Grants talk:PEG/WM US-NYC/WikiConference USA 2014

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Evaluation by the GAC[edit]

GAC Members who read the grant request without comments[edit]

GAC Members who approve this grant request[edit]

  1. Read the proposal, as well as a few past ones. I have nothing major to say save for "good luck!". NLIGuy (talk) 08:55, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
  2. Seems to be perfectly OK. Polimerek (talk) 21:48, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
  3. Being involved as a (co-)organizer in several events like this either in Wikimedia or "outside" world I see the submission as reasonable. And having positive experiences with WM US-DC / WM US-NYC organized events I believe they will do a very good job again as they have done before. However, as usual with such non-trivial amount, please ensure to try to find the most effective way of spending. And good luck with the event!
    Danny B. 22:41, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
  4. With the success of Wikimania in 2012, you won't have difficulty pulling this off. -- Roel (talk) 02:06, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
  5. (a) Cautious approval, but please see my comments in the thread at or towards the bottom, headed "Financial reporting—basic undertakings?". Tony (talk) 04:21, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
  6. Fine for me. Regards, --ProtoplasmaKid (WM-MX) (talk) 15:55, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
  7. --Manuel Schneider(bla) (+/-) 13:15, 18 December 2013 (UTC)
  8. --MikyM (talk) 19:27, 9 January 2014 (UTC)

GAC Members who oppose this grant request[edit]

  1. The proposal currently lacks detail and it discards the lessons learnt in the organisation of Wikimania DC. I'd like to see a much stronger "procedures and reporting" basis for this proposal MADe (talk) 20:49, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
  2. Agree with MADe  Klaas|Z4␟V:  10:05, 8 December 2013 (UTC)

GAC Members who abstain from voting/comment[edit]

  1. I think the grant proposal is reasonable, and WMDC after Wikimania can certainly pull it off. However, since I'm likely attending and potentially doing so on a scholarship if the conference is approved, I'm going to go ahead and abstain. Kevin (talk) 23:13, 4 January 2014 (UTC)

Thinking about this proposal[edit]

When thinking about the funding or organization of this conference, consider the precedents described at "Evidence of past success in executing similar projects". The most relevant consideration would be the following events, which were all held in New York, all consuming about $10,000 in WMF funding, and growing until at the last two conferences they hosted 150 people.

In addition to these conferences, see both Wikimedia NYC's events and Wikimedia DC's events for records of their history in conducting outreach events of all kinds.

This conference will be in New York. Many of the same people will be organizing it. The $13,000 budget for the conference itself is somewhat more than the previously requested $10,000, but it is moved to a larger venue and ambitiously seeking to double its attendance. The existing New York conference could continue in perpetuity at a cost of about $10,000 a year and continue to get 150 people a year, and perhaps it could grow a bit every year. But now that this conference is established and practiced, it might be more useful if this event were a venue to showcase the work of Wikipedians in the United States who otherwise would find it easier to meet people at Wikimania than it would be for them to meet others in their own country.

About $22,000 is requested for scholarships, which is the departure in budget and scope from previous events. New York City and Wikimedia DC are geographically close to each other, and their collaboration with each other is a contributing factor to the success of each. It is hoped by increasing communication among other cities and including these established chapters would increase community organization in other places and throughout the United States. Consider that Wikipedians in San Francisco and Portland are more than 2800 miles or 4000km away and it is a major undertaking for them to meet other Wikipedians in their country. Justifications for using scholarships to bring people to this event include the United States being the major producer of Wikipedians, it being a large country which is inherently difficult to travel even half its length except by air, and the country's successes in developing a range of outreach programs including the US Education Program, the US GLAM Consortium, and various other community projects which should begin to meet and collaborate.

Unless the grantmakers change their grant-making practices, then based on several years of precedent it seems plausible that New York could get about $10,000 to host a conference again this year. The major change with this grant is in deciding whether this should continue to be a New York conference, or should there be additional funding to invite Wikipedians to attend from other places also. The scholarship funding will be practical; it will fund cheap flights, humble hostel accommodation, and food that is not expensive.

Is there anyone who thinks that the $10,000 annual New York conference should not be funded? If it is funded, then how do others feel about expanding it to invite other people from elsewhere in the US? Blue Rasberry (talk) 21:21, 1 December 2013 (UTC)

I certainly think there is great value in gathering experienced U.S. Wikipedians annually, if not more frequently. --Another Believer (talk) 02:14, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

Comments Tony1[edit]

Hi, thanks for such a well thought-out application. It sets a much higher standard for applications for conference-related fundings than has been evident in previous applications.

Could I ask a few questions?

(1) How far in advance are you thinking of setting the deadlines for:

  • submissions of paper abstracts (presumably 100–150 words?) and/or longer written submissions for review as to whether they should make it onto the schedule
  • the decision on which papers should be accepted
  • the onwiki publication of the schedule (perhaps with the abstracts linked?)

