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By Tony1, Crisco 1492 and The ed17
Members of the volunteer FDC in April 2013, who have since been joined by two new community-elected members
Executive director Sue Gardner ... new realism in funding affiliated organisations

In what will be remembered as a game-changing week for Wikimedia grantmaking, the Foundation's executive director, Sue Gardner, published a forthright and in places highly critical statement, Reflections on the FDC process, and grantmaking staff revealed that the WMF will significantly strengthen its targeting of optimal impact in funding. These clear signs of the Foundation's intention to shift grantmaking strategies come just after 11 WMF entities placed on-wiki their applications for the October round of Funds Dissemination Committee allocations—the first of two rounds in the 2013–14 financial year in which the combined maximum budget will be US$8M. (The FDC is the volunteer committee, supported by a team of WMF specialist staff, that administers annual grants to chapters and other eligible entities.) The FDC also published the annual report for its first year of operation, 2012–13.

Straight talking from the executive director

Sue Gardner's statement emphasised the successes of the new system, but went on to express significant concerns about how the WMF's affiliated entities are developing: "too large a proportion of the movement's money is being spent by the chapters [whereas] the value in the Wikimedia projects is primarily created by individual editors: individuals create the value for readers, which results in those readers donating money to the movement. ... I am not sure that the additional value created by movement entities such as chapters justifies the financial cost".

While stating her confidence in all FDC members, Gardner wrote: "I am troubled by the FDC being disproportionately chapters-centric, and my concern increased rather than decreasing following the 2013 FDC member elections, which resulted in the two open FDC seats being filled by chapters Board members. ... the FDC process, dominated by fund-seekers, does not as currently constructed offer sufficient protection against log-rolling, self-dealing, and other corrupt practices. I had hoped that this risk would be offset by the presence on the FDC of independent non-affiliated members".

"With such a high proportion of [resources] now funding [chapters' staff and offices], we need to ask if the benefits are turning out to be worth the cost. It's possible that a well-managed shift to some staff support can help a volunteer community stay energized and enthused, but the risks and costs of setting up bricks-and-mortar institutions also dramatically increase, alongside sometimes difficult dynamics between staff and community".

In Gardner's view, we lack evidence that this spending "is significantly helping us to achieve the Wikimedia mission. I believe we're spending a lot of money, more than is warranted by the results we've been seeing. I am concerned by the growth rates requested by the entities submitting funding requests to the FDC." She challenged Wikimedians to ask themselves "whether there are more imaginative and agile ways of organizing our movement that will support our work better".

FDC staff: chapter allocations and the global south

Anasuya Sengupta, senior director of grantmaking, Wikimedia Foundation
Katy Love, senior program officer, FDC
Asaf Bartov, head of WMF grants and global south partnerships

Gardner's comments were, in part, reinforced and extended in presentations of unusual candour by FDC staff at the Foundation's regular Metrics Meeting last Thursday, streamed live and now available on YouTube (starting at about 37 minutes). WMF senior director of grantmaking, Anasuya Sengupta, said that analysing the impact of grants will be a priority in the coming year. One of her main points concerned the asymmetry in chapter allocations: "Last year, of the $5.65M we gave out, about $3M went to three chapters: Germany, France, and the UK. ... there are questions to be asked by all of us around where's the money going, for what, to whom, and how are our individual contributors being supported as best as we can".

Katy Love, the FDC's senior program officer, pointed out that the FDC guidelines generally allow a maximum annual increase of 20% in the funds allocated to any one chapter. Yet most of the 11 applicants are asking for considerably greater increases: Germany, the largest recipient—which already has access to generous levels of funding from German donors—is asking for 36% more ($2.43M). The UK's claim is up 32% from last year, Argentina's 34%, Switzerland's 38%, Austria's 41%, Serbia's 111%, Israel's 204%, and India's 401%. Only the bids from the Netherlands (up 20%) and Sweden (up 21%) were within the guidelines. This will present the FDC with "a very interesting process", Love commented.

Returning to the issue of asymmetry, the disparity between the allocations to the global south and north are more dramatic. Last year, Sengupta said, the global south received just 8% of WMF funding (from all sources, not just the FDC), with an average grant of $1554. The global north received 92% of the funds, and by the Signpost's calculation an average grant of $79,780. Despite this, reaching into the global south is a key priority for the Foundation. Asaf Bartov, head of WMF grants and global south partnerships, explained the rationale: "When our GS editorship is low, we are missing important voices, with different contexts, knowledge maps, hierarchies and categories." This leads to systemic bias from "the paucity of GS editors". More strikingly, Bartov pointed out that in terms of page visits "we are reaching 7% of the planet with our free knowledge – 7%! – so there's a way to go."

