One of the first university Wikipedian in residence positions, hosted at Harvard University in 2012, has jumped back into the spotlight amid questions about its ethical integrity.
The position, advertised and promoted by the Wikimedia Foundation, was at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. They were looking for an "experienced Wikipedia editor" who would have a "unique role facilitating collaboration between the faculty, staff, and fellows at the Center and the Wikipedia volunteer community".
This chain of events was initially set in motion by the WMF's executive director Sue Gardner after an inquiry from Liz Allison of the Stanton Foundation, an organization that had donated several million dollars to the WMF (including $1.2 million in 2010 for the Public Policy Initiative and $3.6 million in 2011 for the troubled VisualEditor). While the Wikipedian-in-residence would be funded by the Stanton Foundation and work at the Belfer Center at Harvard, they asked the WMF to act as a fiscal sponsor for administrative reasons. The WMF also recruited candidates; their first choice, a long-time Wikipedian and former Harvard librarian, was rejected for not having enough experience in international security. The job description was sent to an email mailing list of academic international security programs; the WMF interviewed two candidates from the resulting applications. Timothy Sandole, who registered a Wikipedia account on the day applications closed, was selected by Belfer to fill the position on the basis of his previous academic experience with international security issues.
The offering of the position was not uncontroversial; the Foundation's deputy director, Erik Möller, has since written on the Wikimedia-l mailing list that Liam Wyatt, Pete Forsyth, Frank Schulenburg and LiAnna Davis were among those who either "noted the risks and issues early on" or "provided internal feedback and criticism ... pointing out the COI issues and the risks regarding the project." Left unstated was the strength of some of this feedback: "we told them so", Wyatt stated. "We tried ... to tell the relevant WMF staff that this was a terribly designed project, but the best we got in response was that we could help edit the job description after it had already been published! ... We did get to dilute the worst of the original job description so it wasn't so blatant a paid editing role ... The WMF dug themselves into this hole despite the frantic attempts, which were largely rebuffed, of several of the GLAM-WIKI community help them fix it—or at least reduce the number of problems."
Sandole's final report
Sandole was supervised by Sara Lasner of the WMF, though Möller emphasized that this was only administrative oversight, handling vacation requests and payments, among other unnamed duties. According to Möller, "Timothy's edits weren't monitored in detail by the Wikimedia Foundation." Yet there was enough supervision from Lasner for her to tell Sandole in September 2012 to "be conscious of not over-representing Harvard University in his research". Her superior Lisa Seitz-Gruwell, the WMF's chief revenue officer, also sent an email "regarding awareness of conflict-of-interest issues in general."
Möller's thoughts reveal what he believes should have occurred at the WMF:
* a full and honest upfront conversation between WMF and Stanton early on about any perceived or real conflicts-of-interest issues in the context of this work;
strong follow-through in ensuring the highest standard of disclosure regarding all funding relationships, beyond the initial blog post, and continued reporting, including the final report;
a sufficient level of training and oversight for Timothy Sandole beyond administrivia.
He concluded his email:
The Wikimedia Foundation did and does not intend to undertake similar efforts again (programs that include paid editing), but these kinds of issues can extend to any program that includes active work on content. So my initial take is that we should aim [to] ensure that content-related programs are undertaken under a clear and simple set of public guidelines, and are situated in parts of the organization well-positioned to support them with subject-matter expertise. We'll discuss this more, and follow up on this as well.
Finnish investigation of donations to the WMF: An investigation into the Finnish Wikipedia's fundraising banner has been closed with no action. As we reported in February, Finland's Money Collection Act requires individuals to apply for and receive a permit before soliciting donations. Under this law, authorities in Finland served wikifi-adminlist.wikimedia.org, the mailing list of the Finnish Wikipedia's administrator core, with a "clarification request". That was forwarded to the Wikimedia Foundation's legal team, who issued a formal press release on 3 March:
The Foundation's strong view is that the Finnish Money Collection Act is not applicable to the matter for numerous reasons that we laid out in our statement to the National Police Board. The Wikimedia Foundation does not have its own activity or representation in Finland. While there is an organization in Finland called Wikimedia Suomi ry, that organization is independent of WMF, is not owned by WMF, and is not operated by WMF. The Wikimedia Foundation operates Wikipedia and administers all global fundraising operations for Wikipedia in Finnish. All funds raised by WMF with its Finnish banners go directly to [the] WMF.
WMF's mid-year financial statements: The Foundation's mid-year financial statments have been published alongside a Q&A. The WMF's Finance and Administration Department reports that the organization's financial picture is "strong", although both revenue and spending are lower than anticipated.
Wikimania 2015: Six bids have been received for Wikimania 2015, including Bali, Indonesia; Esino Lario, Lake Como region, Italy; Cape Town, South Africa; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Monastir, Tunisia; and Mexico City, Mexico.
New York Times and GLAM-Wiki: Noam Cohen, who has previously written several reports of Wikipedia for the New York Times and attended several Wikimanias, profiled several Wikipedia collaborations with museums in a recent article. From the lead: "If ever there was the antithesis of the crowd-sourced Wikipedia, it would be a museum, where an expert picks what is seen and not seen, then carefully prepares captions explaining what each piece of art means. But while there used to be innate suspicion toward Wikipedia among museum staffs, even hostility, in recent years there has increasingly been cooperation."