(2) What is the general attitude among the organisers to how high the benchmark should be set for movement impact (particularly for WMF sites) and listener interest? How many parallel sessions do you envisage as a maximum, given that the anticipated 300 audience numbers will be split? Will you consider fine-graining some of the themes overleaf for workshops, to garner more interest among would-be attendees and not least to provide some anchors for discussion? (For example: "Issues and concerns with GLAM and paid-editing guidelines" could present several contentious questions to kick up the dust; "Women and Wikipedia" I can see going nowhere unless a few dramatic statements/proposals are put up as subtitles or in the abstract.)

(3) Will there be good connectivity at the venue and the accommodation?

(4) Are there plans to livestream one or more of the sessions, and to advertise this on WMF sites?

(5) Will you consider seeking a high-profile keynote speaker on women's issues? [Aside: Ana Toni is now on the WMF Board of Trustees. She's very very busy, but it might be possible to persuade her if you want to go that way.]

Tony (talk) 02:19, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

(1) Do not tell anyone, but there is a secret draft agenda which gives deadlines. It is not finalized and may change.
(2) As I understand, this will be community organized. Proposals which get more community support are more likely to happen. Organizers are expecting conference attendees to manage the scope of presentations themselves. People who do community outreach are likely to want to present something and make sure that they do.
(3) Yes, the venue usually charges $40k for what we are doing. Their wifi is awesome.
(4) Not sure. There are plans to record them and they could be livestreamed. In past conferences some presentations were livestreamed. Livestreaming is not difficult - keeping people on hand to allow virtual participants to join meaningfully is. I am not sure who is coordinating this. Perhaps we could use help either in person or virtually. How important is this to you?
(5) It seems like many Wikipedians prefer female keynote speakers and want more women's participation. Organizers will do what they can. Your suggestion for a speaker has been noted. Perhaps talk to Jenn the lead organizer directly if you have ideas. Blue Rasberry (talk) 22:52, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
Thanks Tony and Blue Rasberry for your comments.
  1. We are currently working on finalizing our project timeline for the conference. It should be updated on WikiConference USA 2014 (work in progress) over the next couple of days. The conference call for proposals is for panels and workshops, not for papers. The conference announcement and call for proposals will be released sometime early next week. The conference will be half curated by the planning committee and half organized by community members. This leaves room for about 10-15 community organized panels and workshops. We will have a short form for interested participants to fill out.
  2. There will be 5 parallel sessions for the panels, workshops, and curated talks. The panels and workshops will generally fall under 5 of our conference tracks (1. Outreach / Activism / Free Culture; 2. Community / WikiProjects; 3. Tech / Tools / Multimedia; 4. GLAM / Institutions / Wikipedians In Residence; and 5. Education / Workshop). The program committee is working on curating panels and workshops for each of the conference tracks, which will go up on our conference wiki as they are developed.
  3. There will be good connectivity at the venue. We will strive to find accommodations that have good connectivity as well!
  4. The conference will be livestreamed and we will advertise this far and wide so as to encourage as much online participation as possible!
  5. The planning team is making a conscientious and concerted effort to find a keynote speaker to speak on women's issues. We're happy to take any additional recommendations for speakers you want to see speak.
If you want to contact me directly, I may be reached at jen@wikimedianyc.org.
--Jihyunb (talk) 17:13, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Thx, BR and Jihyunb.
    • (1) Looks like a good plan.
    • (2) BR, I'm disappointed if it's not at least partially stage-managed. Like all good conferences. Who ever heard of a professional or academic conference being run by the participants? Allowing all comers is not, I believe, going to make a memorable, impactful event.

      Jih, I'm more concerned as to how many sessions your audience will be split among at any one time. I suggest not too many, for a number of reasons.

    • (3) Connectivity sounds encouraging.
    • (4) Livestreaming would be a bonus. Good videoing and posting on your site would be great for the more prominent/important sessions. If you don't have the resources to do all sessions, fine: make a judgment call as to the priority events? If fluff from openings can be edited out, that would encourage more viewers, IMO. Captions with session title, presenter(s)' name(s), and one-sentence summary—now you're talkin'.
    • (5) Women's issues keynote: I know it's one of my hobby-horses, but we do face a gender crisis on WMF sites. And participation in many chapters is skewed too, I suspect. I suggested Ana Toni because of her prominence both on women's and global south issues—two priorities for the Foundation—because she has vast experience with NGOs that might partner with WMF affiliates, and because being a WMF trustee she's in a position to share her knowledge and experience with decision-makers at a number of levels. She'd be hard to get, busy as she is, but you might be lucky. You'd need to work out some thematic choices for her consideration. For this purpose, your key organisers might wish to ask senior WMF grantmaking staff for how this might be shaped and/or contacts in the movement who might give you ideas. [Having said this, you might well have other ideas for a keynote speaker, so don't let me constrain them!] Tony (talk) 06:53, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Event coordinator[edit]

One outstanding issue that Tony1 raised is that the event planners have not intended to have a dedicated event coordinator. For the past few years Wikimedia New York City has hosted many small events for 30 people several times a year and a single large event which accommodated 150 people on one day.

