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Ground shifts while chapters dither over new Association

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By Jan eissfeldt and Tony1
Organisational structure of the Chapter Association, as agreed by chapter representatives in Berlin
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Negotiations among the chapters—the national Wikimedia entities—over the creation of an umbrella organisation appear to have stalled just weeks before the scheduled announcement of the arrangements for the new organisation at Wikimania in Washington DC (12–15 July). Meanwhile, in another move prompted by resolution of the foundation board at the Berlin conference in April, the first signs of a structure for user groups and thematic organisations were published on Meta on 18 June. These two new entities will comprise additional layers of real-world organisations—a significant structural change for the movement and a potential challenge to chapters' existing roles.

Wikimedia Chapter Association

At Berlin, the 25 represented chapters (out of 39) agreed to establish the Wikimedia Chapters Association (WCA) in response to the ongoing reform of Wikimedia's organisational structures. The WCA is designed to coordinate the efforts of the chapters and advocate their interests in relation to the WMF, which distributes funding and resources such as the right to use trademarks to support chapters' work. The WCA will be designed to improve chapter transparency and accountability, and to develop best practices on relevant issues such as GLAM initiatives. The intention is to hire staff and to formally agree on a location for a centralised office for the WCA. The Signpost believes this will most likely be in the Belgian jurisdiction.

The chapter representatives agreed on a letter and a time frame to be pursued by an elected steering committee. An important aim was to finalise the arrangements in time for the announcement of the foundation's finance reforms at Wikimania; these reforms will be critical to the work of the chapters, which depend heavily on foundation funding for their promotion of Wikimedia-related activities in their areas. (In a related development, it is widely expected that the new Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) will involve much stricter auditing of chapters that apply to it for operating costs.)

However, preparations for the new WCA and its council—whose members are to be elected by the chapters—have run into trouble over communications on key issues between members of the steering committee, which is charged with preparing the standing orders that will set out the basic structures for the WCA. According to the schedule, where to locate the new entity should already have been agreed on, and the results published weeks ago.

The steering committee has not responded to on-wiki inquiries regarding the state of play—even to queries by the new chapter-selected WMF trustee–elect, Alice Wiegand, who enquired in May and again in June.

English Wikipedia arbitrator Kirill Lokshin represents Wikimedia DC in the WCA process. He told the Signpost, "it's obvious to everyone that the process is far behind schedule", but that this is unsurprising given what he believes is an "unrealistically aggressive" timeline. He emphasised that the standing orders drafted by the steering committee as well as the two alternative proposals, of which he drafted one, contain the required basics and that disagreements are focused on procedures rather than substance.

"There has been a great deal of confusion," he said, "both among the steering committee members and among the participating chapters, between the location where the WCA is to be incorporated and the location where the WCA should operate." The steering committee "has interpreted its mandate merely as providing recommendations to the WCA Council on these topics. Since there is currently no mechanism for the Council to make any decisions—and, indeed, no real indication of who the members of the Council actually are—this has made it impossible to proceed towards a decision even if the steering committee's recommendations were to be finalized." However, the chair of the WCA steering committee, Tomer Ashur, disputed this view: “I am not sure this was indeed the initial plan. We do not interpret the mandate as merely providing recommendations rather than providing recommendations that if not challenged [will] become decisions.“

Kirill told the Signpost that he remains hopeful of progress before Wikimania on the three major infrastructure elements: recommendations for a location, and drafts of the job description for the Secretary-General and of the standing orders.

To make things more complicated, the biggest chapter, Wikimedia Germany, elected its representative, Markus Glaser, to the WCA by membership vote last week. He has stated that his priorities will be to achieve "far-reaching decision-making power" for chapters over the Wikimedia projects in relation to any controversial changes to the technical platform, and to partially roll back the foundation board's financial reforms by arguing for financial autonomy of the German chapter in relation to what he referred to as "sovereignty" over donations to the movement in Germany.

Are the chapters alone enough? New models for participation

Regular chapter status is generally bound to activities in a nation state (with the notable exception of the two US chapters, Wikimedia DC and New York). The inflexibility of this model came to a head during an application for chapter status to promote Wikimedia's mission in the Catalan language, which is mainly spoken in Spain but is also the official language of Andorra.

In response to this, two participatory models are under development by the foundation's Chapters Committee (soon to become the "Affiliations Committee", if the WMF board approves its new charter): user groups and thematic organisations. Recognition as a thematic organisation would be a necessary step for using Wikimedia trademarks and applying for funds from the WMF, and would require a relatively formal structure consistent with local jurisdictions. The suggested minimum number of people involved in a thematic organisation is 20.

On the other hand, many Wikimedia communities have meetups and other informal groups that have no official status, and which currently cannot apply for support, grants and the ability to use trademarks to help them in their work. No formal incorporation will be required to gain recognition under the new user group concept, which will give limited access to Wikimedia trademarks and possibly other resources.

The upcoming Wikimania will be one of the most important events for the movement for some time: during the event, the WMF board will consider approving the new Affiliations Committee and the two new participation roles, as well as debating the new financial structure to distribute movement funds. At the same time, chapter representatives will attempt to finalise the shape of the WCA.

Brief notes

Geographical distribution of Xitsonga in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks Xitsonga at home.
The area in northern France and southwest Belgium in which the Picard language is spoken

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  • Witness the inevitable bureaucratization... --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 11:54, 20 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
    • Bureaucratization may or may not be inevitable, but the ever-increasing annual sum of donations (which has fueled the huge increase in the number of people working directly for the Wikimedia Foundation) means there is plenty of money to fight over (chapters, decentralized, versus Foundation, centralized). Chapters organizing themselves into a group is a way to present a stronger argument for more money to flow to chapters. (Back when fundraising brought in enough for a handful of employees and money to run servers and software, there wasn't anything to argue about, and bureaucratization was impossible.) -- John Broughton (♫♫) 14:42, 21 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Thank you for covering the new models pages on Meta – comments and edits are welcome to them! Just a small correction: these models and the name change for the Chapters Committee have been approved at the last board meeting (in or after the Berlin meeting at the end of March), implementation (and the renaming of Meta pages and links) has been taken a bit longer than expected. For those interested in the topic, this might be an interesting session (I hope) to attend at Wikimania. --Dami (talk) 16:00, 20 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
thanks Dami, the line in its current wording refers to the point that the new ChapCom framework has yet to be approved as scheduled in july in accordance with the resolution and not the name(s)/concepts as such as agreed upon in berlin. i fixed the formulation, thanks pointing out the ambiguity, regards --Jan eissfeldt (talk) 17:35, 20 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Thanks for the well done and rich coverage of the current state of WCA related activities. However, there seems to be some misunderstanding about my post on the mailing list you refer to. This post is neither an official statement of the German chapter nor my official position as member of the council of the WCA. I am somewhat new to the debate and was trying to start a discussion about positions. This is an ongoing process. Please let me assure you that it is not my intention to roll back the boards financial reforms. Neither do I want to make things complicated. At the moment, I am trying to figure what "common interest of the Chapters", as stated in Art. 1 of the WCA charter, may look like. First and foremost, however, as you suggested, we need to make some efforts to bring the WCA to existence :) --MarkusGlaser (talk) 13:09, 24 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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