Wikimedia Foundation elections/Board elections/2013/Questions/3
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The quality requirements are different in the various wikis. Some have very few requirements at the time, some others - e.g. de:WP - whose criterias (relevance) have already been set so high that it is often not possible for newcomers to partizipate. Almost every day, we lose more actual authors that we win new ones. You can not operate a constantly growing project with the same number of volunteers, if you expect article work in addition to administrative work. While the administrative burden is steadily increasing.
We have already today - and certainly much more in the future - due to an almost monopolistic position, a much greater social responsibility, which probably goes well beyond the current service character as an encyclopedia. Even there, were it seems to work very well we must find new ways.
Can you imagine that the Wikimedia Foundation also supports regionally operating wikis to foster a substantive as well as not yet locked personnel potential? And promoting such projects financially and through technical assistance and perhaps even integrated as part of the official Wikimedia system?
We would like to emphasize that we do not understand such a project as a competitor to Wikipedia, but as a supplement, the basics of Wikipedia and free knowledge must always be respected! --Hubertl (talk) 19:54, 27 May 2013 (UTC) --additional Karl Gruber (talk) 19:58, 27 May 2013 (UTC)
Personally, I think that FlaggedRevisions (as implemented on German, Hungarian and Polish Wikipedia, unlike the implementation on English Wikipedia) are harmful for vitality of the community. If new user is not able to see the change immediately, than the wiki "philosophy" is flawed. Even it's about a primary school student, the difference between seeing and not seeing the change, even it's about vandalism, is the difference between potential editor and user forever.
At the other side, I completely understand necessity for high quality of all Wikipedia editions and I really admire that tendency of the German Wikipedia community. But we need to find a way how not to harm our ability to regenerate in the sense of new editors who replace the old ones. While I wouldn't have anything against creation of local wikis -- likely directly supported by appropriate affiliate organization and indirectly by Wikimedia Foundation -- I think that we should think more and find better ways for having high quality articles and lively community both.
For example, "stable versions" are common way to solve such issues: maybe de.stable.wikipedia.org could be the product of strictly imposed FlaggedRevisions, while de.wikipedia.org would continue to be not just a place for collaborative work, but also a playground for new ideas and young editors.It is very important to keep our movement and our communities open, to actively build open culture. Years ago I noticed that we are becoming more and more conservative on all levels. One, anecdotal negative event triggers the next level of closure. At some parts of the community it created a number of bizarre rules, as well as many bureaucratic and inhumane relations. That's really bad. We shouldn't be such cowards as our present and historical position is so important, that significant parts of the future depend on our work, on conversations like this one is. Our responsibility is enormous and we should act responsibly. And responsibility means being bold, not a coward.
LocalWiki is trying to start wikis in communities all over, and I think this is great -- there's a lot of benefit to having local sites where people can add as much detail as they want and really feel connected to other people in their community. That said, I don't think running sites like these would really fit with the goals of Wikimedia; I would rather see us continue to focus on globally-scaled reference works, which have quite different infrastructure needs (LocalWiki has done a fair amount of work on features explicitly designed for small regional wikis, for instance, and they are different from the kind of multi-lingual and massively scaling features that we must worry about). I do think that LocalWiki and projects like it are potential movement partners: they share the same goal with Wikimedia of getting lots of people involved in creating knowledge, and I think we can and should share ideas and learn from each other. I also think that getting more people involved in any free knowledge project -- whether it's OpenStreetMap or a local wiki or an open archive or any other project -- helps the free knowledge ecosystem, gets people to think about contributing online, and therefore (indirectly) helps Wikimedia projects too.
On a more immediate note, since it began I've been trying to promote Wikivoyage widely -- I think in many ways it is the most accessible of our projects for new editors, since anyone can write about their hometown! So I hope that Wikivoyage can draw in some editors who might consider contributing to a local wiki.
I would like to see our projects invest in creating safe spaces for experimentation: better spaces for building drafts and creating new articles that might not immediately become the encyclopedia article on that topic. Spaces for creating knowledge about things that may not yet be notable, but are verifiable. Spaces for local knowledge that is of high value to a small group of people. This could be on a new project separate from the current wikis, or in a new namespace; or could be the default behavior for work contributed by new users, until they have more experience with a larger community. [On the smallest wikis, there is no need for a separate space: all pages are effectively this sort of drafting space.]While these might not be called 'regional' changes, this should make it easier for a group of people with shared focus, and no interest in bureaucracy -- just a desire to edit something together -- to contribute what they know, and excite others about contributing in turn.
While Local Wikis could be partners (after the User Groups and Thematic Organisations, next we -WMF, community, Affiliations Committee- will be tackling the Movement Partners), I'm not sure at all about the WMF running and operating their sites. It should be studied on case-by-case basis, in any case.
The approach of importing articles from smaller wikis is already being used on English Wikipedia in limited cases. I expect other languages and sister projects also do this. We have several wikis run by chapters or volunteers that may be used as 'safer environments for newbies' (Chacowiki).I think an ideal scenario to trial Federated/Distributed MediaWiki is for large classes of "first year" university students who are creating or editing articles as part of the outreach:Wikipedia Education Program.
