Community Consultation on the Future of Global Voices

Photo taken by Jer Clarke at the 2017 Global Voices Summit. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Global Voices has reached a crossroads as an organization: Changes within our community, the world around us and the technologies we use have caused shifts, and in some cases misalignments, in our values, goals, and outputs. To move forward, we must reassert our mission and redefine our strategy and goals.

The Global Voices core team and board feel strongly that we need a consultative process that ensures our community members can participate meaningfully in shaping the future of Global Voices.

Our community has become too large for community-wide discussions over email or messaging platforms to be successful. We need to build a deliberative body that can debate complex strategic questions and discuss issues that affect the whole community.

We have decided to form a Community Council, a temporary group convened for the purpose of advising on our future. Council members will express their preferences and opinions on four substantial questions about our values, how we organize ourselves, how we work, and how we find resources.

Consultation Schedule

Below is the final daily schedule for each consultation question. See the Activities and Timeline section below for a broader overview of the process. Click to know when is the video call in your time-zone. 

First Question: Topics and (Editorial) Focus

  • 09/10: Present First Question: Topics and (Editorial) Focus
  • 09/13: Video Call #1 – 3 pm GMT
  • 09/15: Video Call #2 – 1 pm GMT
  • 09/17: Poll Opens
  • 09/21: Poll Ends

Second Question: Amateur/Professional Spectrum

  • 09/24: Present Second Question
  • 09/27: Video Call #1 – 3 pm GMT
  • 09/29: Video Call #2 – 1 pm GMT
  • 10/01: Poll Opens
  • 10/07: Poll Ends (7am GMT)

Third Question: Organizational Structure

  • 10/08: Present Third Question
  • 10/11: Video Call #1 – 3 pm GMT
  • 10/13: Video Call #2 – 1 pm GMT
  • 10/15: Poll Opens
  • 10/21: Poll Ends (7am GMT)

Fourth Question: Funding Sources

  • 10/22: Present Fourth Question
  • 10/25: Video Call #1 – 3 pm GMT
  • 10/27: Video Call #2 – 1 pm GMT
  • 10/29: Poll Opens
  • 11/04: Poll Ends (7am GMT)

A model for community participation

The Council will play a consultative role in the decision-making process led by the board and core team. Council members will advise, share ideas and knowledge and express opinions on these key issues on a mailing list, group video calls, and structured opinion polls. After consulting and debating on each of these issues, the Council will express its views on a participatory polling platform called D21, which will allow us to see a nuanced breakdown of results.

Any community member who qualifies for membership and agrees to actively participate in deliberations may join the Council by filling in the Community Council application.

What issues are at stake?

Over the course of 2017, the core team worked to develop a strategic plan for the future of Global Voices (see Appendix 1). This process helped us identify a misalignment between our current mission and goals and the shape of some of our projects.

To develop and implement a new mission and strategy we may need to reshape some of our activities and projects. We have many ideas for activities, and a deliberative process will help us understand what we need to prioritize.

Here are four major questions the core team has identified, and that we wish to bring to the Council:

  1. For organization-wide decisions (in contrast to those that affect only one regional or language team) decision-making authority rests with the core team of Global Voices. Should we decentralize decision-making and governance, or centralize it further?
  2. We cover a broad range of issues in our stories. This allows volunteers to write about a wide variety of topics, but it also creates greater demands for editors. Should we maintain this breath of coverage? Or should we seek to narrow our focus and cover certain issues in greater depth?
  3. We are a highly inclusive community. This means that we train and mentor relatively inexperienced writers who share our values and wish to participate. This allows us to maintain an extremely diverse community, but it also limits our time and capacity to produce high-quality stories and advocacy campaigns. Should we maintain this level of inclusiveness? Or should we prioritize contributors with specialized skills and expertise in our areas of interest?
  4. Global Voices is supported mostly by non-governmental grant-making institutions. On principle, we have never accepted direct support from government institutions, and very early moved away from the possibility of advertising revenue. Relying primarily on private foundation funding has become an increasingly difficult model to sustain, given the frequent shifting of strategic priorities from our foundation supporters. Should we change our approach to fundraising so that we are able to support our work to the fullest extent possible?

