On Friday, 25 September, Wikimedia Foundation director Sue Gardner hosted an office hours discussion on IRC. The staff office hours follow on the success of the strategy planning office hours, with the goal of having staff office hours on a regular basis. Also present were Cary Bass, who helped moderate the IRC session, along with strategy planning staff Eugene Eric Kim and Philippe Beaudette, chief developer Brion Vibber, and deputy director Erik Möller.
Strategy initiative, growth of projects, and chapters
Gardner answered questions about the strategy planning process and the call for participation, which is drawing a large number of applications from both Wikipedia editors and non-editors. She says it is a challenge to bring in new voices ("e.g., those who don't know wiki syntax"), and to make things "comfortable and workable for existing wiki users" while also "making it inviting for new people who have expertise and perspectives we need."
On the importance of growing traffic in Wikimedia's smallest projects, Gardner is interested in focusing effort on "the projects that have the greatest potential", which she defines as those such as Hindi, Chinese, and Arabic language projects that have "very large available readership (speakers of the language, internet-connected, literate) and where we are currently performing poorly." She recognizes that it's "easier said than done", but it's very important and something that "people will wrestle with during the strategy project".
Gardner also talked about chapters during the discussion, and suggested it might be helpful if the Foundation tried to actively stimulate chapters development in countries where there are no chapters. She would like there to be "hundreds of chapters everywhere around the world. I wish they would develop faster. I would be happy to try to support that."
Departure of Jennifer Riggs, grant funding, and involving volunteers
Jennifer Riggs, previously Chief Program Officer for the Foundation
On the recent departure of Jennifer Riggs, Gardner does not think that will have any effect on fundraising, including both general donations and grant funding. The Foundation has not had difficulty pursuing funding from other foundations (e.g. Ford Foundation), but the challenge and limiting factor lies with the Wikimedia Foundation, which with its small staff, has only so much internal capacity to execute grant projects. Gardner is also interested in having the Foundation experiment with new ways of executing grants, including finding ways "of empowering community members to execute" projects.
Regarding involving volunteers in grant projects, Gardner outlined several ways the Foundation is working on this. The Foundation can write letters of support for people applying for research grants. When the Foundation itself gets grants, it seeks to involve volunteers in the execution of the grants, as has happened with the Wikimedia Usability Initiative. With the Mozilla grant for US$100,000, funding was channeled to volunteer developers to work on Theora support. There also is the chapters grantmaking process that resulted in 21 grants to chapters. And, Gardner is beginning to investigate and talk to foundations (external funding organizations) about the possibility of "creating pools of money that could be dispensed to volunteers through a volunteer-driven process ... but it's tricky and it will take time for foundations to really think it through, but it is something we are talking about."
When asked about the ideal method of encouraging volunteer participation, Gardner mentioned the WikiPods effort that Frank Schulenburg is helping to organize, which are designed to involve local teams dedicated to advocacy, promotion, and enrichment of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation projects. Gardner also expressed concern about having the Wikimedia Foundation invite new people into the projects, and have the community then be unwelcoming of the new contributors.
The next IRC office hours session, featuring Rand Montoya, the Head of Community Giving, will take place on Thursday, October 1 at 16:00 UTC in the #wikimedia-office channel.