My friend Chris, who is an occasional — but not obsessive — Wikipedian, recently noted how challenging it can be to track the various elections and so forth in the Wikipedia world. This was, I think, a very astute observation in a discussion that began around “Gamergate,” a particularly controversial case being heard by the English Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee. Much like the politics of government entities, the politics of Wikipedia can be very hard to understand, if you’re not deeply enmeshed in the relevant day-to-day activities…or even if you are! But many people — perhaps all of us — have a stake in the healthy functioning of Wikipedia, so it’s important to engage with these processes.
So, let’s look at a current example. Yesterday, an election for “stewards” began; it will be open until February 28, which gives you some time to get up to speed. Let’s take a broad look at what’s going on; in this blog post, I assume only a minimal understanding of Wikipedia and Wikimedia.
First, what is a steward? In broad strokes, a steward is charged with doing administrative work across many wikis — especially those which have very small communities. Stewards can do anything an administrator can do, and then some — on any wiki in the Wikimedia family. That means Wikipedia in hundreds of different languages, plus sites like Wikivoyage, Wikimedia Commons, etc. Look here for a more thorough explanation, plus a list of all active stewards.
Like many positions of trust in the Wikimedia world, stewards are expected above all to act with equanimity; in general, they should enforce broad consensus, and seek it out where it is not clear; they should not take bold action in the absence of consensus. In this respect, a steward is a very different kind of position from the Arbitration Committee; ArbCom is expected to take decisive action where the consensus process has not been effective. Stewards have the technical ability to act as an administrator on any wiki; but they are expected to refrain from acting as an administrator where locally elected administrators are available and capable of taking action. The purpose of having stewards is, generally speaking, to make sure that very small wiki communities don’t get overrun by spammers, or coopted by people driving an agenda rather than working toward the Wikimedia movement’s shared goals. To that end, competence in several languages is considered a very important attribute for a steward.
There are some eligibility requirements to vote. These vary from one election to another; in this case, you need to have an account on “meta wiki”; it needs to be linked to accounts on other wiki(s); and you need to have at least 600 edits across all wikis prior to November 2014, and at least 50 in the last 6 months.
With that, I encourage you to take a closer look at the election page, and read the candidate statements. And leave a note if this has helped you get better acquainted with our election processes!