Name of report: "Annual Report on the Funds Dissemination Committee process"
The Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) was established to provide recommendations on how to “effectively allocate movement funds to achieve Wikimedia’s vision, mission and strategy.” The FDC reviews proposals from eligible Wikimedia entities for general support funding, covering "an organization’s overall annual plan to achieve mission objectives," which includes "both ongoing expenses (e.g. salaries, office expenses) and any programmatic costs that organizations incur in pursuit of their goals." This intensive process is meant to help ensure that the movement's financial resources are distributed in a transparent way and on a “no entitlement basis.” The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) Board of Trustees then decides on the FDC's recommendation. The process was established in September 2012, with the FDC having made two rounds of funding recommendations so far in November 2012 and May 2013, both approved in full by the WMF Board.
- In aggregate, the FDC process is deemed as satisfactory, transparent, and fair, though several areas of the process were identified as in need of improvements. Progress in these areas is noted in the final section of this report. However, longer-term impact of these outcomes and progress toward movement-wide goals is still unknown. Increasingly, the conversation is turning to whether funds are spent on the most effective programs and whether institutionalization of entities is an effective use of resources for the entire movement. This will be one area that needs significant attention over the next year, and review by the FDC Advisory Group at the end of this two-year trial period.
- The FDC annual plan grants program is not a good fit for all entities, even if they are eligible to submit a proposal. Some entities were encouraged to choose the Project and Event grants program (formerly the Wikimedia Foundation grants program) instead of the FDC annual plan grants program because the Project and Event grants program would have better suited their needs and contexts, especially when organizations did not need full time staff. Many entities seemed unaware of the differences among the different WMF grants programs; therefore, more work is needed to clarify the requirements, expectations, and possibilities of all WMF grants programs.
- Given the amount and nature of funding allocated through this process, the proposal submission and review process is appropriately time-consuming. Nevertheless, some applicants feel strongly that the proposal requirements are too high.
- Rigorous in-person deliberations that use a consensus-based methodology are a critical component of a successful FDC process. In spite of initially strong differences of opinions, members ultimately agree on the recommendations after intensive discussions on each proposal's strengths, weaknesses, and potential.
- The FDC process has been challenged by how the largest movement entity, the Wikimedia Foundation, should participate. In the first year, the WMF submitted part of its annual plan and budget as its proposal to the FDC for US$4.5 million. WMF submitted a proposal for its current fiscal year, so the plan and budget were considered while that plan was already being implemented. When the proposal was funded, implementation of that plan had been ongoing for six months. While it was considered a success to include the WMF in the process as a way to increase community voice and transparency in the reviewing of WMF's annual plan and budget, reviewing a partial plan was ultimately not deemed viable by the FDC or the WMF.
- In the first year of the FDC process, all systems and processes established by the FDC Framework were tested with sound results. This included a complaint to the WMF FDC Board representatives and an appeal to the FDC Ombudsperson, in addition to some "extraordinary events": a governance challenge in WMUK, an executive transition in WMFR, two entities (WMHK and WMCZ) becoming ineligible due to lack of compliance during the FDC review process, and an invalid proposal submitted by WMCZ. The processes and systems outlined by the Framework proved sufficient for a variety of scenarios and provided stakeholders with guidance in what otherwise would have been challenging situations.
- As these extraordinary events tested processes and systems, questions arose around whether FDC applicants were ready for a process like the FDC with such high levels of funding. Many FDC entities are in the process of building up good organizational policies and practices (e.g. conflict of interest), and they are sometimes receiving funding before strong governance policies are in place.
Highlights in numbers from the first year
- Total entities submitting proposals: A total of 16 proposals were received in Year 1 (2012-2013) from 15 eligible entities. Note: WMFR submitted proposals in both rounds, receiving “bridge funding" for 6 months in 2012-2013 Round 1 and funding for a full 12-month plan in 2012-2013 Round 2. The number of entities submitting proposals is likely to increase in the coming years as more and more entities become eligible.
- Most entities submitting proposals received funding: 13 proposals (12 entities) were funded, while 3 were declined. Therefore, 81% of entities submitting proposals received funding for their proposals.
- Wide range in size of requests: The average (mean) request size, excluding WMF's request, is US$478,063. The smallest request was US$14,065, and the largest request was US$1,820,000.
- High percentage of funds requested were allocated: In both rounds, 79% of funds requested were allocated. Excluding requests that did not receive any funds allocation or received only bridge funding, 89% of funds requested were allocated. Removing WMF, a total of 81% of funds requested were allocated.
- Community involvement in proposal review: 181 comments from 97 unique users in 2012-2013 Round 1 and 84 users in 2012-2013 Round 2 are posted on proposal discussion pages for both rounds.
- Total cost: In FY2012-2013, US$9,173,409 was allocated to fifteen entities, or US$4,714,409 excluding WMF's allocation. US$537,911 was spent on support and overhead costs as follows: US$175,835 on personnel, US$65,424 on face-to-face deliberations (travel, venue, accommodation), US$2,466 on operating expenses, and US$294,186 on one-time expenses covering The Bridgespan Group's consultancy fees during the creation of the FDC process.
|2012-2013 Round 1 allocations requested and funded
|2012-2013 Round 2 allocations requested and funded
|A wide range of requests saw high rates of funding
|Entities that received funding received >80% of their requests, on average
|$10.4M total requested; $8.5M allocated (82%)
|$1.2M total requested; $0.7M allocated (55%)
The WMF Executive Director’s Reflections on the FDC Process
The Funds Dissemination Committee process was put into motion in March 2012, after a resolution by the WMF Board of Trustees, asking the WMF Executive Director to lead the creation of a framework that would offer
- A description of how the FDC will function;
- A transition plan for rolling it out, with a partial rollout in 2012–13 and a full rollout for 2013–14;
- And a process for evaluating, reviewing and making refinements at several key stages.