It is unprecedented for the Wikimedia chapter to host 300 people and plan for national travel. There were not plans made for a single point person to be responsible for managing the entire event. Perhaps there should be more opinions into this. How necessary is a single event planner? Thoughts from others? I think that the group proposing this wanted to keep it a grassroots community project and not have the bloat of dedicated staff for this. I doubt that we could find a single volunteer to want all of the responsibility. Blue Rasberry (talk) 16:54, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Actually, WikiConference India, attended by over 1,000 people, had scholarships. I wouldn't call it unprecedented, nor would I say there is no single person responsible for managing the event. While Jennifer and I have more-or-less equal leadership in the conference, she has a special responsibility as the local planner to carry out on-the-ground efforts. Between the two of us we have years of event planning experience. We have a clear organizational structure where volunteers have specific responsibilities, and we are building organizational capacity to run the conference ahead of time so that the workload will be manageable. With specific consideration to the scholarships, I am trusting the scholarship process to Kirill, who is a highly proven and capable volunteer, and Wikimedia DC will be processing the scholarships so that Wikimedia NYC can focus on on-site logistics. The conference organization structure, established through a memorandum of understanding between the two U.S. chapters, was designed to work without a professional planner. Hiring a professional planner would be a convenience for the local team but this conference will not be complex on the scale of Wikimania, and we believe the money is better spent on bringing people from throughout the country to one venue for a three-day conference. harej (talk) 20:25, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Keynote speakers[edit]

Tony1 had a suggestion for a keynote speaker. Perhaps there should be more community input into who is invited. Blue Rasberry (talk) 16:54, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Comments MADe[edit]

Hey Jennifer, thanks for this grant proposal. WM DC organised Wikimania some years ago, it was a success, so I'm assured organisation will go well with the WikiConference. I have two main remarks:

  1. Firstly, I beg to differ with the opinion of Tony above; the project submission is currently not detailed enough for a 300 attendees / 35.000$ conference. It lacks a detailed budget proposal, and I think it stays too vague on certain aspects of the proposal ("we will..."). I will await further updates in the grant request.
  2. Secondly, wikiconferences have been organised in multiple countries all over the world. Organising an event spanning a huge region like this the US is a challenge. Just compare with Wikimania DC: it attracted about 1400 attendees but had a multi million dollar budget.
    At the moment I'm not convinced that the organisational structure of WM DC + NY is strong enough to pull this off. Preparing a conference needs more then just venue, food, t-shirts, reception and contingencies - but only those things were added in the budget. I would suggest a more modest approach, eg. a "East Coast WikiConference". Can you clarify how you will approach this challenge? MADe (talk) 18:23, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
Jennifer may wish to answer herself as she likes, but I will reply for now.
In response to your first point, rather than address what you say about detail in the submission, I would like to direct you to read the section I made above about "thinking about this". In previous years a very similar conference was held in New York on a similar budget - $10,000 for 150 people. That conference has worked well enough and served people in New York City to the satisfaction of attendees, Wikimedia NYC members, and WMF funders. This conference will be held in some form in any case, and so before I asked you what you thought of this proposal I would ask you about the base conference proposal which has been used for the past few years. Is that one detailed enough? Are you questioning the basic conference idea, or the idea of the scholarships?
In response to your second point, this conference is much less organized in Wikimania. Because it is New York and because we have a $40,000 event space sponsored by a local school, a lot of details - like wifi, computer setup, facilities, video recording, and travel in the city - are managed for us because that is what Manhattan has to offer. I trust the university to deliver a quality venue that works. It could be more complicated doubling the attendees from 150-300, but organizers will be hiring the facilities team which is recommended by the university venue to accommodate a crowd of this size, so at least enough facilities staff, technical, and security support will be on hand.
The more modest approach is to perpetuate this as a New York conference for 150, or perhaps expand it to geographically proximate Boston and DC, but considering that those two cities need additional support the least of all, this is why organizers thought to invite people from elsewhere. If you did not know, most of the Wikipedia outreach in the United States has happened in two cities very close to each other - New York and DC. Eventually there should be growth elsewhere.
Tell me more about where you see difficulty, please consider that conferences have been organized in the past, then please state your concern more precisely if you would. I think that everyone involved would like to anticipate problems as soon as possible and I really appreciate your criticism. Blue Rasberry (talk) 21:40, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
Thanks MADe and Blue Rasberry for your comments. I will try and address each of your points in my response.
  1. The conference planning team, which met yesterday (1 December 2013), added additional information to our Project budget table. We took some inspiration from Wikimania London 2014's budget table. Please review the additional information and let us know if you still think more should be provided. It would be helpful if, in your feedback, you provided specific areas where you would like more information. For example, do you want a more detailed breakdown of food costs? Itemization of T-shirt printing costs? We have not made final decisions regarding the food we will be serving, but we do have several catering menus, the prices of which have informed our estimates. We will happily provide all of the information we have regarding specific prices upon request. Note that we have provided detailed breakdowns where we can (for the venue fees), which were provided by the New York Law School administration during our negotiations.
  2. I agree that there's a lot that's needed, other than money, to pull off a conference of this size. In addition to having a strong vision for the conference, having a strong team is of utmost importance in realizing success.I am confident saying that each member who comprises the conference planning team is experienced in organizing large-scale conferences and education and outreach events, is well connected in the Wikipedia and related spheres, and is dedicated to making this conference a success. Regarding the budget, I think we should set aside a sum for speaker travel and accommodations. Although we will most likely utilize the rich network of luminaries that are local, it would be smart to incorporate a budget for speaker travel (just in case).
The point of this conference is to provide a venue for Wikimedians from all over the United States to come together, meet, discuss interesting and innovative ideas, learn from each other, make new friends, and, most importantly, become a part of a stronger community. We want to provide opportunities for Wikimedians from underrepresented areas to benefit from the peer-to-peer in-person engagement that is very important to the growth and development of the English Wikipedia participant base. We have already hosted Wikipedia Day, which attracts folks from all over the east coast, every year for several years. It's time to move beyond that, set our sights higher, and see what awesome things we might accomplish along the way!
If you want to contact me directly, you may email me at jen@wikimedianyc.org.
--Jihyunb (talk) 16:59, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
Hey BR, Jihyunb, thanks for your replies. I feel my second question was answered into great detail. I especially love the fact that you want to grow in regions outside of DC and NY.
I still have some remarks and doubts on the approach of the grant proposal. Other grant requests of a similar amount are much more detailed, with clear "measures of success" and a more elaborated project budget. Writing proposals is not the goal an sich, but they allow external people to fully understand the project, it helps to structure the organisation of the event, and at the end assures accountability. Especially important after the lessons learnt in the organisation of Wikimania DC (eg. no financial report yet). I feel Tony came to similar conclusions. I'd like to see a much stronger "Financial procedures and reporting" basis for this proposal MADe (talk) 20:40, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
Harej, is it correct that Wikimedia DC produced no financial report? MADe, what other grant request do you have in mind that organizers should use as a model? Blue Rasberry (talk) 21:31, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