But the situation is complicated. In relation to grantmaking, he said, "it's actually hard to spend effectively in the global south. We are very eager to fund work in the global south, but it has actually been hard finding fundable projects that align with our global mission ... So that is a major component in the low number of funds that make it to the global south – it's not like we say 'no' a lot."

Lessons learned

So just what has the Foundation learned about the criteria for funding successful activities? Bartov first talked about a fundamental prerequisite:

"The sine qua non of most programs is a core of self-motivating active editors. Most of the things you want to do, most of the things chapters in the global north are doing, depend on this core. It can be as small as four or five people, but those people need to be actual active editors ... who edit because they like it, they enjoy editing Wikipedia or Commons, they get it, and they are inherently committed to our principles like NPOV; not people who are editing because there's a contest on and they want to win the laptop.

"Where that core doesn't exist, it's very hard to deploy any other type of program. If you want [a GLAM partnership] with the National Museum of Cameroon ... how are you going to deliver on what you promise the museum if you don't have local editors who will do the work – write the articles, show up to meet the curators. So this is the big, big challenge for which we don't have an answer: how do you grow such a core ... in a certain country? ... we're now cautious about active investment where there is not an active community—although it's still possible if you give us a really great idea."

The WMF's primary formula, Bartov said, is now that "growth happens when community and outside resources come together", although he pointed out that "we are in disagreement with some parts of the community, with some chapters, about this conclusion: some people think we should still do work where no community exists."

What has been learned more specifically, then? He listed six critical advances in the Foundation's understanding that will be of interest to all Wikimedians who are engaged in practical projects:

"Single-session, general-audience outreach has negligible impact everywhere (for example, just giving a single talk about Wikipedia to whoever shows up—the conversion rate to editors is tiny, and yet we keep doing it". This, he said, is distinct from multi-session programs, or very carefully selected audiences, which yield slightly better results.

"WMF contractors operating "on the ground" are too complicated and not effective enough ("we now only partner with grantees").

"Sustained attention to local communities yields actionable plans (a major focus in India and Brazil at the moment, which "has yielded actionable plans in those countries").

"WP Zero is effective, but it's still a challenge to get people to use the resource you make available".

"Just making offline resources [like software] available in the GS is not enough; distribution is the key".

What the WMF has been learning from its role in grantmaking appears to be leading to definite changes in its funding priorities and methodologies. While this is likely to be met with controversy in the movement, there will be inevitable implications for affiliated entities in terms of how they shape their own priorities and the way they achieve their goals. During the Metrics Meeting, Katy Love encouraged all interested members of the community to review and comment on the FDC applications.

Chapter governance under the spotlight

Recent news concerning a related issue—the standards of governance required of FDC grant recipients—was first raised in the Signpost two weeks ago. In that edition we linked to an anonymous tip-off on the Wikimedia India mailing list on 15 September. The post claimed that two returning members of the chapter's executive committee, Pranav and Karthik Nadar, were in the paid employment of a third, Moksh Juneja, who joined them as a new member at the August election. This information did not appear to have been disclosed to voters, despite the obvious potential for conflict-of-interest in having a block of three members in mutual employment relationships out of a total of nine members.

The incident took a new turn yesterday when Moksh Juneja confirmed the employment relationships "have ended / [are] in the process of ending", and denied that this had any connection with the anonymous tip-off. Former president of Wikimedia India Arjuna Rao Chavala served on the chapter's election committee for the August election; his current membership of the FDC means that this information is likely to be discussed on the Committee during the current round, in which the Indian chapter has applied for US$178k for a predicted total budget of $217k .

An additional point of debate may involve another matter raised in the same edition of the Signpost: the allegation by one candidate, Santosh M. Shingare, that the chapter's election committee had failed to release the list of eligible voters 21 days before the election as required by the chapter's rules. In making the allegation that he would no longer participate in the election, Shingare declared he would no longer participate as a candidate.

