Grants talk:APG/Proposals/2014-2015 round1/Wikimedia Deutschland e.V./Staff proposal assessment
Wikimedia Deutschland Response to FDC Staff Assessment
Thank you for the staff assessment of our 2015 APG proposal. We appreciate the positive validation of Wikidata, gender and policy work. However, it is unclear, which criteria were used to positively evaluate these programs, to negatively evaluate community support and to completely fail to mention WMDEs important and innovative work with educational and cultural institutions. Were WMDE’s last two extensive quarterly reports and the logic models attached to each program part of the consideration? This assessment appears to be more guided by subjective and political pre-perceptions of the value of WMDE programs. The contextual section of the assessment skips the fact that WMDE is the oldest chapter, and fails to consider developmental stage (as opposed to size) as a contextual factor.
We hope that providing the following additional information will help the FDC to make informed funding decisions.
Impact of Volunteer Support Program
The decline in contributors and edits is a movement-wide phenomenon in the North, affecting all of the more mature Wikipedias. The English language Wikipedia is not an exception here. No one has found the recipe for reversing this development, which may be a natural bell-shaped curve over time. Meanwhile, Wikipedias in the South are producing content more rapidly, as is appropriate to their developmental stage. Northern organizations have mature communities and are increasingly seeking to maximize their impact by connecting external partners with their communities to co-create high quality content. As a result, it seems a bit unbalanced to measure northern and southern organizations with the same set of static, quantitative metrics.
Beyond Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons would have a lot of potential to increase contributions if not limited by technical problems such as uploading function, categorization and searchability. Wikidata is an important example of how Wikimedia organizations can still mobilize large volunteer communities. But note: The success of Wikidata cannot be seen as separate from WMDE’s volunteer support program and the expertise and capacity it has created.
The WMDE volunteer support program, in our view, is evidence of how the definition of impact applied by WMDE and that of WMF have developed along different paths in recent years. We disagree strongly with the statement that our community work has not resulted in impact. To this day, the German language community provides the content for the second largest Wikipedia in the world - without excessive use of bots.
We do agree, and have said so, that our impact is not measurable by a set of tools such as the recently published global metrics. However, the proposal does provide SMART objectives/targets for the Volunteer support program, both in terms of an increase in content, and in terms of the satisfaction of volunteers with support services (Objectives 1.1. and 1.2.). Satisfaction is a measure and a pre-condition of increasing content and improving the quality of content on Wikimedia projects. WMDEs targets are based on a theory of change, represented in a logic model (linked in this program’s description). Our logic model outlines the steps towards creating more content. These are based on a thoughtful analysis and years of experience of what constitutes optimum conditions for increasing online content. Unfortunately, here it already becomes apparent how the global metrics are being applied, and are beginning to stifle innovation. FDC members, please see also WMDE’s recent statement on global metrics.
Instead of numbers of articles, WMDE volunteer support is based on the following core principles:
Bottom-up approach: Volunteers are supported in whichever ways necessary to create content. Contributors are people, not mechanical content creation units. Global metrics are ill designed to paint the picture of what actually happens with these people on a daily basis. A large amount of the high content producers (roughly 500 people) of the German speaking Wikipedia are in constant contact with WMDE’s volunteer support staff. This is how we know what they want and need. They are actively supported through funds and non-monetary support.
Offline activities will lead to online content: Our activities around supporting meetings, events, collaborative spaces, supportive environments for women to edit, volunteer recognition, movement conferences, and conferences with partner sectors such as GLAM and educational institutions all serve to create conditions and relationships through which online content is created, liberated, and re-used. The myriad of diverse partnerships, individual skills, leveraged resources, the building of social capital, the side effects (for example, increasing Wikimedia projects’ visibility with elected officials as volunteers take pictures of parliamentarians for Commons), will never be captured by global (mere quantitative) metrics.