That was done. In July 2012, following significant input from the FDC Advisory Group, community members who have participated on the talk pages, and the staff of the Wikimedia Foundation, we put in place the Framework. We knew at the time of creating the Framework that it would take considerable effort on the part of the community, the staff and in particular, the inaugural FDC members, to support a “transparent application and decision-making process” for the allocation of movement funds, and to create a “center of excellence in the movement by holding entities to high standards in the plans they develop and in the implementation of their plans”.
This is a report to the WMF Board --and to the movement at large-- on the reflections and learnings of the first full year of the FDC process. As per the Framework, the FDC Advisory Group will meet next year to advise the WMF Executive Director on improvements to the process based on updated assessment and learnings. At the end of the two year trial period of the FDC process, roughly in mid-August 2014, the WMF Executive Director will include this counsel from the Advisory Group in a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, on whether the FDC process should continue or not, and if so in what form.
The first year of the FDC process has far exceeded my expectations in multiple ways.
- Design as a participatory, transparent, community-based funding mechanism: The FDC process is unique: it is the most participatory, open, transparent, inclusive, consensus-oriented funds dissemination process I'm aware of. Nobody else does grant-making this way, with most aspects of the proposal, review, recommendation and decision-making processes happening in public, and open to comment from anyone. Our goal was to design and execute a process that would be entirely consistent with the movement's values, and I'm pleased we've been successful in that.
- Timing and execution: At the time when we designed the Framework, we didn't know if the FDC process would actually be workable. It was entirely possible that what appeared workable in theory would prove impossible to execute. I'm pleased that the process has been able to stay on track timing-wise throughout the year, and has managed to successfully achieve its primary goal: to give out money to movement organizations in a way that enables them to function.
- Rigour and thoughtfulness in review: When we launched the FDC, we didn't know whether the FDC members would have the expertise and judgment to make good funding decisions. I am very happy that their initial decision-making has suggested that they do. The inaugural FDC comprised seven (with two more recently elected) community members from around the world, with experience in different Wikimedia projects and in finance, grants and project management, with two Board representatives as observers on the FDC; together they led a highly motivated and careful review process. They also made some tough calls: they didn't recommend full allocations to all those who applied, and they declined three proposals on the basis of leadership challenges as well as inadequate track records around previous grant reporting compliance and programmatic implementation and impact.
- Robustness in assessing ‘extraordinary events’ and responding to significant complaints and appeals: As they worked through funding requests, in several cases the FDC had to decide how to handle requests from entities that were experiencing serious leadership and governance challenges (which we have been calling "extraordinary events"). WMUK was having trouble with at the governance level with conflict of interest issues. WMFR faced a challenging leadership transition. Two entities that had hoped to be eligible for FDC funding were determined not to be eligible due to non-compliance with requirements. In some of these cases, the FDC complaints and appeals processes were used by fund-seeking entities, which led to investigation and reporting from the Ombudsperson, and an eventual decision by the WMF Board representatives to the FDC, to uphold the FDC recommendations despite opposition by fund-seekers. I've been pleased with how seriously the FDC has taken "extraordinary events," and I've been pleased that the complaints and review processes have been tested and seem also to be working effectively.
I also want to note that entities' public reporting of activities has increased significantly since the FDC process was launched. Prior to the launch of the FDC many Wikimedia entities didn't report publicly much on their activities, and were frequently out of compliance with reporting requirements of the chapter agreements and grant agreements. Since the launch of the FDC process, openness and transparency has significantly increased throughout the movement. I believe this is an outcome of the FDC process but even if it's not, it's a welcome change and worth noting.
Upshot: I am pleased by the first year of the FDC. That said, I also want to note that I have significant concerns about how our movement entities are developing. I note these here not because they necessarily represent problems with the FDC process itself, but because I believe the FDC, as it evolves, will play a key role in helping to grapple with and solve them.
- Disproportionate resources and influence of Wikimedia organizations: I believe that currently, too large a proportion of the movement's money is being spent by the chapters. The value in the Wikimedia projects is primarily created by individual editors: individuals create the value for readers, which results in those readers donating money to the movement. We have over 40 Wikimedia organizations today, 12 of whom received funding allocations through the FDC last year. Of the US$5.65 million WMF gave out in grants last year, 89% or US$5.04 million were to affiliate entities, with US$4.71 million (83% of the total grants) to these 12 entities for their annual plans. I am not sure that the additional value created by movement entities such as chapters justifies the financial cost, and I wonder whether it might make more sense for the movement to focus a larger amount of spending on direct financial support for individuals working in the projects.
