Grants:APG/Complaints about the FDC process
Notice of a complaint from Wikimédia France about 2016–17 APG round 2 process
A complaint against the FDC process during 2016–17 APG round 2 has been submitted through e-mail by the Board of Wikimédia France to the FDC ombudsperson. An appeal on FDC's recommendations has also been submitted to WMF Board's liaisons. At the moment, the Board of Wikimédia France has chosen for legal reasons not to release publicly the content of these pleads. We leave the choice to the Board and the ombudsperson to further communicate or not, within the limits of what is legally possible for them. Further communication from us may be made as the situation develops.
- EdouardHue, thank you for the note; I have received your complaint, and am reviewing it. Kirill Lokshin (talk) 20:32, 9 June 2017 (UTC)
Report of the Ombudsperson regarding the complaint from Wikimédia France
A complaint was submitted to the Ombudsperson by Wikimédia France (WMFR) following the publication of the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC)'s recommendation for funding in 2016-17, Round 2. The focus of the complaint is an alleged conflict of interest on the part of two former members of the WMFR board — Christophe Henner and Delphine Menard — who were involved with the FDC process as liaison with the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) Board of Trustees and WMF supporting staff, respectively.
The allegation that a conflict of interest on the part of either Christophe or Delphine adversely affected the FDC’s recommendation with respect to WMFR’s grant application is not supported by the available evidence. There is no indication that either individual had any material conflict of interest with respect to WMFR’s grant application. Further, the FDC has consistently taken appropriate precautions, including up-front disclosure and evaluation of members’ potential conflicts, consistently demonstrated recusal practices, and firewalled internal discussions, to ensure that its decisions are made independently; and there is no indication that either individual improperly influenced the FDC’s decision with respect to WMFR.
While the specific complaint made in this case is without merit, a review of practices concerning conflict of interest in the context of the Annual Plan Grant (APG) process has identified a number of areas where improvements might be made. These areas, and the associated recommendations for improvement, are outlined in the following sections.
Process Assessment and Recommendations
The principal mechanism for identifying and addressing actual or perceived conflicts of interest is the voluntary disclosure of an interest by an individual. Voluntary disclosures are commonplace across the Wikimedia movement in contexts ranging from formal organizational governance to routine administrative activities on the Wikimedia projects.
In the context of the APG process, two separate sets of disclosures are routinely made. Each member of the FDC completes a comprehensive disclosure form upon joining the committee. These disclosure forms are general in nature, and collect information regarding FDC members’ current, prior, and future involvement with organizations who request (or may request) funding through the APG process.
Separately, certain WMF staff also complete disclosure forms; however, this second set of disclosures appears to be limited to WMF staff holding specific budgetary authority within the organization, as these disclosures are primarily aimed at preventing certain conflicted transactions prohibited by the US Internal Revenue Code. In addition, the disclosure forms completed by WMF staff are more limited in scope than those completed by FDC members, and primarily collect information regarding an individual’s financial relationships and compensation arrangements with entities that engage in monetary transactions with the WMF.
The WMF should expand its staff disclosure process to incorporate voluntary disclosures by all staff who are materially involved with the APG applications. While disclosures by staff who do not hold budget authority may not be required in the context of compliance with tax regulations, they are nevertheless an important tool in ensuring that staff members who assess grant applications do not have a conflict of interest with respect to the applicants.
The WMF should additionally implement a consistent and comprehensive form of disclosure for both staff and volunteers. While staff and volunteers may perform different roles from a strictly legal standpoint, potential conflict of interests in one group should be disclosed and evaluated consistently with potential conflict of interests in the other in the context of the APG process.
The FDC has implemented a clear process through which an individual member may recuse from a particular grant application; the recusal of an FDC member is disclosed to the committee as a whole and is publicly documented on the committee membership list. This process has been in use since the formation of the committee, and its integrity and effectiveness do not appear to be in question.
The process by which WMF staff supporting the FDC process might recuse from a particular grant application is not as clear; indeed, given that WMF staff do not hold decision-making authority within the FDC evaluation process, some members of the FDC have indicated that “recusal” is not an appropriate paradigm for their participation. Nonetheless, as it is possible for WMF staff to have a conflict of interest with respect to an applicant, it is necessary to have some mechanism for addressing such a conflict.
The FDC and the WMF should implement and document a clear process by which any member of WMF staff can voluntarily withdraw from any involvement with a grant application. This withdrawal may be framed as a recusal or in some other way, as the FDC sees fit, but should have the effect of removing the individual in question from the assessment, evaluation, and deliberation processes with respect to the application in question.
Conflict Versus Bias
The term “conflict of interest” has been used to mean different things across the Wikimedia movement. In some cases, the term has been used to refer strictly to financial conflicts of interest -- in other words, to circumstances where an individual is in a position to financially benefit from their decisions. In other cases, the term is used more generally to refer to any circumstance where an individual may have some substantial bias with respect to a decision, whether or not that bias is the result of financial benefit. This ambiguity has, at times, resulted in confusing and inconsistent practices with respect to identifying and mitigating both financial conflicts and more general bias.
While most regulations governing non-profit organizations and financial decision-making are concerned primarily with financial conflicts of interest, the public and professional spheres have long acknowledged that processes which rely on impartial decision-making -- such as judicial proceedings or government contracts -- can be vulnerable to circumstances of impaired objectivity, where a decision-maker is unable to make an impartial decision due to some relationship with one or more of the parties involved; this relationship can be financial or non-financial in nature, and is not limited to the circumstances of direct financial benefit envisioned by typical regulations concerning conflicts of interest.
Further, circumstances of impaired objectivity can arise from past relationships as well as current ones if an individual has -- or can be perceived as having -- some lasting loyalty to or enmity against a party with whom they previously had a relationship. While this should not necessarily taken to mean that an individual must be forever barred from making any decision that might affect an organization with whom they were formerly affiliated, it is not unreasonable to place some temporary restriction on an individual in this scenario. Once again, this concept is generally understood and accepted in the public and private spheres; for example, “cooling-off” periods for individuals moving to or from certain decision-making roles are widespread in sectors ranging from government acquisitions to financial auditing.
The FDC understands the risks of impaired objectivity and has applied a number of strategies to mitigate such risks, including pledges of personal commitment which are signed by each member of the FDC; further, the collective nature of FDC decision-making provides some measure of inherent protection against individual biases. However, the application of these strategies is not consistent across the APG process; in particular, the differing disclosure practices applicable to the members of the FDC and the other individuals involved in the APG process, as well as the different ways in which these groups participate in the process, make it challenging to evaluate and address potential sources of impaired objectivity in a consistent manner.
The FDC and the WMF should give more consideration to the potential of impaired objectivity when evaluating disclosures made by individuals involved in the APG process. While the relatively close-knit nature of the global Wikimedia community may mean that is impractical or undesirable to implement restrictions as rigorous as the ones used in other environments, there are certainly scenarios where an individual would have a clear and unavoidable bias despite not having a direct financial interest in the matter under consideration; such scenarios can and should be identified and mitigated without creating an unduly burdensome system for managing conflicts or systematically excluding any member of the community from participation.
acknowledgement of report
Hi Kirill Lokshin, I want to let you know that I have received and reviewed your report above. I want to thank you for efforts in reviewing this complaint and publishing this report. KLove (WMF) (talk) 22:21, 27 October 2017 (UTC)
Please file your complaint here