Two weeks ago, we also reported on a conflict-of-interest issue in Wikimedia UK—that the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR—a professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK) has appointed current Wikimedia UK Secretary Alastair McCapra as its new chief executive. WMF general counsel Geoff Brigham has just published an opinion that "if a substantive issue arises at CIPR with respect to Wikimedia or its projects, I understand that Alastair intends to recuse himself from discussion and decision and appoint someone else at CIPR to act as the final decision maker on that issue within CIPR to avoid any appearance of a conflict of duty of loyalty. Alastair would also recuse himself on the WMUK board from a discussion and decision on any issue concerning CIPR. If an issue is particularly contentious and critical to the very fabric of either organization, Alastair may need to make a decision of resignation to address the potential conflict on that question, but such decisions can be handled on an issue-by-issue basis. The mere possibility of such a scenario does not necessitate resignation today."

Chris Keating, Chair of the WMUK board, has posted this message: "If there is a widespread view that, even with the steps we've outlined, it's not in the charity's best interests for Alastair to continue, then we will listen to that. However since Alastair posted the details of how he will handle this situation, only 5 people (myself included) have taken part in the resulting discussion. Some have posted at some length and in strident terms, but I don't yet see the picture I would need to see to be persuaded we are taking the wrong course of action here."

Discussion continues at the WMUK water cooler, beneath Brigham's statement.

In brief

The LabsDB program, initiated in May, is intended to allow tool builders access to certain data from Wikimedia databases, data which is—or, in this case, should have been—automatically redacted before reaching tool builders. According to Möller, redaction failed in 30 databases owing to a schema incompatibility, allowing this user data to be read by anyone with a LabsDS account. Since this was caused by the addition of new wikis with different schemas (a column unused in earlier wikis was removed in the newer ones), affected wikis are only those added after May 2013. This means many smaller wikis, as well as Wikidata and Wikivoyage, were affected; the English Wikipedia and Commons were not.
There is no vetting process for who can become a LabsDS user. According to Krinkle: "anyone can sign up for an account and start developing software (within their own space)"; this means that anyone could also have accessed a read-only copy of the database, and therefore the personal information. The upshot is that the data could be used for illegitimate means (although, as Möller emphasises, there is no evidence that it has been).
Access to the data was revoked within 15 minutes of the bug report, and affected editors have been informed via email and required to change their passwords. People who use their Wikipedia password on multiple websites are urged to change their password on these other websites as well, preferably to a different password than the new one they choose here. According to staffer Marc-André Pelletier, in the future, the Wikimedia Foundation will add a layer of redundancy to the checks to prevent this from happening again.
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Drafting notes

Just a note: The maximum number of people would have been 228 on Oct 1; but the number increased over time from about 20. — MPelletier (WMF) (talk) 14:53, 5 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Chapters spend money

The WMF and FDC are far far away for local users, too far away. There is a huge gap between local users and WMF for already more than 7 years, which makes WMF unreachable for local users. Where do local users (individuals) then go to if they need money and other support? the chapters. Who has the contacts with cultural institutions so that for example tens of thousands of images are uploaded to Commons to illustrate articles? the chapters. Is the proportion of spending by the chapters a problem? No. If there is a problem, it is WMF itself for already more than 7 years to be in general unable to reach out to local individuals, WMF has a large communication problem and the little communication often gets damaged by decisions that annoy local communities much. Because WMF itself is unable to reach out to all those individuals around the world, chapters have jumped in that gap to support locally the cultural institutions and local individuals who need that support that WMF does not provide. I am sure a lot of things can be improved in chapters and in spending by chapters and that is something which can be critical looked into, but I am more concerned about the unreachable Wikimedia Foundation which is too far away if local individuals and communities (in another country) need help. So please improve that first... Romaine (talk) 01:49, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