Respect for Privacy: As previously stated, due to cultural and regulatory environment of online privacy in Germany that is much stronger than in the US, we are unable and unwilling to track content directly resulting from participation in offline events at a general level. However, with the program support capacities we have set up for 2015, WMDE is now able to conduct spot evaluations of small pilot projects, for example an offline activity with contributors who sign a release form, which will allow to track their post-offline event content contribution. This will ‘tell the story’ as well as provide an evidence-base for our theory of change, and create a shared learning opportunity for the movement.
Innovation and experimental work: Our community support model is constantly innovated and tests new approaches beyond the models that already have been proven ineffective (such as one-on-one new editor support). WMDE’s FFW program serves as an Incubator for free knowledge projects. WMDE serves as a hub for institutions that want to work with volunteers to put content online. Each year, WMDE initiates innovative, experimental work. Not all of it is successful or sustainable. With the support of WMDE’s new Partnerships and Development unit WMDE is now well equipped to feed our newly gained knowledge from experiments into the movement’s evidence base.
To give you a better impression of the diverse set of activities we are applying, here is a rough breakdown of the Volunteer Support Budget:
Community Spaces €60,000 (Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg) Community Events €70.000 (WikiCon, Wikimania, tech support) Small Project Support €100.000 (travel, literature and equipment funds) FFW (Idea Lab) €250,000 (larger, innovative content creation projects) Materials and Supplies €20.000 Personnel €210.000 (conducting all above activities)
Work with Institutions
We are surprised by the fact that our activities in the outreach arenas are completely missing from the staff assessment. Since 2012, we are working on constantly fine-tuned approaches to enhance the capacities of volunteers and to build up sustainable relationships with decision makers and content curators of high-level institutions.
For instance, take the GLAM sector: We work through three methods: outreach, exhibit and encounter, towards the goal of gaining free content (pictures, documents, and structured data) for Wikimedia projects. In the mid-term, we will enable institutions to independently feed content to Wikimedia platforms, it will become their second nature. The synergy between staff expertise and volunteer engagement works especially well here.
(a) Outreach includes our conferences, presentations at other conferences, and information material. WMDE puts up the national Shaping Access conference, which has become the main hub for exchanging information on legal and technical issues surrounding the opening up of cultural institutions. Integration with Wikidata and free licenses are but two of the topics that have become consultation modules.
(b) Exhibits demonstrate the advantages of releasing open content to crucial institutions. The cultural hackathon Coding da Vinci is a good example here - and represents a groundbreaking new format for collaboration among state entities and movement volunteers. In 2014, 16 institutions of culture and 150 volunteer developers worked together to release 325,000 media data sets under one free license. To make this data accessible for Wikimedia projects, WMDE works with the Europeana task force under consolidated EU approach.
(c) Finally, encounters create concrete opportunities for conversation and collaboration building among volunteers and institutions, aiming to introduce collaborative working relationships to the institutional experts. For example, „GLAM on Tour“, with its edit-a-thons, presentations and photography projects creates new Wikipedia articles and pictures for Commons. These activities are inseparable from our small project support services, which bring together Wikipedians at a variety of occasions and locations to create content. These activities show how our programs integrate into one comprehensive approach, investing in people with a fine-tuned mix of monetary and non-monetary supports.
In summary, we feel that the results-based, one-dimensional metric approach applied to assessing our work and our proposal does not do justice to the multi-dimensional, innovative and complex work of a mature Wikimedia organization such as ours. We hope that the above will add some depth to the picture. Please also see our work around Open Educational Resources as another example of providing national leadership and innovative approaches for advancing free and open knowledge.
WMDE has been using a professional accounting system that complies with the highly stringent German accounting guidelines as well as the laws governing charitable organizations such as WMDE. The accounting system is capable of fund accounting without any modifications, and has been used to this effect in the past when we had partner and external funds to account for. To date, we have not used the fund accounting function for FDC funds, because these went into the general fund due to their classification as unrestricted income. In 2015 we will set up a fund for FDC, and account for the expenses separately.
Restricted or unrestricted?