- FDC process dominated by chapters perspectives: I am also concerned that the FDC itself --the most significant and powerful funding mechanism for our movement-- has very few non-chapter-related members: the majority of its members are also Board/former Board members of a chapter. It's understandable to me that people with chapters experience would be drawn to working with the FDC for the same reasons that drew them to chapter work, and it makes sense to me that the skills and expertise they gained in their chapter-related work would stand them in good stead doing FDC work. I can also understand why non-chapters-related Wikimedians (for the same reasons they didn't get involved with chapter work) might choose not to get involved with the FDC. But I am troubled by the FDC being disproportionately chapters-centric, and my concern increased rather than decreasing following the 2013 FDC member elections, which resulted in the two open FDC seats being filled by chapters Board members. I want to be clear: I am confident that all FDC members put the good of the movement ahead of self-interest, including the interests of their chapter. But I do also believe that people who are involved in chapter organizations (and other Wikimedia organizations) have a particular worldview that is in some ways different from that of Wikimedians who choose not to become involved with incorporated Wikimedia organizations, and I think a healthy funds dissemination process would benefit from multiple perspectives. And, although I trust the current FDC members to put the interests of the movement first, I believe the FDC process, dominated by fund-seekers, does not as currently constructed offer sufficient protection against log-rolling, self-dealing, and other corrupt practices. I had hoped that this risk would be offset by the presence on the FDC of independent non-affiliated members, but thus far the evidence suggests their number will be small and may diminish over time, and I do not believe it's reasonable to expect a minority of independent members to act as the only failsafe mechanism against corruption. I also note with concern the point made by the FDC Advisory Group, that the community members who are paying the closest attention to the process are applicants, and that community involvement in scrutinizing proposals is otherwise low. I would appreciate the FDC Advisory Group doing some thinking on this issue, and making a recommendation for how to resolve it, in its review.
- Growing institutionalization of the movement: During the WMF strategic planning process, at the beginning of 2010, there were only three chapters with staff. By the end of the first year of the FDC process, there are at least 15 Wikimedia affiliates with full or part-time staff and offices (not all of them in the FDC process). With such a high proportion of movement resources --as mentioned above-- now funding movement ‘institutionalization,' we need to ask if the benefits are turning out to be worth the cost. It's possible that a well-managed shift to some staff support can help a volunteer community stay energized and enthused, but the risks and costs of setting up bricks-and-mortar institutions also dramatically increase, alongside sometimes difficult dynamics between staff and community, as has been reported this year by some FDC applicants. We need to ask ourselves whether there are more imaginative and agile ways of organising our movement that will support our work better, and how the FDC process can encourage that process of thinking and doing.
- High costs and unclear results: Last year, WMF spent US$ 4.71 million in FDC annual plan grants, excluding WMF (US$ 5.65 million for all grants), and is projected to increase this up to as much as US$ 6 million this year for FDC annual plan grants (US$ 8 million overall in grants). That's a lot of money. While the Program Evaluation and Design, and Grantmaking Learning and Evaluation teams at WMF will be supporting the FDC in understanding the impact of global Wikimedia programs, there is currently not much evidence suggesting this spending is significantly helping us to achieve the Wikimedia mission. I believe we're spending a lot of money, more than is warranted by the results we've been seeing. I am concerned by the growth rates requested by the entities submitting funding requests to the FDC: I believe that in order to justify the size of grants that have been sought, the entities involved should need to be able to say clearly how their plan will make an important contribution to helping the Wikimedia movement achieve its mission.
The WMF Board of Trustees has already reflected on many of these challenges in its Guidance for the FDC in April 2013, and it is critical that over the next year, the FDC process responds to the Board by offering constructive solutions to these challenges. As the Board said, “We are privileged to have the resources we do, and we are grateful to the Wikimedia movement’s generous donors. With privilege comes responsibility: we owe it to our community of contributors, readers and donors to use resources as thoughtfully as possible, to achieve the highest possible impact in the pursuit of our vision.”
The funding process
As outlined in the proposal timeline, the Funds Dissemination Committee receives proposals twice each year from eligible entities for general support (unrestricted) funds allocations for Wikimedia movement-aligned work. In the first year of the FDC (2012-2013), two rounds of proposals were submitted. After each intensive review process, which includes public community review and staff assessments, the Committee considers each proposal over the course of a month, and meets to intensively deliberate on them in-person over 3-4 days. Once the committee reaches consensus, they publish their funding recommendations to the WMF Board and the community.
The FDC and the proposal process were designed to be highly participatory, community-engaging, transparent, and accountable. It is an unusual grants program with many unique features, such as a community review period in which the community is invited to share questions and feedback on proposals; a publicly-shared document on reflections and notes from the Committee and its deliberations; an ombudsperson who supports investigations and appeals to the process; and surveys after each round to solicit feedback, complaints, concerns, and satisfaction to create continuous improvements in future rounds.
The FDC applicants
Eligible Wikimedia-affiliated entities are able to submit proposals to the FDC for general funding to support their annual plans. In year one, all entities but one (the Wikimedia Foundation) were chapters. Fourteen out of the fifteen entities that submitted proposals are located in Europe, North America and Australia; only one entity is in the "global south" (Argentina). Many entities submitted proposals to the FDC for an annual plan grant or funds allocation with staff and office costs that support their programmatic work. In the first two rounds of the proposal process, entities had significant differences in size of geographical communities served, programmatic history, organizational budget, years of existence, activity levels of communities and of boards, and staffing.
The inaugural Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) comprised seven members appointed by the WMF Board in September 2012 from seven countries (Bangladesh, India, Poland, Sweden, UK, Ukraine, USA) and with a variety of backgrounds within the movement. Each underwent a selection process that included on-wiki review and phone interviews, and were chosen for their experience in grantmaking, finance or program management, as well as their backgrounds as community members from different Wikimedia projects. In June 2013 they were joined by two newly elected members from Italy and France/Germany. The committee now consists of seven male and two female members. The FDC also works with two WMF Board representatives and an independent Ombudsperson and is supported full time by one WMF staff member, with significant support from two members of the Grantmaking team, and by others at WMF on the Legal, Finance, and Communications teams.