Keep in mind this is not the first project proposal that lacks a detailed budget and list of deliverables (eg WM DC). I don't know how we should react on this.

Hey Harej, BR and Jihyunb, we all want to keep the project proposals as simple as possible, yet I think we should require all applications, and especially the bigger ones, to go into the details:
  1. It requires the applicant to structure their request, and to think carefully what steps and activities are necessary and should be funded. Most projects are done by a group, adding the structure makes it easy to divide roles.
  2. A detailed application allows for accountability. Budget with general items act as a "catch all", you can do anything you like. The applicant can assume everything was approved which makes it difficult for the WMF to refuse a certain expense.
  3. It allows this committee to properly give feedback and assess the project.
As a point of comparison, I think the following requests include a detailed budget:Grants:WM_FI/WMFI_2014, Grants:WM_ZA/Wiki_Loves_Monuments MADe (talk) 07:45, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
Acknowledged - the organizers are meeting soon (at least 2 times this month) and will respond after reviewing what you are sharing. MADe, hosting a conference like this should not be so unusual internationally, and regardless of whatever else happens with this proposal, I hope that the application here adds to the precedent of what anyone is expected to include whenever they propose to host a conference of this sort. Thanks for advising us on this. Blue Rasberry (talk) 12:56, 10 December 2013 (UTC)


Thank you User:MADe for your feedback. I respond to each of your points below.

