News and notes
Milan conference a mixed bag
Group photograph of the 2013 Wikimedia Conference
The Wikimedia Conference is an annual meeting of the chapters to discuss their status and the organisational development of the Wikimedia movement. Held first in the Netherlands in 2008 and then in Berlin from 2009 to 2012, this year the conference was in the northern Italian city of Milan. For the first time it included groups that wish to be considered for WMF affiliation as thematic organisations (the Wiki Education Foundation, the Catalan-language-based Friends of Wikipedia, and Wiki Project Med) and one of the three groups that was recently affiliated as a user group (Esperanto and Free Knowledge). The conference was also attended by members of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees, the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC), the Affiliations Committee, and a representative of the Wikivoyage Association, the German non-profit that is the former host of the new Wikivoyage travel-guide wiki, which moved to the WMF last November after considerable controversy.
The conference was hosted by the Italian Wikimedia chapter, with funding of US$120,000 from the Foundation's Wikimedia Grants Program, following a much-discussed application for $157,000 that assumed 250 participants (about 130 attended), including $78,000 for the conference venue and catering for light lunches and a coffee station. The German chapter donated up to a further $65,000 to make the event possible.
- "Open Thursday"
State of the chapters session
The WMF Board of Trustees at the question-and-answer session
The event began last Thursday with three parallel meetings:
- The Wikipedia Education Program Leaders Workshop was attended by 35 Wikimedians, including several members of the Affiliations Committee, in which discussions explored the breadth and diversity of the challenge around the world. However, no clear answer emerged as to the question posed, "What does success mean?". It was clear that a number of chapters are already talking with their governments on the role of Wikipedia in school curricula.
- Wiki Loves Monuments was attended by 17 people.
- The Chapters Association met (14 people were listed as planning to attend), and extensive notes will be finalised on Meta "on 30 April". The meeting covered areas such as research into the chapters' needs, the creation of a handbook and data with which to communicate with the press; peer review of chapters ("Don't ask WMF to audit us: let's audit each other through peer review"); the development of a chapter exchange, a page where chapters can indicate their expertise, skills, and experience for sharing; whether a private mailing list should be established; the "need to figure out sources of funding", since the Association cannot apply for FDC funding; and whether non-chapter entities may join the Association. There is a sense from the documentation that all of these issues are at an early stage of discussion, a year after the proposal to establish the Association at the 2012 conference in Berlin. The Association's charter was changed by vote to remove the obligations of chapters that withdraw from it.
The main conference began in the morning with a State of the movement session, in which 18 entities were each allocated three minutes to present a "lightning" talk about their most important activities, plans, or problems. This format was repeated on Saturday (19 presentations) and Sunday (seven presentations). The presentations varied widely in content and approach. Christophe Henner, for example, used humorous slides in his presentation for Wikimédia France, including a photograph of a prison corridor to embellish his reference to the recent bullying of a chapter member by the French intelligence agents. The proposed chapter from Nepal, which hopes to gain WMF affiliation, spoke of how the country has 123 languages, with seven existing WMF sites. Among these, the Nepali Wikipedia was started as early as 2002 and now has 23,000 articles and 78 active users; a further seven Wikipedias for languages in Nepal are in incubation. Wikimedia Macedonia, recognised in 2010, has 15 members and no budget. It has made progress in an education program at four universities and a number of secondary schools and citizen "internet clubs", and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Library and National Archives. The group has already established collaborative links with Wikimedia Ukraine. Links to slides for all presentations in which they were used are included at the schedule pages.
After lunch, participants broke up into three parallel tracks, comprising a total of nine one-hour sessions. Resources sharing and standardization was presented by the South African and Swiss chapters, exploring ways of developing secure web hosting and document editing among entities. Small offices examined the advantages and disadvantages of establishing and running a physical chapter office. Chris Keating, chair of Wikimedia UK, presented a talk on the recent governance review of the chapter, recommending "Executive Summary and the Characteristics on pages 9 to 12" of the report, which was jointly commissioned by the Foundation and the chapter. The minutes for most of the parallel sessions currently exist only in the form of raw Etherpads.
- Saturday – meeting with the WMF Board of Trustees
Jimmy and chair of the WMF Board, Kat Walsh
Chapter-selected trustees Alice Wiegand and Patricio Lorente
A pensive moment at the Grand Visconti Palace ... trustee Samuel Klein
The Saturday dinner, paid for by the conference, was attended by 81 people.
Sweet rewards for hard-working Wikimedians
One of the highlights of the conference was the meeting with the Board. All current Board members were present, and each gave brief opening remarks. Jimmy Wales pointed out that last month was the first in which more than half a billion people visited WMF websites. A question-and-answer session followed. Among interesting questions were:
- Could there be multi-year chapter funding from the WMF? (Generally a very cautious response from the Board.)
