This year’s proposals are being assessed in the context of some preliminary impact data for grants and programs over the last two years, and our current and future approach is being guided by this analysis. In particular, we have been rigorous with our assessments of the Wikimedia organizations with the largest budgets and requests in this round, as we expect them to be delivering outcomes to scale. In a context where six of the largest (in budget and staff) Wikimedia organizations get nearly 60% of all funds (approximately about $8M) allocated by our community-led review committees (annual plan grants, project and event grants and individual engagement grants together), we believe it is our shared responsibility to be accountable for the impact of these funds. Five of these organizations are in the current round of review by the FDC: WMDE, WMUK, WMCH, WMNL and WMSE; WMFR will be in the April 2015 round of FDC review.
There are a few overarching themes we noticed in this year’s proposals that we wanted to call out. Please note that any examples used are meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive!
Proactive versus responsive strategies and community engagement
Strategy is about trade-offs and priorities: what do you choose to do with a certain set of resources, whether people, money or ideas? Wikimedia organizations, primarily built of, by, and for volunteers, often make decisions that respond immediately and always to all volunteer needs and interests. Such an approach can help volunteers feel appreciated and recognized, and give volunteers the resources to enjoy their own specific interests. At the same time, this approach can feel ad hoc for the organization overall, and may leave the organization without clear aggregate outcomes it can point towards that justify its work. For the significant level of resources (grant funding, donations, volunteer time, in-kind donations) being utilized by each organization, therefore, it is important to have clarity on the balance between such a responsive strategy and a proactive one, in which an organization charts a specific course of action focused on some critical outcomes that have value (perhaps for both locally and globally), and engages volunteers to support those activities in a way that increases their enjoyment and motivation. These are not easy choices, and there are no simple answers to this challenge.
However, it seems critical to recognize that our incredibly passionate communities of volunteers appear less motivated by money (or its lack) than by peer appreciation, recognition and by having the tools needed to contribute more effectively and enjoyably. How do we design our ‘proactive’ strategies to include elements of enjoyment and interest for volunteers, while also driving specific and substantial outcomes around content or contributor growth? Organizations like WMEE and WMAT have organized well-designed and integrated offline and online initiatives specifically geared towards challenging identified content gaps, and have succeeded in achieving online outcomes toward a key movement goal, and at the same time increasing the joy and sense of achievement of volunteers.
Finally, we believe that it is important to design programmatic approaches based on opportunities for scale and opportunities to address key content or contributor gaps, as well as volunteer-led interests. We appreciate that some organizations are working to deeply understand their communities to support them appropriately (like WMNL with its needs assessments, WMSE in its advocacy work and WMIL in its work to map its volunteer community). We hope this will lead to a much more directed and substantial set of outcomes.
Policy awareness, advocacy and collaboration
A separate but related theme we see evolving across the movement is work on policy change at the local or national level (for instance, with changing copyright laws or influencing education policies to include Wikipedia as a pedagogical tool) or regional and global levels (for instance, increasing awareness of free and open content and protocols to enable it). This is an important way in which Wikimedia organizations can support an enabling environment for free knowledge, and this work demands greater and more effective alliances with external partners (such as sub-national, national or regional organizations interested in free knowledge) and across the movement (such as a group of European Wikimedia chapters working in Brussels).
Not only at the level of policy, but at the level of specific programmatic activity, we are encouraged to see far greater cooperation and collaboration planned, and we believe this is one more way in which we can sustainably scale our efforts and our outcomes.
Measures and metrics
All Wikimedia organizations in this round are working to improve their measures of success and to find ways to offer reliable metrics that demonstrate impact. We know this is not easy; we recognize the effort it takes, and appreciate those organizations that have made particular effort to advance their own understanding and articulation (including WMDE, WMUK, WMSE, WMEE). At the same time, we want to point out that it has been difficult for us while reading these proposals to be able to point to clear evidence of achievement in many cases: we all (including WMF) have a lot more to do in order to claim with some confidence, the evidence of significant positive outcomes for the levels of resources being used.
This challenge is particularly understandable when some of the most critical work done by Wikimedia organizations is on partnerships for content or policy change; the progress and outcomes of relationship building are not easily ‘measured’. However, we do need to set some targets, and, at the very least, establish specific milestones to monitor progress, in order to be able to assess and demonstrate our collective efforts and justify the significant resources spent on this work. We know organizations like WMDE, WMSE and others are seriously working on this, as are we at WMF. Global metrics are a start, but we need to work together to look at more specific ways to tell the layered story of partnerships and their outcomes for the movement. Importantly, for successful implementation, we need to be focused about which kind of partnerships and which partners, have the most potential to lead to impact at scale; in only a few cases did we find clear rationale for why certain partnerships were being pursued and what content gaps were being specifically addressed through partnerships.