Do you believe that the creation of Wikimedia LGBT as a thematic organisation would be a good demonstration of Wikimedia's diversity, and do you think it is a positive demonstration of the Foundation's commitment to diversity for members of the Board of Trustees to publicly identify themselves as LGBT, or their interests in LGBT culture? Fæ (talk) 14:31, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
However, I think if a sensible plan of practical actions could be presented - with some reasonable objectives - then a strong argument can be built for a thematic org to support those actions!As to identification as LGBT; that is a personal choice and not even slightly relevant to the election. Ever. No one should be voting for candidates because they identify as LGBT, but because they support LGBT initiatives! One thing I do think we need to look at, as a community, is an assumption that interest and participation in a LGBT project means the participant is LGBT. This is disappointingly old fashioned and I'd like to see us move away from it :)
As for the second part of the question. I am aware of the importance of having LGBT (and other) role models, not just on the Board but everywhere in life. Nonetheless, I would respect a person deciding whether they want to be out or not. You know how important it is for every individual to move within their own comfort zone. That said, as a Board candidate I have made it a point to declare my interest on LGBT culture, even if it could go against my candidacy. If you want to see what I would do as a Board member, you will just have to vote for me and find out. :D
I think it should remain a personal choice whether Board of Trustees members publicly self-disclose as LGBTI. I hope that they would feel comfortable self-disclosing in our community. If you believe that self-disclosing should be mandatory, I would like to hear more detailed reasons as I'll admit I have never pondered at length about this type of self-disclosure and it sounds like you have.I believe all of our Trustees members must sign a document indicating that they are committed to our Values (which includes 'sexual preferences'), and there are many other WMF resolutions and policies which are more detailed when defining diversity, such as wmf:Resolution:Nondiscrimination. The WMF commitment to diversity is clear. Are there gaps in implementation?
Use of off-wiki sites which harm the Foundation and individual WikimediansEdit
Some of the current candidates for election have written for websites publicly critical of the Wikimedia Foundation, an activity they have not declared in their statements. At least two of the candidates have supported Wikipediocracy in the past by writing there, a website known for harming the reputation of the Wikimedia Foundation, outing and making personal attacks against Wikimedians, and is a source of damaging inflammatory allegations that have been repeated by journalists in national newspapers. Do you think it proper that the candidates should declare their use of these critical websites as part of their candidacy for the Board of Trustees, and do you think members of the Board of Trustees should publish past pseudonyms so they are accountable for what they have written about the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia projects? Fæ (talk) 14:57, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I hope that we can spend our energy trying to model good criticism inside the WMF and Wikimedia, though. So often, community members feel they don't have a good way to criticize WMF actions without getting into a larger debate about WMF-community relations; so often people in the WMF feel similarly. It can be extremely difficult for community trustees to walk that line, too; as a trustee, your duty of loyalty and care is to the WMF, but this does not preclude having strong personal opinions about what Wikimedia should be doing (if we didn't have strong personal opinions, none of us would be running for a board seat). This often manifests as a kind of tightrope act where you can't say everything you think, but also get criticized for not speaking up enough!So for both parts of your question -- pseudonyms and use of outside sites -- I don't know that we need a policy, though I don't see anything wrong with the idea of declaring past pseudonyms as a matter of practice if you have them. (For my part, I edited the wikis for several years under 'brassratgirl'; I migrated everything to 'phoebe' circa 2008, except for some accounts on the early Wikimania wikis [2005, 2006, 2007] and a few other projects that were created pre-SUL. Except for the Wikimania sites, which are one-time projects, most of these I just created a new account on as user:phoebe and didn't have enough edits to bother merging. I changed my name mostly so I wouldn't have to explain it every time I gave a talk about Wikipedia.)
Some general comments though... although the off-wiki site Fæ refers to is a major issue to him, it's only really a middling part of the wider community. And so I didn't refer to my (past) participation in the forum in my candidate statement (which is very constrained in length!). I agree with sj it is important to have full disclosure by candidates - and indeed I like to think I exemplify a high level of openness. For example, I edit everywhere [even off-site] under the same pseudonym, which is publicly and consistently linked to my full name and career. I think this is important to both build trust and friendships within the community.
Interestingly, during my participation on Wikipediocracy I did get harassed, and discovered several people whispering about me behind my back - but these were all Wikipedians. I think we definitely do need stauncher harassment policies and safe ways to report concerns. I have a number of friends who have been, or have felt, harassed by one or two Wikipedians - and there is no real path to removing these objectionable people from our community. I've heard these stories, because we lack a path to report harassment securely - and this is something the Foundation can look at.
Finally; I stopped contributing to Wikipediocracy some time ago when it took what I saw as a worrying turn toward outing and attack, over criticism. Prior to that there was a lot of useful criticism, from some interesting people. Sadly the signal was crowded out by noise. And, I am sad to say, the final nail in the coffin was being advised by a wiki-friend that by participating in that website was making me enemies who were attempting to undermine me across the Wikimedia community. A sad state of affairs, and I find such politics tiresome. This is one of the reasons I stepped back from wider community participation for a while to focus on article writing, which was a very pleasant experience! :)If anyone has any specific questions about my comments on Wikipediocracy, or anywhere else, please do get in touch! Either in public or private.