A key question has to be: "How many active dues-paying members do the chapters actually have?" or how many people can they actually claim to represent? If the numbers for most chapters is a dozen or so, then Sue Gardner is correct, we're putting a lot of money into places that may not be able to use it to benefit the overall community. If the numbers for the chapters are in the 100s, then that conclusion should be modified, and if the numbers for a chapter are in the 1,000s, then Sue is clearly wrong. Does anybody have good membership figures? Smallbones(smalltalk) 05:05, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
WMAT has 115 active members with a budget of 430,435 USD, WMCH has 259 active members with a budget of 997,795 USD, WMDE about 4.000 active members with a budget of 23,372,268 USD. This makes an average spending of ~3852 USD in CH, ~3743 USD in AT and ~5843 USD in DE. Looking at the size of the communities and further specialities is important: One can assume that there are some base costs just to have an association running, almost independantly of the number of members, at least beyond a certain size. So smaller countries are bound to have slightly higher costs. Of course with the increasing number of members these fixed base costs become neglectable. Then there is normally an economy of scale: the 2nd 1000 members should add less spendings than the 1st 1000 members. WMAT exsist since 2008, WMCH since 2006, WMDE since 2004. Switzerland is special in another way: a split community in four different projects, internal communication in four languages sure adds some overhead which might reflect to the budget. Then another point: accessibility to programs. WMAT for instance states publicly that their programs are available to anyone, not just members.
So one should do some research in the number of potential volunteers that may be reached by each chapter (based on existing volunteers, potential according to number of inhabitants of the country, accessibility of their programs), stage of development, number of members and the spendings. I hope the numbers I gave help doing that, I'd be really interested if someone would make such a research! --Manuel Schneider(bla) (+/-) 11:30, 6 October 2013 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by 80686 (talkcontribs)
Does anybody have numbers on other chapters? I'm a bit concerned about the argument that local chapters represent non-members just because they live in the same country. Smallbones(smalltalk) 11:55, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
WMUK's membership numbers are here; membership currently stands at 220 or so. But it should also be noted that the number of members actively involved in the charity's activities is far, far smaller than that, probably only around a couple dozen or so. Perhaps a few dozen. In the 2012 WMUK board election, for example, only 60 or so members voted. In the Australian chapter's 2012 board elections, the number of votes was considerably smaller than that, just over 30. Andreas JN466 20:09, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Always nice to hear an unbiased voice, Andreas! WMUK keeps (or used to) an informal count of named individuals who were recently active in some form of IRL activity (as opposed to just editing), & the figure was about 80 last time I saw it it. Not all were necessarily members, though most certainly were (with user name/real name issues, one doesn't always actually know). Johnbod (talk) 03:23, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Here's the problem: I do (well, did, not so much in recent months) a lot of active high-profile work with a chapter. I don't actually know whether I was a member of it for most of that time! I was, and then I forgot to renew, and then I renewed again, but I'm not sure when that was, etc etc.
In practice, most chapters don't require membership for things other than a) internal governance, or b) actually applying for money. As a result, "membership" is really a function of how interesting (or more often, offputting) the governance is - if you can do what you want to do without membership, treating it as a friendly service organisation, people won't worry so much about actually being members. Indeed, WMF is a perfect example of this - it has no members but that doesn't mean people are unable to engage with it, as eg the grants program shows. Membership numbers are a pretty bad proxy for size, activity, impact, etc; it's one of the only ones we have, but that doesn't make it meaningful. Andrew Gray (talk) 12:08, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
the chapters primarily don´t work for their members, who have their status mostly only, to support the chapters-work with a yearly donation (membership fee). the chapters main goal is to support their local community and they do get in contact with the biggest part of all those users. to get good numbers for that, would be very interesting, but challenging too, because of varying criteria of measuring the direct or indirect interaction, between the chapter and the users. on the other hand: is there a considerable ammount of people, who get in contact with the WMF directly? i don´t think so. but it wouldn´t be fair to divide the WMF-budget, with those few users. such comparisons are useless, regarding our aims. --Kulac (talk) 13:02, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Numbers are very important to evaluate the questions raised here. Whatever numbers can be offered to support the contention "Where do local users (individuals) then go to if they need money and other support? the chapters," would be appreciated. I'd be very uncomfortable with an argument that the WMF must support a chapter monetarily simply because a dozen people got together and formed a chapter and there are a lot of people in the country. Offering evidence that the chapters do represent people and do involve a lot of people in their activities is key. Please show us what you got. Smallbones(smalltalk) 13:31, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
