News and notes
WMF's draft annual plan turns indigestible as an FDC proposal
Like hammering a square peg into a round hole, the Wikimedia Foundation has submitted a draft annual plan for 2014–15 to its own Funds Dissemination Committee. Unlike the WMF's submission to the FDC's inaugural round in October 2012, the "proposal" does not seek funding. However, according to the FDC's governing "Framework", it is "an advisory committee of the Board of Trustees and will provide recommendations on requests for funding by eligible entities ... / The purpose of the FDC process is to make allocations to FDC-eligible Wikimedia entities, ...".
However, there appears to be no Framework-supported role for the FDC in processing submissions from "non-fund-seeking" entities, a category into which the Foundation clearly falls in this round. Nor has it been clear why the Foundation was written into the process in the first place as both a potential "fund-seeking entity" as well as having "involvement and oversight".
The FDC is supported by WMF staff whose role, among other things, is "to prepare for the FDC an assessment of the likely impact of fund-seeking entities' plans against the mission goals of the Wikimedia movement, and an assessment of the ability of eligible entities to execute those plans responsibly and well". The Signpost asked the chair of the Board of Trustees, Jan-Bart de Vreede, who is also one of the FDC's two non-voting Board representatives, if he believes that WMF proposals to the FDC—whether for funding or not—place the FDC and/or its staff in a position of potential conflict of interest. He responded:
||The WMF staff do not receive any personal benefit from the WMF's assessment in the FDC, and the Board of Trustees has an opportunity to independently review the FDC's recommendations. I believe that the transparency and community involvement in the FDC enables the full process to be conducted in a fair and reasonable fashion. The WMF already has an intensively transparent process for preparing and evaluating its annual plan, and I am interested to see whether the FDC process will facilitate more helpful feedback.
The WMF's submission of its annual plan draft as an FDC proposal appears to meet the approval of FDC chair Dariusz Jemielniak, who told the Signpost a month ago: "I believe there is a lot of value in the WMF applying to the FDC. It is important to try to be as equal in the movement, as possible, I think. In my personal view the best approach was "core" vs. "non-core" budget division (where they applied for non-core activities), but the idea was dropped."
The submission opens with a statement that it has been "published now as part of the FDC process so that the WMF can get community and FDC member input to inform the plan as it's revised and refined". In her introductory remarks on the talkpage, executive director Sue Gardner wrote: "Last year the WMF submitted material after it had been approved by the WMF Board and after the fiscal year had begun. That was an okay first step to getting input from community members, but obviously the input will have more impact if we get it before the plan's locked down." She explained that this is why the draft has been synchronised to run as an FDC submission.
The experiment does not appear to have been entirely successful. As Dariusz Jemielniak told the Signpost: "I understand that perhaps at some level it may be difficult to adjust to the FDC process." And in Sue Gardner's words: "The drawback is it means you'll be reviewing material that is still a work-in-progress, and so you may find mistakes. The plan may also be a little confusing, which is partly because it's still in-progress, and also partly because we are merging this year the original WMF-Board-only format with the FDC proposal requirements. It'll be a little clunky: we ask you to bear with us as we work out the kinks."
The proposal, which comprises more than 22,000 words, does look like an odd fit. Despite the fact that no FDC funds are sought in the proposal, a table at the top lists "Currency requested: $60,064,000". A succession of questions designed for chapters yields underwhelming responses:
- Q: "How many members does your organization have, ...?
A: The Wikimedia Foundation is not a membership organization. ...
- Q: "... how are volunteers engaged with your organization’s work?
A: 81,821 volunteer contributors made five or more edits on Wikimedia’s projects, including 76,273 who made five or more edits on Wikipedia. ...".
- Q: "... which particular project or projects does your work support?
A: ... We support all Wikimedia movement projects and all language versions."
- Q: "What external opportunities enable your organization's plan ...?
A: The Wikimedia Foundation's biggest external opportunity is the goodwill of the hundreds of millions of people who use the Wikimedia projects, act as their advocates and supporters, and fund them."