First year report on the FDC process
The purpose of this report is to document the state of the FDC process and the experiences of stakeholders, to highlight feedback received over the last year, to share trends and progress from entities receiving funds allocations, and to note changes made to date for improvements. The report is written for all stakeholders who participated in the process, for the Wikimedia community at large, and for the WMF Board of Trustees.
The content of this report was collected from surveys, reports, discussion pages, phone calls, and feedback shared at face-to-face discussions. In particular:
- Many formal feedback channels collect feedback and document the experience of stakeholders to ensure the continuous improvements to the FDC process.
- Two sets of surveys (a process survey and a cost-benefit survey) are conducted after each round of funding to solicit comments on stakeholder experience and feedback from stakeholders.
- The ombudsperson also collects feedback after each round and publishes an annual report to highlight both positive and negative aspects of the process.
- In addition, feedback is continuously collected by FDC staff at meetings, on site visits, on wiki, and at movement events like the Wikimedia Conference and Wikimania.
Feedback collected through these channels, as well as input solicited directly from stakeholders, form the basis of this report.
Future annual reports will be written by the Funds Dissemination Committee and will focus on learning from the previous year, including promising trends in movement entities' programs, progress and challenges, observations about movement investing to achieve mission goals of the movement, and recommendations for movement strategic priorities and goals.
If you have any feedback, which is not already addressed here, that you would like to share about the FDC's first year, please leave a comment on the discussion page.
Results from stakeholder surveys
After each round of FDC funding, the WMF Grantmaking Learning and Evaluation team conducts surveys with process stakeholders, which target entities, FDC members, FDC staff, the WMF Board representatives, FDC Advisory Group members, and members of the community. These surveys solicit information from those mostly closely involved with the process to identify pain points, cost-benefit information, and satisfaction with the FDC process. This feedback is then used by the FDC and the FDC staff to make improvements. A cumulative Year 1 report is published. Highlights from the report are summarized below:
- Over the first year of the FDC process, average satisfaction rates of the FDC process by those who responded to the survey are between "satisfied" and "very satisfied." This is the overall average across all parties (e.g., FDC Advisory Group, FDC Staff, WMF FDC Board Representatives, FDC applicants, Community Members, FDC). Overall, 85% of participants in the process are either satisfied or very satisfied, and 15% are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. All of the members of the FDC and the FDC staff are either satisfied or very satisfied. 75% of Entities (12 of 16 respondents) are satisfied or very satisfied, and the same percentage is true of the FDC Advisory Group / WMF Board (3 out of 4 respondents). Lower levels of satisfaction come from entities that did not receive any funding or did not receive full funding. All parties agree that there is room for improvement in the process, and that certain changes are needed.
- As a mechanism for distributing movement funds, the FDC’s intensive proposal submission and review process is deemed appropriately time-consuming. This is particularly true given the amounts allocated and the nature of the funds allocations, which are unrestricted. In spite of this, the FDC should continue to seek ways to minimize difficulties in the process.
- Communication should be increased to ensure clarity and shared expectations for all involved, particularly in the areas on eligibility and proposal process and milestones. Since proposals are only accepted in English, language also continues to be a challenge since most involved with the proposal submission process are non-native English speakers. With this in mind, the FDC and the FDC staff could offer more communication channels to entities throughout the proposal development and review process; improve the FDC portal to make it more navigable; and provide more details on the different types of grants offered by WMF.
- The most contentious points of the process were eligibility, expectations during proposal review, and the complaints and appeals processes. These processes should be improved by clarifying protocols and procedures.
Reflections from stakeholder groups
|Roles of Key Participants in the FDC Process
|submit proposals to the FDC for annual plan grants
|review proposals, recommend funds allocations to the WMF Board
|WMF FDC Board Representatives
|observe process, advise on key issues, liaise with full WMF Board, receive and respond to complaints against the recommendations
|FDC Advisory Group
|helped create FDC process, will advise the WMF Board next year on how to proceed
|receives and documents appeals, publishes independent annual report on FDC process
|oversees process, provides FDC with inputs, works with applicants on proposals
In Year 1 (2012-2013), the majority of the 15 entities that submitted proposals to the FDC were satisfied with the process, though several entities that expressed strong dissatisfaction and suggestions for improvements. One survey respondent highlighted the opportunity that the FDC process presented to more widely share learning across the movement: “the FDC process will create greater convergence among the entities (part of it through copying each other, and as a backwash effect from the process and review itself).”
While many (69% of survey respondents) felt the application requirements were reasonable and achievable, not all agreed. One applicant noted it was easy for his/her entity because paid staff could support the proposal development: “I found the process smooth and easy, but I guess that is different for entities without paid staff.” Another applicant shared the opinion that the process should be simplified significantly: "It is only one year old and it is all ready out of hand. The more time it takes for grantees to participate in the FDC process, the less time they have to do their programmatic work."
Concerns around communications, particularly around language and expectations, arose as one of the major areas for improvement. One applicant wrote, “deadlines were communicated (albeit in a very legalese manner). Expectations were not communicated well. The requirements of the participants were unreasonable.” This applicant later noted, however, that they were generally able to resolve their issues through email. Another applicant noted the need for more communication, particularly given language issues: “I regret that there is not more dialogue (eg chat or skype) between the FDC and structures. The process of FDC is correct but probably forgets that participants are not native English speakers.” The FDC process is still ill-equipped to tackle the translation problem, and it is a key challenge.
