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.
Geographical distribution of Xitsonga in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks Xitsonga at home.
Wiknic 2012: Preparations for the annual Great American Wiknic, scheduled on and around 23 June this year, are under way. there will also be a Wiki World's Fair event on July 7 on Governors Island in New York Harbor. International volunteers will attend and then travel to Washington, D.C., for Wikimania.
GLAM article challenge results: The GLAM co-operation project with the Teylers Museum announced its writing challenge results. Overall, more than 600 articles on Teylers-related subjects in 13 language versions of Wikipedia played their part. Effeietsanders came first, with Davidpar second and Jane third.
US National Archives WikiProject sought: The GLAM Wiki project NARA is looking for a coordinator to work with the Archives Wikipedian in Residence. The institution also published its new open-government plan, pointing to Wikimedia communities as important stakeholders.
Milestones: Among the many milestones reached by Wikimedia projects over the past month are two minority-language Wikipedias: one is the Tlukankulu Tsonga Wikipedia, which has reached 200 articles. The Tsonga language, also known as Xitsonga, belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger–Congo languages, and itself embraces at least four variants. Tsonga, which uses the Roman alphabet, is spoken by about 2 million people in South Africa (where it is an official language), 1.5 million in Mozambique, and 100,000 in Zimbabwe. These people are often known as the Shangaan. Far to the north, Picard is a set of languages related to French, spoken on either side of the French–Belgian border. The Picard Wikipedia has reached 2,000 articles. But although many people regard Picard as just a dialect of French, an example of the difference between Picard and French suggests significant differences: J'ai prins min louchet por mi aler fouir min gardin. French: J'ai pris ma bêche pour aller bêcher mon jardin.