Given the brevity required in the candidacy nomination statements (and the prohibition on linking to longer texts) it would be impractical to require a thorough listing of opinions. However, I think it would be sensible to require the listing of any previous Wikimedia usernames that the candidate has had. I would hope that if a candidate has made statements in the past that are contradicted by their current answers, that this Q&A section, articles in The Signpost, mailinglists, etc would be appropriate places to discover and debate it. I suspect that making a requirement to declare past usage of x, y and z websites would be a simplistic method of improving transparency.
I believe candidates for the Board of Trustees should be people who stand by their words and actions, and therefore they should self-disclose their activity on other websites that are relevant to their role as a Trustee. I do believe that participation in Wikipedia Review and Wikipediocracy is relevant, and candidates should link to those accounts before this election begins. If asked about an account on an external website, a member of the Board of Trustees should honestly answer if it is their account. The community must trust them, and their fellow board members must also trust them. Board of Trustees should not hide behind pseudonyms on other websites like those mentioned, as that allows a Board of Trustee to play games that to put pressure on their fellow board members, and it also means the operator of those websites is in a position to blackmail the Board of Trustee when they become aware of the linked identity.
About the approval of new ChaptersEdit
Pryvit! what would be your personal opinion or position regarding the approval of new Chapters like say Wikimedia Kossovo, Wikimedia Catalonia or Wikimedia Scotland if these two last entities were to become independent in 2014? Dyakuyu! posted on behalf of my cholovik, Claudi Balaguer/CapsotInnaBalaguer (talk) 18:50, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
For new chapters, generally to gauge future success I look to see how many people are involved, their track record with grants/activities and their stability as a group; for user groups, I might look at the size of the group and their planned activities. As a trustee, I generally supported and trusted chapcom's (now affcom's) recommendations on the formation of new groups, and expect that would continue to be the case.
- Independent nation states qualify to have a 'chapter'.
Executive director selection and oversightEdit
It's commonly said that the most important thing a board does is hire, evaluate, and fire its top manager (CEO, executive director, etc). On May 21 the job posting for the new ED was announced. How do you approach your supervisory role? First off, what qualities do you think are most important, e.g. experience, vision, technical aptitude, community involvement? Second, how should you direct, supervise, and evaluate; for example, to what extent should Wikimedia be setting measurable expectations for the ED? Do you believe in a 360-degree evaluation? Also, how demanding of a supervisor are you, and is performance which strikes you as "OK" or "not bad" adequate for retention purposes or do you think a position such as this requires outstanding performance? ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 21:06, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
For the WMF ED, I would look for vision and value alignment above all. Vision, meaning someone who appreciates the scope of Wikimedia and the Wikimedia movement, the power our projects have, and who has long-term ideas and interest in building a vibrant future for them. Values, meaning someone who both already agrees with and can defend our core values (openness, collaboration, transparency, free information) in principle; but also someone who is prepared to live and work with those values every day: someone who is prepared to be a Wikimedian, as well as a director. Whoever the next ED is, they will have an immense amount to learn about how Wikimedia works, and they must be flexible, patient, sympathetic and tolerant in that learning process. We have been lucky to have Sue in this regard, with her good humor and curiosity about the world. Of course the next ED must also have the core management skills and experience necessary to do a good job of running a $40M organization; but given that baseline, I think their values and vision will be more important than any specific skillset, as I have written more about here.
The Board will play an important role both in hiring the ED, but also in supporting him or her through this learning curve and beyond. This will no doubt range from the practical (what kind of communication the community expects) to the philosophical (what our core issues are), and this guidance will be in addition to the formal organizational direction that the Board gives the ED. And while we need to hire someone who has from the outset what I'd describe as the right attitude towards Wikimedia, the Board can help them understand the WMF as an organization that helps our projects and movement to excel. The Board and ED ideally work in partnership, with a good working relationship that leads to good decision-making; we should aim to hire someone, and then help them succeed.
Broadly speaking, the ED is evaluated both personally and organizationally by the Board. Personally, the ED is evaluated largely on their judgment: whether they made a good call in difficult situations. Organizationally, they are evaluated on how the organization itself is doing. The ED assumes responsibility for making sure the organization's finances and infrastructure (both physical and human) is in good order and healthy. So the baseline expectation, when evaluating an ED, is that the organization is doing well under the ED's leadership. But I think Wikimedia deserves much more than just this baseline; we need someone who can meet our challenges, and lead and inspire us to solve them.