  • Lack of detail. You comment that the proposal lacks details. The proposal currently contains a unifying mission statement, eleven project goals, five measures of success, and plans to administer a scholarship program. We have come up with five different tracks with several sub-topics within; even if this is too many, there is certainly no shortage of ideas. The budget is divided into subcategories, with details especially for the venue. There is a list of conference organizing volunteers, each assigned with particular roles. We have a list of institutions that have endorsed our conference, as well as the role played by the conference in the broader Wikimedia strategy. We are happy to provide more details, but we are not sure which details you are asking for.
  • Wikimania 2012's "multi-million dollar budget". I'm assuming you're referring to the budget incurred by the entire movement, including travel scholarships; Wikimedia DC, which operated the event, ran the conference on a budget of $550,000 (see below). Wikimania was also of a considerably larger scope than what we are proposing here. Wikimania 2012 attracted 1,400 attendees at peak attendance and was six days, instead of 300 people and three days. Venue rental and especially food can be the most expensive parts of any event, and as it turns out, you incur considerable cost savings by reducing one by half and the other by almost 80%.
Because our conference attendance will also fit in a conventional auditorium, we will not need to rent a professional theatre, whose clients include world-renowned musicians and the U.S. Department of State, meaning we do not need to pay for stage operation staff either. Neither will we be hiring a world-class event venue with venue-approved catering for an opening party, simply because we will not be having one (at least not in a formal sense). To use the movement-wide scope of analysis and consider the millions of dollars spent by all movement organizations, we are flying around 30 people instead of hundreds of people. Further, we are flying people from only within one country where domestic flights are affordable, instead of funding costly transoceanic travel. We're also saving tens of thousands of dollars by not hiring professional planners, since we do not need them. Nor are we hiring buses that go from hotel to venue, since New York is walkable and has abundant public transportation.
For all of these reasons and more, it is wrong to compare the scope of Wikimania 2012 with that of this proposed conference. It will be less glamorous, and it may not operate with the perfection that comes with hiring PMI-certified planners at commensurate cost. That said, we are aiming to put on a conference dedicated to building our volunteer capacity here in the United States, not the hallmark annual gathering of a high-profile international charitable society. As a veteran event planner I have a sense of scoping the cost of these kinds of events, and I appreciate the fact that we have to share the grants budget with everyone else. This is why we capped our budget at $35,000, which will be just enough to accomplish our goals.
  • East Coast WikiConference. The explicitly-stated mission of WikiConference USA is to "nurture burgeoning grassroots Wikimedia communities". In the Northeast we have strong volunteer capacity; after all, that's where the only two Wikimedia chapters in the United States are located. Wikimedia NYC and Wikimedia DC enjoy plenty of institutional buy-in and we hold outreach events with regularity (see the DC meetup page on Wikipedia as an example). An east coast conference would ultimately be self-serving. In addition, it would ignore the trends we have observed in on-the-ground organizing efforts. Though an "east coast" conference would include the Southeast in addition to the highly organized Northeast, it would also ignore the kind of efforts in Chicago and in the Pacific Northwest—two regions that are starting to become more active and would benefit greatly from this sort of community-building event. We are deliberate in making this conference of national, instead of regional, scope.
  • Lack of Wikimania 2012 financial report. At the end of Wikimania 2012, I rewrote the Wikimania Handbook, bringing it from 80,916 bytes to 128,869 bytes (a 37.2% increase in size). The rewritten handbook includes a timeline summary from planning, a full explanation of each detail that goes specifically into planning the Wikimania conference, and several examples of lessons learned from Wikimania 2012, including a case study on accommodations. It also includes a full financial report of Wikimania 2012, which I posted in November of 2012. For your convenience, I have reproduced it below:
    • Conference catering: $133,829.30
    • Venue rental and equipment costs: $104,651.70
    • Special events (Library of Congress opening reception, Buffalo Billiards closing party, event photographer): $74,628.03
    • Staffing costs (conference planners, registration management, on-site logistical staff, graphic designer, sign language interpretors): $61,430.00
    • Conference video recording and editing: $56,390.00
    • Hotels and dorms (both those re-sold to attendees and those staying at the conference's expense): $55,395.65
    • Transportation (shuttle buses, transit cards): $26,812.00
    • Gift bags, t-shirts, and other merchandise: $10,490.78
    • Conference booklets and Wikibucks: $10,441.00
    • Speaker costs (transportation for keynote speaker, green room food and beverage): $6,133.94
    • Venue signage: $4,187.40
    • Volunteer costs (volunteer coordinator travel, volunteer per diem, volunteer sashes, duty phone): $3,415.88
    • Lanyards and name badges: $3,077.07
    • Transaction fees (PayPal and wire transfer fees): $1,709.48
    • Miscellaneous office expenses: $683.17
    • Capital expenditures (CLEAR modems for hostel, Mac adapters, credit card readers): $565.40
    • Total: $554,422.51
The Foundation also has an organized bundle of Wikimania 2012 receipts and invoices that document the procurements made for the purpose of the conference. I make this bundle available to individuals and groups on a need-to-know basis.
  • Organizational structure. You write that by establishing a group for a conference, the resultant organization "makes it easy to divide roles." I would like to direct your attention to the list of team members, which includes named persons as well as specifically defined roles. As a joint project between two organizations, the responsibilities of each organization is entailed in a memorandum of understanding approved by both organizations. I wasn't originally going to publish it, but I see no harm in doing so either. Here it is:
    Memorandum of Understanding
    between Wikimedia New York City and Wikimedia District of Columbia regarding WikiConference USA 2014
    September 12, 2013
    1. Wikimedia New York City agrees to host, and serve as the fiscal sponsor for, WikiConference USA 2014, to be held in the City of New York.
    2. The Conference Chair and Deputy Conference Chair shall exercise executive authority over the conference. Wikimedia New York City shall appoint a Conference Chair, and Wikimedia District of Columbia shall appoint a Deputy Conference Chair.
    3. The logistical requirements of the conference, including the budget, are to be defined by mutual agreement of the Conference Chair and Deputy Conference Chair. The Conference Chair is responsible for implementing such logistical and managerial functions, though he may delegate specific tasks as necessary.
    4. The positions of Program Chair, Deputy Program Chair, Scholarship Chair, Deputy Scholarship Chair, Volunteer Chair, Deputy Volunteer Chair, and Technical Supervisor are established. Each position shall be filled by mutual agreement of the Conference Chair and Deputy Conference Chair. Other positions may be established and filled by mutual agreement of the Conference Chair and Deputy Conference Chair.
    5. The process for awarding travel scholarships shall be supervised by Wikimedia District of Columbia. Wikimedia District of Columbia shall serve as the fiscal sponsor for the travel scholarship program.
    6. Wikimedia New York City shall continuously consult with Wikimedia District of Columbia and other interested parties on the conduct and content of the conference. Wikimedia District of Columbia shall assist with the preparation of grant proposals and other fundraising solicitations where needed.
    7. The dates of the conference shall be confirmed by mutual agreement of the Conference Chair and Deputy Conference Chair.
    8.This memorandum of understanding is operable through the conclusion of all business regarding WikiConference USA 2014. This memorandum reflects the total understanding between the two parties regarding the conference. This memorandum applies to no other programs conducted by either party.
  • Financial procedures and reporting. My response to Tony below (which he found satisfactory) covers most of what I have to say on the matter. Wikimedia DC, which operates the scholarships, has a travel policy that sets clear requirements on travel booking. We also have a broader fiscal control policy, establishing the expectation that we conduct our financial affairs in accordance with best practices. Wikimedia NYC has had issues with financial accountability historically, but I know for a fact they are working to improve. Wikimedia DC is working with them to bring their financial reporting up to speed, and I personally am holding their leadership to very high standards.

