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On the cusp of the Wikimedia Conference

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By Tony1
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The annual Wikimedia Conference is about to start in Berlin, hosted by Wikimedia Germany, which won the bid to hold the event over three others. This will be the fifth time the chapter has hosted the Wikimedia Conference—it did so from 2009 to 2012, with attendance ranging from 100 to 180 Wikimedians. This year 160 people are expected at the four-day event, which is mainly for representatives of affiliated Wikimedia organisations. The conference has been built around two themes: Organisation, structures, and grants and Success and impact.

The conference will start on Thursday 10 April with an all-day meeting of the Foundation's volunteer Affiliations Committee and a half-day evaluation workshop. The first day proper, Friday, will see sessions on the "State of the movement", "Chapters dialogue", "Free knowledge", "From ideas to experiments", "Lessons learnt", "Conflict of interest", "FDC feedback", and "Community liaisons". The Saturday schedule will introduce the sessions "Re-imagine movement structures", "Best practice; sharing is caring", "User-generated advocacy", "Strategy in Wikimedia organisations", "WMF grant programs", and there will be a plenary "Meet the WMF Board of Trustees" session. On Sunday, chapters and the movement's only thematic organisation will meet to discuss the selection of the two affiliate-selected WMF trustees, due to take their two-year seats in July. There will be sessions on "How to measure blood, sweat and tears", "Your organisation and hiring staff", "Program evaluation", "Diversifying fundraising", "Learning, development and training", and "Wikimania". The last session of the conference will be devoted to the future of the Wikimedia Conference.

Wikimedia Germany's Wenke Storn, event manager for the conference

Last August, Asaf Bartov, the Foundation's head of WMF grants and global south partnerships, summarised the purpose of the conference:

The only change this year is that the Board of Trustees will not conduct formal meetings of itself, freeing up trustees to attend sessions.

The Signpost asked the event manager for the conference, Wenke Storn, whether the costs have altered significantly from the estimates in WMDE's bid to hold the conference. She said:

Up to now, we are very well on budget and will stay below our estimate. The only position where we will exceed our estimate are the costs for the facilitators. The facilitators will support the program team in defining the conference themes, clustering the topics, creating the outline of the sessions, identifying speakers and session formats, as well as creating the schedule. They will brief the speakers, help coordinate the documentation, and work with the program team after the conference on the analysis and outcome of the sessions.

We have outsourced the flight costs directly to WMF. All chapters who have not budgeted for WMCON14 in their annual plan or via a PEG grant, are getting flight and accommodation costs paid. Flights are booked directly via the WMF travel coordinator. I don’t have an overview on the current amount at the moment."

The two facilitators are budgeted for just over €7000. Storn estimates that 80 people will need paid accommodation at €27 per person per night, and has booked a hotel where all participants can be under the same roof. For those without funding there will be triple rooms with ensuite at the same cost ("which I think is much nicer than four-bed hostel rooms with a bathroom in the hallway").

The WMF's chief of finance and administration, Garfield Byrd

The venue, Der Tagesspiegel, will cost €14,000. It has four rooms, all equipped with presentation technology and wi-fi: the main room seats 160 people, with three smaller rooms for sessions in theatre or U-shaped modes. Conference catering for the estimated 160 people will be €17,000. Dinner snacks at the chapter's head office will cost €4000, as will social events, with some €11,000 allocated to other costs.

Given the heat of the debate about attendance and the importance of some of the themes to the movement as a whole (see this week's News and notes), the Signpost asked Wenke Storn whether any sessions will be streamed: "There will be no live-streaming or video recording, but all sessions will be extensively documented (text, photos; supported by documentation volunteers and participants themselves), and will be shared publicly."

Storn assured us that the actual costs will be published after the conference. The financial auditing and transparency of events in which significant amounts of donors' money is invested has indeed become an issue. There has been a recent query by the Israeli chapter about absence of accounts from the Hong Kong organisers of Wikimania 2013, held last August; the Signpost has inquired three times about this matter since December 2013, given the three-month deadline for a financial report after such events. Last week we asked Garfield Byrd, the WMF's chief of finance and administration, about this matter and the staff costs for attending Berlin:

I currently have an understanding in place to have a report on Wikimania 2013 completed by April 15, 2014. If the report is not complete at that time, then WMF is reserving the right to have an independent accounting done of the Wikimania 2013 grant and expenses.

The budget for the Wikimedia Conference is included in the WM DE [Wikimedia Germany] proposal. With this grant, WMF has agreed to reimburse WM DE based on actual expenditures for the conference rather than give them a grant prior to the conference. In this case, they will need to provide a financial statement for the event in order to get reimbursed. Estimated WMF staff cost for attending the event are $30,000.

The Signpost understands that this does not include staff salaries paid for business hours during the period of their absence from normal work. The WMF also provided funding of US$30,000 through its PEG scheme, with post-hoc comments on the budget by members of the volunteer Grant Advisory Board.

WMF Trustee Jan de Vreede said last week: "I am grateful to the German Chapter for hosting us this year, and also to all the volunteers who are willing to donate their time to participate. Looking forward to seeing you all next week!"

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