When it comes to evaluation, I'd also look for whether someone is personally growing and learning, whether they are effectively leading their senior-level staff (who in turn are leading the rest of the organization), whether they maintain a strong and productive tone for the organization, and whether in their decisions they demonstrate that they understand and continue to align with our core principles. And finally, I'd look at how setbacks and successes are reacted to: how someone responds to feedback, both personally and organizationally; the lessons that someone takes from failures small and large; how they communicate with their Board, staff, and community; and how supported their staff feel in the learning process (and 360 feedback is an important part of determining this). In my experience, anyone with the skills necessary to work at this level also has very high personal standards for their own work; so the total package of evaluation is about whether they are able to meet and master the whole scope of the position, and lead effectively.This is not exactly how I approach day-to-day supervision, which I have also occasionally done in a small way. Trustees are not expected to be hands-on managers of the ED, but rather to guide, direct and evaluate them based on the big picture. But there are certainly shared characteristics. When I've managed employees, I try to direct them enough on what to do so as to not leave them lost at sea, but also give them enough flexibility to creatively solve problems in their own way. The Board must do the same for the next ED: give them context and direction, but also freedom to act. It's not a simple process, and the coming period will be difficult but also hopefully quite exciting for the Board, Wikimedia, and the new ED alike.
Some skills can be learned in the position. Sue certainly learned a great deal about how our movement works and about leading a different sort of organization when she joined. Other skills cannot: Passion for our work, and the power to inspire others cannot be so easily learned, and are greatly important for our work. A willingness to work in public, and a certain unflappability, is also critical to success as the WMF's ED.
Vision, creativity, and openness to new ideas are necessary for juggling the many opportunities and projects in our movement. This too requires comfort with public discussion and revision. The ED should be a clear communicator, and bold in public discourse, sharing ideas early and often. Similarly, the ED should be a good mediator and facilitator: personally or through their staff, as much of the WMF's work is supporting efforts throughout the movement.
Our size and growth call for experience leading organizations or projects of significant size, and working comfortably with both financial and technical plans. And knowing where to turn for deep expertise, and how to attract and keep brilliant and talented staff, is a more robust quality than personal topical expertise.
As to evaluation and performance: we should expect outstanding performance from the WMF - both because there is so much potential for our projects and because the broad appeal of our mission allows us to be selective.I support 360-degree evaluations, and both the WMF and the Board have started using them.
I do believe in 360º feedback evaluations, used in conjunction with other evaluation tools. And we need outstanding performances, not merely okay ones. Sue is leaving the bar high in this regard.
The selection of the next Executive Director (ED) is a daunting responsibility, as Sue Gardner's shoes will be hard to fill. Unlike other responsibilities, selecting the CEO is a decision which can't easily be revised.
We are fortunate that Sue has provided the organisation with a path to follow, so we do not need to rush to make this appointment. (I can't see any wmf:Bylaws regarding the period within which the Board of Trustees must appoint a new ED.)
For the WMF ED, I will primarily be looking for experience in running an organisation that has successfully achieved its goals through a network of affiliates across the world, being able to set out a broadly supported agenda, as I believe this will be an important part of the next phase of the Wikimedia Foundation. The ED also needs to be closely alignment with all of our Values in their previous jobs, and Sue's "Wikimedia Foundation Guiding Principles" is an excellent expanded version of our values.
I have only managed small software teams as a team leader in my professional life. I do not have high level human resource management experience, and I am not sufficiently familiar with w:360-degree feedback or similar tools so I will defer to others on what is the best tools for this activity.
I am an idealist, and believe that the staff and volunteers deserve outstanding performance from the WMF ED, however I think 'effective' performance is the yard-stick (assessment gauge) I would use. The WMF ED needs to be a sustainable appointment; the WMF ED is an important part of a very large community with many people performing outstandingly at times, and all our hopes should not lie on the shoulders of the WMF ED.Community involvement can be learnt in the first year as Sue did.
About overspending and/or misspendingEdit
Bonjorn/bon dia/hello/dobry den'! When reading the details of some projects approved not that long ago and seeing that there is still no report, I am a bit worried about misspending and overspending in the Wikimedia world. To be more precise, I have noticed way too expensive flights (€ 500) to cover distances such as Madrid-Santiago de Compostela (about 600 km, 1.200 in round trip) while I think you could pay at least 5 times less and you could even use the train (I checked Renfe's site, the highest fare is about €140) instead of a plane, not to mention other expenses which also seem very high and other grants that seem to be field trips for the grantees instead of real benefits for Wikimedia... Thus, do you plan to enforce stricter supervision or control over these potential financial issues/problems that could affect the credibility of the whole movement? Mercés/gràcies/thanks/dyakuyu (again) for your answers. On behalf of my cholovik/husband once more Claudi Balaguer/Capsot InnaBalaguer (talk) 09:18, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
Overall, for the movement and WMF, I have the following principles: I think that in-person events are valuable; that we all should be conscious that we are spending donor money (as I think we are) and spend cheaply and wisely in consequence, and make sure our support goes towards an end goal of helping Wikimedia; but we shouldn't let this consciousness stand in the way of supporting people who want to try new ideas, get together to share knowledge, or travel to do great work. We've always treated volunteer time in Wikimedia as unlimited, but in fact it is our most valuable resource, and is by some measures much more scarce than money. So while of course I don't support excessive spending or personal trips that are really holidays, I do support holding many Wikimedia events around the world, and funding travel and grant support that helps Wikimedia volunteers do great work, gain personal ideas and training, and build our network.
