First-ever community election for FDC positions: Alongside the Signpost's interviews with WMF Board candidates, we asked the candidates for the Funds Dissemination Committee and its Ombudsperson position a series of questions relating to the positions they may be taking on.
Alongside the Signpost's interviews with the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees candidates, we asked the candidates for the two new Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) seats and its Ombudsperson a series of questions. The FDC makes recommendations to the WMF Board on how to disburse donors' funds to affiliate organizations (in the first two rounds, more than US$11M), which thus far the Board has accepted without change. The significant responsibility the two successful candidates will take on for recommending allocations and commenting on standards and practices in the movement appears to have garnered little attention from the editing community.
In late news, the election will not begin on 1 June, as notified some time ago. Little more than 12 hours before the advertised start, the election was postponed by a week, to 8 June. The reasons given involve the inability to verify the voter list and that SecurePoll is properly functioning, and the fact that the voter interfaces have not been translated from English to other languages.
For brevity, we will refer to each candidate by first name.
Wikimedia chapters are affiliated but independent organizations founded to support and promote the Wikimedia movement. Most are based in nation-states. The affiliate entities have grown significantly over the past five years in number (now 39) and funding. The Foundation's financial reforms last year put chapter funding and scrutiny under more centralised control, and has introduced two new types of entities that are not tied to geographical regions—user groups and thematic organisations—although few of these other types of entity have yet been launched.
The Signpost asked the FDC candidates about this large increase in funding, which now accounts for almost a third of the movement's expenditure of donors' funds, and whether it is achieving its intended objectives, such as improving the number of editors, increasing female participants, and boosting the quality of WMF sites in the developing world.
Many of the candidates believe there are not enough metrics in place to adequately measure the impact the money is having (Ben, Delphine, Cristian, Smallbones, and Michał). Ben has some reservations about the amount of money being spent, highlighting part of the 2011 editor survey, where 82 percent of those surveyed who knew about a chapters' existence in their country were not members. Put another way, "when faced with another opportunity to contribute to The MissionTM, 82 percent of Wikipedians—who had above reported that they were here and/or had joined to contribute to The MissionTM—said 'no, thank you'." Michał, on the other hand, believes that chapters are "key intermediaries" between the WMF and the global editing community, as he believes they provide a key "talent and volunteer pool and could ... act as competence centres." As for the Global South, Delphine and Abbas hope that the FDC will increase its reach to encourage more programs like Afripedia in the developing world.
The candidates are split on whether the related user groups and thematic organizations—of which only five total have been approved by the Affiliations Committee so far—should be eligible to receive funds from the FDC. Most believe it's a possibility in the future, but with the FDC only a year old (Abbas), and the activities of these groups being so limited at the present time (Cristian, Smallbones), they should not be applying at the present time. Michał is hesitant due to "possible competence clashes and problems with representation of various cultures and communities in these affiliates." Mile says: "the WMF already has programs that allow thematic organisations and user groups open access to funds. The FDC is a much more complex process that requires good results in the past and the ability to manage funds well. That means that grantees have to have an appropriate structure and capacity. If some thematic organisations or user groups have such kind of structure, there's the possibility for negotiation. It's certainly a topic for further discussion." Ben is the only candidate to fully support both organizations' ability to apply; Delphine supports thematic organizations, but doubts that user groups would even need to apply.
Global funding model
The Foundation's global funding model is divided between the FDC for eligible chapters and the Grant Advisory Committee (GAC) for other chapters and affiliated groups. Individual engagement grants (IEGs) have been recently added to the mix for small, project-based grants.
Asked whether having a division between the FDC and GAC is the optimal method of financing the Wikimedia movement, the candidates came out with interesting positions. Ben thinks that having both the FDC and GAC as reactive committees—i.e. they only respond to specific proposals put forward to them—is a poor arrangement, as it prevents them from soliciting projects that specifically align with the Foundation's core goals. He says, "it seems parochial and it is quite likely that the most effective service provider may not be a formal member of the 'movement'. The economics is that a wider and more flexible pool of options is more efficient."
Delphine believes that there is no optimal model, as "both models make sense in their particular environment and answer to a specific need at a specific time in the life of organisations or groups that wish to engage with Wikimedia. ... There's no one size fits all. And we do need a mix of caution and boldness in the way we attribute grants: we need to foster initiative and new ideas to tackle our issues, but we also need to be take responsibility for what we do with the donations entrusted to us." Cristian and Abbas see the two-headed organization financing model as the best model for the WMF, though Abbas hopes that the first year of FDC grants will be analyzed to see if the process can be improved. Mile says that despite their similarities, both FDC and GAC have many differences, and "it's good to have different bodies involved in the process."
How much of the FDC community-elected; the Hong Kong fracas
With this election, the FDC will move from being a fully appointed body to partially community-elected. We asked the candidates if this was a positive trend, and if it should continue to its logical conclusion, with all members facing scrutiny in a full election.
Ben, Delphine, Cristian, Smallbones, and Michał all expressed reservations, for different reasons. They believe that appointed slots for individuals with specific skill sets would be desirable, similar to the 40% of Board trustees. Smallbones and Delphine went further, hoping that in addition to skills, the appointed slots should be used to ensure that the FDC is balanced "in geography, languages, and culture as well as skill sets and gender" (Smallbones). Abbas is the only candidate to support a fully elected body.
As the Signpost reported four weeks ago, the Hong Kong chapter's FDC application for US$212k was rejected, due to the FDC's concern with the plan's impact, along with "WMHK’s internal governance, financial management capacity, and [the] capacity of its volunteers to manage a plan of this size." The FDC recommended that the chapter "[address] these issues before undertaking a plan of this extent." Was this the right decision?
