Talk:Wikimedia Foundation board agenda 2013-11/FAQ

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User groups: 'why now'[edit]

The consultation process could be made clearer. The last paragraph could be rewritten:

"We consulted with AffCom and the WMF Executive Director in making this decision. The ED endorsed it, AffCom did not, but we took the committee's concerns into account."

SJ talk  09:03, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

SJ, with all respect, your proposed text would be a slight departure from the truth and would feel disrespectful to me (and perhaps to other members of AffCom). --Bence (talk) 13:12, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
Thank you, Bence. I also received a clarifying email about this today. This subthread was useful for me, since my understanding of the discussions leading up to the decision had been different. In that case, this paragraph could be removed; the end of the FAQ covers the discussion after the decision was made, and there is no need to repeat it. SJ talk  18:23, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
Thanks. I am fine with removing that sentence. --Bence (talk) 18:27, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

Removed: "We also received a recommendation from the WMF Executive Director to make this decision, and before publishing the decision we consulted with AffCom. AffCom did not endorse this change, but we took the committee's concerns into account." SJ talk  19:10, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

Thanks! -- phoebe | talk 00:50, 12 February 2014 (UTC)

Trust in the existing entity model[edit]

One of the original questions was "Has the WMF lost trust in chapters and thematic organizations? Does the WMF think chapters are a bad idea?" I switched this to the positive version of those questions. If this missed an aspect of the original, feel free to add Qs or ask for further clarity. SJ talk  18:58, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

Concept of user group (not related to being legally incorporated)[edit]

Although I do agree that focusing on programmatic activities is more important than focusing on bylaws and necessarily requiring legal incorporation, I`m afraid there is a conceptual confusion on the statement made on that point. I would like to ask for clarification on the understanding of the user groups. I've pointed out a couple of times in Brazil that creating a user group does not necessarily mean not incorporating. As the user group page states, "User groups may or may not be legally incorporated entities". Therefore, the difference between a user group and a chapter may be only in the relation with WMF and not on how they are formed on the ground. A user group might well be incorporated if it feels right for the group. Only WMF would not endorse this group as much as it would endorse a chapter through financial support and trademark pre-authorized use. Is that correct?--Oona (talk) 19:51, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