I appreciate your interest in holding project proposals to the highest of standards. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you evaluate our conference proposal, as well as if we can make any particular changes that would be to the satisfaction of the Grants Advisory Committee.

harej (talk) 20:40, 10 December 2013 (UTC)

Hey all. The project is being discussed in the advisory committee. It supports and helps proposals and helps the WMF to make a final assessment. Our reactions are (mainly) based on the proposal text and previous experiences.
In this specific proposal, several committee members pointed out a percieved weakness: preparing a detailed budget and the reporting afterwards (call this 'clear financial reporting'). This weakness is now under discussion and I got clear responses from multiple people from the project team. These took away my concerns and strengthened the proposal that was filed (eg. MoU, remedial action taken from past experiences, the regular organizers meetings).
I heard positive stories on past projects of WM DC+US and I'm convinced this will be a good project. Just keep in mind my comments were ment as advise (I do acknowledge I should have made it more clear that I think it's a good proposal). It's now up to the organizers to take our advices into account, and to make this a high standard projectMADe (talk) 14:07, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
The issues you raised MADe were issues which I would not have considered. If you can perceive other weaknesses in the proposal then point them out as you can. Whatever happens with this project will be part of the precedent for future projects so I would like for every aspect of this proposal (and the execution of the project if funded) to set standards which will be broadly perceived as expected minimums for the future. Please raise as many other issues and point out whatever other problems you can. Thanks for what you have done so far - it is only a favor you are doing for us and anyone else who would try to do this. Blue Rasberry (talk) 15:10, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

Financial procedures and reporting—basic undertakings?[edit]

Dear colleagues,

Where large amounts of donors' funds are being allocated to an event, I'm concerned that there seem to be few guidelines for how they are accounted for, how long after the event is reasonable before submitting a financial statement to WMF grantmaking, and who among the organisers will be responsible for doing this.

I understand that organisers of the Hong Kong Wikimania 2013 are still in the throes of collating detailed income and spending data from various "section leaders". The reasons given to me for the long delay are that (1) neither the event nor the HK chapter now has paid staff; (2) it takes a lot of time for volunteers to arrange mutually agreeable times to meet; and (3) the majority of the volunteers involved in the event ("including many who handled money"), have no formal accounting training.

In the case of Wikimania 2013, my queries to the organisers two weeks before the event as to the amount of money involved in sponsorship deals, honorary vouchers, and more broadly the profile of costs and income were answered in terms of: we don't have time now, we're flat out organising; all will be in the financial statement later. I sympathise, but the upshot is that community has been unable to scrutinise the cost–benefit issues of the event, except long afterwards when we've all lost immediate memory of it.

This raises several important questions for all such events:

  1. Is formal accounting training really necessary to count money, log that amount, and ensure that cash and other forms of income are are transferred to central? Are there guidelines for how these transactions are done?
  2. Is formal accounting training really necessary to set up and run a spreadsheet to coordinate these sources?
  3. For 1 and 2, is it really necessary to pay people to do this? Basic accounting is a prime responsibility of volunteer chapter treasurers, who sometimes have to manage quite complex portfolios.
  4. Should such matters be left until months after an event, or should it be common best practice to do it before, during, and shortly after an event? Apart from the satisfaction of not having a big retrospective task drag it out when everyone is tired, there's the practical issue of identifying financial inconsistencies at the time.
  5. Should a specific person, with one back-up perhaps, be appointed and named in advance to organise the income and costs processes and spreadsheet?
  6. Should the WMF expect to receive a statement within x weeks of the finish of a big event in which it has invested significant funding?
  7. Should all of these matters be specified in an application to start with, or in the statement by grantmaking staff announcing approval of a grant application (better the first, following WMF guidelines if possible, IMO)?

