News and notes
Chapter furore over FDC knockbacks; First DC GLAM boot-camp
FDC funding decision provokes angry protest
Deryck Chan ... windstorm over funding rejection
The Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC)—the body of chapter-affiliated volunteers set up last year as a major part of the Wikimedia Foundation's financial restructuring—released its recommendations to the WMF board last Sunday. The news that the Hong Kong chapter's application for a grant of almost US$212K had failed was followed just eight hours later by a strongly worded resignation announcement by Deryck Chan on the public Wikimedia-l mailing-list.
Currently a student of environmental engineering at the University of Cambridge, England, Chan is an admin on the Cantonese and English Wikipedias and an active photographic contributor on Commons. He has resigned from his roles as administrative assistant for the chapter and as its representative on the Chapters Association; but he will fulfill his remaining duties as a member of the organising team for Wikimania 2013, the movement's major annual event. This year, it will be hosted in early August by the Hong Kong chapter, with separate funding from the WMF. Deryck Chan wrote:
||Despite my desperate attempts to assist WMHK's board to keep up with deadlines and comply with seemingly endless requests from WMF grantmaking and FDC support staff, we received an overwhelmingly negative assessment which resulted in a complete rejection of our FDC proposal. ... / My experience with the FDC process has confirmed my ultimate scepticism about the WMF's direction of development. WMF has become so conservative with its strategies ... that it is no longer tending to the needs of the wider Wikimedia movement. / [The] WMF is expecting fully professional deliverables which require full-time professional staff to deliver, from organisations run by volunteers who are running Wikimedia chapters not because they're charity experts, but because they love Wikimedia.
A particular issue he raised was what he termed "the chicken-and-egg problem", referring to the challenge faced by chapters without paid staff in preparing effective applications for FDC funding that would enable them to hire their first staff. The Norwegian chapter's Erlend commented in response: "Getting the first employee demands the resources that only come with the first employee. ... One result will be an even more unevenly distributed outreach and campaigning power between some professionalised hubs (Germany, India, UK, Switzerland, Israel), and totally amateur hubs (Hong Kong, Egypt, Japan, Pakistan, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway, etc)."
The Signpost has been told that the large payrolls of some European chapters (Wikimedia Germany employs the equivalent of some 40 full-time staff) have influenced the aspirations of chapters around the world.
- Second round of funding
The FDC's second round saw US$665.5K recommended for allocation, bringing the total in both rounds to $9.17M of its maximum budget of just over $11M. The French chapter was granted $525K (70% of its request), having received only bridging funding in the FDC's first round last October; the Norwegian chapter secured $140K (59%). The other two applicants, the Czech and Hong Kong chapters, received no funding. The Committee has recommended that the remaining $2M be returned to Foundation reserves.
The FDC's comments on the round have sent clear messages to the movement. The Committee encourages diversity of funding; in assessing applicants' existing and proposed programs it takes into account the strategic focus and clarity of expected outcomes, sustainability, and community involvement; it takes technical compliance with the eligibility rules seriously; it is quite prepared to underspend its maximum budget where it sees fit; and the Committee expressed concern that "some of the applicants in Round 2 did not adequately understand the FDC framework, and applied for annual plan funding when project grants may have been more appropriate".
However, a major reason for its recommendations to reduce the French and Norwegian bid and to reject Hong Kong's request was its unease at plans for precipitous growth in funding and/or staffing: "We are concerned about the general increase in staff hiring that has been taking place over the last year, in particular where staff are performing functions that volunteers have been leading. We encourage entities to focus on balancing the work done by staff and volunteers in line with the Wikimedia movement's ethos of volunteers leading work, and to focus on having staff coordinate volunteer activities. We are also concerned about the growth rates of both staff and budgets. We would ask entities to consider whether their growth rates are sustainable in the long term, and whether they are leading to the most impact possible."
The recommendation comes after a comment by an FDC member last week during the feedback session at the Wikimedia Conference in Milan, that there is a limited number of dollars to give out, and it's not going to be possible to staff up all chapters.
Deryck Chan's announcement has provoked a stormy debate on the mailing list, in which more than 100 related posts have already appeared. Within an hour, Nathan wrote that "taking a chapter from essentially no funding to US$200k in one year is a massive leap that is both risky and unnecessary. ... Perhaps what's needed from the FDC is better guidance in advance about what the organic growth chart of chapter organizations should look like ...." He later commented:
||It's not logical to assume that because the WMF has funds it should in some way equitably distribute those funds around the world. Supporting chapter operations, and funding offices and staff in dozens of countries, is not the chief object of the money raised from donors. We need to get away from the belief that chapters are unquestionably the best use of movement resources. There is a place for outreach, publicity, and targeted educational programs. But the WMF is best situated to supplement the efforts begun by volunteers, in the same way the WMF itself was created and has grown. It would be a poor use of movement funds indeed if the WMF decided to pour money into infant chapters with minimal development and fuzzy strategic goals. That's a recipe for, at an absolute minimum, good-faith mismanagement and waste of scarce donor resources. Avoiding this path was a very wise decision by the trustees, and I only hope they remain resolute ...