the question is, which numbers can show you which goals. in my personal oppinion the numbers of actual content generation (supported images uploades/articles created) is far more important, than the number of supported individuals, even though you can´t separate those questions totally. you know what wiki loves monuments is? more than one million pictures added to commons, from i don´t know how many thousand contributors. go google the numbers. that project was organized by the chapters and only chapters are capable of doing so again in the future, for several reasons. enough said, from my point of view... --Kulac (talk) 15:36, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I think it's up to the chapter to show the effectiveness of their programs, using whatever numbers they think best represent their situation, but there have to be some numbers. This is, after all, about $100,000+ grants which add up to millions of dollars. We shouldn't give such grants with just nice words and phrases behind them. Try getting a $50,000 loan without some serious numbers behind your application - it's just not going to happen. It's even more important here, where the WMF's money was given for charitable purposes, and they, in turn, give the money, not loan it, to the chapters. Clearly, if you are asking for this money, you should be able to justify it beyond mere words. A statement that in effect says "Only the chapters can represent nationals in their home country, not the WMF" certainly needs to be justified.
As far as Wiki Loves Monuments, I am very well aware of it and its accomplishments. I coordinated WLM-US last year (2012). The project resulted in 20,000+ new photos at Commons, from about 5,000 contributors (mostly new to Commons - I should check that number), with over 5,000 of the photos illustrating historic sites that had not previously been illustrated on Wikipedia. I don't have numbers for continued contributions from new contributors, but I do know of one case where a new contributor has uploaded about 3,000 photos since WLM 2012, with about half of those being previously non-illustrated sites. The DC chapter committed to $1,500 for prize money, and I think that was a great investment on their part, and as far as I know that was the only monetary cost to the Wikipedia movement. None of this would have been possible without the international Wiki Loves Monuments, of course. I see no reason that the chapters have to support WLM, rather it could be organized as a "thematic organization" which can now get funded by the FDC. I'm sure that they could justify any reasonable request with real, hard numbers. Smallbones(smalltalk) 18:56, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
sorry, to ask, but you read the regarding FDC-pages, on what and how the chapters had and have to show, why and how they spend the money, before you ask your questions here? sure you will question the process, if you don´t know even the basics. regarding WLM: good to heare from your achievments. with the organizing of my chapter, we managed to cover more than 90% of the monuments in our country within 3 years. other than in the US, where every government-data is PD (great!), that wasn´t the case in Austria. my chapter cooperated with the federal monument agency, to even get those lists of monuments and far more than that. believe me or not, a bunch of more or less organized wikipedians couldn´t have managed that. the bureaucracy solely, whould have made that impossible, without an well known organisation as a project partner. if you would have read one or another project report of a chapter, you could look at dozends of other examples, like this. --Kulac (talk) 19:26, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I just asked if the chapters have any numbers to justify a statement that in effect said "Only chapters can represent local individual editors, not the WMF." There was just one response with numbers, the rest have argued that they don't need numbers, we should just accept their verbal arguments that they need money. I strongly disagree. As far as your suggestion that I don't know how the FDC process works, I'll just say that it is even more incorrect than your suggestion that I don't know anything about Wiki Loves Monuments. Enough said. Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:52, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I should add here that Kulac is talking about WMAT, whose numbers I have given above. So you should put his responses in the right context. --Manuel Schneider(bla) (+/-) 08:35, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

