News and notes
FDC workshop at Wikimania 2013 ... complex issues surrounding the roles of employees and volunteers, growth rates, and programs are still unresolved
The next twice-yearly round of Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC)
grantmaking is soon to close for community questioning and commentary
. Ten nation-based Wikimedia chapters and one thematic organisation are asking for a total of more than US$5M of donors’ money from the Foundation’s renamed annual plan grant process. Aside from Wikimedia UK ($708k), the three biggest asks are from the German-speaking chapters: Wikimedia Germany is asking for $2.4M and Wikimedia Austria $311k; the German-language-related Swiss chapter has applied for $500k (the German and Swiss chapters are now the only two affiliates that directly process funds from donors in their own jurisdictions, under special arrangements with the Foundation; this gives them large sources of revenue aside from any WMF funding they might receive). Of significance to the FDC's process will be an examination of the governance, transparency, and financial reportage of all applicants.
The generosity of German readers and to a lesser extent other direct donors has enabled Wikimedia Germany to grow—uniquely among the chapters—into something resembling an industry, with more than 50 employees expected in 2014 (up from 43 this year) and an activities portfolio that far exceeds that of any other WMF affiliate. At the start of this month the chapter published its draft 2014 annual plan, which will be considered for adoption by the chapter's general assembly on 30 November. The draft plan shows annual revenue of $6.6M for this year (of which nearly $0.7M was not spent and has been brought forward), rising to $7.2M in 2014, an increase of nearly 9% (inflation in Germany is about 1.4%, according to tradingeconomics.com). Software development is slashed by more than a third, from $1.71M to $1.13M, largely because of the winding down of substantial project work. Communications/PR will be boosted from $440k to $611k. The evaluation of programs will cost $264k. "Administration" costs will almost double to $1.24M, much of this due to "higher rent for the larger premises needed to accommodate new staff", whose numbers will rise from 2.0 to nearly 4.5 FTE, including a full-time intern. The salary, bonus, and overheads for the executive director, Pavel Richter, and the costs of his full-time assistant (but in the table listed as 1.5 FTE plus a 0.5 FTE intern), will remain at $305.5k. The board will again have an almost full-time assistant plus travel and accommodation costs, rising a third to a total of $167k.
A statement by the chapter's auditors complains that they were given access to the draft only nine weeks ahead of the assembly: "Since the Executive Director had to be reminded that the published draft needs to include a statement by the auditors, the inspection was performed on short notice and the budget draft was initially published without the statement by the auditors. "The Executive Director and the Supervisory Board are expected to make next year’s budget draft available to the auditors in a timely manner."
The auditors were concerned about risks involved in "the fundraising agreement" with the WMF, and that many chapter members had wanted more detailed information on planned expenses (a point that seems to be evident on the talk page). The auditors stated that they too are:
||"unsatisfied with the too abstract character of items. ... to achieve this, the few but financially large items are to be broken down, so that—where possible—each item amounts to less than €100,000. Known projects like the WikiCon, Wikidata or the Community Project Budget must be clearly identifiable. ... The auditors consider it critical that the 8th General Assembly’s resolution [in 2011], according to which the budget draft is to be 'drawn up in an open, collaborative process' in which 'every interested person may participate' ... has not been put into practice here. Yet again the Wikimedia Deutschland office has published and submitted a budget to the FDC without the members having had the opportunity to actively participate in an open draft. Moreover, the members were only inadequately informed about the publication of the budget."
In reply to this somewhat scathing report, the executive director rejected the auditors' concerns about stability of funding after next year, stating that he "will of course negotiate appropriate agreements with the Wikimedia Foundation in the years to come". Of the auditors' complaints about lack of financial detail, Richter wrote: "the financial items are broken down in a more detailed manner—as was requested—in the programs’ operational goals themselves. The financial tables have been structured ... to make this year’s and last year’s figures comparable." Flexibility would be impossible "if we are expected to predetermine them all the way down to the level of single events and workshops."
The publication of the draft plan has been associated with critical feedback from the community on the talk page of the German-language version of the plan, some of which is similar in theme to queries on the talk page of the chapter's current FDC application. The feedback is consistent with the historically difficult relationship between the editing community and the chapter in Germany. For example, concerns have been expressed about the reportage of projects in the past financial year. A controversial collaboration on fact-checking between the chapter and ZDF, a German public television network, has come under fire; deployed in the run-up to last month's general election for the federal parliament, the project has been branded variously a success and a failure. The collaboration sparked major controversy in the editing community in April, leading to a community vote against the concept. However, the chapter disregarded the vote at the time and continued with the initiative. Now, Wikimedia Germany has publicly acknowledged that the project "has to be considered a failure".
The FDC applications by the Austrian and Swiss chapters have also resulted in interesting comments. Of the Austrian bid, FDC member Anders Wennersten wrote in a similar vein to those who feel the German application lacks detail: "I understand that you need more staff but am concerned over the proposed growth way above guardrails. Could you elaborate on resources needed for adminstration [and] express this need in terms of [full-time-equivalent staffing] and break it down into types of [administration]". The Signpost notes that the application states that "being a service provider for the Austrian community (and also neighbouring communities, e.g. in Germany) is centrepiece for WMAT's self-conception and strategy", although it is unclear from the text how such staffing would be allocated, and how the Austrian, German, and Swiss chapters will minimise wasteful overlap, given that Wikimedia Germany will have nearly 6.5 FTE employees in its communities team in 2014.
At the Swiss application talk page, Wennersten asked questions about what he described as the uncertain focus of the education program and the justification of a half-time administrative assistant, when "experience from other chapters indicates that the need is usually somewhat smaller, like 0.25 FTE". A question from an anonymous editor was asked about possible conflict of interest in the appointment of the former president of the chapter to the position of chief science officer; readers are invited to peruse the thread to judge this matter for themselves.
The Wikimedia Foundation encourages community queries and comments on all 11 FDC applications until the end of October, when the formal assessment process will start.
In a related issue, there has been a debate on the Wikimedia mailing list—initiated by the chair of the FDC, Dariusz Jemielniak (User:Pundit)—concerning the fact that the WMF is eligible to apply for funding from its own FDC, and does indeed do so (to the tune of more than $4M in the first year). The view of one correspondent, Nathan, was that "from both a practical and legal perspective the authority of the FDC comes from the WMF; this is the fundamental problem with having it purport to 'review' the Foundation's spending and activity." Risker, from the English Wikipedia, wrote that: "the opportunity for conflict of interest is extremely high, and there's pretty much no way that the FDC can make recommendations on the overall budget (and the very sizeable portion of said budget that is largely dispensed based on their recommendation) without crossing the line into at least perceived conflict of interest." Pundit subsequently defended the FDC against claims that it might be merely a rubber stamp in this respect. The results of the thread are inconclusive.
- Airtel joins Wikipedia Zero: The Wikimedia Foundation has announced via press release that Airtel, a global telecommunications company based in New Delhi, India, has joined their Wikipedia Zero program to provide free access to Wikipedia to sub-Saharan Africa. This agreement differs from previous partnerships in that it includes a pilot program to provide free access to Wikipedia through text messaging—not through just data. The deal will add about 70 million users to the 517 million already in the program.
- Wikimania Committee: A committee has been formed to help organize future Wikimanias, the annual gathering of the Wikimedia movement. The founding members have all been involved in planning past Wikimanias.