The Board doesn't directly oversee daily expenses. But as we improve peer review of expenses and grants - something that has been started over the past year and is expanding, including internal peer review within the WMF of how projects spend resources - there are three things I think we should do.
- We should have guidelines for the normal baseline of travel - # of stops, business class, ground travel under a certain distance or total-time. We should offer access to a movement travel agent that can help find good rates within that baseline.
- We should encourage grant recipients to be moderate in their travel costs, and to look for ways to accomplish the same things without travel, or to combine trips.
- We should invest in tools and support-networks that allow excellent virtual meetings; something that most global organizations and movements use better than we do. For instance, the recent GLAMout hangouts that GLAM participants have been using to stay in touch are wonderful - and would be even better with a handful of inexpensive webcams and mics for interested participants.
I have personally benefited from several grants from the WMF (and also been an employee for a year) so I am one of the lucky ones who has received funds. I hope that I have been able to use this money in a way that is most useful to the movement and honest to our donors, and that is the best I can hope for.Nevertheless, as we get larger, and the travel-budget increases, I think that it has probably come to the time that we do need to make a serious investment in video-conferencing. Notwithstanding the usefulness of Skype and Google-Hangouts, good quality video-conference systems are not cheap but we have probably reached a point where the economy of scale makes the investment worthwhile from both a financial and environmental point of view.
I won't comment on the example you refer to, as I would need links and more information in order to understand the situation.
Financial transparency is important; regular review is needed, and concerns should be discussed calmly and processes improved over time.
It is important to remember that many of our volunteers are not financial gurus, and need the support of the community and WMF staff at times. Mistakes will be made at times, and most of the time we need to collectively take responsibility for those mistakes. It is important to remember that the volunteers running chapters have typically given person-years to our mission and they believe in our values. There have been a few 'bad apples', but usually the mistakes are often relatively minor and due to insufficient experience and planning rather than malice.
I also know of several cases where the expenses were higher than I thought were appropriate. I also know of instances where I knew of local people who could be utilised for a workshop, but someone was flown to the locality instead. We need to work as a community to minimise these inefficiencies, by discussing program proposals openly before they are approved, and by finding and up-skilling people who live in regions other than the capital cities where the meetups are regularly held.
In general, we should not be miserly (cheap) in supporting our programs, as our volunteers are a precious asset. Programs should be evaluated with both cost and effectiveness in mind, and also the w:opportunity cost of not completing the program. Programs may also appear expensive, but the investment makes more sense when we consider the longer term vision of the organisation. Sometimes the best person for the job lives far away. If they need to fly rather than take a train, because it is quicker or more convenient, or if there is only an expensive flight at the appropriate time, then the money is well spent. In these situations, local Wikimedians should be included in the program so that they can learn and then expensive flights are not needed the next time a Wikimedian is needed in that region.If inefficiencies are regularly occurring, the community should become more active carefully reviewing the program proposals before they are approved. If the inefficiencies appear to be intentional and are avoiding transparency, the processes of approving programs needs to be reviewed and improved.
Narrowing focus and funding allocationsEdit
As you are likely aware, Sue Gardner's narrowing focus essay from October 2012, which was approved in Oct 2012 resolution by the board, proposes to scale back the activities Wikimedia is involved in and focus on core engineering and grantmaking. Apparently related to this is the birth of the FDC, which was created through a 30 March 2012 board resolution; the initial outline also calls for the FDC to allocate money available to the Grant Advisory Committee (GAC). As a result of this, the 2012-3 budget in the annual report (see page 56, also the next few pages are very interesting as well) allocates 25% of funding to the FDC and GAC (e.g., $10m on a $40m budget). The Board then has final say over funding allocations (perhaps less so with the GAC). Few questions about this:
1. Under Sue's plan, feature development is a 'core' activity. In a comment responding to Sue's essay, User:Pine commented that feature development did not seem core. Is it core? Clearly the WMF should be involved in feature development and has some major features under development, but how exclusive should it be over that area?
2. Under the FDC as it is currently operating, it is presented with several organizations, often somewhat large, bureaucratic, and decently opaque, and permitted to recommend 0-x% of what the organization is asking for, with the remainder placed into reserves. Is this really an effective way to involve the 'community' in funding allocation? Do you think the FDC should be encouraged to take a holistic or proactive view in funding, by sua sponte responding to various requests from community members in general or noted gaps in important areas with a recommendation that funds be spent in addressing the problem? Feature ideas are an obvious example, but another example could be the WebCite proposal, which garned 174 support comments on meta.
3. Only 'movement' entities are eligible for money through the FDC. Could you explain how you interpret this and whether you believe that this restriction is reasonable? When donors contribute to Wikimedia, they do it expecting that the money is spent on improving the services they're using. I don't believe they expect that it might go to less competent entities just because such entities have special connections within the Wikimedia community. ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 05:53, 7 June 2013 (UTC)
2) I think the idea you propose is a good one, but not really inside the mandate of the FDC, which was created to solve a fairly specific funds-distribution problem. I see the idea of feature up-voting as being related to the very first questions about features for sister projects and stewards: we do need a strong process for identifying and funding requested features, from across all of the community.3) Yes, this is a reasonable restriction. Donors donate to Wikimedia; they should have the assurance that their money is going towards a Wikimedia entity, doing Wikimedia-related work. However, as Liam points out, there is room now to identify 'movement partners' that are doing related good work, and I also hope to see this happen.
