Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Transparency in dealing with volunteers

As many of the people who read the blog know, I have in the past been an OTRS responder. And while I have not been terribly active there of late, I do occasionally consult on tickets on request. A couple weeks ago, I was asked to consult on a ticket, only to discover that I wasn't able to log in. I assumed that I had merely forgotten my password (or even username) and told the person asking for advice that I couldn't seem to log in at the moment. The other day, though, I was looking through old mail folders and noticed that the folder I have my mail system sort notices from OTRS into stopped receiving mails on June 25th. That wouldn't have been the result of my inability to remember my password; rather, it meant that my account had been shut out of the system.

I'm not really bothered that my account was shut down. Ive made it clear that I'm not actively volunteering, and I did unsubscribe from the private otrs-en-l mailing list that I suppose is mandatory for OTRS responders (although if it is I don't recall any such policy) when I unsubscribed from all wikimedia.org mailing lists. However, the timing was suspicious: my account was shut down mere hours after I broke the Sue Gardner story (the one that prompted Erik Moeller to chide me for "spreading rumors"). So I did some quiet asking of people who I knew to be OTRS admins: was my account disabled, and if so, by whom and why? The fact that it had been shut down without notice bothered me, and the timing certainly seemed suspicious.

Unfortunately, asking around didn't get me any answer. I spoke to three different OTRS admins, none of whom could do more than tell me that my account was disabled. At this point, I emailed Michael Snow and Florence Devouard, in their respective roles of chair of the Communications Committee, which supposedly oversees OTRS, and chair of the Board. Florence got back to me quickly to tell me that my access was not removed by any Board action, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. Somewhat later, Cary Bass IMed me to explain that he had terminated my access and apologizing for not having told me. The reason he gave was my unsubscription from the mailing list, which I still don't fully accept as I did that two weeks previous (on June 11th). I still have lingering doubts about the timing; the fact that it was around an hour after I broke a major news item certainly raised the spectre of recriminations, or at least of a misbegotten belief that I had obtained my information through abuse of my OTRS access.

That my access wasn't terminated is not the issue. The issue is that I wasn't warned that it would be terminated, asked if I wanted it to be terminated, or even so much as told that it had been terminated. This failure to communicate is symptomatic of the near-total lack of transparency that permeates the Foundation. There simply is not a culture of openness within the Foundation; people are used to doing things "quietly" and simply are not in the habit of letting people know that things have been done. It's a cultural problem within the Foundation, one which has become quite deeply entrenched and is not likely to change easily. Small wonder that Erik has had such a hard time changing the Foundation's transparency practices.