Editor's note: In December, the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees voted to remove one of their own, community-elected trustee James Heilman (Doc James). Since that time, the exact reasons for the dismissal have been a matter of community debate and even public debate amongst members of the Board themselves about the few details that have been revealed. Heilman has previously spoken out on the matter of transparency and his dismissal in a previous Signpost op-ed.
This timeline is being published in response to the following statement made by the Board in early Jan 2016 at Jimmy Wales' request:
||The removal of James as a board member was not due to any disagreement about public discussion of our long term strategy. The board unanimously supports public discussion of our long term strategy, has offered no objections to any board member discussing long term strategy with the community at any time, and strongly supports that the Wikimedia Foundation should develop long term strategy in consultation with the community.
Jimmy Wales tried to build a search engine, Wikia Search, without success.
- Apr 30, 2015
The Search and Discovery team came into existence with eleven members.
- May 30, 2015
Risker commented on this very well supported team.
- Jun 5, 2015
I was selected by the community for a position on the board.
- Sept 1, 2015
The Knight Foundation grant was awarded for “stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet."
- Early Oct
The Knight Foundation grant was presented to the board, after which I requested further documents surrounding the grant. They were eventually provided after some resistance from other board members and the executive director, Lila Tretikov.
- Oct 7, 2015
My email to the board about my concerns regarding this grant:
We are at 6 days since being notified of the Knight Foundation grant. I at this point strongly oppose its acceptance. There are too many issues:
1) We are "selling" the Knight Foundation a search engine with passages like "the foundation and its staff have a track record of success and a strong vision of what a search engine can do when it has the right principles, and the right people, firmly behind it." (Aug 2015) Plus we do not have success at building a "search engine".
2) What the WMF board was sold in Mexico was "the largest free open knowledge source". (June 2015 doc) A knowledge source is not a search engine. "Source" means creating / curating content.
3) Lila states we are not building a search engine as of two days ago per chat. A few board members understood we were maybe doing this after Mexico. Others did not. I do not think we as the board have a clear idea of what 10% of our engineering resources are being spent on (ie what exact the discovery team led by Wes Moran is doing).
4) There is a serious lack of transparency around this new "sister project". This has not been discussed with our communities as far as I am aware. Please correct me if I am wrong. As such it has the potential to worsen WMF / community relations. Starting a new sister site without community discussion is not the wiki way.
There are more issues but this is the start. We need to request more documents surrounding this topic as it maybe a bigger issue than simply refusing a grant.
- Mid-Oct, 2015
I emailed the board list offering to write up an overview of these ideas for the Signpost, which was met with negative comments by some board members.
- Nov 7, 2015
The board approved the Knight Foundation grant. I supported its approval following pressure which included comments about potentially removing members of the Board. Assurances were provided that the Knight Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation were on the same page regarding the grant.
- Dec 28, 2015
My removal from the board.
- Jan 6, 2016
Publication of the press release about the grant.
- Jan 8, 2016
Request for release of the grant application and statement by Wales that he will look into it.
- Jan 21, 2016
As the request for release of the grant application was not replied to, the request was repeated.
- Jan 25, 2016
Archiving of the page per Wales' request without the question being answered.
- Jan 29, 2016
Release of further details by Tretikov with the statement that the grant paperwork could not be released due to “donor privacy”
So yes, the majority of the board and I clashed, and yes it was partly about our strategy and whether or not the community should be made aware and involved in these discussions. While the board prefers I not release this information, in the face of contradictory statements, I intend to let the facts speak for themselves.
James Heilman is a Canadian emergency room physician, a founder of Wikimedia Canada and the Wiki Project Med Foundation, and a former member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees.
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