A large amount of information laid out in the draft is readily available elsewhere in the Foundation's on-wiki documentation, including its substantial monthly reports. Added to this difficult situation is that FDC submissions cannot normally be updated or altered in response to comments on the talkpage without explicit permission from FDC staff—draft or no draft. It is little wonder that despite banners on Wikipedia watchlist pages for at least the past week, only two community members, Pine and Nemo, have ventured onto the talk page to review the proposal and pose questions. Both have spent considerable time and effort on the talk page, sometimes in forensic detail with incisive follow-ups.
Pine told the Signpost by phone that on the good side, he believes the document reveals plans for "very appropriate investments in mobile and engineering, and other directions in staffing that make sense". However, he is not satisfied with the standards of transparency in relation to financial and quantitative performance data, especially the budget tables, which should have been "a lot more readable". While he is "not particularly upset that the plan has been put to the FDC," he said, "it does bother me how little engagement there was by FDC members."
An appendix to the plan adds another 14,000 words, including a table of contents that by itself numbers 1200 words: "what is this thing?", asked Nemo. The appendix was subsequently approved by FDC staff as a legitimate part of the proposal ("The FDC will be reviewing this supplementary document along with WMF's proposal," wrote one of the grants administrators).
Wikimedia Germany's involvement
Dariusz Jemielniak foreshadowed to the Signpost a month ago that there might be problems in having WMF/FDC staff reviewing the plans for other departments: "I think that there are ways to avoid involving WMF staff in WMF evaluation—if some large entities of the movement offer to do some of the work." On 24 April, he and FDC member Mike Peel announced on behalf of the FDC that "the WMF/FDC staff have a potential bias here, since their work is included in the WMF's proposal. / As a result, we have asked Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE), the second largest entity in our movement, to do the staff assessment of the WMF's proposal, and they have agreed to do this. WMDE will be adapting the framework of the standard staff assessment as they see fit in order to appropriately assess the WMF's proposal; the main expectation we have is that they will help identify the key strengths and weaknesses of the proposal in their assessment."
This sparked a furore on the Wikimedia mailing list over whether it was an appropriate course of action. Risker wrote: "I think this is a horrible idea. WMDE is a direct beneficiary of both the WMF and the FDC decisions, and cannot be considered impartial in assessing the WMF proposals. / I also question whether or not WMDE has the skill-set necessary to make the equivalent of a 'staff assessment' of the proposals, particularly in view of the FDC's comments about their goal-setting and assessment of outcomes for their own proposal."
In a further message, Risker continued:
||Quite bluntly, the WMF shouldn't be asking the FDC to review a plan that does not include a request for funds: it is outside of the FDC mandate, which is to recommend the disbursement of a specific funding envelope using specific criteria. I would have hoped that the FDC would have the courage to say "no, sorry, this is outside our scope", but I understand that it's hard to step away from such a juicy-looking opportunity. / However, having accepted the validity of the "proposal", the FDC does not have the authority to delegate its role."
Among the responses was Jemielniak's: "WMDE staff has a lot of experience in using different metrics, and understands our movement. The FDC can request any the movement stakeholders specifically for comments, and so it did."
Nicole Ebber, Wikimedia Germany's manager of international affairs, wrote to the mailing list: "Given the short time frame, we are only able to assess the Infrastructure and Mobile part of the proposal. We will focus on the plan's comprehensibility and its consistency with the strategy. / Please note that we will only be able to determine the detailed scope of the assessment in the course of the analysis."
This raises the issue of who will conduct the staff review of the rest of the annual plan.
The Signpost asked Ebber whether she believes there a potential conflict of interest in having a staff assessment conducted by a large recipient of FDC funding, even given the limited scope the chapter had defined for itself. We put it to her that WMDE has recently published complaints about the FDC's processes; that FDC staff were highly critical of the chapter's bid last November, and slashed their quantitative scoring of the chapter over the previous year's; and that WMDE's own auditors had complained about vagueness and a lack of detail in its own budget draft last year. Ebber responded:
||The FDC has assigned the assessment task to a certain group, in this case WMF staff. As they cannot assess themselves, we found their consequence to approach WMDE staff, which is body with a similar structure, logical. Let’s not discuss this matter theoretically right down to the last detail before we see where it leads us. I’d rather wait what comes out of it in the end, whether this is helpful, brings the expected results or can be expanded in a next FDC round before making any further assumptions.