Three entities did not receive funding from the FDC process, and many did not receive the full amounts they requested. One entity that did not receive funding submitted a formal complaint to the Board. Wikimedia Hong Kong wrote: "We believe the decision of the FDC is inappropriate. The decision is totally harmful for the development of WMHK, as well as the development of free culture in Hong Kong. The Wikimedia Foundation has the obligation to promote Wikimedia projects and free culture around the world. The rejection of funding makes the promotion of those projects in Hong Kong more difficult. The rejection of funding also makes the volunteers in WMHK think that their work is totally denied by the Wikimedia Foundation." The Board responded to the complaint, endorsing the FDC's recommendation and highlighting the concerns of the FDC with the proposal, including: "the effectiveness of the programs proposed in terms of both potential impact and budgetary implications, and the internal governance and organizational capacity of the WMHK chapter to administer such a large grant." The response also raised the FDC's concerns with WMHK's track record with three much smaller grants. The Board reiterated its desire to work towards the growth and development of the Hong Kong chapter and community, and asked them to consider a "more modest project grant that will help develop [WMHK's] capacity and impact, consistent with our movement’s mission and goals".
Another major concern from the applicants was around how--and whether--FDC funds and the process itself would enable entities to achieve impact and make gains in movement priorities. In some ways, it it has been a challenge to fundamentally change the way movement resources are distributed. In the past, many entities acted as payment-processors during global fundraising campaigns on the projects, and simply kept part of the funds processed out of their geography. Now, in order to receive funding, entities are assessed through the FDC process on their capacities to make impact helping the movement achieve its goals. This transition is a difficult one, as one applicant reflects: “I agree that the FDC process is producing greater movement-wide information about what it takes to achieve impact, but I worry that this is being used to mark chapters on their performance and popularity rather than actually giving them access to the funds that donors (in some cases, their own donors) have raised.” One applicant argued that the FDC process is not well designed to support impact on some movement goals: "'Encourage innovation' and 'Increase diversity' is the last thing a highly institutionalised process would do."
Entities are also concerned that they will not have sufficient funds to achieve impact in the way they've planned. One wrote that the FDC's recommendations are not based on "what it takes to achieve impact," citing the fact that the FDC allocated enough funding to Wikimedia Norge for one full time employee rather than two requested, although Wikimedia Norge noted that projects would only work if two staff were hired. However, at the second quarter mark, Round 1 FDC entity spending on staff is 40%, and entity spending on non-staff is 24% spent, so it's not clear that a lack of funds is hampering entity ability to generate impact.
Funds Dissemination Committee members
Committee members agree that in spite of the challenges they faced at many points in the process, the first year was a success that resulted in the WMF Board endorsing both rounds of the FDC's recommendations. It has been an exciting journey to build up an entirely volunteer-driven body, to allow it to evolve and grow while holding the high standards. At the same time, it has been challenging, since throughout the whole process they have aimed not to stifle the spontaneous and activist character of the movement. As volunteer members of the community themselves, they face a difficult balance.
Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the committee has been the success of the multi-day face-to-face deliberation process. The consensus-driven model allows all members of this diverse committee to share their opinions and deliberate until a final agreement is reached for all proposals. This process can be exhausting, as all members must also agree on the final recommendation text. However, it is a testament to the integrity of the process and the members of the committee that consensus has been achieved in both rounds, despite strong initial differences in opinions.
Members agree that the process as it was set out has achieved its goal, with one member remarking that funds were being allocated to entities’ “promising projects, [and] that will help Wikimedia maintain its standards and grow with quality.” While one member notes that “the process is enabling projects that will allow a bigger social impact,” others are waiting for more information about outcomes and impact from the grants, which will be seen in the next year.
Members are proud of the fact that FDC members and applicants alike rose to all the challenges faced in the first year. One member wrote that “FDC process is very new to the movement. There was lot of uncertainty and apprehension over the success of the process before. However, the results so far are very encouraging and the FDC process is also making sure accountability and responsibility is there in the movement activities.” Another agreed that process has been encouraging, given “there has been good involvement of stakeholders and FDC decisions have been respected.” One member shared a sense that "together we are making history of open social movement resource allocation."
Committee members echoed similar concerns as other stakeholder groups about expectations, communications, proposal templates, and the portal. One member wrote: “Expectations and deadlines for eligibility apparently weren't clear for some applicants. We can probably do better with real-time bidirectional feedback.” Another suggested “well defined and SMART goals for each application” were needed.
Some members also highlighted the issue about the pipeline to the FDC, noting that not all entities are ‘ready’ to apply to the FDC: “it seemed to me that most entities have taken for granted that they 'have to' approach FDC after execution of two earlier restricted grants.” To help with this problem, another also endorsed the need for better a “synchronization of all grants / funding programs of WMF" so that entities know which grants programs might best fit their needs.
WMF Board representatives to the FDC
The two WMF Board representatives have been very satisfied with the first year of the FDC process. They note that the FDC has "exceeded our wildest expectations for the first year." Since it was important for them to see the entire FDC run by volunteers, they were impressed with the ability of committee members to commit so much time to the process. They were pleased to observe "thoughtful discussions leading to a carefully thought out result." They noted, too, their satisfaction with the support role that the FDC staff played.
