News and notes
Debates on Meta sparking along—grants, new entities, and conflicts of interest
Upcoming changes to the WMF grant schemes
As part of its new focus on core responsibilities, the Wikimedia Foundation is reforming its grant schemes so that they are more accessible to individual volunteers. The community is invited to look at proposals for a new scheme—for now called Individual engagement grants (IEGs)—which is due to kick off on January 15.
In 2012, the WMF reformed the financial structure that underpins the funding of programs across the movement. At the heart of this was the establishment of a community-based committee, the FDC, to make recommendations to the WMF board on grant applications by eligible organizations for movement funds. Individuals and smaller organizations could rely on two other schemes: the GAC-backed Wikimedia grant program and participation grants.
However, no comparable program is yet in place to empower individual and small groups of volunteers to tackle large and time-consuming structural issues. The fellowship program, which funded projects like the wub's redesign of the English Wikipedia's help pages, has been wound down to free technical and organizational WMF resource for core tasks like developing the visual editor.
While the foundation is encouraging chapters to engage in funding efforts modeled on the fellowship scheme, it recognizes that there will be a gap, given the WMF refocus. According to the drafts published on Meta by Siko, who has led the fellowship program and is now responsible for grants to individuals, the new pilot scheme aims to provide a solution. In the first round, seven IEG grants of US$5k–30k each are on offer, in a unique framework:
||Expenses (travel, venue, outreach materials, logo gear, etc)
||Money, proposal planning and reporting coaching
||Single event, generally
|Individual engagement grant
||Time and expenses (project materials, travel, outside services, logo gear, etc)
||Money, planning and assessment coaching, progress check-ins
||Semiannual RfPs, new cohort every 6 months
||7 grants for pilot (budgeted at US$5k–30k per grant), 10–20 in round 2
In selecting grantees, the WMF will rely on community input from both individual members of the community and a subcommittee of the already-established GAC volunteer committee, which advises the WMF on the Wikimedia grants scheme. The proposal for the new grant scheme also involves working with chapters, where they exist, to find the best institutional support for programs that are funded.
The community is invited to propose changes to the draft framework and to address open questions. According to the plan, a call for applicants is expected to be published by January 15.
Trademarks and identities: Wikimedia thematic organizations debate reloaded
On Meta, the community is once again debating the two new offline participation models—user groups (open membership groups designed to be easy to form) and thematic organizations (incorporated non-profits representing the Wikimedia movement and supporting work on a specific theme within or across countries). While the WMF board approved a broad framework for what these new community-run entities could aim to achieve in principle by March 2012, the latest debate on how to make it all work in practical terms has centered around whether new entities should be allowed to call themselves Wikimedia (X), and the potential implications of such a move.
The roots of the discussion go back at least to the movement roles working group, established in October 2010 to review and reform which Wikimedia entities are supposed to do what in serving the online projects properly. The investigation concluded that no established model at the time was properly equipped to empower communities like volunteers working on our Catalan language projects (an example of the concept of the thematic organization in these debates) and user groups such as Wikipedia's oldest meetup in Munich (an example of the user group).
The WMF legal team—conscious that volunteer organizations outside the US have faced legal complaints through being confused with the foundation (example)—is now proposing four general principles. These principles, to be implemented by the volunteer-run AffCom as the body that guides recognition-seeking entities through the application process, are designed to guide the naming decisions of entities seeking WMF board recognition:
- Confusion. The name must avoid confusion among outside stakeholders and promote a precise understanding of what the applicants will be engaged in. For example, if a meetup contributes to a Wikipedia language version but not to its sister projects, it is proposed in such cases that "Wikipedia" appear in the group's name.
- Scoping. Names that "allow a multiplicity of groups to pursue our shared mission" and periodical reviews of their work to ensure the name matches the activity are encouraged. Exclusivity was a hotly contested issue on the German Wikipedia over the Wikimedia Medicine proposal last October. German community members argued that establishing such a thematic organization might lead to a seismic shift, depriving the editing community of its control of the editorial processes in the longer term.
- Accuracy. Names that accurately describe the group are recommended; for example, “WikiSource Editors for Military History” for a Wikisource project dealing with the history of military.
- Dilution: To avoid brand dilution, the guidelines recommend (i) careful consideration of the purpose of entities applying for trademark rights, and (ii) community consultations under the guidance of Affcom. Both recommendations aim to recognize the work of the editing community that has underpinned the public goodwill towards the trademarks sought by entities.
