Development of organisations of the Wikiverse – how should we disseminate the funds?
Discussion note for the chairpersons-meeting of the Wikimedia organisations 2018 (20th April, 2018)
Current strategic process gives us an exceptional opportunity to rethink particular parts of Wikimedia Movement, including grantmaking, in order to improve the process.
Following theses were assembled from ideas floating in the Movement, and drawn up for the discussion during the WMCON 2018 meeting (20th April, 2018). Participants are invited to agree, disagree or elaborate on particular theses and rationales standing behind them.
Thesis 1: Affiliates (and other grantees) could benefit not only from an increase of financial stream but also from an increase of manpower and non-financial support from the WMF grantmaking. More Resources to the Community Resources!
The grants system run by the Wikimedia Foundation is complex. It consists of six programmes, five of them available to the groups and organizations:
- Rapid Project grants - max $2000 - handled in a week by the WMF staff (~70 requests from organisations per year)
- Project grants (former PEG and IEG) - $2000 - $100 k - handled twice a year (soon: quarterly) by a committee + staff (~5 requests from organisations per year)
- Conference and Events grants - handled twice a year
- Simple APG - max $ 120 k for 6-12 months - handled 2 months by the appointed and volunteer Simple APG committee + staff. Approved by staff. Simple APG committee relies heavily on staff. (~ 25 requests)
- Annual APG - $ 0 to no limit - 2 rounds per year, granted for a full year (with two experimental grants for 2 years). Handled by a volunteer, elected and appointed committee (the FDC) with a strong staff support. Board approval. (~ 15 requests)
It is noted that the Community Resources part of the Wikimedia Foundation handles six streams of funding and is involved in budgeting of a substantial part of the institutionally-facilitated Wikimedia activities outside of the WMF (with two other sources of funding being: local fundraising and direct agreements). The staff of 13 and the volunteers involved aim not only to provide assessments and budgets, but also the advisory needed. The scope includes requests from individual travels, through Wikimania, to Wikimedia Deutschland and the WMF itself general assessment.
The importance of the global Wikimedia, voiced e.g. in the “knowledge equity” in the new strategic direction, should be matched with an adequate care and resources. Global Wikimedia actions and a strong utilization of the global partners (like chapters, user groups and individuals) require much attention and support, in terms of both budget and attention (be it feedback, trainings, guidelines etc.). While many of these functions are also performed by other groups within the WMF, our experience from the grants programme show that an additional support provided with increased funding (or plans to opt for it) could be very beneficial for the grantees.
Thesis 2: Grant taking is difficult and ways to make it easier should be looked for.
The system is complex [see Thesis 1], as it must meet the needs of individuals and organizations of various kind and size.
Applying for larger grants requires an organization maturity, time and a substantial effort. The same: reporting and using metrics. Also flexibility to change between types of grants is low (because of different procedures and committees).
The two most challenging points for organisations that have to be addressed are:
- For larger affiliates: APG applications. Getting significantly less than requested during APG process is a very significant risk for most affiliates, as it requires amending annual and sometimes even staffing plans or dedicating more resources to seeking non-WMF funding. Organisations thus have to dedicate significant resources to APG applications, up to cancelling projects and events during the application period (September or March for FDC) due to allocation of staff resources to the FDC proposal.
- For smaller affiliates: switch from Rapid grants to Simple APG. Rapid grants and Simple APG are currently the most common streams of funding for smaller affiliates. For organisations this switch means a challenging switch from planning of small projects that can be approved quickly to planning at least 6 months or a year ahead, which requires organisational maturity. Given the limit of 2,000 USD of Rapid grants, planning anything more costly requires having a rather mature organisation.
Thesis 3: Grants process could be made easier with extra resources provided.
APG processes have been evolving in the past years, and an increase in both the general quality of the submissions and threshold of expectations is visible. However, the process seems to remain difficult for all the parties involved, and many insights are spread across many documents (recommendations, staff evaluations, talk pages) or might have been even expressed only outside of Meta (during calls, site visits and other talks). These and the grant procedure (with a single submission and a single response) make a less formal access to the committees or staff members important, which may be a strong obstacle for some groups (making the playing field unequal, and limiting opportunities to e.g. fund great projects).
This can result in two types of unfortunate decisions which are particularly stressful for Simple APG:
- imprecise assessment of proposals based on limited knowledge of applicants, their experience and local context;
- getting limited or no funding due to lack of knowledge on what to write in the proposal.
The participation could be made easier if extra resources could be provided for:
- elaborating on guidelines (explaining the framework, criteria used in assessment, the perfect proposal...);
- securing opportunities to access the committees and staff;
- adding a dedicated person (WMF staff? volunteer?) being an expert in the evaluation part to help the affiliate to set up the evaluation process and present the final results to the FDC;
- other changes to the process itself?
Thesis 4: Grants process could be made easier with a stronger feedback loop.
Currently the grantmaking is similar to any regular grant process in e.g. academia: an affiliate submits their proposal which is then evaluated after a short Q&A period, and then non-negotiable assessments and a decision are given. The grantees have little space to oppose the findings or appeal. The assessors do not have much space to ask questions, react and better know the applicants.
As a result, good funded proposals tend to become longer, with more details on the project or annual plan and more context and background informations. This means organisations have to invest more time in writing proposals to reduce the risk of being misunderstood.
Close involvement of all the assessors (like the FDC) with the affiliate through a year and a cooperation in place of a grant system may lead to better understanding and results. It could also reflect an increase of trust and build on the long-term partnerships we have in Wikimedia.
Thesis 5: Volunteer/community part of grantmaking is important.
Since the introduction of the APG etc., the level of trust between the affiliates and the WMF increased significantly. Volunteers/community members are more directly responsible and better known to the community. They may also be more approachable, and have a background/insights more in line with the applicants and their local context. These, in result, may improve recommendations.
It can also be argued that the level of proposals has increased visibly as well which can prove effectiveness of learning.
Do the affiliates feel more secure while being community reviewed? Do they feel more support? Did communication and understanding improve? A good way to explore this would be looking into experiences of affiliates who switched from Rapid grants (staff review) to Simple APG (volunteer + staff review).
Thesis 6. Community is a great talent pool, new ways of utilizing it should be looked for.
Committees consist of the volunteers, elected or appointed individuals, with different skillsets and backgrounds. The workload is big there, and even further tasks could be welcome (taking part in auditing, increased communication etc.).
It is however unlikely that all committee members will have a good knowledge of all affiliates, challenges in all communities and regions. As a results, sometimes proposals have to be studied by people with only limited knowledge of the context, which means they have to spend significantly more time to make an informed decision.
- Should the FDC members be split in smaller groups, working closer with particular partners?
- Should the FDC members be specialized in particular areas, and upon that the teams would be composed?
- Should similar be done with the Simple APG committee, e.g. on a continent basis?
- Or maybe the division between the FDC and sAPG comm should be removed?
- Should one Resource Pool in place of various committees be imposed?
- How do we maintain freedoms and a mandate of the current FDC then?
Conclusion and recommendations
To be agreed