While the Board representatives have been impressed with the process this year, they are concerned by the high proportion of movement resources going to annual plan grants and urge the FDC and the movement to award funding commensurate to an entity’s ability to create impact. To do this, they encourage entities and the FDC to develop a culture of evaluation and assessment to help make good decisions about where resources should be invested for the most impact. They reiterate what they expressed in their Guidance to the FDC earlier this year: “Entities should get funding insofar as they can demonstrate that their activities are helping to achieve the mission, or that their activities plausibly may help. Proportionality is key: smaller grants can support what might be risky but exciting new work, but larger grants need to be based on a strong rationale, a solid track record of past and future performance and a clear focus on high impact work, rather than a menu of different approaches.”
In relation to this, in the coming year, the Board representatives noted that the FDC process will need to endeavor to improve the quality of the proposals, based on good feedback and learning. This challenge will need to be addressed both by the members of the FDC as well as the chapters themselves (e.g. establishing a peer review process).
As issues in compliance, governance, and executive leadership arose for several applicants, the Board representatives expressed their concern that some applicants may not be “ready” to manage large annual plans grants. The Board representatives were concerned by the number and range of “extraordinary events” that FDC applicants faced this year. This past year, Wikimedia UK faced conflict of interest issues, Wikimedia France experienced an executive transition, and Wikimedia Hong Kong and Wikimedia Czech Republic faced compliance issues. FDC grants require effective, transparent and strategic organizations who are able to manage large grants, paid staff, and implement good programs with significant impact. They recommend that the FDC encourage entities to establish “practices of good governance, transparency, and accountability. Effective leadership by entities - whether formally established or more informal in their organizational structure - ensures their finances are public and well managed, that their programs are focused, well-designed and reliable, that they are learning from their own histories and from others in the movement, that they are creating strong partnerships that will build content and community, and that their communications and relationships with each other and the rest of the community are respectful, professional and transparent.”
In spite of these concerns, the Board representatives are greatly appreciative of all the significant work that has gone into the process and celebrate the successes to date.
Funds Dissemination Advisory Group members
The Funds Dissemination Advisory Group plays an important role for the first two years of the FDC’s existence. The Advisory Group helped develop the FDC process, and now provides guidance and feedback to refine the process. The Group is comprised of interested community members, current FDC grantees, external grantmakers, and WMF Board members. After the creation of the Funds Dissemination Committee, two members of the Advisory Group joined the committee, and they therefore resigned from the Advisory Group.
As a whole, the Advisory Group felt that the FDC Year 1 Process Review accurately covered the current state of the FDC process. They strongly emphasized a need for increased communication among applicants and FDC staff. The Advisory Group noted that communication is the most challenging aspect of the relationship, as new and inexperienced entities have a difficult time meeting the requirements. The Advisory Group therefore recommended that the FDC staff work more closely with applicants, particularly new applicants.
The Advisory Group noted concern around smaller entities facing the same rigorous review treatment as larger entities, even when smaller entities are usually all or mostly volunteer-run. They also noted that some entities may not be ready for annual plan grants with unrestricted funds. They recommended that the FDC staff steer smaller (and possibly less developed) entities to simpler Wikimedia grants programs, like the Project and Event grants program.
Another concern is the lack of overall community involvement. One member noted that only the applicants seemed to be paying significant attention to the process.
The Advisory Group noted many positive aspects of the FDC. First, it feels the FDC Framework has been useful and well-utilized as a foundational document for the process. In addition, the group was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the FDC’s work and decisions. Furthermore, despite a range of personalities, all viewpoints are respected and recommendations are agreed jointly. Finally, the group was also impressed with the maturity of responses from entities in the first round, including those that were not funded.
The ombudsperson plays a unique and independent role in the FDC process. Her role is to receive and publicly document appeals; support complaints investigations as requested by the WMF board; and publish an annual report that identifies systemic problems. The inaugural ombudsperson’s annual report summarized key elements of feedback she received.
The ombudsperson agreed with the Year 1 (2012-2013) survey findings that the FDC process overall is generally satisfactory, transparent, and fair. In addition, she noted that through its first two rounds of funding recommendations, it was able to allocate funds in an efficient way in order to lead to impact. Her report notes that the FDC process could be improved by making it less “time consuming and complicated,” by tightening requirements, clarifying expectations and terminology, considering different contexts, and aligning the FDC proposal process better with entity's own internal planning.
The ombudsperson noted that the FDC portal needs improvements. The report urges the team to make the portal more user-friendly, and to reduce the number of comment pages.
The ombudsperson reported mixed feedback on the FDC proposal and reporting forms. She noted that the FDC forms are helpful to make comparisons between proposals to create a portfolio analysis, and they also help applicants to set goals. However, the forms do not help entities structure their annual plans, and wiki markup is not the best way to present some information in a proposal.
The report noted positive applicant interactions with the members of the FDC, who were viewed as friendly and efficient despite time differences. However, it was felt that there was not enough communication between the FDC and FDC staff and entities submitting proposals. The ombudsperson noted that entities requested for more feedback and contact from the FDC after the FDC recommendations are published. Finally, the report noted that applicants felt the staff assessment was too vague to provide actionable guidance and consequently demotivating during the proposal review process.
One of the greatest concerns highlighted in the report is the role of the community in the FDC review process. As others have pointed out, the current lack of community involvement is problematic. There is a lack of interest and knowledge about the process. Language contributes to this challenge. It was noted, too, that two weeks of community review was not enough time to submit feedback, but in Round 2 2012-2013 the community review period was extended to one month.
