Speaking as a (very) longtime member of this mailing list, and one who is
carefully observing it for a few years now as a volunteer list

On Wed, May 15, 2019 at 3:56 AM Joseph Seddon <jsed...@wikimedia.org> wrote:

> I, like many others, wish to see this list become a crucible of good
> suggestions, healthy and critical debate about ideas and as a sound
> mechanism for oversight and account . A huge amount of staff time and
> movement resources is taken up by the consumption of its content. And yet
> it remains the greatest shame that much of the best most worthwhile
> constructive discussions have moved to platforms like Facebook because this
> list is viewed as hosting such an unhealthy atmosphere when emails are
> written with such overt passive aggression.
> I call it out because if we want people to participate on this list, the
> unhealthy way in which this list gets treated by some of its most active
> participants needs to be dealt with. Otherwise valid points will not get
> acknowledged or answered.

I am not sure the causality here runs in the direction you describe.  It's
true that this list had some aggressive, even vulgar participants in the
past, and that some senior staff members, as well as board members, have
left the list in protest.  Personally, I think that was a mistake on their
part: to improve the list atmosphere, you model good behavior yourself, and
you call upon the rest of the list -- the "silent majority" -- to call out
bad behavior and enforce some participation standards (as, indeed, I and my
co-moderators have been doing since we took over).

By senior people's departing this list, and no longer requiring staff to be
on this list, a strong signal was sent that this is not a venue crucial to
listen to, and that, coupled with the decreasing frequency of WMF responses
to legitimate volunteer inquiries and suggestions, had a *powerful*
chilling effect on the willingness of most volunteers to engage here.
Especially when, as you say, they were able to get better engagement on
Facebook and other channels, despite the serious shortcomings of
accountability on those channels (immutable archiving, searchability,
access to anonymous volunteers, etc.)

Yes, this list has also seen some pseudonymous critics whose questions may
have been inconvenient or troublesome to address.  Yet I think the
accountable thing to do would have been to respond, however briefly, to
prevent the sealioning and sanctimonious posts that filled the list -- and,
I am sure, greatly annoyed and demotivated many subscribers.  Even a
response stating WMF chooses not to respond to a certain question, or not
to dig up certain data, would have been better than the stony silence that
has become the all-too-common stance for WMF on this list.

As you know, I also work for WMF (though I am writing this in my volunteer
capacity, and out of my care for the well-being of this list).  While I
have never shied away from responding on this list, I have on occasion been
scolded (internally) for attempting to answer volunteer queries to the best
of my knowledge, for "outstepping my remit" or interfering in someone
else's remit.  I have taken this to heart, and accordingly no longer try to
respond to queries such as Fae's (which in this case I find a perfectly
reasonable question, meriting an answer).  Several past attempts by me to
ping appropriate senior staff on questions on this list (or on talk pages)
have also met with rebuke, so I have ceased those as well.

For these reasons I do not accept this wholesale blaming of this list's
subscribers on the difficulty having meaningful conversations here:

But if we want to see staff members more actively
> participating here then those long standing individuals need to really
> thing about the tone in which they engage here, particularly those who do
> so most often. If that does not change, this list will continue to languish
> and those few staff members who continue to engage here will slowly
> disappear. This now increasingly perennial topic keeps coming up and my
> fear is that it will on go away through the increasing abandonment this
> list faces.

It is WMF that is not behaving collaboratively here.  And it is within
WMF's power to change it.  C-levels, the ED, and other managers at WMF
could all decide to participate more actively in this list; to respond to
questions or delegate the answering to their subordinates, who are awaiting
their cue; and indeed, they could themselves make more use of this list as
a sounding board, a consultation room, and a reserve of experience and
diverse context.  They can be the change they (and you, and me) would like
to see.

Perhaps this e-mail could convince some of them.  And if not my words, then
perhaps those of some of the other list subscribers.

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