We also asked the chair of the WMF Board, Jan-Bart de Vreede, whether the decision to involve Wikimedia Germany was taken with the knowledge and agreement of the two Board representatives on the FDC: "Both board liaisons and I were aware of the proposal to have WMDE do (part of) the assessment that is normally done by the Foundation. I don’t think we have a place to agree or not to agree. ... the nature of the assessment and the characteristics of the WMF proposal makes it hard to see how useful this assessment will be." Is there a potential conflict of interest in the conduct of such a "staff assessment" by a large recipient of FDC funding?
||I don’t think this is a question of conflict of interest—the FDC believes that a "staff assessment" from WMDE will help them make a fair recommendation to the Board. Remember that this is all done in a public fashion and that “the movement” is watching (rightly so). I highly value the work of the FDC and am looking forward to their comments on the WMF annual plan, and these could very well also contain some criticism. In my perspective, this is not an issue of conflict of interest. / With regards to the FDC inviting other entities to help, I am very interested to find out how useful the end results will be and am grateful to WMDE for taking part in this experiment.
- Adrianne: Several edit-a-thons commemorating the life of Adrianne Wadewitz, a prominent Wikipedia editor who passed away several weeks ago while rock climbing, have been planned for the month of May. In related news, the English Wikipedia's featured article of the day for 26 April showcased Adrianne's article on Original Stories from Real Life, a book by Mary Wollstonecraft. A Memorial Prize is also being planned by her university, but is still seeking funding.
- Wikipedia Library expands: The Wikipedia Library has announced that it has entered into partnership agreements with the Royal Society and the Oxford University Press. Wikipedia editors can sign up to one or both to request free access to several of their publications. Also from the Wikipedia Library, there are three open positions for Wikipedia visiting scholars, which give remote university-level access to Wikipedians in exchange for article work in a specific area.
- Wikimedia DC: The US-based chapter Wikimedia DC has announced that it is hiring one person to be its Wikipedia Summer of Monuments program manager. It will be a five-month contracted position.
- Wikimedia engineering report: The monthly update on the Wikimedia Foundation's engineering activities has been published. It is also available in a simpler, non-technical format.
- New Wikipedian in residence: Ham, an editor on the Wikimedia projects since 2004, has been asked by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to be its Wikipedian in residence. The English-language press release notes that Ham "will report back on how the Coleg’s Welsh-medium educational resources, which have been developed by universities across Wales, can be shared on Wikimedia platforms, including Wikipedia, under appropriate open licences."
- Wiki Loves Pride: 21 June has been set for the 2014 Wiki Loves Pride campaign, which will feature edit-a-thons and photography events aiming to improve Wikipedia's coverage of LGBT-related articles. Questions can be directed to the organizers at wikiLGBTgmail.com or the group's Facebook page.
- Lifehacker: An article in Lifehacker this week illuminated some of Wikipedia's lesser-known features, along with the Simple English Wikipedia.
- WikiCup: The WikiCup, an annual English Wikipedia competition held since 2007, has entered its third round. 32 competitors remain.
- New Commons link prefix goes live: Following a rebooted RfC that ran through February and March,
c: has been added to the available interwiki link prefixes as a shortcut for linking to Wikimedia Commons. The feature was originally proposed in 2006 at Bugzilla bug 4676 by Korrigan from the French Wikipedia, and then again in 2011 on Meta by Hazard-SJ as an RfC, but didn't draw enough attention at the time to see any action taken. As the change would add titles beginning with "c:" to the list of those prevented by technical restrictions, two dozen wikis in a number of languages where clashes would occur were notified of the proposal. The resulting RfC, and a parallel discussion at the reopened bug report, saw the participation of well over a hundred editors from a variety of projects and attracted broad support for the idea. Following the completion of a cross-project cleanup effort to rename affected articles,
c: was added to the interwiki map by PiRSquared17 on 17 April 2014, and is now functioning (for example, c:Commons:Village Pump). With this long journey from concept to reality now complete, Commons joins the roster of major Wikimedia sites with single-letter shortcuts, alongside Meta (
m:), Wikibooks (
b:), Wikidata (
d:), Wikinews (
n:), Wikipedia (
w:), Wikiquote (
q:), Wikisource (
s:), and Wikiversity (
v:). Other project codes include
mw: for MediaWiki,
voy: for Wikivoyage, and
wikt: for Wiktionary, and the far longer
species: for Wikispecies.