Who can participate in the Council?

We are aiming for broad participation from the community in the Council. Any person who falls into one or more of the following categories may participate:

  • Contributors who have been part of the GV community for at least three months and have published a post or translation in the past five years qualify for Council membership. This includes participants in campaigns, collaborative posts such as the Netizen Report, and Rising Voices microgrant project leads
  • All core team members, board members, newsroom editors, translation managers, and other contractors, qualify for membership
  • Inactive contributors, editors, translation managers, other contractors and community members who participated more than five years ago are also encouraged to apply
  • All council members must be in good standing with regard to Global Voices’ Community Ethics and Harassment Policy

What tasks will Council members be required to do?

Council members will work together from September through December 2018, sharing ideas, knowledge and aspirations about the future of GV and our field. Specifically, they will:

  • Receive and respond to communications about the consultation, including email, lists and channels, and social media groups
  • Read and reflect on proposals for Global Voices values, mission, strategy, and activities, in the form of issue papers and blog posts
  • Join group discussion on designated communication platforms, and participate in online town hall-style conversations
  • Participate in polls about the future of Global Voices
  • Council members will also be encouraged to speak with and listen to the ideas and concerns of other community members who are not part of the council

What are the terms of Council membership?

Council members must:

 

Activities and timeline

July 30 – August 30: Consultation announcement and application for membership

  • We will announce the plan to create a council and use the month of August 2018 to discuss and generate community interest in the idea, through emails, blog posts, and one-on-one conversations. All those who wish to join the council will need to submit an application by August 30, 2018.

September 5: Form and announce the Council

  • The Council members will be announced to the community and presented on the Community Blog.

September-October: Learn about the issues, discuss them and participate in polls

  • We are facing big questions about how to evolve as we move forward, ranging from our funding sources to our governance model, to our editorial focus. The core team will share a series of “issue papers”, each addressing one of the four key questions that the council will debate. Each issue paper will describe the history, present context, options for direction, and the consequences of each option.
  • The Council will deliberate on four separate questions, allowing two weeks for deliberation on each question. During deliberation periods, council members will be encouraged to talk with GV editors, core team, board members and other council members on email and video calls to gather insight and learn the perspectives of others.
  • After we have had a chance to learn about and discuss each issue, Council members will voice their preferences on the D21 platform. D21 combines innovative tools including multiple option votes, “minus” votes for options you disfavor, instant visualization of results, and the ability to explore results through pattern analysis.

November 3 – December 1: Poll results evaluated

  • The results of our deliberation on D21 will guide the core team in formulating a strategic plan for GV’s future. We will present it to the board for feedback and further development in mid-November.

End of December: Recommendations delivered

  • The Core team will present to the Council a set of final recommendations and a roadmap for their implementation.

Appendix 1: Strategy and Planning 2017-2018

The Global Voices strategy process had five main consultative components in 2017-2018:

1) Community survey. We created a comprehensive survey about Global Voices’ mission, vision, projects, strengths, and challenges and circulated it community-wide. More than 200 people had completed it by November 2017, and more than 50 people opted to have a one-on-one conversation with a peer while answering survey questions. This process focused on all respondents as community members, regardless of how they might participate—as writers, translators, editors, core team, or board members.

2) Section strategy. In mid-2017 each section (Newsroom, Lingua, Rising Voices, and Advox) was assigned the task of responding to prompts about their work in the format: History, Complication, Question, Answer. Section heads were to consult with their teams and sub-communities, and then use that input to create a vision document. These documents fed into a draft strategic plan for the organization, which was later shared with the board.

