for the role of Chief Executive, though I understand the advice we had from WM-DE seriously put the recruitment panel off selecting from within the community and they did the right thing to take such advice. Coincidentally I have sat on all recruitment panels since (mainly as I'm in London), and been part of every other final decision for job offers going out. In every case there was no doubt that we had the balance right, absolutely chose the right person, and I just wish more members of our community applied for these jobs.
With the Office Manager role, the board had long serious and heated discussions and made it a key consideration that Jon needed to be supported not just by someone professionally competent, but a very experienced Wikimedian as the first member of his staff. Of the final six candidates that Jon and I interviewed, two were leading members of our community and one of them was offered the job (and Richard has turned out to be totally excellent, I wish we had his interview on video, not only is he a lovely bloke but if they could see that interview, nobody could doubt his comprehension of our movement or complete personal commitment to our ideals). Of the 343 applications, only a disappointing handful were Wikimedians. We have improved our focus of advertising and the recruitment processes but even when our community allows us to use geonotices, the response is awfully weak in terms of numbers of established Wikimedians applying for these jobs. If you have some smart ideas on how to improve that response, please write to me or Jon, as we want and need to do better.

11. What role do you think Wikimedia UK could play in ensuring that Wikipedia's articles about living people are kept accurate and free of malice?

Our role is probably most effective in advocacy, outreach and education. Wikimedia UK does not control Wikipedia, but we do represent a significant body of volunteers active on Wikipedia who are eager to discuss improvements and the future of the project. WMUK events, such as conferences, training sessions and edit-a-thons, are ideal for promoting best practice and we are a de-facto voice and face for the press to engage with in the UK.
Any time there is a bit of a fuss in the UK press about a celebrity unhappy with their Wikipedia article, this is an opportunity to explain how Wikipedia can work well, and honestly explain to the public the areas that need improvement too. Some policies such as WP:BLPPRIVACY are just not widely understood as being available, this is an educational area that we do help with.

12. What are your views on having an optional image filter installed on Wikimedia projects, to enable users to opt out of seeing images they feel are inappropriate?

Your question is about personal opinion, which I'm happy to share, I can assure you that the current trustees have varied views and my opinions are not so strongly held that I cannot be swayed by grown-up debate or community consensus on these matters.
I support image filters being available for people to install if they wish. In the context of, say, a concerned parent, it makes more sense to me for such a filter to be generic to the browser rather than just Wikimedia projects.
I would support better warnings for media that the majority of viewers would consider "not safe for work" on Commons. This may be as simple as the use of a template that moved the image to be lower down the image page and so viewers had plenty of time to realize that this particular image had graphic violent or sexual content and they then had to make a conscious choice to scroll down the page to see more. Commons has weak policies with regard to naming, so often the file name may not be clear that an image has nudity or violence in it.
I remain concerned that image filters may be mandated and forced on users of our projects in some countries or by some authorities. I would also be concerned that perfectly valid education media is likely to be filtered unless the filter was highly specific.
I am against the Wikimedia Foundation making an image filter a standard part of the projects or interface, due to serious potential for mandated or forced use for potential censorship. Some authorities do this already, the Wikimedia Foundation needs to be cautious not to directly facilitate such controls.

13. With the current concerns over adult content appearing unfiltered on Wikimedia projects, how would you advise UK schools and youth groups to handle access to Wikimedia sites?

Most people are unaware of projects such as http://schools-wikipedia.org (Wikipedia Selection for schools) which as it can be pressed to a DVD, is pretty much ideal as an educational resource for computers not connected to the internet. In general, most of the "Junior" Wikipedia projects (not just English) are looking rather dated and revisiting this area might be an interesting part of education sector outreach for WMUK to consider sponsoring.
When suitable optional filters become available (as above) then I would encourage schools and youth groups to review if these might be an effective precaution for them. I am no expert in this area and as a trustee, I would want to seek feedback from these institutions as to their expectations, advice and their current best practices.
In the age when every youth has a smart phone and is able to access anything on the internet, I believe it is far more useful to educate young people as to sensible and cautious internet use. WMUK does have a role in helping this aspect of advising how young people can use and contribute to Wikimedia projects safely. In practice, simple steps like welcoming apparently young users with helpful information such as User:Fae/help/young ought to be strongly encouraged.

14. Do you agree with the Wikimedia Foundation board that processes for ascertaining model consent for images taken in private situations need to be improved, and if so, what (if any) role do you think Wikimedia UK should play in this?

I do agree with the Foundation board's wmf:Resolution:Images of identifiable people. I think you are primarily referring to Wikimedia Commons as you have been lobbying so long and hard on this one, in multiple forums. The Commons community has a real problem balancing Censorship with Photographs of identifiable people and at the moment, as a Commonist myself, I believe we are failing to meet the common sense WMF board resolution by treating requests for deletion by photographers and models in a hostile and legalistic defensive manner rather than with respect and kindness.
When I was sketching out the first budget underpinning the 2012 Activity Plan, I had a line that included "Commons maturity workshop", it is still in there, just harder to see. It is my intention to coordinate one or more workshops focused on how this critically important international project can be ratcheted up the maturity scale, so that we have appropriate transparency of process, governance and appeal mechanisms and accountability to widely accepted WMF board resolutions and policies of :meta. Considering there are over 10,000,000 media files hosted on commons, the fact that we have fewer than 150 active administrators and just 7 Bureaucrats shows one of the reasons that the community sometimes appears unstable. If through outreach events such the future Wiki Loves Monuments, WMUK can attract more established Wikimedians to consider putting themselves forward as a Commons administrator, this can only be to the good of the project.

15. Would the candidates agree that in this election and elections generally that a high "turnout" of voting members is necessary to give credibility to the final outcome/result and that the most worthy candidates are chosen? Are the candidates aware of what % are usually encountered in WikiMedia elections for board members?

Hello, Ravinglooney, your question is quite non-controversial, so it seems a shame that someone would set up a single use account to ask it.
Yes, a high number of people voting would be great, and this must be an ongoing target for our Communications plan to address all members. A higher number would give more credibility to the process. As for "worthy", I'm less sure. If rather than 100 voters we had 10,000, you can imagine that the successful candidates would tend to be smooth politicians able to convince the general public of their key message in an elevator pitch and those community leaders with a grand vision and enthusiasm might find it hard to get a look-in if their comms skills were not up to snuff. Oh, as for the numbers, don't worry, these have been reviewed in excruciating detail in board meetings, as will the implications of turn out from this election in order to drive improvement. By the way, "smooth politician" would tend to exclude someone with strong opinions on Wikimedia projects, hopefully some of you have argued the toss and disagree with me on some project issues; personally I would like to see a diverse set of people with all sorts of opinions on the board as a way better to represent the wider community that supports and benefits from our charity, it may not be smooth or easy but it fits our values.
The whole area of what membership is for, what the benefits are, and our election process needs revisiting and rethinking. Some folks are almost certain to sign up for membership as a way of donating five quid and feeling good about giving, it is not a surprise that they might not be that interested in voting in our elections. One of my criticisms of using membership as a metric for growth, is that the number is arbitrary. It would be easy to double, quadruple or octuple our membership during the fund raiser, but this does not by itself provide better communication or engagement with our community.
Let's make a firm commitment. Before the end of the year, we need to re-visit the hustings and election process, along with the constitutional requirements. Becoming a charity and our impressive growth this year means that the processes we have are no longer fit for purpose, and may represent unnecessary risk. I would like to see serious improvement and for this to be in place before the next AGM. I would like to see a realistic and robust system that can cater for thousands of members rather than being designed to be limited to hundreds.