User:Mike Peel/FDC thoughts

I've been serving on the FDC since September 2012. Prior to serving in this role, I was a founding trustee of Wikimedia UK from 2008 until 2013, during which time the organisation grew from a budget of £500 per year to around £1,000,000 yer year, and evolved from being entirely volunteer-led to having a sizeable staff, which has given me experience of a Wikimedia organisations at most of its growth stages. I'm also a professional astronomer, which is a role that has given me experience in how grants work in a professional setting.

This document sets out my views of what has worked well with the FDC over the last two years, and what can be improved. It also builds upon views that I have heard from other community members over the last few years.

The concept at work


I think that the concept of the FDC has worked really well in practice. The committee has been able to make solid recommendations, based on reasonable projections by the entities, about what will be in the best interests of the Wikimedia movement with regards funding the Wikimedia organisations. It has had to make some hard choices where movement entities have been moving in the wrong direction. It has had a positive impact on the way that the movement measures the outcomes from its expenditure.

I am particularly pleased to see that, through this process, the WMF has spent much more of its time and resources to ensure that the other movement organisations are effectively carrying out work for the movement, and are spending money effectively. This has particularly been the case since the WMF went through its "narrowing focus" process. This is a role that has been missing from the Wikimedia movement, and I think it's good that the WMF is taking up this role.

The move towards measured metrics that quantify the impact that the movement organisations have had, which can be partly attributed to the FDC, is also very good to see.

The name


The current name of the committee, the 'Funds Dissemination Committee', is somewhat of a misnomer. The committee does not disseminate funds; it provides two recommendations per year to the WMF board about how funds should be disseminated. I would like to see the committee renamed to something that more accurately reflects the work that it does.

Additionally, the term 'Annual Plan Grants' is also a misnomer. 'Annual Plan Allocations' would be more accurate, as the funds may be either a grant from the WMF or a limitation on the funds that can be retained by the organisation from the annual Wikimedia fundraiser.

The committee


The committee that has been set up so far has been fantastically diverse and experienced. No two FDC members are from the same country. Each brings their own viewpoints to the table, which balance each other out to give a fair decision on the submitted proposals.

I am concerned about the process of appointment for the FDC in the future. The intention is that there will be four WMF board-selected appointments later this year, followed by five community-appointed seats next year, repeating in subsequent years. This seems to me to be too many appointments by each method each year. Having the community appoint 2/3 members each year, and the WMF board then select two appointments each year, would be much more stable and would better ensure that the relevant expertise is present on the committee for each round.

The issue of Conflict of Interest needs thinking about further. I think that I've set out a good example of how to manage a COI over the last few years by recusing myself from any discussion and/or decision relating to WMUK. However, it's not obvious how to deal with this in more borderline situations - in particular, should FDC members recuse from decisions relating to their country's chapter regardless of their involvement in that chapter, and how long should a past trustee of an organisation be recusing from decisions relating to that organisation?

Another thing that needs thinking about is whether the FDC should consist entirely of people that solely volunteer their time to the Wikimedia movement. For the foreseeable future, I think that the FDC should continue to consist entirely of volunteers. However, it may not be appropriate for Wikimedia organisation staff members to be excluded from serving on the committee. Such people may bring very good perspectives to bear on the FDC process, and they shouldn't be excluded simply because they are employed by a Wikimedia organisation (so long as they recuse from decisions where they have a COI) if they bring important views to the table for discussion. It's the norm in the astronomy community for paid astronomy researchers to sit on panels that make decisions about the funding of the astronomy community, with suitable COI handling - the Wikimedia movement has the luxury to be different here and to rely on its volunteers to do this work, but it should be able to ask the question about what the ideal approach to take here is.

The entities


A large number of movement entities have successfully applied to the FDC for funding over the last two years. There are many movement entities that have not applied for funding from the FDC, though. It would be good to see the number of entities in the process increase in the future; the number of applying entities might be a good metric of the effectiveness of the FDC.

It is concerning that movement entities have had problems with the FDC proposal and reporting requirements in the past. The requirements that have been set out through the FDC process have mostly been light compared to the norm for funding applications. However, some organisations disagree with this, saying that it's easier to get funding from outside of the FDC process than within it, which is worth exploring.

The term 'Movement funding'


The FDC only provides a recommendation about how much "movement funding" should be given to each organisation. This is a horrible misnomer, as it currently relates only to the money that is raised by the movement through the Wikimedia projects. In reality, any money that is given to a movement organisation is really "movement funding", regardless of the source of that funding.

I would like to see the FDC being tasked with providing an independent assessment of the plans of all movement organisations that have a budget exceeding $100,000, regardless of the source of that funding. In effect, this would translate into the FDC assessing both the plans that an organisation has for guaranteed movement funds, and plans for raising funds from external donors. This would then be a true assessment of funds being allocated to, and requested by, movement organisations.

The proposal form


Some brief thoughts are:

  • Have staff time split into 'operational' and 'programmatic' work?
  • Revise the financial tables to provide more coherent numbers that can be better related to each other.
  • Why stop community review 2 weeks before the deliberations take place?

The proposal process


One of the issues pointed out at the Wikimedia Conference this year was that entities perceive the FDC as something that only provides cuts to budgets. One way of avoiding this might be to ask entities to propose two amounts in the future. The first would be the level that they would like to receive funding for in the next year in order to do what they want to do. The second would be a more ambitious amount that would permit them to scale their goals up to do more in the subsequent year. If the FDC then chose to fund an organisation at the first amount, or between the first and second amount, then this would be perceived much more as an endorsement and encouragement to do more.

It isn't currently clear whether there is a set of expectations of an organisation that scales depending on the size of that organisation. Expectations appear to be equivalent to all organisations regardless of their size. It might be worth making a clearer distinction between what is required of small organisations, and what is required of large organisations. This might encourage more smaller organisations to start using the FDC process.

A number of people have expressed their desire to see more feedback from the FDC about their proposals, ideally during the proposal creation processs. This is, however, difficult for the FDC, as it works by consensus rather than individual viewpoints, and it only really works effectively when the FDC is meeting in-person as it's only then that the FDC can balance its varying viewpoints. I don't know what the solution is here.

In one case, an entity asked for an extension to its FDC grant for 18 months rather than the original 12 months. This extension was handled entirely by WMF staff (keeping the FDC in the loop). I'm not sure whether this was the best approach - it might have been better to have the FDC consider the extension via the entity submitting a revised proposal/extension proposal to the relevant FDC round.

The guardrails


I'm not a fan of the guardrails, as they strike me as artificial constraints that don't necessarily have a basis in reality. They aren't backed up by any quantitative studies of what growth rates are best for organisations. The same applies to the limit on the FDC allocation budget for the next few years. I'd much rather see the FDC being able to assess the proposals, and identify the best growth rates for the organisations, without being impeded by these artificial constraints.

The fundraising process


I really don't like the centralisation of the fundraising process that has taken place over the last few years, as this strikes me as a very ineffective way of raising funds for the Wikimedia movement due to the loss of local fundraising benefits and the loss of local knowledge about what will work best for raising funds in a specific region.

I also don't like that fundraising for the Wikimedia movement happens before the proposals for the Wikimedia movement can best spend that money are evaluated. It would make a lot more sense to me if we did the evaluation first, and then asked for the funds to achieve the identified goals, since that would ensure that donations to the Wikimedia movement will be spent on worthwhile activities. The exception to this should be the continuation of fundraising for the movement reserves, though, to ensure that there are sufficient reserves to cover the movement's current commitments and to generally ensure that the Wikimedia projects can continue to exist in the long term.

See also