Only one candidate, Cristian, thinks Hong Kong's request was "reasonable", though he continued to say that too much was requested, given the limited history of activity by the chapter. He thinks the Committee should have consulted with the chapter to find a more "gradual path." Abbas, Ben, and Michał all agreed with the FDC's decision; Michał based his decision on a total lack of analyzable history, few proposed programs, one of which was "professionalization ... which is not a goal per se", and what he saw as overambitious growth. On the other hand, Delphine says that without seeing the FDC's deliberations, she's not well-placed to make a decision, but it appears that it "suffered from a typical case of cultural miscommunication. The FDC should and will ... implement an even stronger pre-request monitoring of grant requests." Mile stressed the need for a "mentor/supervisor" to provide technical advice.
FDC internal process
We concluded our interview questions with three related questions about the FDC internal processes: the application forms, community feedback, and the WMF staff role in the process. Cristian did not answer these questions because he has "no experience as a proponent of a FDC request", though from his experience with the GAC, he can say that "comments from the community or the staff are usually valuable and ... a source of good ideas."
The candidates are broadly satisfied with the forms, although several candidates believe that they could be simplified. In addition, Ben and Michał both wish that more data could be displayed in charts and spreadsheets. As it stands, Ben says, it's difficult for the FDC to get a grasp on the submissions; he thinks the Meta website (which houses the FDC) "in general feels a bit like a maze, which can be frustrating. I'd like to see more data on number of articles, edits, and unique visitors", while Michał commented on "an obvious weakness of MediaWiki ... if the form were in some spreadsheet, you could easily compare submissions, create ratings, perform calculations etc." Delphine was the only candidate with a strong stance against the forms; she believes that they are too complicated and don't give requesting organizations the freedom to show the information they want to display. She believes they can be greatly improved by incorporating recommendations from past applicants.
Nearly all candidates decry the lack of community feedback in the FDC process. While they express gratitude for those who had commented, Ben highlights the "sparse" feedback, Delphine's reaction is one of dismay, and Smallbones pushed at the need for more community oversight over the disbursement of such a large amount of donors' funds. Michał attributes this lack to volunteers' responsibilities on their projects. Abbas is the only candidate satisfied with the level of community input.
The role of WMF staff role in the FDC process is supported by all candidates. Ben poses the only questions: how do the WMF staff assess the WMF's own application without a conflict of interest; but then notes that a hired consultantcompleted the assessment, not a WMF staff member. Delphine says the pre-request monitoring "needs to be strengthened ... to avoid misunderstandings and formal inadequacies."
Editors are invited to ask questions of the candidates on Meta.
FDC ombudsperson candidates
Matthew Bisanz and Susana Morais, the two candidates for the FDC ombudsperson position, also responded to inquiries by the Signpost. To start, we asked them about the FDC's process, including the application forms, the tripartite communication structure between the FDC, staff, and applicants, and the ombudsperson role itself.
With regards to the application forms, both candidates express their support for them as-is, but believe they can be improved. Matthew says that "the parts on comparative financial activity and SWOT could use substantial re-working to help the proposal flow more for the organization preparing [their application]", while Susana hopes that the issue of filling out these forms in wikimarkup can be improved in the future. On FDC, staff, and applicant communications, which faced criticism after the Hong Kong chapter incident, Susana believes that they can be improved. Matthew agrees, and goes farther with specifics:
I think part of this is structural. There appears to be an excessive number of pages, subpages, templates, forms, etc., relative to the actual submission and review of the proposals. Minimizing the number of pages people are editing and talking to each other on (and minimizing the use of email to supplement page discussions) will improve communication. Also, identifying bilingual individuals who can can review proposals originating from non-native English countries as well as to communicate comments back to the submitters will help to better align the expectation of grant requestors with those of the FDC and to ensure a thorough understanding of the proposals and comments.
The role of the ombudsperson, however, showed the starkest difference between the candidates. Susana, the incumbent, believes that it met her expectations, because she was able to ensure that the process remained transparent, any complaints were addressed, and comments on the process were taken on board in considering future proposals. Matthew, on the other hand, criticized the role's expectations. In his view, these are extremely unclear and blend being a mediator, internal auditor, and program evaluator; currently there is little definition "as to when the ombudsperson should act as a mediator to resolve a complaint, when they should act as an internal auditor to shine light on errors, and when they should act as a program evaluator to document ways to improve the process."
What are their top three pieces of advice for applicants who are framing an appeal or a complaint about the outcome of their FDC proposal? Matthew:
Cite or provide evidence—Vague allegations that "something" happened are not as useful as providing a rule from policy, documentation of what specific action violated the rule, and how you were harmed by that violation.
Present everything—Even if it shows you were partially at fault, present any relevant evidence as a thorough submission gives me more confidence that my review is based on the facts and not just each party's opinion.
Remember we're one big team—The ombudsperson position is as much about finding ways to improve the FDC process as it is about documenting failures in the process [Matthew].
Believe that everyone involved has the best intentions and works for the benefit of the movement, and that the appeal/complaint will be seriously taken into account;
Make sure every step of the process is reviewed, so that it is clear what might have gone wrong (so that a clear appeal/complaint is created);
Analyse what could have been done better (considering both parts: FDC and applying entity) [Susana].
Editors are invited to ask questions of the candidates on Meta.
This article has been updated to reflect the new election timeline, which has been delayed for one week.
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