Submissions:2023/Surpassing RfCs: how to improve the governance of large software changes

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This submission has been accepted for WikiConference North America 2023.


Surpassing RfCs: how to improve the governance of large software changes


Equity / Inclusion / Community Health, Governance, Technology

Type of session:



Our decision-making processes for large-scale changes to wiki software perform poorly: they create unpredictability and discord, don't incorporate expertise and data well, and don't live up to our standards of inclusivity and shared power. Can we do better?

Large-scale user interface changes tend to be managed by some combination of the RfC processes of large wikis, and the WMF acting as unilateral decisionmaker. RfCs (the way they are practiced in the Wikimedia world) are a poor decision-making process for matters requiring immersion in details and expertise that most experienced editors do not possess; and the WMF monopolizing power doesn't live up to the Wikimedia movement's standards of participatory governance, erodes trust, and is vulnerable to bad organizational incentives. In other words, the status quo is broken.

Community members should have meaningful influence in the decision-making process (more than just "being consulted") so the decisions align with the movement's values and don't ignore the hard-won experience of editors in the trenches; but interested amateurs shouldn't crowd out expertise, decisions should be driven by data and experimentation, not prejudices, and change aversion should be understood and accounted for. Moreover, decisions should be predictable and avoid wasting of donor money, while giving the Wikimedia community a meaningful influence over how it is spent.

The session will consist of a short presentation on the history of regulating software changes, the problems with the present state, and the solutions proposed in the movement strategy, followed by an open discussion. My hope is that this and follow-up discussions lead to a proposal for a new governance structure, which can be included in the Movement Charter drafting process.

(About me: I have run both global and local consensus-building processes as a volunteer developer and a Wikipedia admin for over fifteen years; I worked for the WMF on one of the most controversial software changes; I was a chapter board member during the time when the WMF erased the financial independence of chapters; I worked on movement strategy. I feel I am familiar with WMF-community power struggles from both sides, and with the benefits and drawbacks of RfCs.)

Author name:

Gergő Tisza

E-mail address:

Wikimedia username:


Affiliated organization(s):

Estimated time:

60 min

Special requests:

Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?:

This is a resubmission of my upcoming Wikimania talk without any changes. I think it's an important enough topic that it would benefit from multiple conversations.

Okay to livestream?

Livestreaming is okay

If your submission is not accepted, would you be open to presenting your topic in another part of the program? (e.g. lightning talk or unconference session)


Presentation: Google Slides (Commons copy