2012 has been a transitional year for the Committee on several levels. Due to on-going challenges with membership activity an internal reorganization has taken place with the introduction of term limits and minimal standards of activity, while at the same time the Committee was instrumental in concluding the movement roles process and paving the way for the recognition of new movement affiliates. The year marked the introduction of the thematic organization and Wikimedia user group affiliation models and the parallel change in the name and scope of the committee from Chapters to Affiliations Committee.
This year included the second dedicated in-person meeting of the Committee with the participation of newly selected members. The meeting served as an on-boarding event and a venue to finalize discussions with board members on the processes to be followed with new affiliates. Later outcomes of the meeting were the new Charter of the Committee and the establishment of the Committee's first ever dedicated budget designed to help the Committee better help the affiliates-to-be.
There was a Chapters Committee/Affiliations Committee related presentation at Wikimania, which was also a good opportunity to reach out to interested volunteers from around the world and educate them about the ways of becoming an affiliate and promoting the Wikimedia movement through offline activities. In-person outreach continued with Committee members visiting local communities, chapters or chapters to be in Armenia, Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Taiwan. The dedicated budget that was approved towards the end of the year was used to visit Wikimedia Taiwan and get a clearer picture of their situation and to encourage the creation of a Belgian chapter, while the WMF Board's and individual chapters' support was used to cover travel and meeting costs.
While most of the finished work concentrated on thematic organizations and user groups, the Committee has had to take on the unwelcome but important task to confirm in the case of two existing chapters whether they continue to meet the requirements of chapterhood. As in the past, removal of chapter status was considered a very serious and remote option, the Committee instead focusing on finding ways to help the chapters in question become compliant. As in the case of these investigations and in general a language barrier has often created an information barrier.
Highlights in the Committee's processes included the election of officers (chair and treasurer), the introduction of regular conference calls and the adoption of a minimal standard of participation. The year was also marked with improving and increasing cooperation with WMF staff, especially in the Legal and Community Advocacy and Global Development departments.
Biggest challenges of the year were the low level of membership activity, which has contributed to at times long response times. The high workload and a couple of difficult applications have contributed to stress and burnout of the volunteers on the Committee. A strong partially outside challenge in the year, which has not been resolved, is the failure to come up with a naming guideline to be applied to new affiliates that has caused significant delays and uncertainty in processing applications for user groups and thematic organizations.
The report below provides a snapshot of the state of movement affiliates, and provides a detailed report on the Committee's success, challenges and day-to-day work.
State of affiliates
In 2012 one chapter (Wikimedia Kenya) was recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation Board (based on the Chapters Committee's December 2011 advice) and one chapter, Wikimedia Brasil de-recognized (based on the Chapters Committee's April 2010 advice). Currently there are 39 recognized chapters (there were 39 at the end of 2011), out of the 39 recognized chapters Wikimedia Kenya and Bangladesh still need to be founded. The Committee has not recommended the approval of any chapters in 2012 (down from 9 in 2011).
While the Committee is currently handling three advanced applications, it is conceivable that the first big wave of new chapter creation is coming to an end. It is likely that due to the high bar of establishing a chapter, most geographies with advanced enough communities have already established local chapters, and in the future groups in more and more countries will start by establishing user groups (that do not have the strict membership and incorporation criteria associated with chapters) that might eventually develop into chapters.
As a possible aftereffect of the Wikimedia Foundation's changing stance on fundraising, a number of chapters have agreed to establish a Wikimedia Chapters Association, an organization to "promote coordination and accountability among the chapters, represent the chapters on common interests, facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, and provide assistance and support in organizational development". With 21 chapters signed up, the establishment of the organization and hiring of its first Secretary General is an on-going process as of the end of 2012.
No Thematic Organizations were recognized in 2012 (the first year this affiliation model was introduced), but the Committee is currently handling three advanced applications.
No Wikimedia User Groups (including MediaWiki Groups) were recognized in 2012 (the first year this affiliation model was introduced), and the Committee is currently handling 6 advanced applications.
Things that went well
2012 has been a transformational year for the Committee, that came with a number of successes and aspects that could be improved upon.
The addition of five new members in March was a hugely important step in reviving the moribund committee. Four out of the five members became fairly to very active, quickly taking on advanced tasks like handling applications, visiting affiliates or taking up leadership positions inside the committee.
A further sign of renewal was the election of a committee chair (Bence Damokos) in January, and the election of Maria Sefidari to the newly established Treasurer position in September to handle the Committee's budget.
The face-to-face meeting of the committee in Berlin was a really effective way to achieve the on-boarding of new members (including teaching them the committee's processes and directly including them in the work), as well as an important step on the way towards finalizing the new models of affiliation.