2. The FDC is not the only community-led process to distribute funds. It is simply the process for funding long-established community groups, with at least 2 years of successful grants/projects. While they may be somewhat opaque, their work can speak for them. Other less established groups are welcome to request funds for large projects as well - but that would go through the GAC, another community process.
You also point out that there are good ideas out there that have community support, but noone offering to realize the idea. Such as the WebCite proposal or other projects that require [staff / core developer] time, not simply funds. This is something that I would like to see the GAC take on: review of project proposals that require internal resources beyond funds. This remains an open topic of discussion - particularly who would review and approve such things. Currently these projects are approved in a more hazy process: after a successful community RfC such as that for WebCite,
- a lead proponent of the RfC defines what next steps might look like
- that proponent communicates via mailing lists, wiki discussions, and email with staff
- a staff member (often Erik, in the case of a technical proposal) confirms that it will be implemented and appoints a liaison to work with the lead proponent to work out details and see the project through.
We can make this process clearer and simpler.
3. Movement entities are defined as recognized to be well-aligned with our movement's work, with more than one year of experience scucessfully handling grants. I don't think the problem with the FDC process is this definition; it helps to guarantee that recipients are competent - either well trusted themselves, or working under the umbrella of a trusted part of our community.However the requirement that a group only apply once each year makes certain projects difficult to support. For instance, the WikiData team would not directly have qualified as such an entity when they started 2 years ago, but WM-DE (which they worked with) would qualify. However the current process would make it difficult for WM-DE to apply both for their normal programs and for a separate, large WikiData program... even though the two project ideas might have been finalized at different times during the year.
(2) The FDC is targeted for very established chapters. Initiatives such as the Grants Advisory Committee, Participation Support and the Individual Engagement Grants program (especially this last one) take into account community support when distributing funds, and are targeted for individuals, small groups and less established afffiliates.(3) Yes, it is a reasonable restriction. This way funds go to entities and affiliates who share our mission and values, which is what donors are supporting when they donate their money to the WMF.
1) This is a case of "it depends". Some features are certainly not core projects while others are. Just like some software bug fixing might be minor cosmetic changes but other bugs might be closing serious security holes. I think over time, if the FDC system proves to be reliable and accountable, that the WMF will increase the proportion of the money that it gets to allocate from the total movement budget. This would imply a redefining downwards the number of projects that are core. Equally, as others have mentioned, it is important that there is stability and confidence amongst the developers the their long term projects will be maintained and therefore it is not acceptable that ALL software development be moved into the non-core section.
2) No, I do not believe the FDC should chose to expand its own mandate in this manner. This would be a very fundamental shift in the nature of their remit that would increase their power significantly. The FDC is not the only method by which projects get approved or money is made available. We have a quite complicated system, but I believe it is one that is deliberately mutually co-dependent. This allows lots of checks and balances on the power of each group - which is a good thing. Rather than increasing the mandate of the FDC to address issues like the individual projects like the one you mentioned, I would rather that we increase the visibility and scale of our grant projects (notably the Individual Engagement Grants). I would also like to see the introduction of something like a formal "petition" system which would make it clear to the WMF which projects are the "most wanted". We have something like this in the voting on the bug tracker but ai would like something more higher-level where the WMF was obliged to formally consider the most popular request every 6 months - or something like that. I'm just making up the parameters of this idea out of my head, but perhaps the "we the people" petition website set up by the US White House is a good example of the kind of thing I mean.
3) Under the new Affiliations system recently introduced there was an exapansion to include not only "thematic groups" but also "Movement Partners". This is potentially an area that could help resolve this issue. Currently this subsection is not developed, and I believe it should be. In theory, this would allow "friendly" external groups to formally affiliate with us and therefore become eligible for funding for relevant projects. I can see a day when we give a grant to the Open Street Map foundation (on the assumption that they are an official Movement Partner) to help improve how their mapping system connects to Wikipedia articles. It would be logical that they might be best people for that job!
Regarding features, I consider the recent addition of music markup support to MediaWiki to be ‘core’, as the community has been requesting it for over 10 years. I am sure that there will be people in our community that don’t consider music markup to be core. Those decisions are best made at the operational level in most cases, except where the community and the WMF disagree on the need for a feature.
Several chapters employ developers on projects such as Wikidata and Kiwix. I haven’t reviewed the Wikidata development in detail, but it seems to be progressing well. I have been following Kiwix, and the developer is doing a great job. Many of these entities are less mature, but I think ‘less competent’ is going too far. The Wikimedia Foundation is the most mature, but I suggest that you look at the India Education Program (see w:Wikipedia:India Education Program/Analysis/Independent Report from Tory Read) - we're all going to make mistakes at times, and when bigger organisations make a mistake it tends to bigger. What is important is that we learn from our mistakes and from each other.