The WMF's Head of Global South Relationships, Asaf Bartov, who is also in charge of the (non-FDC) grants program, accused Derryck Chan of writing "a letter full of wikidrama", and of following this up "with a direct accusation of our team of 'foul play' ". Just before the publication of this edition of the Signpost, Deryck Chan issued an apology and partial retraction:
||I apologise that my intentionally harsh words in the original mail and subsequent public replies may have been construed as bad-faith personal attacks against certain members of WMF staff and the FDC. In particular, I recognise that my anecdotal use of the words "foul play" may have hurt people's feelings; I apologise and retract this remark. I have already filed a formal complaint in my personal capacity to the FDC ombudsmen. I'm determined to step away from Wikimedia administration matters, so I won't comment any more on this matter.
Asaf Bartov and Dariusz Jemielniak accepted Chan's statement.
The Signpost understands that much of the frustration in Hong Kong rested on the fact that upon the closing date for applications the chapter was deemed "eligible". Referring to the reasons for the subsequent ineligibility, Asaf Bartov said: "I would like to stress that this is not a minor point of slight tardiness or some missing receipt—this is actual mismanagement of funds and does indeed reflect on WMHK's ability to handle large grants." However, he stressed that there was no bad faith on the part of the chapter, or "anything illicit or ethically improper".
Dariusz Jemielniak, the FDC's volunteer chair, told the Signpost that the chapter subsequently "did not return unused funds from a past grant or ask for a reallocation of funds as was requested by staff". With characteristic diplomacy, he said: "The Grantmaking team can—and will—improve in its communication with the chapters and entities, help them understand the significance of staying in compliance throughout the FDC process, and coordinate better with the WMF Finance team to ensure that entities maintain eligibility throughout the proposal process. This is a significant learning for the Grants team overall."
However, the critical point he made to us was that "the issues of compliance were not the critical reasons for the FDC’s recommendations on [the HK and Czech] proposals. Questions about WMHK’s proposal related to programmatic impact, sustainable growth, internal governance and the capacity of volunteers to manage a grant of the requested size, needed face-to-face deliberations before a recommendation could be made."
- Moving forward
In a statement to the Signpost, Dariusz Jemielniak said that a "letter of intent" will now be an early point of contact between applicants and the FDC from the next round onwards, "which will allow the FDC staff to reach out to interested entities in a much more informed and intentional manner during the months that precede the ... deadline. The FDC staff intends to work closely with the entities and will set up IRC chats and other conversations to help entities decide if annual plan funding through the FDC or project grants through the Wikimedia Grants Program is the better option for their needs."
"While there will be every attempt made by the FDC staff and the FDC to clarify the process and help navigate its intricacies, ... the FDC process is demanding and rigorous for a reason: we are privileged as a movement to have the resources we have, and we should be thoughtful and responsible about how we ensure programmatic impact through these resources. This is what the FDC proposals are assessed on, ... Around the world, many all-volunteer organisations that hire their first staff receive much smaller grants than what we have already seen requested (and granted) in this first year of the FDC process." He told us that because FDC allocations provide general, or unrestricted, funds to entities, so the level of review is even higher than for project-specific funds. "It’s important for our movement to recognise the responsibility we have to each other and to our donors in order to ensure transparency and accountability."
WMF Trustee Jan-Bart de Vrees told the mailing-list: "I think that WMHK should reapply to the GAC (because I do think we need to fund them as a movement) with a modest proposal (and reading Asaf's long mail it seems to me that this is a much better place for their proposal. I just wonder how we can ensure that affiliates apply to the right funding the first time around. Of course a condition to any funding is being in compliance)." His encouragement to apply through the GAC was echoed by Trustee Samuel Klein, who wrote "Support for the first stages of growth should be handled differently from later infrastructure support. ... More continuous feedback is needed. Eligibility should be simple and unchanging throughout the process. Whether or not a proposal is approved, there should be follow-up support to help applicants figure out next steps."
- Editor's note: the author is a member of the Foundation's volunteer Grant Advisory Committee, which makes funding recommendations to the WMF outside the ambit of the FDC.
GLAM Boot Camp
The first-ever GLAM "boot camp" was held in Washington, D.C. this week, with 17 Wikimedians in attendance. The camp comes on the heels of GLAM-Wiki 2013 in London, which will be covered in the Signpost 's Wikizine section in May.
The three-day conference was organized by one of the two regional chapters in the United States, Wikimedia DC, along with Dominic McDevitt-Parks and Lori Byrd Phillips, who have participated in the project as the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the National Archives and Records Administration and the United States Cultural Partnerships Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) respectively, in the past.