Comment—one of the problems with Sue's reasoning here is that it is actually the foundation itself that imposed many of the extra costs for chapters. For example, the new reporting requirements by the WMF and FDC require most chapters to have a full-time employee dealing just with metrics and specific requests, the WMF's new legal guidelines require most active chapters to pay legal fees to a lawyer, etc. I estimate that for some small chapters the running cost went up by more than 100% because of these relatively new requirements, and even for large chapters this is not negligible by any means. I understand why most of these new requirements exist, but the WMF shouldn't be surprised that existing volunteers have neither the time nor the expertise to handle the extra load and have to hire employees to do it.

In terms of value to the movement, chapters are responsible for most of the useful innovations in the movement, both in terms of projects and even in terms of engineering which the chapters weren't intended for (the Toolserver and WikiData both come from Germany). The chapters are responsible for getting millions of high-quality images to Commons, many of them from archives that would otherwise be inaccessible. The chapters are responsible for convincing government agencies to release free content. They are responsible for holding community events and letting people around the world know that Wikipedia is not just a website, but a resource that anyone can edit that has a community of real people behind it that can provide all kinds of support for all kinds of projects. Disproportionate funding for the value that they create? Maybe disproportionately low.

Ynhockey (Talk) 11:28, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]


Very useful information in the report this week. Thanks Tony1, Crisco 1492 and The ed17. --Pine 07:06, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

The problem of editor metrics

I note this:
  • "Single-session, general-audience outreach has negligible impact everywhere (for example, just giving a single talk about Wikipedia to whoever shows up—the conversion rate to editors is tiny, and yet we keep doing it". This, he said, is distinct from multi-session programs, or very carefully selected audiences, which yield slightly better results.
In my experience, this is correct. I would be surprised if most general programs have a conversion rate of more than a few percent. (This shouldn't entirely surprise us - we know that the online conversion rate is also very small). However, it also presupposes that getting new active editors is the sole purpose of outreach programs, and is that really true? We have half a billion readers, many of whom simply want to know more about the project; want to feel engaged and comfortable with it; want to learn more about how the information they're consuming is produced. The information literacy role of general outreach is critically important to making information usefully available to people, especially in academic contexts. Andrew Gray (talk) 12:55, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Community building as a chapter goal, in addition to editor metrics

Community building is turning out to be one of the most important functions of our chapter. It's what gets people out to events, and helps us create the conditions where GLAMs feel comfortable adding content. There's no substitute for solid working relationships between people who know each other in real life.
I'd also like to emphasize the importance of outreach events in improving information literacy. I have met a fair number of people at events geared towards the general public who didn't fully understand what it means to collaborate on building an encyclopedia. These attendees showed up out of curiosity, or because they were interested in doing original research, or because they wanted a place to host promotional materials for themselves or their organization. Several of these individuals, who left with a positive attitude about building the encyclopedia, indicated afterwards that they intend to become ongoing financial donors to Wikipedia.
One of the more gratifying tasks at outreach events is assisting individuals who attend because they are concerned about what appears in their Wikipedia biography. You can see that a little coaching on how to create a civilized and accurate biography can make a difference in their personal and professional lives.
If we want to be around long term, we need to keep growing positive, in-person interactions with our readers and supporters, even if they don't sign up as chapter members or editors. Djembayz (talk) 15:07, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

No sound process for establishing spending priorities

Wikimedia Foundation financial development 2003–2013
  Support and Revenue
  Net assets at year-end
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Financial Statements

One thing I am missing is any kind of analysis in the chapters as to which content areas of the Wikimedia projects are objectively in need of improvement, and targeted spending plans geared to address those areas.

Such an analysis would look at things like the following:

  • Readers' information needs, as measured for example by page views for various topic areas, as well as additional criteria,
  • How much improvement potential there is in these topic areas (e.g. assessment of the current quality level by an independent subject matter expert),
  • How central the topic area is to the Foundation's educational mission (educational core areas vs. niche content, fan cruft, curiosities etc.).

I see little evidence of a customer (i.e. reader) focus in chapters' spending decisions. My impression is that spending often happens along the following lines: 1. We have money to spend. 2. What could we do with that money? Is there a GLAM organisation (even if it's just a local or regional museum) that would host a Wikipedian in Residence if we were to finance the position? Do we have someone in our membership who would like to do a job like that? Is there someone who might be interested in hosting or running an awareness workshop somewhere? Can anyone think of a gap in our coverage that could be filled if we throw a bit of money at it?

As far as I can see, the main question asked is whether the planned activity would fundamentally be in line with the Foundation's mission. But I see little interest in quantifying cost-benefit ratios, or assessing whether the activities engaged in really address those areas that are in most need of improvement (based on metrics such as number of readers reached, or importance of the information to readers' lives). Yet we promise donors that their funds will be used "wisely". When Sue says, "I am not sure that the additional value created by movement entities such as chapters justifies the financial cost" and "there is currently not much evidence suggesting this spending is significantly helping us to achieve the Wikimedia mission: I believe we're spending a lot of money, more than is warranted by the results we've been seeing", I read that as an admission that funds are not in fact used wisely, but quite haphazardly.

Spending must be far more metric-based and grounded in a rational and traceable analysis of priorities. For example, donors' money could be used to finance Wikipedians in Residence in universities, professional associations, academic bodies, government-funded agencies providing information and advice on legal, medical or social matters etc., with a view to having highly qualified subject matter experts –

  • assess the current quality level of information on offer in a content area,
  • identify improvement priorities,
  • create, edit and monitor Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, as identified and proven subject matter experts with a known Wikimedia partner affiliation (though still generally subject to the same editing rules as any other real-life expert editing Wikipedia).