I would like to see an increase in the number of developers who are working for other entities, as skilled developers exist across the globe and shouldn’t need to move to San Francisco. The majority of the core team of developers will probably always be in San Francisco.
Large pools of money shouldn’t be given to individuals. We have a network of non-profit organisations operating across the globe, that can hold the money safely and provide good governance. They can more easily disperse money to volunteers in their region, and should be able to better evaluate the effectiveness of the program activity conducted in their region.
Most affiliates run programs with only volunteer time, and minor expenses. Most affiliates would be able to be effective with consistent funding that is insignificant compared to the total worldwide donations (e.g. US$40,000,000 last year). For example Wikimedia Indonesia has received about $40,000 from the WMF since 2010. They have run a large 'Wikipedia Education Program' across 10 universities (called wmid:Free Your Knowledge 2010), and received US$1,000,000 from Ford Foundation Indonesia (wmid:Siaran pers/ Ford Foundation Meluncurkan ‘Cipta Media Bersama’ Hibah Terbuka Untuk Publik Senilai Satu Juta Dolar AS/en) which allowed them to fund Creative Commons Indonesia and other free culture projects, allowed the organisation to gain maturity, and run small effective Wikimedia programs like a Wikisource transcription of a w:Sunda language dictionary - that project cost around US$300 if I remember correctly, which was spent on a prize for the two volunteers who transcribed the largest number of projects.Regarding FDC, my preference is that the pool of 'non-core' money is divided into a set of grant schemes which have a well defined objective (e.g. Increasing participation; Editor retention; Outreach to GLAM; Outreach to academia; Improving quality; etc) with each scheme being given an amount relative to the current importance of the strategic objective. Each year those amounts might change as priorities change. Proposals for each grant scheme would then be submitted by WMF and other movement entities, and the community reviews the proposals comparing them against other proposals in the same scheme. The FDC would then approve funding for the ‘best’ proposals for each grant scheme. I think that would facilitate more targeted funding, helping us reach our strategic goals. The WMF should have no problem putting in very competitive proposals in all schemes, ‘winning’ most of the large projects due to superior planning and capacity. A few of the larger movement entities would have medium sized proposals approved, and a large number of affiliates that are volunteers only would have small projects approved, essentially using up the remainder of each pool of funds.
Does the WMF have any idea just what it means by the term "Global South"? Which countries does this include? --Ohconfucius (talk) 11:13, 8 June 2013 (UTC)
Long answer: "Global South" is a rather loose term which aims at a politically correct and revamped definition of what would have traditionally been called developing countries. Thus it is not geographical in nature, even if most developing countries tend to be south from Europe and the USA. As I understand it, "Global South" would include everything the UN-affiliated and other similar international organizations (OECD, etc.) exclude from their "developed" qualification. They are countries where, to start with, Internet access is not as widespread and accessible as it may be in First World countries, and where potential Wikimedia countributors may face additional obstacles that aren't present in the former --from connectivity to political or free speech restrictions that are unthinkable of in the so-called Global North.
Yet I think that at many times we risk falling into some kind of semantic stubborness around the "Global South" term, trying to adapt realities to typologies instead of the opposite. And that is especially problematic when you have only two ideal types in mind: either it's Global South or it is not. I'm all for further strenghtening a regional approach, one that is viable Foundation-wise and that at the very same time fosters the development of direct collaboration ties between local Wikimedia chapters and organizations.
You know, there's an Iberocoop initiative. (It is through this group that I know how intensely the term Global South is disliked, and how they would much rather have instead commonly accepted terminology used by official institutions applied to them.) Latin America or Ibero-America has some exceptional particular features that are not so easily found in other parts of the world --many countries all packed together with the same or very similar languages, a shared history and culture. It's an extremely fertile ground for the development of cooperation frameworks, and thus it happened. But it does also serve as an example. Latin America is hardly comparable to Asia-Pacific, to the Middle East (or should we rather go with an 'Arab World' definition?) or to Africa, just to mention some typical "Global South" areas. And even inside Africa or Latin America you can find strong regional differences --remember, strong inequalities and underdevelopment usually go hand by hand.That is why I believe that the Foundation should delicately phase out the "Global South" catch-all phrase for planning purposes, and continue its work with individualized high-potential geographies, be them limited to a country or to an entire socio-demographical or socio-cultural region, adapting its strategies, its tools and its partners in accordance with each different reality, with each different set of challenges and needs. In some past Wikimedia Conferences, there were sessions to try to diagnose "Global South problems". They were not successful. Some "Global South" countries are nearer to "northern" countries that those that are "southernmost", and it's not good for the movements' strategy --because the Foundation is there coordinating the movements' general strategy-- to loose all that shading with the use of a very limiting term.
I believe the WMF originally used the term to mean the specific areas it was targeting at the time for the "catalyst" project - Middle-East/North Africa [MENA], Brazil, India - and also Africa more genrally for the "Wikipedia Zero" free mobile access project. I personally have no attachment to the term and see no reason to discontinue its usage at the WMF (as many already do in practice). Presumably we could simply say "less economically developed countries" if things must be defined in that format.... Preferably, I would like to see issues classified by geographic region (rather the development status) as this implies that you're also taking into account culture, language and context more than just economics.