In terms of overhead costs, the report highlights the complaint from applicant volunteers and employees who lament the “excessive bureaucracy” and the months they are spending on the process. It was noted that the Project and Event grants program (formerly the Wikimedia Foundation grants program) has an easier proposal submission process and may be a better funding stream for entities seeking quicker grants.
One of the most important roles of the ombudsperson is to receive appeals about the FDC process, and four appeals were received this year. Appeals were submitted to the ombudsperson to highlight comments, concerns, and complaints by the community. In Year 1 (2012-2013), appeals comprised concerns about the composition of FDC membership, a question on whether funded activities would have impact, a concern about one entity’s staff assessment, and a retrospective disqualification of two applicants in 2012-2013 Round 2. The ombudsperson registered these appeals and in all cases responses were published.
FDC/WMF staff members
The FDC staff (that is, WMF staff who work closely on the FDC process, including Senior Director of Grantmaking, FDC Senior Program Officer, Grants Administrator, and Chief of Finance and Administration) is relatively satisfied with the process. One writes that it is an “extremely fair and transparent model of participatory grantmaking,” and a thoughtful process. They agree that the process has been well-designed and thought out, from the eligibility period through the many inputs during the review process, to the appeals and complaints process, to the WMF Board decision. One staff appreciated the rigor of the process, noting that “these funds do not belong to the FDC or any particular entity (including the WMF). They are the movement funds--and we all owe it to our donors and all our stakeholders to use the funds incredibly wisely.”
In terms of community input, staff agree that the voice of the community needs to be increased. At the same time, they appreciate the fact that the FDC process is a rare grantmaking process that solicits and values community input. One says: “the review process needs to hit the right balance of finding those who can reasonably provide input and increase the overall number of comments. It won't be helpful to have community input if the community members are not well attuned to the movement strategic goals, having an understanding of good and effective spending, etc.”
Staff agree that expectations need to be managed so that entities submitting proposals to the FDC for annual plan grants and funds allocations anticipate the workload involved. One staff mentions the importance of “aligning with chapters on how much work should be involved with getting unrestricted grants.”
Perhaps the greatest concerns for staff are around size, impact, and efficiency of use of funds. One staff writes that the FDC process is “increasing the voice of the community and encouraging discussion around impact, although we still have a long way to go.” Other staff believe the FDC process can help entities achieve more efficient use of movement funds in the long run, though the current rates of expenditure on program-related spending by Round 1 FDC entities is concerning. Overall, staff have significant concerns that the size of grants may not translate into commensurate impact for the movement, particularly when considered in relation to the support for the larger Wikimedia volunteer community of contributors.
Progress and learning from current FDC grants to date
While to date there is little information about outcomes or impact of FDC funds allocations, we can now begin to understand the progress of entities receiving funds allocations. Entities receiving funding from the FDC submit quarterly reports, and the first and the second set of quarterly progress are submitted by entities receiving funding in 2012-2013 Round 1. These quarterly progress reports allow the FDC and the community to understand how each entity is progressing with its FDC funds allocation, particularly in the areas of programs and finances.
Progress reports, which have varied in quality and in depth, allow entities to document their progress and challenges, and share learning with the movement more widely. Some entities transparently discuss progress, challenges, and learning with the wider movement, but not all are open with challenges and failures.
Expenditure rates are monitored through quarterly reports. After the first quarter, overall (excluding the WMF and WMFR), 15% of the FDC grants had been spent. After the second quarter, 36% had been spent. Many entities, though not all, have explained variances in their expenses. Spending on staff seems to be more or less on track, whereas spending in non-staff areas, including programs, lags further behind.
After the first two rounds of quarterly reports, several global level trends were observed:
- Many entities are currently challenged by low volunteer participation in their activities, including micro-grants programs. Entities have noted that they struggle to find an effective balance between staff and volunteers in leading, coordinating and implementing activities.
- Programmatically, entities are learning about building and sustaining successful Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) partnerships. Several entities are deepening or launching new phases of their education activities, including working with primary and secondary schools as well as universities. With non-FDC sources of funding, many entities are advocating for changing policies around content and licensing. And most FDC entities now have at least one program focusing on raising awareness around or addressing the gender gap on Wikipedia.
- Fundraising is a challenge for many, yet entities should consider diversifying their funding if they plan to grow beyond the levels the FDC will support. As the Board noted in their Guidance to the FDC, entities "should seek to diversify their funding base in order to create a sustainable, scalable strategy for their own growth. This is a good way to help ensure we don’t accidentally fund organizations faster than their capabilities suggest they should be funded, because it means their growth will be partly constrained by their ability to persuade other entities their work is valuable." In addition, as more Wikimedia-affiliated entities become eligible for the FDC process, funds may become more competitive.
- Many entities are growing their staff and pursuing different organizational structures. The larger movement may be able to learn from different experiences.
- Entities can improve their ability to track program outcomes by following the contributions of participants over longer periods of time in order to understand changes in short-term and longer-term editing activity.
- Many entities are continuing to collaborate with one another across programs, and some are providing mentorship to others.
In March 2014, FDC entities from Round 1 2012-2013 will submit impact reports. At that time, we will know more about the impact of FDC allocations and the extent to which these funds have enabled progress in meeting the Wikimedia movement's goals.
Summary of improvements to the FDC process
The FDC and FDC staff are working to address challenges from the first two rounds of funding. Many of the pain points and failures noted by stakeholders have been or are being addressed.
