Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009 Board elections/Domas Mituzas

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  • How did you become involved with the Wikimedia community? What contributions are you most proud of?

I started contributing with few edits back in 2003, but as I was running larger technology projects at that time than Wikipedia, I thought that this new project may need some help. Brion, Tim and Jens were all extremely welcoming, and I ended up doing more and more technology work, mostly operations engineering (keeping the site up, keeping the site fast, allowing it to grow). I'm most proud of two areas, one is purely technology changes, that allowed us to grow way beyond levels we imagined back then, and other was more of getting everyone understand what it takes for us to get where we are now. Back in early days it was stalking Jimmy until he'd sign the checks for hardware, and later working with board and developers, ensuring both operational efficiency in place, as well as getting required resources. There were certain moments, when people would forget how much running operations means for us - wide dreams are extremely attractive - but evangelizing our technology needs was my major contribution to organization at large too.

  • What do you see as the role of the Board of Trustees?

The primary role is of course oversight of foundation activities, making sure it has proper vision, goals and strategy. In rare cases Board may act as a body of organizational moral authority, suggesting better ways for community activities, outlining problems community might pay more attention to, etc. It is not there to rule the community (as foundation itself isn't in such a position). It really should not pretend to be a body of ultimate authority over everything - in a volunteer world there's no such thing. Of course, community must have an interest and share of the organization, due to how closely they are aligned and helping each other.

  • If elected, what would you bring to the board that it currently lacks?

As an incumbent, probably nothing. On the other hand, I think that leaving board without technology point of view could be quite harmful to the organization. WMF still spends half of funds on technology - hosting infrastructure, servers and of course, core development and additional initiatives. In many discussions, having immediate opinion, based on state of technology or future possibilities is way more productive, than getting staff or advisory board involved each time. As I am working at Web technology powerhouse (Sun), and as well stay in Wikimedia core technology team, I have both internal and external views of technology we are at - and that expertise is something what must exist in WMF Board of Trustees.

  • What specific goals would you have as a trustee?

Keeping the organization on track, assessing what we would like to do, what we should do and what we can do. As for a non-profit we're active in technology operations field, and I definitely want us to understand the meaning of that.

  • The Wikimedia Foundation is beginning an organized effort at strategic planning, in which the board will play a major role. What are the key elements you would like to see prioritized in Wikimedia's strategy for the coming years?

The whole concept of the strategic planning is to involve many parties quite extensively - so even if board plays major role, we'd be way more of a facilitator. Key role for a board member is to make sure, that organization is able to listen, that information gathered and decisions made can be open, transparent and enactable by the organization. We want to provide common ground for all of us to stand on, and of course, we must be involved at that.

  • What do you think the Wikimedia Foundation isn't doing that it should be? What is it doing that it shouldn't be?

Answering such questions is a matter of timing, resources and priorities. We all, board of trustees, staff, ED - try our best to make those priorities as good as possible, to operate as efficiently as possible with resources we have, and plan our actions. There're lots of things that aren't perfect now, but I don't see that Foundation should not be doing it, or should ditch it for other projects - it is just on the road of growing as an organization, that can be more capable and answer much more needs. Do note, once it comes from Board, telling what organization shouldn't do can be quite a big blow to motivation of those involved. Working for WMF is and should be very special - driven by motivation of changing the world, not just another regular job. We want people on staff to be motivated, as we want volunteers to be.

  • The English Wikipedia community is increasingly concerned with questions of project governance: who has authority to set and reshape policy, and who should?; how can a project so large, with so diverse a community, make collective decisions?; does consensus scale, or will some form of democracy be necessary to address the project's problems?; and many others. What role, if any, do you think the Board of Trustees can or should play in addressing governance and policy problems on individual projects?

Projects and communities should. Our communities are so much ahead of everything else seen, that trying to shape any policies for them could be quite deteriorating :) I do believe, that Board or foundation staff can provide suggestions, simply because by working in various issues and getting various feedback, one gets good ideas too. I still think it is up for communities to come up with how they want to manage themselves - and I think staff can involve advisory board members into discussions on how one could handle internal governance issues.