In my view, if we are spending millions and millions of donated dollars (bearing in mind that Wikimedia Foundation revenue and spending has increased about tenfold over the past five years – see graphic), then this is the sort of way we must spend them in order to live up to the promise that donors' money will be spent "wisely". Andreas JN466 21:11, 6 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I suppose one of the most difficult challenges for chapters is to demonstrate why the work of their few individual chapter members who actively participate in projects can't be done through individual engagement grants and the projects and events scheme (GAC-reviewed). In that respect, what value to the WMF sites is added by bankrolling all of the paraphernalia and bureaucracy of a chapter? I'm not asserting that this is always the scenario (and certainly good work is done by some chapters), but I see too little justification in funding bids to discount the prospect of partial or total redundancy compared with direct relationships between individuals and the WMF's team of professionals; that team now appears to me to be well equipped to provide advice, support, and guidance.

A related issue is the system of reportage on the progress and results of funded activities back to the grantmaking body; I'm disappointed that the WMF board's priority of disseminating "lessons learned" is not gaining much traction in this reportage. Do chapters genuinely want to share with each other their accumulating knowledge of what does and doesn't work? Tony (talk) 01:56, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I'm a long-term fan of Sue, an ex-employee and current contractor of WMUK, and otherwise full-time Wikimedian. I think I have the background to understand the issues here: I've opened letters with cheques from donors during a fundraiser, and read the comments, and that was a privilege. There is actually no need to beat ourselves up in order to benefit from Sue's astringency. Just remind chapters their use of the Wikimedia brand is not to put themselves on the map, as an end in itself. I protested in early 2010 when WMUK reduced the role of membership to (effectively) a franchise, and had to bite my lip in early 2011 when it cancelled a membership newsletter after one issue. I think that was a complete clanger, and much more to do with the conference obsession that has become apparent over the years. So, for perspective, can we worry at the issue of "metrics that would apply to conferences", instead of targeting training? I doubt there are such metrics, which would be my point here. Let's get smarter about outreach generally, and if necessary make the point that Wikimedia is not on this planet on a purely attention-seeking mission. The point is to get the "oh look" reaction from the "encyclopedic demographic". Charles Matthews (talk) 18:51, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
@Tony1: I will try to explain why "all of the paraphernalia and bureaucracy of a chapter" is justified from this volunteer's perspective. I was a active volunteer back when WMUK had no employees: to do a big event, I had to sort out venue, publicity, design, printing, expenses, and so on myself. Some of that was rewarding, most was demotivating hassle. From my perspective there was a lot of "paraphernalia and bureaucracy" that got in the way of the interesting stuff of changing experts' minds about the potential of Wikimedia. Now that there are professionals I can rely on to support me—in communications, event organisation, in making finance happen, in building opportunities to do outreach—I'm many times more effective as a volunteer, and volunteering for WMUK is something I can more credibly recommend to other people. It's the simple principle of the division of labour, which has an honourable history in making organisations more productive. In addition, I have a part-time job, created by WMUK and a partner body, that allows me to do many times more outreach work than I would fit in as a volunteer.
A group of people who aren't even in the same country, however talented, aren't going to be able to help in the same way, for reasons which ought to be obvious. Plus, culturally, the sort of organisations that we need to work with in the UK are usually charities and are going to expect to work with a recognised, accredited UK charitable body, not a "bunch of amateurs" and rightly or wrongly they're less likely to trust a US corporation, even a non-profit. There's also the co-ordination problem: WMUK used to have lots of volunteers "doing something about education" but in different directions. It wasn't really possible to be strategic and to make sure different efforts built on each other.
So I want WMUK to be (in due course) much bigger than it presently is. This isn't because I somehow love bureaucracy and paperwork: I hate it! It's because of the huge scale of the work that needs to be done to give free, global accessibility to the knowledge and culture bound up in UK institutions. By comparison "pure volunteers" and "volunteers supported by an expanded Foundation in another country" are inefficient ways to get this job done. MartinPoulter (talk) 21:08, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Andreas: You criticise the way money is being spent at the moment, but in all seriousness you propose directly paying experts, which would require, huge sums and huge bureaucracy, even to monitor or improve a tiny proportion of Wikipedia articles. Far better use of donor money to make use of processes that are in place already, such as the UK science funders' agenda for public engagement. You're proposing something very, very much more financially inefficient than what the Wikimedia organisations are doing. It's hard to know what credibility to give your proposals, which on the surface are just not well thought through, IMHO. I don't know what your professional background is: maybe you've directed some large-scale national programme along the lines you describe. If so, share with Wikimedia how you made it a success. If not, you may have unrealistic ideas about how easy these possibilities are. MartinPoulter (talk) 21:22, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Nonsense. Just to give an example, Wikimedia Germany recently spent $110,000+ on personnel costs and hotel/travel expenses so that Wikimedians could visit Germany's regional parliaments and take photographs of German regional politicians (such photographs are abundantly available online). Another project spent $25,000 of donations to buy photo equipment for Wikimedians and have them attend pop concerts as accredited photographers. The same money would have enabled full-time employment of two well-qualified subject matter experts for a year, to have them assess and improve two high-traffic topic areas with known failings. In my opinion, that would have been a better way to spend $135,000. Andreas JN466 22:47, 7 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I have to say that I take Sue's main point to be the "cuckoo" argument: growth in the chapters' budget and activity is not proof that the chapters aren't growing at the expense of other possibilities (hence the worries about the FDC governance, if the perspective is uncritical of chapters). The detail of chapter budgets is another matter; and what could be done to spend money in other sectors a third matter. There are "cuckoo" areas within the budgets of individual chapters, surely (certainly in my experience). The WMF fundraising total is lower than it could be, if every effort were made to maximise it. Trying to read this all together: routing funds to areas that could most benefit the overall mission is not a simple matter of replying positively to those who think they have a good business case. People generally are very impressed by Wikimedia content. That still mostly reflects volunteer efforts, and how to target the auxiliary spending is in no sense a solved problem.