- The Board wrote an open letter expressing doubts about [the Chapters Association]. From that, changes in WCA [are gaining] concrete results. Will the Board want a seat on the [Association]? (No clear message from the Board was recorded in the etherpad. One member said that the Association's peer review (discussed the previous day) is a good example of how it can support chapters in a simple way without building a huge monster of bureaucracy. One member was recorded as saying: "If in any way volunteers can organise themselves to be more effective and share knowledge, that's good. For example WMDE has made some good initiatives. My personal opinion doesn't feel the need to be on the council. I don't see the need for a council."
- What are your concrete plans to involve more people in the Global South? How do you geographically define Global South? (The general consensus from the Board was that it is difficult to define Global South. One member said that the engineering team has worked to make editing in local languages easier, and to make mobile phone access easier. Asaf, who is Head of the Global South for the Foundation, invited further discussion after the meeting.)
- Does the WMF have a special plan for the gender gap in next year? (Among the responses were that the Board issued the FDC with specific recommendations to pay attention to gender gap, that the staff have been asked to focus on it as part of everyone's job, like free culture, and that "many chapters have such programs, and the WMF is supporting you. It's part of all our goals.")
- Will the WMF support the creation of a Palestinian chapter? (A mildly positive response from Jimmy: "even if the politicians are fighting, we can be a positive force"; this was supported by Stu West).
- How is the search for a new WMF "specific expertise" trustee going? (Alice: we have a favourite candidate, and have to figure out whether it's a good fit for us. We will have come a lot further when we meet at Wikimania.)
Saturday morning had involved 75-minute sessions on Chapter peer review; How to keep volunteers active; and Seven cool projects, including the French chapter's Kiwix wifi software to give offline access to Wikipedia in places in Africa with unstable internet connections. After the joint WMF Board–chapter meeting there were 45-minute sessions on the European Policy Working Group, Chapters in the Global South and lessons that can be learned, and Evaluating programs, presented by the WMF's senior director of programs, Frank Schulenberg.
- Sunday – the FDC feedback session
Sunday, the last day, included another WCA meeting (no minutes yet available), and a feedback session on the Foundation's grantmaking agency that has forged a major change in finance and accountability in the movement – the FDC – which was described by one participant at the meeting as "a huge culture shock". In attendance were Dariusz Jemielniak, Anders Wennersten, Ali Haidar Khan, Sydney Poore, Yuri Perohanych, Arjuna Rao Chavala, and Mike Peel from the FDC; Patricio Lorente (one of the two chapter-selected WMF Trustees); and Foundation staff members Anasuya Sengupta (senior director of grantmaking), Winifred Olliff, Katy Love, Adele Vrana, Garfield Byrd (chief financial officer), and Jessie Wild. Representatives were present from 15 chapters that have applied to the FDC and three that have not.
A summary was presented of the findings of the survey of participating chapters after Round 1 of the FDC funding process last October (n = 8): the process is satisfactory, and deemed fair, transparent, and not overly time-consuming, and is not inhibiting the ability to reach the goals, though there are areas that should be improved. There is a need to strengthen communication between FDC/staff and applying entities, and to tighten application requirements. And the “open question” is if the FDC is a good mechanism for achieving impact. Applicants said they spent from three to 150 hours on their application (a median of 70 hours), and that it was hard to use the portal and forms, although "survey participants largely saw the process as fair and transparent". Three questions seemed to emerge: Are the movement entities evolving their program plans to have the most impact? Is the overhead required for the FDC process greater than the value (both impact and compliance) it provides? Is the process stifling innovation and/or limiting new participation in the movement?
The survey brought up negative feelings about the critical feedback given to chapters on their applications: that assessments were "too violent" and "insulting", that non-specific comments can be "de-motivating for volunteers", and thus that "more details are needed" in feedback. There were complaints that the FDC process is in English, is difficult to understand, and that comments arise from existing opinions on an entity. The etherpad records the comment that "The FDC proposal form is horrible for the community, even for those who are used to reviewing annual plans and budget. They wouldn't understand from the form what their own chapter is doing. [The current process is] designed to make comparisons and nothing else, [to] redesign it from scratch. [The] proposal form is not easy for entity staff and is extremely hard for editors and community members to review."
The response from the FDC was that "Comparing proposals is critical for the FDC, especially as the volume of proposals and amounts of funds requested increases and to force people defining goals." The FDC chair, Dariusz Jemielniak, referred to the importance of cultivating goal-setting abilities among applicants, and pointed out that the Foundation itself did not fully satisfy the FDC's requirements in Round 1. Since the FDC is making large grants, he said, it sets higher expectations in terms of communicating entities' plans and filling in forms. The Foundation's chief financial officer, Garfield Byrd, said that the level of detail required in the FDC form for the annual plan and budget is clearly not detailed enough, and that it is difficult for readers to understand the financials from budgets and annual plans alone. FDC member Anders said that about half of FDC applications are not sound. Among other statements by FDC members were that there is a limited number of dollars to give out in the FDC, and it's not going to be possible to staff up all chapters.