3) Summit. At the Colombo Summit, we conducted a series of exercises designed to elicit opinions, to help us understand if we have consensus on mission, values, and future ideas. A post-Summit questionnaire captured the experiences and reflections of Summit participants, and we shared both blog posts and a Google Drive notebook with extensive reporting on the outcomes of individual Summit sessions and meetings.

4) Board meeting. The board, including community/staff representatives, provided analysis and feedback on our draft strategic plan at the Colombo Summit, critiquing the plan from the perspective of the field and Global Voices’ position in the field.

5) Mexico City retreat. In March 2018 the core team distilled the learning and suggestions from these processes. The editors gave individual and collective input on the activities and focus of the Newsroom. A subset of editors wrote a letter expressing their desires and concerns regarding compensation, financial transparency and the perception of misalignment of our mission with our activities. The results of a questionnaire produced by this subset and eventually completed by 12 editors were compiled and sent to the core team. While in Mexico, the core team discussed these concerns on a call with the majority of the editors. As a follow-up, we now hold regular calls and larger group conversations and shared pertinent documents.

These processes, described above, gave us several results.

  • Values: Our current primary values, summarized as equity of access to voice and listening on an open internet for all, focus too much on openness, and not enough on fundamental rights and systems that protect these rights in the interest of safe and equitable participation in society. We want listening and equity to be at the center of our mission. We want this to be reflected in our activities and our outputs, and in how we work together as a community. Our activities may need to change in order to accommodate this shift in focus.
  • Mission: We have many calls for a new mission statement, but do not have a consensus on what that should be. Some want a more tightly bounded statement, while others want a more open statement that might support a broader range of activities, potentially in a decentralized structure.
  • Priorities: To implement any new mission and strategy we may need to reshape some of our activities and projects. We have many ideas for activities and need a deliberative process to understand what we want to prioritize.
  • Alignment: Aligning funding, values, mission, activities and community incentives for participation is our goal for the next step of our strategy process.
  • Structure: We have begun discussing models for an alternative Global Voices structure. These models include, but are not limited to, variations on professionalization, decentralization, narrowing of focus, and networks of partners.

Appendix 2: GV Decision-Making

In the past we made decisions about our direction in the spirit of rough consensus, meaning that we define the sense of the group, or dominant view, achieved through discussion of the options and issues at stake. This has been true for big issues that touch on the values, mission and fundamental activities of Global Voices, as well as for many of our projects.

When choosing activities, we have often looked at energy and interest coming out of our networks, and we tested ideas with the community to gauge interest and receive feedback.

Some of our work and projects—including Lingua and Advox—emerged organically out of the broad Global Voices network.

Other Global Voices projects, such as the Newsroom, Rising Voices and NewsFrames, grew out of perceived gaps or needs in participation, and our ability to attract resources to support them. They began first as projects that we pitched to donors and then sought to attract contributors.

We have employed rough consensus decision-making around several key inflection points in our history. Here are two examples:

The advertising question

In 2010-2011 we explored the idea of accepting advertising revenue. A robust discussion on the community group list, however, showed that a vocal group of GVers felt that any advertising on the site was contrary to our values and at odds with our goals. While more people actually supported advertising, we were unable to achieve rough consensus and therefore did not pursue advertising as a source of revenue.

This decision restricted a potentially significant source of revenue, which meant that we needed to focus instead on other revenue models, such as support from foundations and other charitable donations, and mission-related services. On the other hand, it meant that we were not focusing on producing stories of interest to advertisers or dependent on web traffic metrics.

Can we have a voice? The creation of The Bridge

After a deep, dynamic debate that began at the 2012 Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, we made the decision to allow original essays and writing on Global Voices. Before that time, all Global Voices stories summarized and amplified the writing and thinking of others. We allowed original writing on the site because of the decline in blogging culture, and the rough consensus that GV community members had powerful insights and experiences to share, and that they could do in their own voices. This took Global Voices beyond its original objective, which was to explain and contextualize the ideas and voices of others.


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