Funds Dissemination Committee/Additional Information and Analysis/Interviews/Barry Newstead
What do you envision as the role of the FDC?
- The role of the FDC should be focused on operationalizing Wikimedia's strategic priorities through the way in which we allocate funds throughout the movement.
- They should not be setting strategic priorities OR figuring out the specific activities or priorities we should be doing. That should be done by the board and the community. The operationalizing should happen from the movement organizations and groups (e.g, WMF, chapters, thematic groups, etc.), and the FDC is “middleware” to help us do this.
- A huge role of the FDC will be to promote effectiveness, decentralization and diversity and work against the entrenchment of established activities (regardless of their impact) within the organization.
What size/type of grant should the FDC consider?
- They should focus on larger buckets of funding, be positioned to work primarily on budgets set by ‘sizable’ groups within the community. Probably would be parts of the WMF, parts of chapters, parts of thematic orgs, potentially parts of partner / 3rd party.
- They should stay at a level that’s high enough that they’re not approving $20-$30K dollar grants. That will get them too operationally focused, they’d be too in the flow of operations, there are too many of those smaller grants. If they are focused on this wide range, they won’t be able to do the important, thoughtful work on the bigger buckets.
- Most of our money will sit in those big buckets, so they should be engaging on those groupings. They should be focused on WHAT (in terms of the strategic goals) the spending is for in those buckets – technology, editors, etc. Smaller grant requests are really important too and should get funds to enable their growth in more nimble ways, but not through the FDC process.
What do you see as the role of the FDC in fostering innovation?
- The FDC’s role in fostering innovation is to create space for this latter type of spending (enabling smaller groups to grow). They can commit to NOT deepening and entrenching spending where it is not needed. There are many places where we don’t know if we are spending money effectively. OR we may be spending money effectively but on low-impact things. OR we might be spending money where we’re displacing good volunteer effort.
- Role is thus to take a hard look at the money that’s been spent, say $40M, and say, “Well, maybe there was $XM that wasn’t spent on programs that are or are likely to achieve impact.” And then we can set that money aside in the future for more innovative grant spending. Right now that spending bucket is pretty small, maybe $200K. If we could expand that bucket and look hard as to how to spend that money well, it could really foster innovation.
What do you think the process should look like?
- I think it’s a finite set of things. These sizable groups do their budgeting. When their budgets are ready, the FDC should take a serious look at their budgets against a set of criteria that are public, similar to what we proposed for Annual Grants for the Grants Advisory Committee.
- The FDC should ask hard questions and get answers, and then make a decision as to what is on strategy, potential for high impact, and can be executed on. Then the FDC makes an allocation decision / recommendation based on this. (E.g., they may decide to NOT fund components of the budgets that are low-impact, etc).
- Not sure whether it needs to all happen at once – most chapters will happen at the end of the year, WMF budget would come in around June, not sure if we need to synchronize this. The allocation decisions become more important over time, but for now will be based on the criteria, vs being based on scarcity of resources. They should be focused and engage on really 1 thing at a time.
- I’m reluctant to call this a “grant-making process” because I see this as distinct from the true grant-making process. It’s probably closer to grant-making, but there is a budgeting element. Especially because these are not yes / no decisions about the “grants” but rather there is a dialogue / negotiation about the elements of these budgets. The important thing is that we need to be rigorous about evaluating impact and effectiveness – that is often more of a budgeting process than grant-making. The principle that the money is movement money is the key, and helps with the money flow dynamic and culture. This puts all entities on equal footing regarding access to funding.
How should funding flow to the FDC?
- Any funds raised through dedicated fundraisers where the Wikipedia sites are the primary vehicle should go to the FDC
- I don’t think that other unrestricted funds raised by entities (including the Foundation) should be included in the pot – it makes fundraising for entities harder
What should FDC membership look like?
- Should be predominantly representative of the overall community-- people who are unaffiliated contributors to the WM movement. Affiliation is secondary to the broader movement goals.
- It should be a diverse group geographically, projects, gender, roles (writing vs maintenance vs outreach) w/in the movement.
- We won’t be able to get everyone represented—it will be hard to engineer. Maybe the Board should pre-qualify people, and then there is an election. I think it has to be done by an election process, but with some additional rigor to ensure the right backgrounds are represented.
- We don’t need to reserve seats for the chapters or the Foundation– either group should be able to put up representatives for election, but they should have to go through the same process as everyone else
- Ultimately the goal should be for the group to feel as a united community. But shouldn’t feel as though individuals should be representing their interests.
- I don’t know if financial expertise is that critical. We’ll have the CFO / CFA involved to ensure compliance. More important is strategic thinking, open-mindedness, etc.
- 8-10 members, should be reasonable roles about their engagement
- Shouldn’t be strict term limits, but there needs to be re-elections / renewals. Group will benefit from longevity and wisdom – so we don’t want a lot of artificial turnover
- Need to find the right skills and right amount of time
What should the role of the FDC staff be?
- Clearly staff will need to be able to ensure compliance with agreements and other legal issues.
- To support the FDC, their role should be to develop reports for the FDC that brings together the “fact base” for each grant request (i.e., how organizations align with the criteria that the FDC has outlined in a fact-based way, evaluation of how they performed in the past, knowledge and learnings about similar activities at other entities)
- This body of knowledge that they build should be public and should inform other processes as well (the GAC, future budget review)
- A good example for this is the Congressional Research Service – they analyze legislation, they write the fact-based analysis, provide core-information
- I don’t think this needs to be very many people—maybe 1.5 to 2 people
- The staff may need to be housed at the Foundation, but safeguards should be put in place to ensure that it is independent and fair