Sunday finished with a series of meetings known as Barcamps.
- Comments from outside the chapter world
Biophysicist Daniel Mietchen attended the conference for WikiProject Med. He told the Signpost that in his opinion "there's a tendency for many wheels to be invented independently, so coordination across chapters has strong potential to improve efficiency and impact. For example, several chapters are now in discussions with their respective ministries of culture/education/science about how open licensing and Wikimedia projects can be included in curricula from high school to graduate courses, yet there has so far been next to no coordination of these efforts."
He specified the lack of coordination related to attendance at events, for example in Commons documentation and recurring visa problems; the Signpost has been informed that intending participants from two developing-world countries were refused visas for travel to Italy.
Mietchen pointed out that the three issues identified as the focus of the newly forming EU policy project also require coordination across chapters: "freedom of panorama (which exists in most but not all EU countries), orphan works, and PD-Gov (a concept alien to most European jurisdictions). Other issues, such as how to handle the paper work in running a chapter, have traditionally not been tackled in a very coordinated way either; nor have initiatives involving many chapters, such as Wiki Loves Monuments or the FDC process. However, a number of attempts along these lines are becoming more visible, e.g. the Chapters Association's discussions on the 'Chapters Exchange."
||The general atmosphere at the meeting was very productive, so I would expect to hear about a few cases of concrete improvements in cross-chapter coordination at Wikimania [in Hong Kong in August]. Thematic organizations like WikiProject Med can act as a catalyst here: while most attendees seemed positive about having them, nobody seems to have a clear idea yet how that would play out in practice, so some experimentation is needed. I would encourage all existing and forming chapters and related organizations to keep each other in mind when planning activities from now on."
Participants generally praised the atmosphere at the conference. On the downside, it appears that most of the detailed planning was left until the last minute. Just one week before the start, no schedule was available. A basic draft appeared on Meta a day after the Signpost made enquiries of the organisers; we know of at least one chapter for which this lack of planning weighed in the decision not to send representatives. The Signpost notes another matter that may be of interest to the organisers of future Wikimedia events: one participant commented that the connectivity at the venue and in the hotels was "crappy".
- Editor's note: the author of this article is a member of the Grants Advisory Committee, which recommended the approval of a US$120,000 grant to Wikimedia Italy to host the conference, but he was inactive at the time of the application for conference funding.
Ting Chen, former chair and current member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, has announced his intention to resign.
- Member of WMF Board will resign: Ting Chen – a Trustee since 2008, chair of the Board from 2010 until he was succeeded by Kat Walsh in July 2012, and a Wikimedian with more than 95,000 edits to the Chinese Wikipedia – has announced his intention to resign from the Board and apply for the executive director position that will soon be vacated by the departing Sue Gardner. In related news, the Board has amended its bylaws so that it may operate with fewer than nine members, and has asked for comment on this move on the resolution's talk page.
- Wikimedia Foundation election process begins: The Foundation has published a call for candidates for its 2013 elections to the Board of Trustees and the Funds Dissemination Committee.
- Wikidata defines its policies: Several requests for comment (RfCs) have been opened on Wikidata regarding important policies and guidelines, including oversighting and references, the latter being a strangely little-trafficked page despite its importance. In related news, the English Wikipedia is currently examining how much information the site will use and allow from Wikidata.
- Wikimania Committee: A committee to assist in organising the annual Wikimania gathering, a long-term goal of conference organisers, has finally got off the ground with a proposal on Meta, the coordinating site for the Wikimedia Foundation, its projects, and the communities who edit them.
- Chapter administration costs: Ashley Van Haeften, the recently departed chair of the Chapters Association, has begun a mailing-list discussion about the percentage of chapter funds that go towards administration rather than Wikimedia-related projects.
- Musical notation: As reported on the English Wikipedia's Village Pump, the Wikimedia sites' interface can now render musical notation. Instructions on how to use it are located on Mediawiki. See also this week's Technology report.
- UK-based Wikipedian-in-Residence: The National Library of Scotland is currently looking for a Wikipedian-in-Residence. The position will be full-time for four months in Edinburgh. A somewhat inaccurate BBC News article on the position has been published, along with stories in other British newspapers, while a full list of open Wikimedian-in-Residence positions is available.
- Global Wikipedia Women Write-in: The Rewriting Wikipedia Project has announced that it will hold its first of a series of events addressing inequalities in Wikipedia on 26 April, focusing on the lack of information on women theorists on the English Wikipedia.