Investment policy and philosophyEdit
According to the note (1)(h) of the latest 2011-2 financial statement, the foundation has an extremely conservative investment policy (essentially certificates of deposit and U.S. Treasury Bills) and apparently has no policy for long-term investments. Considering that recent narrowing focus has identified the 'core' budget is a fraction of recent reserves, which are around $40m, do you think this is the right decision? Are you at all familiar with how nonprofits typically handle their reserves, or the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (see Florida version)? If you believe that there is a place for long-term investments, what is your perspective on what the policy and diversification should look like? Do you lean towards passive or active investment strategies? Do you have any experience (including in your own personal capacity, such as retirements) or expertise in evaluating investments? If not, do you believe you are the type of person who can teach yourself to follow along and understand investments? — The preceding unsigned comment was added by ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 8:10, 8 June 2013 (UTC)
As for the reserves, this was discussed each year while I was on the Board, and will no doubt continue to be a question in annual planning. Our reserves are, as I understand it, on the high side but still within a normal range for a non-profit of our scope, in terms of months of operating capital. Frankly, we are lucky to have a robust liquid reserve. Considerations for thinking about the size of a reserve include balancing our commitment to keeping up the projects 'no matter what', versus our apparent ability to raise funds quickly and efficiently when needed. I am on the side of keeping a fairly large reserve, in line with my general orientation towards long-term stability; but this has to be balanced, of course, with getting pressing programmatic work done (like trying to get more project editors) -- we want to see money spent on good work. Over the past several years the reserve has pretty much kept pace with our increased operating budget, which is appropriate, and the Board would certainly need to approve any shift towards a dramatically higher or lower reserve.
However, how that our growth trajectory has slowed down (or at least, so it seems by the "narrowing of focus" recently, people have started to raise the issue of "the endowment" again and more long-term investment plans. As I have mentioned in my interview with The Signpost, I am theoretically in favour of an endowment (and therefore a long term and non-liquid investment) but that to make a decision to go in that direction is something that must be made as a long term strategy itself. We cannot run an annual fundraiser AND an endowment building campaign simultaneously as they are two valid but contradictory messages. I would argue that we should only move to a medium-term, and then a long-term, investment strategy when our growth strategy is of a similar scale. Currently we look forwards one, sometimes two, years ahead in our budget. When we are looking five years ahead, THEN we can talk about investments to match.
Finally, in terms of your personal questions: No I'm not personally familiar with Florida financial regulations and am not trained in accounting or similar. I do personally have experience in stock market investing (shares and options trading) but in the case of a major charity I would suggest we would want to leave any investing to the experts and not be actively managing a portfolio. Equally, it would be important we also extend our movement values to any investments we make - what that might look like in practice I'm not sure yet (but I reckon a lot of ethical investment consultants would love to try and tell us!).
WMF effectiveness and board self-evaluationEdit
Generally, how effective has the Wikimedia Foundation been in the past few years? I recognize that fundraising, pageviews, etc have been up but do you think that's because of, in spite of, or regardless of the Wikimedia Foundation? Do you place more praise (or blame) on staff or the board? As a related point, board-self evaluation is a tricky area (60% of nonprofits reportedly conducted them as of 2010). The board's governance committee alludes to board self-evaluations. How would you approach board self-evaluations? Have any self-evaluations been made public? If not, should they be? Was input formally solicited from the community? If not, should it be? ImperfectlyInformed (talk) 19:03, 8 June 2013 (UTC)
Measuring the effectiveness of the Board is tricky. By one measure, an effective Board is one that does not get involved very often; you want an organization that is functioning smoothly enough that the Board simply doesn't have to intervene. I think that is largely the case for the WMF, and has been more so over the past few years as the organization has matured. What the Board does do, and what we need it to do, is hash out various big issues in relation to the WMF; we need the Board to represent and synthesize large-scale debates over our future and goals, both publicly and privately. As far as individual trustee effectiveness, when I left the Board we'd just completed our first two years of trustee evaluations, thanks to the leadership of Matt Halprin, who brought this in as a best practice from other nonprofit boards. We did not solicit public feedback, and they were private; the process involved getting feedback on our performance from the other trustees as well as reflecting on our own performance. It was an 'in-house' process largely because the evaluation was about Board interpersonal workings (how are you contributing to meetings, etc.) as well as overall effectiveness. I think this was a valuable exercise -- I certainly learned from my fellow trustees -- but I also think it would be valuable to have community feedback on the Board as a whole. (But not on individual trustees, as I think that would be too hard to give accurate feedback on from the outside; as Kat mentioned a while back in an answer, much trustee work is simply invisible). In addition to strategic guidance (where we have tried to have community input) the WMF Board does play a valuable and unique liaison role between the various parts of Wikimedia (WMF, community, governance committees, etc.) and as a trustee I'd welcome more feedback on how the Board does that. I've been an avidly-involved community member in Wikimedia issues for many years, so of course I have opinions on how the Board should communicate and so on, but ongoing input from many people would be great.