I speak as a famous procrastinator at managing his own spreadsheets; but every organisation that wants to take on the management of a big event should have named people who can and are willing. Perhaps more guidelines from WMF grantmaking would be of great benefit on basic financial management. We all need to know where we stand in relation to the WMF board's priorities for transparency and good governance, both of which require prompt and efficient spreadsheeting, cash-handling protocols, lines of responsibility, and accountability.

Tony (talk) 07:15, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

These are excellent questions, Tony. For Wikimania 2012 I maintained financial records for the conference. For not being a professional accountant I would say I did a good job of it; most of the financial records were processed within 24 hours of the conference. By November—four months after the conference—I had a complete financial accounting posted on the Wikimania Handbook. (Most of the financial reporting was done sooner, but some details took longer to reconcile than others—I do not recall which ones.) This was part of the comprehensive guide I wrote for planning Wikimania, which included a lot of personal experiences as well as professional consultation from our conference planner. Because Wikimania was such a high-cost, high-impact conference, I wanted to make sure the experiences of our team was laid out in as cleared and organized a fashion as possible, since much of the work I did was from scratch and not based on prior written records. To this end, any Wikimania organizing team that asks me can receive a packaged bundle of virtually all of the receipts, invoices, etc. from Wikimania 2012. I take event reporting very seriously as a requirement.
Many of your questions speak to things that are broader than this particular proposal. I believe formal accounting records should be kept for events. Wikimedia DC has traditionally required the use of generally accepted accounting principles and today our Board of Directors will meet to make it a formal requirement. Wikimedia NYC and Wikimedia DC, as chapters and as nonprofit organizations, have treasurers who will be responsible for the financial documentation and reporting for the specific conference organizing functions each chapter will undertake. (Wikimedia DC is running the scholarships program; Wikimedia NYC is running everything else.) With regards to Wikimedia DC's obligations, all financial decisions flow through myself and the treasurer. I keep very detailed notes of the expenses I incur, which facilitates the treasurer's work. As Deputy Conference Director I trust that Wikimedia NYC will be able to adequately fulfill their obligations as well, since no one wants to be the person that screws up the report. You also ask whether the Wikimedia Foundation should expect financial reporting within a specified time interval following an event. It already does. The Foundation requires grant reports to be filed within three months following the completion of a project.
Your concerns are quite relevant and I am glad that you raised them, since they represent important issues regarding movement accountability. While it's a more difficult issue to contend with in organizations that are run entirely by volunteers, both of our organizations have adequate experience with financial reporting, and we are always looking to improve where we can. harej (talk) 09:47, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for your comments everyone. As of yesterday, the conference planning committee has agreed to appoint a budget manager to be responsible for the financial documentation and reporting. This position is now listed in the Budget and Resources section of the grant. The budget manager will work with the Wikimedia NYC treasurer and committee to oversee spending, budgeting, and reporting both during the conference planning and after the conference has occurred. OR drohowa (talk) 17:30, 17 December 2013 (UTC)

Comments of Ilario[edit]

No problem with the conference itself, a lot of problems with the scholarships. The conferences in Wikimedia are becoming an essential part, but the problem is that they are also becoming the most expensive part.

In general I am not convinced of the scholarship. The conference is a lot focused on local partners, but I don't understand so high costs for 30 scholarships.

This is one point.

A second point is to get evidence that the organizing team did a choice following some parameters of "better offer" on the supply chain.

  1. Costs of the flights tickets: do you have discussed with an airline company and checked the possibility to have a discount?
  2. Costs of the scholarship: do you have received several offers and evaluated the differences and the best offer for accomodation?
  3. How you justify Washington DC? Is this town the cheapest solution for a Wikiconference USA?

I think that it would be better to have these evidences. --Ilario (talk) 13:33, 23 December 2013 (UTC)