The presence of the Movement Roles group (mostly consisting of the Board members who were involved in the process) and the board liaisons at the meeting, and future in-person meetings (e.g. at Wikimania) with the liaisons generally accelerated pending issues between the committee and the Board and the practice of such meetings should continue whenever the liaisons and Committee members are attending the same event.
The introduction of semi-regular conference calls has been an important step in managing the distribution of the committee's workload and increasing the speed of decision making, especially in a time when an increasing number of policy decisions needed to be taken based on the consensus of the members.
The meetings were originally held on Skype until the committee received access to Webex from the WMF, allowing for better scheduling, access from regular telephones worldwide and if needed, the possibility to record the meetings. Currently the system is used about once a month for the "open issues" meeting to discuss and distribute on-going applications among the members, but the system could also be used in the future for discussions with any affiliate group. Scheduling across timezones spanning Hong Kong to Toronto with volunteers having different schedules and time commitments is a major challenge, that is only partially mitigated by the detailed minutes taken on Etherpad.
The adoption of a dedicated budget allocation for the committee has been an important step in the direction of expanding the activities, while at the same time increasing strategic thinking and accountability. The committee's budget consists of elements previously covered on an ad-hoc basis from the Board's discretionary budget (travel costs and the costs of the annual meeting) and services aimed at affiliates to be (start up grants and scholarships to attend Wikimedia events).
With the dedicated budget came a bigger sense of ownership and responsibility and a number of tasks, including setting up proper processes for authorizing spending and synchronizing those procedures with the WMF's corresponding internal processes, which went fairly smoothly, although not without some initial misunderstandings.
It should be noted that actual spending of the budget is still very dependent on outside factors like invitations to attend events or from groups to provide financial help through grants. Going forward, if the committee has the needed human resources, it should adopt a less conservative, more proactive attitude towards spending and exploring opportunities to reach out to new communities and to provide more direct help to affiliates-to-be that could benefit from it.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the committee is grateful for the help and support it has received in 2012 to fund its activities from the WMF, Wikimedia Germany, Wikimedia Hungary and Wikimedia Argentina.
Improving communication with staff
During 2012 communication has increased in frequency and improved with WMF staff members (especially the General Counsel, and Asaf and Winifred in the Global Development department) as a result of the widening responsibilities of the Committee (new models of affiliation, a budget to oversee).
With the introduction of the new models and the unclear trademark use permissions, the Committee has to rely to a great extent on the legal team. Unfortunately, this same unclear situation has caused a number of delays in the full roll-out of the new models and finding solutions that are faster and less resource intensive on the legal team are in our interest.
During 2012, Asaf Bartov has served as a liaison and observer on the Committee and has helped our work with his advice, observation and as a font of information. He has been joined by Winifred of the department in handling the WMF side of our budget transactions.
Further staff members who have helped the Committee, especially with arranging travel were Laura James, travel coordinator and Josslyn Lewis, assistant to the ED and Board.
Additionally, the Committee has established a good working relation with Nicole Ebber at Wikimedia Deutschland in helping disseminate information on the work of the Affiliations Committee to the German Wikimedia community and in organizing arrangements for the Committee's Berlin meeting.
Membership inactivity has been a colossal constraining factor on the effective functioning and legitimacy of the committee that has become unsustainable by the end of 2011 and required the introduction of new measures throughout 2012 to manage, without completely resolving, the situation. At the beginning of the year there were about 7 fairly inactive and 3 reliably active members without set end times for their terms.
To illustrate the situation: the effective functioning of the 10-member committee requires at least 6 active members who are needed to be in agreement to pass the committee's resolutions, the inactivity of more than 4 members thus renders the committee non-functional, while the inactivity of exactly 4 members constrains the committee to unanimous decision-making. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that adding or removing members requires a 2/3 majority (7 people), thereby any solution required the agreement and participation of members who have become inactive. Apart from the legitimacy issues, the low number of active committee members has led to increased response times to incoming requests and a significantly increased workload for those who were active.
The first major step in solving the membership inactivity problem was a January amendment of the Committee's rules approved by the Board of Trustees in March that introduced two-year term limits for members and ended the membership of 5 members (4 of whom were mostly inactive by that time), leaving the Committee with 2 active and 3 fairly inactive members and more importantly the possibility to select 5 new members.
The five members joined the committee in March and were invited, along with the rest of the committee to the April in-person meeting, where it was agreed in principle that a minimum standard of committee activity included voting on resolutions and participating in the mailing list discussions.