However, in order to tie FDC income to the appropriate expenses, WMDE staff would need some clarification on the nature of FDC funds in 2015.
The budget tables of WMDE’s FDC proposal reflect the overall budget accounting for all sources of revenue: direct donations/dues, FDC and external partner funds. The amount of funds going to each program is shown here. The FDC amount going to each program is not shown. In the WMDE 2015 budget FDC funding is classified as general, unrestricted funding, in line with how it was originally defined by the FDC. As recently as last week, FDC staff has asked us to estimate the portion of FDC funds that will go towards Wikidata and of those that will go towards community support. Our ED responded that we have considered FDC funds as unrestricted, and that due to the unpredictable nature of donations and external funds, unrestricted FDC funds give us the budgetary flexibility to adjust fund accounts over the next few months.
In response, FDC staff wrote “ ….we are going to be emphasising specific programs that we think are essential to support (like Wikidata!) and others that we are more cautious about (like a really significant community support program) and be very clear about that analysis, so that organizations also have some direction in which to focus their efforts.“
WMDE is receiving mixed messages in terms of the direction of FDC as a funder of general operating support versus program support. What does “emphasizing specific programs” mean, from an accounting perspective? The nature of project or program funding is to restrict the use of funds to specific uses attractive to the funder. And what does it mean from a strategic perspective? There is nothing inherently wrong with restricting funding, but it becomes a tool for undue influence on independent organizations, when this restricted funding is labeled general operating, and then in effect restricts the overall direction and programming of the grantee. These questions are not only relevant in terms of the funding relationship with WMDE, but given the new WMF executive’s clear call for Wikimedia organizations of the North to proactively develop partnerships and external funds, should become part of the WMF strategic deliberations setting the course over the next decade. Mature organizations with multiple funding sources will not indefinitely agree to have their overall direction determined by WMF or FDC. Restricted funding, applied where priorities align, might be the more feasible strategy here.
Back in July of 2014, WMDE staff had suggested to FDC staff a more restricted approach for mature organizations, as part of our input into the reform of FDC process and forms. Given this assessment, WMDE again requests clarification in this area: We propose two scenarios, which will require a clear directional decision of whether FDC funds will continue to be general operating support or restricted program funding.
Scenario I: 2015 WMDE APG funds will be used and accounted for “a specific program”: Software engineering (Wikidata), apparently the WMDE activity most attractive to WMF, the total cost of which is €1,16M, plus program support services and a portion of the program support cost for software engineering, amounting to the total current request of €1.2M .
Scenario II: 2015 WMDE APG funds continue to be general operating support. When setting up the accounting system over the next few months, WMDE staff will allocate specific costs from across our budget (flexibly funding Software Engineering, Volunteer Support, Education, Culture and Science) as appropriate and as needed to the FDC fund. The allocations may change as we receive more clarity on the amounts of both direct donations and external funds that support the programs. FDC staff will of course be informed about the allocations and any changes to them. Financial reports will reflect spending on allocations.
In the context of Scenario I, we would like to point out that WMDE was only able to incubate and develop Wikidata based on a mix of restricted and unrestricted funds, from both movement and external sources. WMDE will continue to strive for a mix of funding for this project, and is very interested in discussing sustainable funding scenarios for Wikidata beyond 2015 to secure its fast growth and impact.
Underspending and FTEs
The issue of underspending seems to prevail in the FDC perception of WMDE, even though it has not been a reality after the 2013 budget year. As demonstrated in the 2014 revised budget submitted to FDC staff, there will be NO underspending in 2014, nor do we foresee any in 2015. The WMDE budget for both years is very tight, and has already led to the layoff of five staff, as well as to a 2014 funding freeze for the FFW (Idea Lab). Newly hired staff will be in mostly in Software Engineering, aligned with the focus outlined in our proposal.
In closing, we appreciate the hard work of FDC staff and committee volunteers, and apologize for creating more reading material. We do feel that the current assessment criteria created a one-dimensionality that required us to tell our story with some more depth.