Grants:Strategy/Wikimedia Foundation grantmaking review/Current trends
These are some opportunities and challenges that we have identified as emerging from our current working environment. These reflections are rooted in our experiences of the “status quo”, but may point to future directions or areas we can explore.
- Momentum in regions new to our movement: As a direct result of changes implemented to the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) grants ecosystem, we are welcoming an increasing number of grantees in Latin America and West and East Africa, and we are also seeing these grantees enter different parts of the grants ecosystem as they progress (such as Annual Plan Grants). Concurrently, we observe there is growing momentum around organizing in these regions that we are now positioned to capitalize on.
- Wider range of organizational scopes: We have broadened our eligibility criteria to explicitly welcome organizations with different regional or thematic scopes, rather than focusing organizational funding exclusively on chapters with geographic scopes. While this also brings in new problems and questions, several of these funded organizations have proven to be highly effective and thus have broadened opportunities overall.
- Wider range of languages and communities: Originating from our grantees, we have seen more and more requests for funding work with indigenous languages, endangered languages, small languages, and large languages with small Wikipedias. We have been responsive by working with our grantees to better understand these needs and encouraging them to articulate their strategies behind this work. There is an opportunity now to continue to build on this work toward our vision of knowledge equity, and encourage greater coordination and best practices in these areas.
- Digital repatriation and decolonization: A joint effort led by WMF staff and grantees is growing support for digital repatriation and digital decolonization. This has been adopted by organizations in developed communities as well as those in emerging or not yet emerging communities and has resulted in some interesting collaborations. In particular, we see that partner institutions (such as GLAM partners) are enthusiastic about this theme and often include as a part of their own strategies. Together with our grantee-partners we can capitalize on this greater societal trend.
- Conception of non-binary gender: Our grantees have demanded that the movement increase its awareness of non-binary gender, with a spectrum of understanding, and we have been responsive in promoting this idea. As a result, we have seen this spread to many areas of the movement where it had not been articulated before. We have an opportunity to continue to learn from our grantee partners and expand our concept of what it means to be inclusive.
- Gender diversity within affiliate boards: Thanks to targeted efforts of the Community Resources (CR) team, general societal trends, and the cooperation of grantee partners, we have seen a significant increase in affiliate board gender diversity. CR began to explicitly and challenge the status quo, and have encouraged grantee organizations to work on this issue both behind the scenes and in public.
- Regional networking: Overall, we have seen an increase in regional knowledge sharing, program development, and networking led by our grantee partners and we in CR have responded by devoting both funding and program officer resources to support this. Increasing support for regional networking may be an opportunity to enable organizations to build their capacities in a locally relevant way, and to support community health and development.
- Funds for least developed communities: While previous efforts have focused on redirecting funding previously only available to developed communities to communities classified as emerging, we now see a growing trend of communities classified as “least developed” who are eager to lead projects and initiatives requiring funding. This may focus to rethink how we are understanding and using the “emerging” classification, and may also be an opportunity to better understand the needs of “least developed” communities.
- Partnership with human rights activists: Increased partnership between human rights activists and affiliates is an emerging trend that has been led by our grantee partners. It is interesting to see this develop side by side with the increasing challenges partners face in operating in closing civil society spaces.
As a result of increasing the scope and reach of our grantmaking programs, the number of communities, languages, and geographies we fund have increased significantly over the last five years. This growth is due to the significant increase in Simple Annual Plan Grants and Rapid Grants.
Note: "Project Grants" include Individual Engagement Grants (IEG - no longer in operation), Project & Event Grants (PEG - no longer in operation), Travel and Participation Support (TPS - no longer in operation), as well as Conference Grants, Project & Rapid Grants.
Emerging questions & challenges
- Metrics and evaluation: Grantees continue to struggle with designing and implementing evaluation frameworks and metrics, and grantees do not feel use of traditional metrics or evaluation frameworks adequately shows the impact of their work. How can we support grantees in using metrics in a way that both shows the impact of their work and is meaningful to them?
- Application support: Grantees who are capable of good program work often need a lot of Program Officer (PO) support to develop proposals. This is especially true for new grant applicants. Is this ongoing effort on the part of POs something we as a movement are willing to continue to invest in? If we do not, what are the implications for diversity and inclusion if we leave out people who are not yet competent at proposal writing?
- Lack of innovation: There continues to be a lot of unexamined replication of programs that have been done before, along with a lack of innovation and creativity. How can we create more space for innovation and creativity in our movement work?
- Closing space for civil society: Many grantees face increasing restrictions in receiving foreign funding, and other significant barriers to doing their work as a result of closing civil society spaces worldwide. Will we be able to continue to effectively support these grantees under our current model?
- Funding people’s time: There are no clear standards for when it is appropriate to request funding for people’s time, and yet this is an increasing request, and may even be a critical aspect of thinking through diversity and inclusion in a wider movement context. Where is it appropriate to pay individuals for the work they do for the Wikimedia movement?
- Conflicts among affiliates: Increasing conflicts between user groups create obstacles to making funding decisions based on how funds can be best directed toward impact. Who should mediate these?
- Larger free knowledge ecosystem: The focus of many of our funding efforts is on Wikimedia projects, and not on the free knowledge ecosystem as a whole. Should we as primary funders of the Wikimedia movement continue with this internal focus, or will it be necessary to reach out to and fund wider free knowledge initiatives in order to achieve our strategic vision?
- Structure of the CR team: The work of Program Officers on the Community Resources Team is not structured in a way that corresponds with the thematic or geographic contents of our portfolios, but rather along the lines of distinct “grants programs”. While this is an effective way of dividing responsibilities, it sometimes results in program officers not communicating across thematic or geographic lines. How can we address this with our structures?
- Supporting individuals and networks more effectively: We currently provide organizations with general operating support and restricted operating support through annual plan grants, and we are looking to expand this to include more multi-year grants. These are best practices in funding advocated by organizations like Grantmakers for Effective Organizations; longer term investments are more effective at creating social change. Yet, this concentrates long term investments in organizations rather than individuals or in infrastructure/networks. How can we support individuals and networks more effectively?