Despite the agreement and the addition of the new members (4 of whom became active and 1 inactive) the activity level of previously inactive members did not increase very much, leading to a level of activity where about 5 people regularly participated in the committee's conference calls and overall 6 people who regularly voted on the committee's resolutions or who participated in guiding affiliates through the process.
A further attempt at solving the activity problem was by codifying the agreement on the standards of activity, that stipulated that members who missed three consecutive votes or who have not participated in the mailing list for four months would be lose their membership almost automatically (with the involvement of the committee chair who has little to no discretionary powers in the issue). The adoption of the standard in September has not lead to increased activity and given the four month period required for inactivity (or the 3 resolutions), no member has lost their membership through this process in 2012 though 2 came very close to it.
The year ended with a new call for candidates and the expiration of the term of 5 members (3 of them fairly inactive, 2 active). With the regular selection of new members and the process of removing those who have become inactive, hopefully membership inactivity will be less of a challenge in 2013.
At this point there are no statistics available, but due to the varying availability of members to work on committee related issues and the time needed to forge a common committee opinion, responding to incoming e-mails can sometimes take up to a week or more without any apparent feedback to the person sending the request.
Defining a better way to track response time and informing the applicants of the fact that their message was received and might take a while before it is acted upon could give a better picture going forward in 2013.
During 2012 there have been a few applications where the group in question was either not willing to follow the committee's recommendations or were reluctant to cooperate or share information freely and honestly. The cause of difficulties is often a matter of miscommunication, or misunderstanding on either end.
These difficult applications take up a disproportional amount of the Committee members' time and energy and they contribute to burnout, unless the underlying communication bottleneck is solved.
While some of our conference calls have helped with the burnout, the difficult cases were generally put aside to be dealt with after a change of circumstances (either the addition of new members planned for 2013; or a change in the attitude of the applicants).
Naming of new affiliates
Following the approval of new models of affiliations it became apparent that there was no established naming convention on user groups and thematic organizations and that any name that incorporated a Wikimedia trademark would need to be pre-approved by the WMF Legal Department – an oversight that was flagged by Geoff Brigham at the legal department of the WMF while reviewing the blog post announcing that the Committee was ready to process applications of user groups and thematic organizations.
Subsequently, a guideline was shared by Geoff Brigham the general counsel outlining principles that would need to underline the use of Wikimedia trademarks in the name of the new entities: avoidance of confusion, avoidance of exclusivity, accuracy, and avoidance of brand dilution. Following internal discussions between the Committee and Geoff, and public discussion on the Meta page a second set of four considerations were published outlining that 1) new affiliates should not use the Wikimedia trademark in their name if their focus is a single project, 2) cross-project affiliates should choose a name that very closely describes their scope, 3) the use of a tagline that links the entity to the movement could be preferable to a name that incorporates one of the WMF trademarks, and 4) that movement organizations need to seek permission before incorporating or doing business under a name employing a WMF trademark.
Any new affiliate has to find a name in agreement with the Affiliations Committee and the WMF Legal Department that conforms to the proposed guidelines and considerations significantly delaying the process of recognizing new affiliates (in 2012, this has affected the applications of the Munich user group and a proposed Wikimedia Medicine thematic organization). Going forward, it is expected that until finalised, easier to apply guidelines are adopted that can be used independently by the volunteers behind proposed affiliates and the Affiliations Committee, the act of naming proposed affiliates will be a difficult and lengthy process.
- This report is compiled pursuant to the Affiliations Committee’s Charter (Meetings and process section, point 4) and covers the period between 1 January and 31 December 2012. Subsequent events and information have not been included. This report was presented to the WMF Board, a small number of statements have been removed from the public version.
- Committee standards of participation
- Resolution:Revision of open-ended Chapter approvals
- Committee recommendations and Board resolutions based on them sometimes take place in different calendar years. For example, as noted, Wikimedia Kenya was recognized based on a 2011 approval.
- Wikimedia Chapters on Meta
- Wikimedia Chapters Association on Meta
- Wikimedia Thematic Organizations on Meta
- Wikimedia User Groups on Meta
- 2012/13 budget
- Original process, later expanded
- Amendment of rules resolution
- Resolution:Amendment to Chapter Committee Rules of Procedure
- March membership resolution
- Call for candidates
- The Wikimedia Movement is facilitating new volunteer organizing models blog post
- Thougths regarding the naming of thematic organizations by Geoff Brigham
- Additional thoughts in the naming of thematic organizations and user groups by Geoff Brigham
- Wikimedia Stammtisch München, called Wikimedia Munich User Group until February 2013
- Wiki Project Med originally incorporated as Wikimedia Medicine Foundation