- For the year 2013-2014, the Letter of Intent (LOI) process was introduced as the first and mandatory step of the proposal process. LOIs are a basic, non-binding expression of interest from an entity in applying for FDC funds. The LOIs allow FDC staff to better reach out to interested entities before the proposal deadline.
- Thanks in part to the introduction of the Letter of Intent process, communication among FDC staff and entities submitting LOIs has been much more intensive and proactive. Individual emails, telephone calls, and Skype meetings regular occurred among entities and FDC staff throughout the eligibility process in the current round to ensure all were aware of eligibility gaps and deadlines. In addition, six IRC office hours were held prior to the Round 1 2013-2014 proposal deadline to share information and answer questions about eligibility and the proposal process more generally.
- All entities new to the process had one or more telephone or Skype conversations with FDC staff. These meetings with all new entities that submitted a Letters of Intent have been held prior to the proposal submission deadline to share expectations about the proposal process and ensure that the entities understand their options with different Wikimedia grants programs, and are making informed decisions about which kind of grant is most appropriate for their needs and contexts. In some cases, entities decided not to apply for annual plan grants from the FDC at this time.
- The proposal form was modified after both rounds to be more straightforward and easy to use. Questions were clarified, definitions were added, and tables were simplified to make them easier to fill out.
- The name of the program has changed to promote clarity about what the FDC funds. FDC grants and funds allocations are now referred to as FDC annual plan grants to reflect that the program funds the annual plans of eligible entities.
- The details of the process for WMF’s proposal to the FDC, a significant outlier as a proposal from the largest movement entity, are currently being discussed by the FDC and WMF. The timeline for the proposal is being shifted from 2013-2014 Round 1 to 2013-2014 Round 2. WMF’s proposal being a part of the 2013-2014 Round 2 timeline will allow for a meaningful community review process that can influence WMF’s plan for the following year.
Review and deliberations
- The FDC portal is being revised to make it more streamlined and user-friendly. These changes should improve all stakeholders' experiences on the portal and make information much easier to find. The FDC staff hopes these changes will improve the community review process by providing community members easier access to information about proposals.
- The period of community review was expanded from two weeks to four weeks to ensure sufficient review time.
- In 2012-2013 Round 2, there was more proactive outreach to community members to solicit their input during community review.
- The reporting forms have been improved after feedback from the first round of quarterly reports.
- FDC staff put a review process in place for quarterly progress reports that includes feedback and questions on each report's discussion page and a summary of all progress reports submitted that includes expenditure rates and global trends to facilitate cross-movement learning.
Issues not yet resolved
In spite of the progress and resolution on some matters, some challenges cannot easily be addressed.
- The most significant challenge remains that of analyzing the organizational and movement wide impact of these resources: entities need to have more rigorous and reflexive self-assessment and reporting, and the movement needs to understand the overall impact of these movement resources on growing global community and content on our sites. FDC applicants, the FDC itself and WMF/FDC staff have to work together on building the capacities to do this assessment well, and have to be thoughtful and transparent about whether this significantly high proportion of funding towards Wikimedia organizations is the best possible use of movement resources.
- The Committee and the WMF are currently in discussions about how to the WMF should continue to participate in the process. Last year's WMF proposal was important in that WMF participated in the FDC process from the start, but was difficult for both the FDC and WMF because of its outlier status: its size of budget, its critical role in technical infrastructure, and the distinction then being made (now no longer applicable) of core vs. non-core funding. The likely outcome of the current discussions is that WMF will not participate in Round 1 of the 2013-14 process, but in Round 2. The move to the second round aligns much better with the WMF's annual planning process, and the FDC and WMF are working out the modalities. However, a conflict of interest issue remains around the WMF's participation in the FDC process: FDC staff -- WMF staff themselves -- conduct assessments of all proposals submitted. While the FDC staff attempted to provide an independent assessment of the WMF proposal, this issue has not yet been resolved, and is also under discussion by the FDC.
- The issue of language has not been satisfactorily resolved. The FDC currently only accepts proposals in English, while many applicants and their communities are non-English speakers. This is a challenge for the entire movement.
- Proposal and reporting forms were improved, but requests for non-wiki markup proposal forms are difficult to address since posting external documents instead of keeping information on wiki would not allow for easy community review.
- The quarterly reporting template may need further improvements to solicit detailed information about their learning, progress, and challenges, and to ensure FDC entities can share their stories in a meaningful and engaging way. This form must also balance that need against the need to not create an excessive reporting burden for grantees, as cumbersome reporting structures can take away resources from programmatic work.
- The complaints/appeals process still needs to be clarified, as the current structure is not intuitive: it is not universally clear that the Ombudsperson receives process complaints during the FDC process, up until the moment of the FDC recommendations, while the Board representatives receive complaints or appeals against the FDC recommendations by applying entities. Conversations are under way on this issue.
- Finally, more feedback on proposals from FDC members themselves has been requested. Given the growing number of proposals, and as the process scales, this request will become more difficult to tackle.
In the coming year (2013-2014), the FDC process will largely continue to operate as it has for the first year (2012-2013), with the improvements noted above in place. Two rounds of funding will happen with the same process of proposal submission, proposal review, and face-to-face deliberations. Feedback will continue to be sought to allow for continuous improvement of the entire process.
At the end of the second year, the Funds Dissemination Advisory Group will play a special role. In (roughly) May 2014, the group will reconvene to assess how the FDC is meeting its original goals, whether funds allocations have had impact, and whether the benefits of the program outweigh the costs. The group will then advise the WMF Executive Director on how to proceed with the FDC process.