My own view is that we should be more concerned with the grassroots, and, as here, they are not necessarily the ones making most of the noise. Charles Matthews (talk) 07:57, 8 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

  • If I understand the WMF right one of our main priorities, maybe the main priority is to get more voluntary contributors. More contributors produce more articles, more proofreading, better quality etc. From what I see here in Norway we are however going in the opposite direction as some of our best people are tied up in the local chapter. I checked some of them (their contributions) prior to writing this and seems they mostly have given up contributing. And honestly, after running dozens of courses trying to attract new contributors with nothing to show for so far, I am as clueless as anyone where to find them - seems they find us, but it would be nice not to kill the few we have with papers and reports as we wait for the newcomers... Ulflarsen (talk) 00:05, 9 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I have been told I have been cryptic with my metaphors. Here's an attempt in different language (see growth-share matrix). A WMF criticism I have heard, though it is not Sue's main point, is that chapters tend to have too diverse a portfolio of activities, so there is a fairly good reason to translate into that language.

There the point would be the predominance of "stars" and the lack of identification of, and support for, "cash cows". If Andreas is mainly talking about the presence of "dogs", well, you'd expect some in any business context. Here of course "cash cow" is something that steadily builds the Wikimedia community, if in unspectacular manner (e.g. the sort of claim made for WLM, once you strip out the stats). Why "stars" have to be treated with some suspicion is standard stuff: they hog the limelight, are greedy for resources, and management can get obsessed with them. In our context, as Asaf points out rightly, GLAM activities really depend on having a local community in good shape. (GLAM = "star" is pretty much implicit in the acronym.) Charles Matthews (talk) 03:33, 9 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Clarification on "rates of growth" for Annual Plan Grants / FDC proposals

I want to explain a bit more about how the "rates of growth in movement resources" mentioned in the Signpost article were determined in the annual plan grant proposals to the FDC. The amounts in US dollars used to calculate movement resources allocated in 2013 for FDC entities come from the allocations in US dollars presented in the FDC recommendations; they may differ from actual amounts received in local currencies. Therefore, the percentage growth in movement resources (grants received and funds retained through payment processing) may also differ when calculating in local currency.

The amounts in US dollars used to calculate movement resources allocated in 2013 and requested growth rates for entities new to the FDC process (Amical, Wikimedia India, and Wikimedia Serbia) were a bit more complex. Figures for the movement resources allocated in 2013 are based on a pro-rated amount of Project and Event grant funds allocated by dividing the equivalent in US dollars of the total grant amount listed in the approved grant submission by the number of days in the grant’s term listed in the approved grant submission and multiplying that amount by the number of days of each grant term in the calendar year 2013. Therefore, please note that these figures, along with the associated requested growth rate percentages, are only estimations used to create a sense of comparison with the FDC entities and do not reflect exactly the amount of grant funds that may have been expended in each calendar year. See the Project and Event Grants page for more information about approved Project and Event grants.

If anyone has further questions about these figures, you are welcome to contact me and the FDC support team at

Thanks! KLove (WMF) (talk) 23:20, 10 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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