Movement roles/Initial Questions II/Prabhala
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Achal Prabhala and Jon Huggett spoke in 2010-11-29
Vision and Mission
- Are you familiar and comfortable with the vision and mission of the Wikimedia Foundation?
- Do you and your organization share this vision and mission?
- Yes. No major shortcomings. More small shortcomings that can be corrected to unlock huge opportunities
The strategic planning project framed the following goals for the movement:
- Secure the infrastructure
- Increase global participation
- Improve quality
- Expand reach
- Support innovation
With that in mind:
- How applicable do you think these goals are to your role in the movement?
- How can the Wikimedia movement best meet these goals?
- We could have chapter start-up grants administered by the Wikimedia Foundation. Chapters have been seen as organic - i.e. in the traditional mould, people make them happen and then come to the Chapters Committee for approval. However, it is possible that chapters would not have happened in India and South Africa without outside help. Chapters Committee was used to working with low-hanging fruit; those have since been picked,and moving ahead, the challenges are likely to be much greater.
- Should the movement spend its resources on goals/activities of groups that are not wholly aligned with the strategic goals?
- South Africa was not explicitly on the strategic map. However, we knew enough people on the landscape who were interested in having one. The Wikimedia Foundation did not have any representation or official grouping of volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa. There were a number of small language Wikipedia in Africa and a nascent Kenyan chapter. On a side note, we could organize activities that cut across boundaries, such as photography competitions: chapters can drive a whole bunch of things that are not tied to countries.
Entities in the Wikimedia movement
- What should be the core tasks and roles of the Wikimedia Foundation in the movement?
- What do you think should be the core tasks and roles of a chapter in the movement?
- We should not clamp down on independent activity unless it is detrimental to the Wikimedia movement. Allowing networks to flourish is a fine indicator of the health of the movement.
- We have problems if a chapter does not function well - for example there are chapters which have been approved and exist, yet clearly not functioning. Yet investigation is perceived as interference. There has to be be a sensitive way to raise issues of inactivity, reconstitution, etc.
- At the moment there is absolutely no differentiation between well and badly managed chapters. There is neither a penalty for inactivity, nor the impetus to encourage a reconstitution of boards and inject fresh enthusiasm
- Chapters are independently and autonomously run organizations in their own countries. They are only accountable to their own boards, and to the Wikimedia Foundation inasmuch as they do not breach their contract for the use of the trademarks and name. (I am aware that the chapters contract is now getting more complicated, esp. as it relates to fundraising and reporting - and the evolving situation must be taken into account). Each country has rules governing the appointment of its board. The implied model for Wikimedia Foundation is the membership model, although some argue that the membership model is not the best approach.
- In 2008/9 started to collect people to form a chapter in India. It was a difficult project because India is a big and bureaucratic country. We were dealing with lots of self-identified volunteers who did not anticipate the volume of work involved in setting up the chapter. India has complicated forex rules so it is hard to get money into the country. We worked with an existing non-profit to register the organization and find the space/time/money to meet and organise.
- I was also involved in setting up theSA chapter. The Wikimedia Foundation provided a small amount of financial assistance NGO in Johannesburg called the Africa Commons Project. SA has no restrictions on receiving money. We used this money to get advice on how to create a legal entity, etc. Delphine and Bence came to Johannesburg right after Wikimania in Gdansk.
- How should the role of a sub-national chapter differ from a national chapter?
- It could function like an interest group. It takes a lot of work and discussion by Chap Com and in Chap Com to allow volunteer groups to exist as chapters. There is a brief to allow sub-national chapters when there is no national chapter. The directive is that if someone wanted to create a US chapter then the cities would have to amalgamate. Chapter formation is always a contentious process and it is not the best way ahead, necessarily, for placeholder groupings.
Relationships among entities within the Wikimedia movement
- To whom are the Wikimedia entities accountable? (e.g. their members, other entities in the movement, etc.)
- Chapters contract is permanent use of Wikimedia Foundation trademarks. We could benefit from a temporary contract.
- There is no definition of a member of the Wikimedia community and this would be helped by various self-definitions; for e.g. what is the domain of useful things/activities/people to the movement?
- What is the right way to include various movement groups in the overall governance of the Wikimedia movement?
- At the moment chapters are the only way to affiliate officially with WMF, and it does not need to be that way going forward. In the setting up of a chapter, admin experience is a stumbling block for many people in countries where it is expensive to travel, meet and network across cities.
- Alternative licensing approaches have been suggested, e.g. like TEDx. Mike Godwin when he was counsel said it was possible to do this under current trademark policy. For example many informal groupings, such as in Brazil, use the Wikimedia logo. Many in the community use the trademarks in good faith. The point is - WMF's trademark policy allows for ad hoc use. We could really benefit from a formal system of allowance of this - where people are encouraged to register activities and events for which they intend to use the Wikimedia trademark - not to seek permission per se, but as a voluntary licensing scheme, with safeguards for rescinding permission when there is obvious conern or abuse.
- I think that there is widespread misunderstanding around trademark and name use; I think that the foundation's policies are in fact already more flexible and expansive than many volunteers in the movement (including me, previously) think they are; this is an unnecessary and unproductive information gap.
- Not all chapters are equal: this is at face value an obvious point, but it has serious repercussions when policies are formulated for 'chapters'.
- Regardless of the merits (and demerits) of the current system, it would be healthy to have a system where people can do something on their own alongside a chapter. Of course, volunteer groupings (interest group networks) should involve chapters in circumstances where there is a geographical overlap, but I suspect it can get really complicated if any one body of volunteers has veto power over another.
- Wikimedia Brazil went through hoops to get approval for a chapter that they finally decided against as an organisation vehicle, and thus the permission was rescinded. The rules are fairly inflexible - a chapter has to represent a country, and be an official organization. They are also practical; one gets the rationale behind their existence. But one must recognise the limitations of the national sovereign model.
- Wikimedia Catalan registered an organization that serves users in both Spain and France (as yet unrecognsied by the Foundation), which is potentially going to create a difficult relationship with Wikimedia France and Wikimedia Spain.
- Wikimedia Quebec and Wikimedia Canada are two entities in various stages of the pipeline - and it is not clear what the 'solution' to having both co-exist is, if any.
- Wikimedia NYC was approved on the basis that there was no application from Wikimedia USA
- In general, I have personally met various groupings of people who seem to have a deep passion for the Wikimedia movement, and are excellent volunteers in all kinds of ways that are important to us, but do not fit any existing model of formal affiliation. To the extent that there are groups who want/ would benefit from some kind of formal affiliation, for us as a movement, I think it would be a shame if we allowed such organising passion to go to waste.
- Over the last year, the process of approval of chapters has been considerably streamlined. There is, for instance, a very clear 'current status' update on Chap Com - anyone can see who it is that has entered the pipeline, and where they are currently. The timeline for chapter approval has also been rationalised; for e.g. South Africa went from initial meeting to explore setting up a chapter (August 2010) to having an approved chapter (March 2011) in a periof of exactly 6 months, which is very encouraging.
- Achal and Delphine plan to work with Chap Com to see if there is a useful statement to be made on the setting up of non-chapter interest group networks; networks that do what chapters don't, i.e. accumulate Wikimedia volunteers on the basis of something other than the country of citizenship, like language, subject area or cultural affiliation.