  • Wikimedia's partnerships with outside organizations--including for-profit companies like Kaltura and Orange as well as non-profits and public institutions like Mozilla Foundation and various archives and museums--have becoming increasingly prominent. What sorts of partnerships should and shouldn't the Foundation pursue?

We have been partnering with lots of for-profit companies so far - starting with internet bandwidth needs, servers, etc - but as long as it doesn't move us away from our values, it is very much worth it for both sides. It is worth for us, because we get companies assisting with our goals, it is worth for them, because they transform themselves to be way more open and engaging, and it is great learning exercise to them too. We don't want anyone to come and lock us in into proprietary solutions, we don't want to endorse any single organization without leaving room for others.

Partnering with Mozilla means that we are pioneering and pushing something we deeply believe in - open standards for the web, especially in fields that were proprietary only not so long ago. Partnering with Kaltura means that we can come up with collaborative video editing, without sacrificing anything. Kaltura covered costs of developing our video solutions. Refusing anyone who wishes to help us would not make sense. Of course, we do appreciate the help, but as well, the very first statements that we do and always should do, is explaining our values, our goals, and continue talking only if other side agrees with them, and doesn't need compromises.

I have talked to executives in web technology field, and for them it was fresh air to understand what we do. We have radical attitude to what our platform is or should be, and if we can transform the mindset of for-profit companies, thats very much worth doing too.

  • Over the last three years, the scope of the Wikimedia Foundation has expanded rapidly, with a budget growing from $3.0 million in fiscal year 2007-2008 to a planned $9.4 million in 2009-2010. What strategy should the Board of Trustees pursue in planning for future financial growth? What is your view of the current financial plan?

Our financial growth very much depends on how many people understand what we do, why we are here and what we are doing. Who ever understands it, starts contributing to us in various ways - editing, advocacy, financial contributions. By assuming, that we cannot grow further more, we would imply that there're no more people who would like us. Most of our users don't really know that we are non-profit, that we are not some fancy Silicon Valley company with huge staff earning plenty of money from ads (if they don't spot ads, it doesn't mean they don't exist, right? ;-) - and pretty much everyone who sees what we do, and how we do, is eager to support us. In this regard I'd even say that our financial plan is quite conservative.

There is always much more this organization can do, depending on availability of resources. Of course, too sudden growth can always diminish the motivation or values, so we always have to be concerned, how to do more, but how not to degrade. We want to sustain both internal and external motivation revolving around our projects.

  • What role would you like the board to play in fostering the initiation, growth and viability of local Wikimedia Chapters? What role do chapters play in your strategic vision for Wikimedia?

Board must make sure, that WMF creates an environment, where chapters can flourish and co-exist - and that involves clearly defined relations, powers and responsibilities. There have to be clear ways for financing activities both ways, there have to be clear ways to work together, with accountability on both sides. Chapters can have way better local or regional reach, much higher impact at many different activities, and have way more interesting experimental projects - whereas WMF has clear commitment to sustain and support projects directly. Chapters are way way more agile than foundation, and we should ensure that both ways to approach problems should be possible within our universe.

  • How does the Wikimedia Advisory Board fit into your strategic vision for Wikimedia? Are there any specific tasks you would ask of them as a trustee? Are there critical areas of expertise that are not represented on the Advisory Board and you think should be?

Our Advisory Board has to be seen way more as group of people, where each of them could be contacted directly at any time by our staff or board, whenever specific expertise is needed. Again, this can be quite dynamic process in the end - whenever we think that we don't have organizational competence in certain area, we can grow AB in those certain areas. At the board level we revisit this topic, based on staff input and our experience.

  • What have you done as a board member? What do you hope to do in another term, and why haven't you done it already?

Besides constant technology input, lots of that work is collective work within the board, but of course - data retention, privacy policy, year-to-year planning and budget reviews, board composition and chapter participation within it, financing of strategic projects, position on open standards and file formats, etc. I have also been Executive Secretary, recording and providing information about board meetings.

Technology will remain core part of foundation activities, and I want to ensure, that it gets proper attention within the organization and board itself - so that it firms up the position of best support organization for collaborative communities.