The boot camp focused on the GLAM-Wiki projects in the United States and Canada. It aimed to have an "honest conversation" about where these projects have succeeded and where they have failed, so that the participants would be able to improve their own projects in the future. As such, the sessions revolved around the history of GLAM-Wiki, how to approach GLAMs, what GLAMs think of Wikipedia collaborations, and how to apply for grants and other related WMF funding. There were also breakout sessions on how to improve the GLAM pages to show to institutions, and tutorial workshops on editing the Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource.
Most sessions were taken extremely well by the participants. In particular, the tutorial in editing Wikisource, which was entirely new to all but three people, generated a large amount of interest and led to the partial transcription of The Yellow Wall Paper. Participants also discussed the problems of GLAM-Wiki, which notably included the Gibraltarpedia controversy from last year; similar COI concerns may also be spreading to the German Wikipedia. The discussions occasionally branched out beyond purely GLAM-related concerns. One person, who works for an institution in the United States and has improved an article related to his employer (while being transparent on the talk page of the article involved), asked what has become a central question in the paid editing debate: "what happens if I use my skills as a Wikipedia editor to go to a GLAM institution and offer to improve the related article, even if I am paid?"
The benefits of GLAM-Wiki partnerships took precedence, though, as these reasons are necessary to convince a GLAM to work with an editor, and most attendees were not affiliated with a GLAM. One of the largest benefits was Wikipedia's global reach, with more than 500 million unique users a month, which can be invaluable in increasing access to a museum's holdings. For example, the German Federal Archives collaboration ended in 2010 after about 100,000 images were uploaded, but this was despite the vast benefits (PDF) the partnership brought to the table, including very accurate error reports and a vast increase in page views and revenue from image licensing. In fact, part of the reason was that the collaboration was too successful: the institution saw a 230% increase in research requests without a related increase in employees to handle them. There was also the downside of the digital world, in that many simply disregarded the Creative Commons share alike licenses when using the images outside of Wikimedia projects.
A variant of Joy's Law was also brought up as a benefit by Michael Edson, the director of web and new media strategy at the Smithsonian: "the person who knows the most about that object...you can't find them. You don't know who they are. But if you do it right, they can find you."
These lessons, and teaching them to interested Wikimedians, are key in the growth of the GLAM-Wiki project and its goal of having a self-sustaining project by the end of 2013, something that was aimed for but not attained under Liam Wyatt's 2011 Foundation Cultural Partnerships Fellowship and Phillips' 2012 Foundation position.
Other, unintended, results of the conference included the creation of a new article, Death during consensual sex, and the first two WikipediaWeekly podcasts in nearly a year.
- Editor's note: the author attended the conference with financial assistance from Wikimedia DC, which in turn was funded by a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation.
- Update, 2 May: Dominic McDevitt-Parks has also published a recap of the event on the GLAM-US mailing list.
- Jimbo Award: The "Jimbo Award", which Jimmy Wales awarded to two editors at Wikimania 2011 and 2012, has been brought up again this week when it was discovered that he had not paid either editor the promised US$5000 reward. The 2011 winner has, according to Wales, been waiting for him to make a trip to Kazakhstan to award the money in person. Demmy, the 2012 winner, had been in contact with Wales in January, but Wales did not reply to subsequent emails. The next recorded contact was last Friday, after a journalist, possibly Kevin Morris of the Daily Dot, contacted Wales about the matter. Demmy told the Signpost that "$5000 is not a small cash for somebody like myself ... after Jimmy's initial promise, I put in an application for Wikimania 2013 scholarship ... I was accepted but had to decline because Jimmy's promise was not forthcoming and I had until April 19 to accept or decline. The money would have helped me cover some expenses while I would be gone and of course while I would be there."
- Update, 16 June: Demmy has received the money and stated that the majority of the issues in transferring the money were on "his end", not Wales'.
- Wikimedia Foundation election process begins: The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the organization that runs the Wikimedia sites' infrastructure, has published a call for candidates for its 2013 elections to the Board of Trustees and the Funds Dissemination Committee.
- French chapter steps back from payment processing: Wikimedia France's vice-president Christophe Henner announced last Tuesday that the chapter will no longer process donations raised in France, a privilege the Foundation has extended to only a few chapters. The reason, he said, concerned French regulations for tax-deductibility that make it difficult to transfer more than 50% of locally raised funds to an international organization; these funds are now more than 50% due to the success of fundraising in France. "In the coming month, WMFr will work with [the] WMF on explaining to French donors that they can't ask for tax deduction next year ... Late 2012, WMFr board decided to start looking for external funding sources. Removing ourselves will also allow us to dedicate more resources to that activity."
- Affcom update: The Affiliations Committee (Affcom) has published their 2012 annual report.
- Wikimania 2014: The location of Wikimania 2014 has been announced: it will be held in London. The bidding process was unusual in that the budget had to be reduced to 20–25% of the original figure, which was at a maximum of £804,500, and the committee went so far as to consider re-opening the bidding process to different cities who could provide a less "costly and complicated [conference with a] simpler core budget and lower-cost options for attendees."