Thanks Ilario.
  1. No, we have not talked with any airline company. I doubt that this will be possible because from New York to the other side of the country is 2500 miles / 4500 kilometers, and different airlines are best for travel from different places. The plan now is for participants to buy their own tickets and be reimbursed so that they will choose the best price for themselves, and I would guess that among the thirty people at least 5 different airlines would be chosen. It could happen that for 15 people only one airline is best; I am not sure, but it might be that 5 attend without flying and among the other 25 no more than 8 are on any airline. I would not expect a discount for only 8 tickets plus it would mean that we would have to have staff to book this rather than get individuals to book it themselves. Still, we will look into this. So far as I know no one has discussed this.
  2. Organizers have not considered other accommodation because it would put organizers at legal liability to offer anything less than what is offered. Scholarship recipients are going to the cheapest hostels available. Food also will be cheap - there is no other way to describe it. The level of service will be high enough so that hopefully no one thinks to question their dignity, but still, I do not think anyone could expect to find cheaper or lower quality without putting people into spaces which are below common living standards. The only cheaper safe housing that I could imagine is separating people into different private homes and having them sleep on strangers' couches, and we want everyone to have the option of staying together in the same building.
  3. The conference is in NYC, not DC. Yes, despite it being one of the most expensive places in the world to live, it is the cheapest place for several reasons. A major reason is that for the past few years there has been a New York City only Wikipedia conference and about 150 local people can be expected to attend again because that many have always come in the past. There is no other place in the United States where we can expect that 150 local people will attend, and if this were not a national conference and if there were no scholarships, then there would still be 150 local people at this event just like every year. Another reason why New York is a good choice is that we have a donated space at a major university. The usual rental cost is $48,000, and it is a great location and is dependable. Because of the location we do not have to make arrangements for people to find the place; they can stay anywhere within 15 miles or 25 kilometers and still a nearby train will take them right to this school. The hostel where we want people to stay is close and convenient. Also, everything in this space works. We do not have to set anything up, so less can go wrong and we do not have to pay to make arrangements. If we chose a less expensive city, then probably we would not easily get a good free conference space, plus we would not have dependable local participants and volunteers to make it work. Also, if we choose a less expensive city, we may cut some costs by perhaps 20%, but still, the conference is only going to cost about $13,000. The real expense is in scholarships. The United States is just huge. To take a train from one side to the other takes 3 days so people have to fly, because even half way across the country is too far for easy travel. You may know that the United States does not have a national Wikimedia chapter. This is the reason - we have never found a way to let people in different parts meet each other because we have not had any ideas for managing travel expenses. This is the first attempt at a national in-person community meeting. It is my opinion that we could not expect to have 300 people talk about Wikipedia at one conference with this amount of money anywhere other than New York City at this time. Based on the interest in this conference, we have already talked about hosting this conference in a different city next year if people wish for that. Probably next year the other side of the country would be the choice, and then we would be 4500 km from all the people who come this time.
The conference does have a focus on local partners. This is a regret. We wish there were a way to bring large numbers of people from other places. Even bringing thirty people is expensive, and we are hoping that others will travel at their own expense.
Conferences in Wikimedia may or may not be essential. I think this is still debatable. However, if there is going to be community development in the United States, then probably at some point there needs to be a national conference of some type. Do you think now is the right time? How does one tell when the right time is? What circumstances would you expect to see if it were time for a national conference in the United States? Blue Rasberry (talk) 15:37, 23 December 2013 (UTC)
To build on what Blue Rasberry said: (1) We have not made any plans yet to pursue airline discounts but it is something that has been brought up. Wikimania 2012 had airline partnerships, but that was for a much larger event. I'll see what we can do for this conference. (2) To clarify what Lane said, there is a specific hostel that has been used for several past Wikimedia events in NYC (including GLAM Camp) that we are most likely going to use for this conference. It is both inexpensive and of high quality (at least for what you're paying). (3) Considering only the cost of doing business in a city is wholly inadequate. To the extent that a U.S.-wide Wikimedia conference is a new thing, the safest option is to organize the conference where the greatest capacity to do so already exists. Wikimedia New York City has been around for almost five years and they have a significant record of volunteer-led projects. It would indeed be very difficult (not to mention costly!) to buy the effort and capacity that the New York community already has. After 2014, the plan is to hold the conference in different cities, but I think it's quite fair to have the first one where there is the lowest risk of failure. harej (talk) 19:52, 23 December 2013 (UTC)

Non-compliance[edit]

We would like to support this event. However, Wikimedia New York City is currently out of compliance with the chapter agreement, in that two financial statements of completed fiscal years are still missing in Reports. Additionally, a grant report for this 2011-2012 grant has been overdue for more than a year. It would need to get back in compliance by submitting those financial statements before we would approve additional grants to Wikimedia New York City. Asaf Bartov (WMF Grants) talk 02:10, 25 December 2013 (UTC)

I have now added the two financial statements to meta. The grant report was actually submitted and approved earlier this month (perhaps it was missed in the PEG mass changeover!).--Pharos (talk) 21:35, 25 December 2013 (UTC)
Thank you! Indeed, the report had been accepted already. I apologize for the mistake; it was caused by a bug in the categorytree extension, which sometimes makes pages linger on and appear in a categorytree for a category they are no longer in. We will review the financial statements this week and update this page when we determine you are back in compliance. Asaf Bartov (WMF Grants) talk 18:36, 26 December 2013 (UTC)
The more comprehensive Wikimedia New York City/Finances is up now, and linked to from Reports.--Pharos (talk) 21:05, 8 January 2014 (UTC)

Resolved[edit]

I am pleased to note that Wikimedia NYC has addressed its long-standing compliance gap, and is now back in compliance with its chapter agreement with the Wikimedia Foundation, and thus eligible for grants from WMF. Asaf Bartov (WMF Grants) talk 05:37, 16 January 2014 (UTC)