News and notes
UK chapter governance review marks the end of a controversial year
Wikimedia UK (WMUK), the national non-profit organization devoted to furthering the goals of the Wikimedia movement in the United Kingdom, has published the findings of a governance review conducted by management consultancy Compass Partnership.
This review was partially the result of a conflict-of-interest controversy revolving around Roger Bamkin, whose roles as English Wikipedia editor, trustee of WMUK, creator of QRpedia, and paid consultant for MonmouthpediA and GibraltarpediA received much press coverage, including a Signpost report. Bamkin subsequently resigned from WMUK's Board of Trustees.
WMUK's turbulent year was dotted with other trustee resignations as well. Ashley Van Haeften resigned from the position of chair in August 2012 after his ban from the English Wikipedia. Later that month, Joscelyn Upendran resigned from the board itself, stating that "personal loyalties may be getting in the way of what is really best for the charity and of dealing with any actual or perceived conflict of interest issues" in regard to Bamkin's actions.
Following these events, the chapter and the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) published a joint statement on September 28, 2012, where they laid out their plan to appoint an independent expert to review and report on the governance practices of WMUK, along with its handling of the controversy. The WMF's head of communications Jay Walsh posted a blog post on February 7, which said in part:
||The report discusses important conclusions based on discussions with and materials provided by all of the major stakeholders. The aim of the report is not to lay blame, rather it seeks to determine if pre-existing policies and practices around conflicts of interest and governance were sufficient. Through this report we also aim to lay the groundwork for better and stronger governance for Wikimedia UK in the future and for its development as a chapter in our movement. We also believe the report may benefit the wider community of Wikimedia affiliated organizations by providing an example of best practices around governance and decision-making as applied to a chapter.
Compass Partnership was appointed to do the review selected through a collaborative dialogue between the WMF and WMUK, and their fee was covered in full by the WMF.
Compass reported that while WMUK had conflict of interest guidelines, and individual trustees had typically stated their conflicts of interest—including Bamkin—the former were "not always implemented to the standard expected by the movement" and the latter could have been made much more transparent (pp. 13–14). In particular, with regard to the Bamkin controversy, the report found no "indication that the Wikimedia UK board formally asked to know the monetary value of any personal contracts to permit an assessment of the material extent of Roger Bamkin's consultancy work" (p. 8). While some individuals interviewed by Compass believed that the foundation would have known of the conflicts of interest through various postings on WMUK's website, Compass found that the declarations were only posted after discussions with the WMF had already begun, and there was no reference to conflicts of interests in WMUK's reports to the foundation.
Compass laid out 50 recommendations that it believes WMUK should implement to better capitalize on previous positive actions and tackle areas identified as needing work (pp. 17–26). Conflicts of interest were principally dealt with in recommendations 26 through 32, where Compass stated that WMUK should observe the "highest standard" in dealing with potential conflicts of interest.
To do this, Compass recommended that if WMUK trustees thought that there could be "any potential for the perception of a conflict of interest", they should contact the chair. Furthermore, when judging this, the board should gather all of the necessary information before coming to a decision, which includes "the size and extent of the personal or financial interest and the identity of relevant business associates." If this is not possible, Compass believes that WMUK should automatically assume that there is a conflict, and possibly request the resignation of the trustee.
Roger Bamkin, when contacted by the Signpost, told us that recommendation 32 may make it difficult to use otherwise perfectly suited candidates in the short term, but as recommended by the review, he believes that the "role of trustees will change and staff members will be available to take on more of the management roles." He also found that recommendation 47 (pp. 25–26), which regards the negotiations required for the use of the Wikimedia trademark and the role of conflict of interest declarations in them, "is a very good idea that will add to the important and essential safeguards of due diligence, the need to make no assumptions about contracts, and to check when the trademark agreement is required."
When asked about recommendation 50, which read in part that "Wikimedia UK should swiftly come to agreement with the owners of QRpedia on the future ownership of this software", Bamkin pointed to a recent agreement with WMUK, which will transfer the domain names and intellectual property of QRpedia to WMUK, while allowing Bamkin and its coder, Terence Eden, moral rights of attribution without financial compensation.
The current chair of WMUK's Board of Trustees, Chris Keating, stated to the Signpost via email:
||The Wikimedia UK board has spent most of this weekend's meeting considering the report's recommendations. We resolved to implement the report's recommendations, and also passed resolutions which will put large parts of it into practice. For instance, we today made a significant update to our policy on handling conflicts of interest, in line with the review's recommendations. We have also reached an agreement about the future of QRpedia.
In my view, the Governance Review's report and recommendations are a really important step forward for Wikimedia UK. There are clearly lessons for us to learn, but adopting the review's recommendations will help us develop and grow as an organisation.
The governance review, which also gave recommendations on items like the size of WMUK's board, how to run board meetings, and the relationship of WMUK with the Wikimedia movement, is available on Commons. A centralized discussion of it is taking place on meta, and there is a questions and answers page on the WMUK blog.
- Picture of the Year: The Wikimedia Commons' Picture of the Year contest has entered round two, where editors with more than 75 edits may vote for one picture. Voting will be open until 14 February.
- Fundraising: The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is planning to start testing new fundraising banners on 5% of anonymous users. No banners will be shown to logged-in users, nor those in previously targeted countries. Last year's fundraiser was conducted in December, but only in the top five English-speaking countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The banners were taken down early after the foundation hit its US$25 million target.
- Echo: The WMF has published a blog post introducing a new notifications system, called Echo. The Editor Engagement Team hopes that it will answer the question, "How can our users learn about events that affect them, so they can contribute more productively to MediaWiki sites like Wikipedia?"
- Individual Engagement Grants: Applications for IEGs, the new WMF grant scheme, are due by February 15 and can be reviewed on Meta.
- Steward election: The annual election of stewards, who have complete access on all WMF wikis to deal with transproject vandalism, among other matters, is open for voting until February 27.
- English Wikipedia