AffCom, traditionally dominated by chapter functionaries and currently seeking new members through its co-option process, is required to look at applications case-by-case in implementing the guidelines of and making recommendations to the WMF board.
In a consultation process on Meta that will last until January 15, the community will be discussing WMF proposals for a new guideline on conflicts of interests
concerning Wikimedia resources. The draft covers COI issues for both volunteers and organizations across the movement.
The document is a framework that sets out minimum standards to be upheld by everyone who is requesting movement resources, such as grants made possible through donations and the receipt of trademark permissions like the use of the Wikipedia ball, emblems that have achieved good public standing on the back of years of work by Wikipedia communities. In commenting on the general context of the draft, Geoff Brigham, the WMF's general counsel, told the Signpost that the timing of these guidelines is highly appropriate:
||Not only might we learn more about ethical governance from past events, but we – as a movement – are also growing more interactive on a global scale in our allocation and requests for resources, demanding the highest ethical standards. The guidelines are intended to ensure a movement-wide baseline for those who ask for resources belonging to the Wikimedia movement: proactive transparency disclosing any potential personal or financial conflicts of interest when an applicant asks for movement resources. Such transparency is the first step in ensuring objective and independent decision-making in the allocation of those resources.
For example, many chapters are taking on leadership roles and are coming to have oversight responsibility for large sums of money, staff, and other resources: chapters and other entities in the movement deserve proactive transparency about potential conflicts of interests that possible recipients of their staff work or [spending] may have. If someone is asking for a grant that indirectly supports a family member's business, that should be disclosed.
We have movement-wide committees, like the FDC and AffCom, who make important decisions about movement resources and those committees need transparency and assurance that all requests are for mission, not personal, goals. If someone seeks a thematic organization to support the mission of another charity where they sit as a trustee, that should be disclosed. WMF is building up its grants program and will be providing large amounts to diverse individuals and organizations internationally. WMF is also approving and drafting valuable trademark licenses to support international movement goals and projects, and furnishing staff, such as communication or tech expertise, to help further mission projects. If a paid consultant asks for support to post a Wikimedia blog, that consultancy should be disclosed. In short, we need to ensure that people proactively disclose their personal and financial interests or potential conflicts when they request movement resources so fair, objective, and independent decisions may be made in their allocation. The proposed guidelines are a step in that direction.
The document outlines five basic guidelines:
- If you are being paid by or receiving anything of value from another person or organization, you should disclose proactively that relationship and interest when you make a request for movement resources that may benefit that other person or organization.
- If you are requesting movement resources that may benefit your family member, spouse, partner, business associate, significant other, close friend, or their organizations or employers, you should disclose proactively that interest when you make the request.
- You should answer fully and honestly any relevant and appropriate questions when requesting and using movement resources.
- If your request or use of movement resources could be perceived by others or the public as improper, you should disclose proactively why in your request for those resources. Even the perception of a conflict or unauthorized personal gain needs to be disclosed.
- You should not request or use movement resources for unauthorized personal gain.
The document provides five practical examples, and assumes that people involved in handling movement resources can set higher standards as they see fit in their field of activity. Volunteers can rely on the guidelines in engaging in debates like the Gibraltar controversy last September.
However, open questions such as how to handle potential COIs of decision-makers are still to be addressed; and the practicalities of how to apply the guidelines in more decentralised financial decision-making processes such as the newly approved flow-funding pilot project are still to be thought through. Community input is welcome until January 15 on the draft's talk page. The WMF board is not expected to vote on the outcome before its meeting in February 2013.
- Cite4Wiki is on e-death's door: Cite4Wiki, an established, free, open-source Firefox add-on used by editors as a citation-generating tool, is having problems in coping with Firefox's version 17. Stanton McCandlish, the fourth volunteer developer in succession to serve as caretaker, is seeking urgent help to redevelop the tool.
- WMF annual report 2011–12: The WMF has published its annual report for 2011–12. An on-wiki version can be found on Meta.
- WikiProject medicine workshop in San Francisco: Between January 8 and 11, Wikimedians engaged in medicine are holding a number of events at the University of California, San Francisco. Interested editors in the area are invited to sign up on the project page.
Check back for the next Signpost