Funds Dissemination Committee/Additional Information and Analysis/Interviews/Themes from Berlin Conference

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These are Bridgespan's notes from our conversations at the Berlin Chapters Meeting. For those of you we spoke to, please feel free to edit/enhance based on your recollections. For those of you we didn't speak to, we welcome your thoughts on the questions we posed!

During the Wikimedia Conference 2012 in Berlin, members of the Bridgespan team had the opportunity to talk, informally, with a number of chapter representatives, and also with the WMF Board of Trustees about the funds dissemination process. This page is our attempt to capture the key themes we heard in those discussions. As we are just beginning this work [link to page on our scope of work] to help flesh out a process for how funds are disseminated, we appreciated the opportunity to listen and learn from those with whom we spoke.

Themes from our conversations with chapters representatives:[edit]

Given the setting, we weren’t able to capture detailed notes and didn’t record the names of every Wikimedian we spoke with, but by our count, we had direct conversation on this topic with individuals from 11 different chapters as well as representatives from the Catalan project. These included:

  • Craig Franklin, Wikimedia Austrailia
  • Tomasz Ganicz, Wikimedia Poland
  • Pavel Richter and Delphine Ménard, Wikimedia Germany
  • Holger Motzkau and Jakob Hammarbäck, Wikimedia Sweden
  • Christophe Henner, Wikimedia France
  • Simon Van Studinski, Wikimedia Denmark
  • Yu Jeromy Chan, Chapters Committee, Hong Kong
  • David Richfield, Wikimedia South Africa
  • Jon Davies, Wikimedia UK
  • Àlex Hinojo and Joan Gomà, Amical Viquipèdia

We posed the following questions, although we were not able to ask everyone the complete set, because we were having conversations alongside the general chapters meeting agenda:

1. Are you aware of the work to better define the funds dissemination process?
2. What are your reactions to the Board’s resolution to create a Funds Dissemination Committee?
3. What model for annual funds dissemination would you suggest?
  • Who should participate in funds dissemination?
  • How should those participants be chosen?
  • What should be the process for evaluating and disseminating funds?
  • What are the major risks to avoid?
4. What do you anticipate will be the most difficult/contentious issues in gathering rough consensus around a funds dissemination process?
5. What advice do you have for how best to engage the community in redesigning funds dissemination process and the FDC?

While there may not be consensus support for the views presented below, they represent the majority perspective from among those we spoke with. When we heard viewpoints that were not shared by the majority, we made a note of this.

1. Everyone we spoke with was aware of Sue’s recommendations and the Board’s resolution to create the Funds Dissemination Committee, although most had not been following the detailed conversation on meta about this topic.

2. When asked about their reaction to the Board’s resolution to create the Funds Dissemination Committee, most had trouble separating this resolution from the Board’s resolution on fundraising. As a result, we heard many concerns about the Board’s decision to centralize payment processing. When pushed to separate the two issues and provide their perspective on the Funds Dissemination Committee, most of those with whom we spoke supported the creation of an entity like the Funds Dissemination Committee.

  • One person suggested that the Chapters Association (which was formed at the Berlin meeting) should play a significant role in funds dissemination and accountability
  • Another was concerned that the FDC would be dominated by the largest chapters and might not be the best way to equitably distribute funds

3. While everyone we spoke with had more questions than answers about how the Funds Dissemination Committee should function, we heard the following responses:

  • Who should participate in funds dissemination? It was most important to those who we spoke with that the FDC be representative of the diversity of perspectives, languages, and entities within the movement. They also agreed this group would need to have the skills, expertise, and time required to devote to this specialized responsibility. Several people stressed the need for the FDC to be independent of any one entity of the organization, particularly the foundation. They believed it is critical that the FDC not be seen as a “veneer of collaboration” behind which certain entities within the movement are pushing their specific agendas. In this vein, some people believed that there should be Foundation representatives on the FDC, and others believed there should not.
  • How should those participants be chosen? Several thought there should be elections similar to the elections for the Wikimedia Board of Trustees; others were not certain of the best way to select this group. Several people suggested that, given the level of involvement required, FDC members be paid for their service.
  • What should be the process for evaluating and disseminating funds? We heard that the process should be transparent, that it should vary depending on the maturity of the entity applying for funds and/or the amount of funds being requested, and that it should be as clear and simple as possible. One person suggested the value of creating a peer review process that would provide input to the FDC and function in a way that is similar to an academic council. We heard the following questions raised during our conversations:
  • What role should the FDC have in interpreting the strategic priorities and goals of the movement in order to evaluate funding requests? There is a feeling that today the movement doesn’t have a common set of goals and priorities, so it is not clear what criteria the FDC should use to evaluate the merits of a funding request.
  • How to most effectively vet requests for funding to ensure they meet high fiduciary standards and minimize the risk/exposure to the entire movement? (Several people suggested that the FDC will need staff support to effectively conduct due diligence.)
  • What level of funding should be considered by this body? Many suggested that only the larger annual plan proposals should go through the FDC, and that smaller grants might be handled by staff or by the Grants Advisory Committee.
  • How to ensure FDC members dedicate the time and capacity to this work? One person emphasized that there have been participation challenges within the Grants Advisory Committee that should be avoided when designing the FDC.
  • What are the key risks to avoid? Several believed the process would favor those who write and communicate effectively in English. Others were concerned that it would not provide the stability of funding chapters would need in order to confidently hire staff.