Diversification of funds and resources
We would like to appreciate that organizations are working seriously towards the diversification of their funds and other resources. A number of organizations have been much more successful in the past year at raising funds from outside the movement (including WMEE, WMSE, WMCH, and WMNL) and many have set ambitious targets for 2015 (including WMUK, WMSE, WMDE, and WMEE). Many organizations are moving towards being less dependent on APG funds for their work. As we have said before, it is important that as a movement, we also acknowledge and assess the range of non-monetary or in-kind contributions and resources we mobilize (for example, Amical works rent-free in a shared office, and WMCH is currently working on pro bono communications and marketing support). Overall, the diversification of resources is not only needed in order to maintain the sustainability of each individual organization and the global movement, it is also a significant way in which individuals and organizations in each local or regional context can express greater awareness of and affinity with the Wikimedia mission. In this way, Wikimedia organizations can build leverage in their environments over time.
Software development and ‘technology pools’
Not all Wikimedia organizations need to be doing the same set of activities or have the same set of approaches: the strength of a plural, diverse, global movement is that individuals and groups can focus on their core competencies and interests, while these complement those of other individuals or groups.
We greatly appreciate the critical success of Wikidata, WMDE’s award-winning software project. Apart from WMDE, we found that a few organizations in this round included elements of software development in their proposals (including WMCH and WMUK). While we do believe that software development for our movement should be driven by multiple actors, not only by WMF, we also ask organizations to ensure that they are prepared for the significant leadership and management skills and capacities it takes to focus on building large-scale technological tools for the movement. This is a competency that can be specifically planned and mentored across a few chapters in service to the rest of the movement. As Erik Möeller, WMF VP of Product & Strategy, put in his expert commentary: “Wikimedia Deutschland has developed a mature engineering department, which puts it in an excellent position to mentor other chapters which are looking to take on software development work”.
Specifically, we find that many groups have successfully used ‘technology pools’ (loaning equipment to volunteers - for example, photo equipment as well as accompanying press accreditation) to support the creation and contribution of high-quality content, often about significant local or regional events or themes. This appears to be a relatively easy, low-cost approach to supporting volunteers that achieves good outcomes. It is, of course, contingent on factors like geographic proximity to the organization, but there may be some innovative approaches - including in-kind support from other groups - that can be adapted as Wikimedia organizations grow their outreach efforts.
Moving beyond Wikipedia to the sister projects
An interesting development we have been observing over the past few years is exemplified by some of the proposals in this round: the increasing focus of Wikimedia organizations on Wikimedia projects other than Wikipedia. WMNL for instance, has a focus on Wikimedia projects “other than Wikipedia and Commons”, while WMIL and WMRS are specifically interested in supporting more work on Wiktionary.
While this may lead to some useful outcomes, we ask organizations to offer more detailed rationale for these choices, particularly about how well these goals will scale for projects that currently have relatively small communities. We also encourage them to document the progress of their work on these projects. For example, do these projects help us motivate and focus newbie editors more easily because of the type of content, the size of community, and the possible focus on language preservation? Is this a useful strategic choice both locally and globally, and if yes, why? Do contributors see this as an entry-point to Wikipedia or as their home community where they spend the majority of their time? In particular, as we turn our attention to key content and contributor gaps more globally, will this approach support us effectively?
Finally, for the first time in the FDC process, we specifically analyzed annual plan grant proposals on the dimension of ‘diversity’. This may be interpreted differently in each context: for instance, while this is a cross-cutting issue for many communities, we at WMF currently prioritize Global South and gender diversity in our movement. Our specific emphasis on this dimension, which many of our partner organizations also care about, is based on the perspective that this is a critical strategic responsibility for us to share in order to achieve our vision of freely shared knowledge for every single human being. We encourage Wikimedia organizations to think about diversity in multiple ways, both within their own organizational structures and processes (for instance, the gender diversity in their boards and staff) and within their programs (for instance, supporting the acquisition and improvement of geographically diverse content).
We are looking forward to seeing the results from the cross-cutting programmatic focuses some applicants have described in this round on gender and diversity (including WMAR and WMAT) and note that other organizations have put an internal emphasis on diversity in their volunteers and Board (including WMUK). Others have created programs specifically designed to target diverse participation or content gaps related to gender in their work or are working to identify those gaps (including WMNL, WMDE, WMRS, WMSE). While we did not explicitly seek goals and targets against this, it would be worthwhile for those organizations for whom this is a focus, to offer specific measures in the next round and to consider targets around online outcomes as well as offline outcomes.
We look forward to our continued work together, supporting you, and learning with you all.
Anasuya, with Katy and Winifred