4. In these discussions, we heard several issues that could make it challenging to reach a consensus perspective on the funds dissemination process:

  • One person believed that it was premature to define the role of the FDC because there is no process for defining movement priorities. In the absence of common global goals, he believed, it would not be possible to effectively disseminate funds.
  • We heard varying levels of commitment to the concept of “non-entitlement” of funds. Several people voiced concerns that Wikimedia might become a “development organization,” raising funds in developed countries to fund projects that serve the developing world.
  • Most of those we spoke with were concerned that the FDC process would take independence away from the chapters, by making them “applicants” or “contractors” rather than independent entities.
  • There was some concern that we will be creating an overly bureaucratic system of applying for and reporting on use of funds that will take effort and will not ultimately serve the mission of “free knowledge.”

5. When asked for advice about how best to engage the community in redesigning the funds dissemination process and the FDC, we heard several common themes:

  • Many said that this effort can’t look or feel like an effort driven just by the Foundation—it needs to be guided by perspectives and input from across the community
  • All told us to engage multiple stakeholders from across the community, and to take input we receive seriously, that we can’t assume everyone will come to the Meta to give their opinion. Suggestions included reaching out at village pumps to solicit ideas and to do direct outreach to active community members in various languages and various communities within Wikimedia (e.g., Wiki Commons, etc.)
  • Several people suggested that we encourage the community to draft pieces of the FDC charter, so the first draft doesn’t always come from Bridgespan or the Foundation

Themes from our conversation with the Board of Trustees:[edit]

During our visit to Berlin, we also had a chance to have a preliminary discussion with the Board of Trustees. The day before, they had passed the resolution to establish the Funds Dissemination Committee and we discussed the next steps for working with the community to design how this committee and the broader funds dissemination process will work.

During the meeting, we discussed several key questions with the Board:

1. What do they believe should be some guiding principles for designing the funds dissemination process?
2. What are some key pitfalls we should be sure to avoid?
3. What would be the key attributes of an effective process for distributing annual funds?
4. Who should be on the steering committee and advisory board for the FDC process?

1. The Board discussed some core principles for the funds dissemination process:

  • Support maximum impact in pursuit of the Wikimedia mission
  • Ensure financial stability and promote growth and development
  • Be transparent and consistent with published guidelines and processes
  • Support decentralized programmatic activities
  • Ensure the Wikimedia Foundation lives up to its fiduciary responsibility to donors around the world
  • Be collaborative and open, inclusive of the diverse and international nature of the Wikimedia movement

2. They also discussed some of the key pitfalls that we should work to avoid:

  • Developing processes that are too onerous, not user-friendly
  • Insufficiently empowering and supporting volunteers so that Wikimedia Foundation staff remain in control and/or must exercise their veto power
  • Not building enough capacity and expertise into the process to effectively and responsibly allocate funds
  • Setting up multiple, fragmented processes that are not united by common goals and objectives
  • Establishing a process that is not seen as credible or transparent by the community
  • FDC decision-making gets gridlocked by disagreement or gets bogged down in the details
  • FDC members aren’t properly trained or supported in their role
  • Existing power dynamics are perpetuated such that movement entities are supported due to their size and power in the community rather than by the merit of their ideas and outcomes

3. The Board also started to identify some key characteristics of an effective process

  • Helps the organization prioritize the most important strategic, high-impact work
  • Has rigorous due diligence and evaluation processes that constantly inform and improve the community’s work
  • Addresses and resolves conflicting priorities within the network
  • Makes decision-making processes and rationale transparent, particularly regarding decisions not to fund a specific project or entity
  • Is clear about deadlines and expectations
  • Is as flexible and supportive of the needs of the community as possible
  • Helps support the development of movement entities

4. Finally, the Board discussed the need to have an Advisory Group oversee the creation and implementation of the FDC. The Board discussed the need for a group that :

  • Will support the work of the FDC for the first two to three years of its existence
  • To oversee the design process, supported by Bridgespan, over the next few months
  • To help the FDC evaluate its processes and make continual improvements, over time
  • Has broad representation from across the community, and potentially some representatives from outside the movement