I second this question. I know some WMF board members have negative opinions about formal entities, but most volunteer work in the world is organised through associations and other formal entities, because shared rules help democracy and efficiency. In many countries, setting up an association is is a very easy and logical step, while "groups" and other abstract ideas in the air are huge bureaucratical complications.
The whole decision is all focused on money: the duty to spend money and conduct "programs"; the possibility to ask money to the WMF. What if some wikimedians just want to get together in an association? What if they don't want your dirty damned money?
Will they be allowed to set up an association with a meaningful name ("incorporated" association for some meaning of the word, depending on the country) or will you prevent them from doing so? Can they make an association and ask recognition as "user group", so they'd be called "Association wiki friends of the ice acting as [approved] Wikisource Tasmania user group" in the first two years and then "Wikisource Tasmania association" two years later after approval? Or will they need to have two separate things, the actual association and the ghost "user group" because WMF is in love with this organisational structure, possibly being forced to re-incorporate again after two years? And what sense does all this make? --Nemo 20:43, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
I third this question. I don’t see why user groups must be unincorporated for becoming later a chapter – I quite aggree with the background decision for programmatic activity, although I find two years is a bit long by comparison with our historical time scale, and although this can also be viewed as another obstacle to creating chapters.
For what I know in France, setting up an incorporated association is very easy and is quite an absolute condition for handling money on behalf of the group and hence doing some activities of a certain size; it is legally possible to "create" unincorporated associations but this is not widely recognised and it cannot really handle money. So in France an unincorporated user group could not healthily grow [alone] (this is a theoretical situation since in France, local user groups are financially supported by WMFR).
~ Seb35 [^_^] 21:58, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
@Oona: That is correct. The point is, you don't have to incorporate if you don't want to. Before we had a Brazilian group that was determined not to incorporate, and we pressured them to do so. Now we want to be extra clear that this is not necessary.
@Seb35: user groups can be incorporated if they so choose. However there are other options -- including having an umbrella organization that handles bank accounts for you, such as the example you give in France.
@Nemo: There's nothing wrong with formal entities. They're simply not mandatory for productivity.
A few years ago, the WMF required being a formal entity even where not needed or helpful, and did not grant (TM) rights or financial grants to individuals and ad-hoc groups; now that has changed. This is why funding and TM are mentioned here: they are part of the WMF's responsibility, and are now available to user groups as well.
There is no 'duty to spend money': to the contrary, much of the best work in our movement, both organized and unorganized, is done without it.
User groups can have meaningful names. Often the founding name is something longer and descriptive ("Association of Tasmanian Wikisorcerors"), but in most jurisdictions it can add other names later without reincorporating. SJ talk  09:43, 12 February 2014 (UTC)
  • Hey folks, just wanted to let you know that we are discussing this question (around incorporation) within the board as well and will try to post a longer answer soon :) -- phoebe | talk 19:28, 12 February 2014 (UTC)
Hi all, here's an answer from the board, with some input from our legal team.
Thanks for seeking this clarification, which is completely reasonable given some of the language used. What we meant to convey by the phrase “unincorporated user group” was our intent to encourage less legalistic structures around movement organizations. That said, user groups may pursue local requirements for volunteer clubs or associations in a particular country, including incorporation when necessary for that type of club or association.
Sorry about the confusion, and I hope this helps. -- phoebe | talk 07:52, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
While well crafted - this doesn't actually address all concerns. What is meant by "necessary for that type of club or association"? What will define necessary? Necessary for them to exist? Necessary to request an outside grant? Necessary to accept sponsors at events? Necessary only if the laws otherwise prevent anything resembling an assembled group from meeting without paperwork? I recognize the legal problems with being specific - but when trying to offer clarity - I think specificity would be more helpful. Also, there are nonprofit advisors that encourage creating legal entities to shift some of the legal responsibilities associated with handling charitable money for a group from one individual to a group of people (generally a board) - does the board disagree or not share those concerns? Can the board share what evidence or logic motivates the desire for there to be less legal structure? Organizational structure with staff, bricks and mortar I get - but I have not yet understood the logic behind wanting the groups to wait as long as possible to become legal entities. So far the only arguments I have heard appear reasonable, but ultimately do not seem to show a clear understanding of the reasons affiliates develop at varying paces or sometimes fail. Keeping groups in this legal limbo for two years is not a solution to the problems being presented. --Varnent (talk)(COI) 08:20, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
@Varnent: If I understand correctly phoebe’s last response, the Board wants to highlight the fact that the future-chapter user-groups can choose the better legal form they want – unincorporated or incorporated. ~ Seb35 [^_^] 15:37, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
I think this is basically right if I'm reading the Board's sense correctly. It is a bit awkward because a better word probably could have been used other than the word “unincorporated,” as this discussion has demonstrated. To be sure, the Board will not be able to anticipate all the needs of the user group, and will leave to local applicant user groups and AffCom to determine what makes the best sense when taking into account all relevant factors - including their needs, objectives, goals, and mission. I believe the Board intends to ask that applicant user groups employ good sense and reason and avoid overly legal formalities when they are not necessary; that said, when such formalities are necessary because of local requirements, user groups may incorporate under appropriate laws, such as legal structures suited for voluntary clubs and associations. Geoffbrigham (talk) 21:56, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
Thanks for clarifying phoebe! That makes sense. I had imagined the main concern was to leave for user groups' discretion to incorporate or not, and in which format, but had got confused with the wording, as Geoff pointed out. Now I feel comfortable to say I read the main issue here as being to let groups grow "organically" from informal groups to legally structured groups. --Oona Castro (talk) 13:25, 19 February 2014 (UTC)
Apologies for not spotting this thread before posting to wikimedia-l. I said there: "The board meeting minutes specifically say "unincorporated Wikimedia user group”, though, which makes it sound like you don’t want groups to, well, incorporate. Which means people involved in those user groups take on personal liability for their activities rather than having the protection of a formal organisation, which is really bad for the volunteers should anything go badly..." From the above, I understand that the intention here is that user groups can incorporate, but I'd still like to ask about what happens with personal liability for those that don't? Thanks. Mike Peel (talk) 21:44, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
@Mike Peel: seems no one has replied to this yet... I think legal would be best placed to reply to this, when they get some time, but it seems to me like this is a hard/impossible question to answer because there are so many contingencies -- what the bad situation is, where the group is located and local laws, etc etc. The same is true honestly if a group is incorporated and gets sued for something; outcomes can vary depending both on local legal protections and the events. (It's hard to speculate as a non-lawyer, but even the little I know is enough to tell me it's a big question.) Fortunately I don't imagine usergroup activities being terribly controversial or lawsuit-attracting in the vast majority of cases. -- phoebe | talk 20:01, 20 February 2014 (UTC)
I think it's worth looking into and sharing whether incorporated entities are better protected than unincorporated individuals in what legal environment, in relation to the kinds of legal risk that we might face. From what I understand reading some of the discussions in the past around the idea of forming Wikimedia Japan, one of the largest concerns that prevented those people in Japan from incorporation was possible increase of legal risk by having an incorporated entity, especially in its younger stage. The argument was that an entity named something like "Wikimedia chapter/association/whatever of <country name>" could attract more legal threats and thus could cause loss of volunteer time, because such an entity appear to the general public more prominent and authoritative than a collection of Wikimedians who are effectively unknown individuals. As far as I know, sadly, those who want to make a lawsuit tend to look for a target that is easily recognizable as a closely involved party, regardless of the precise role it plays in relation to Wikipedia and other projects. It also becomes complicated when some of the people active in the group (or chapter) are administrators on the relevant wiki. --whym (talk) 12:47, 21 February 2014 (UTC)
I agree with whym and I'll add that such considerations should be left to local groups. Until answers to the general questions Varnent made above are produced, the WMF (board, staff and the whole) must not discourage the incorporation of groups which desire it, both generally and specifically, because it would be dishonest towards volunteers who may in good faith believe one organisational structure is by default better than the other. --Nemo 20:50, 1 March 2014 (UTC)

Reword the first sentence[edit]

Per the above section, the word 'unincorporated' in the first sentence is confusing. And the motivation of the decision is unclear.

I propose changing the following text:

"must first be recognized as an unincorporated Wikimedia user group for at least two years."

to the following:

"must first be a Wikimedia user group for two years, to demonstrate their experience and activity."

I believe this captures the spirit of the discussion that led to the decision. The linked page describes that user groups are meant to be lightweight and may or may not be incorporated. SJ talk  21:55, 14 February 2014 (UTC)

If that is okay with the board - I think that is a good revision. Thank you SJ! --Varnent (talk)(COI) 00:29, 15 February 2014 (UTC)
I support this. Raystorm (talk) 11:36, 16 February 2014 (UTC)
Yep, just a note for the curious that we're discussing this on the board list too, the wheels of email turn slowly :) -- phoebe | talk 20:04, 20 February 2014 (UTC)
Any updates on that front? :) Jean-Fred (talk) 12:11, 5 March 2014 (UTC)
We think we may have a workable phrase, "a (not necessarily incorporated) user group". Doing final check though. Thanks for your patience! Raystorm (talk) 17:40, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
Updated. SJ talk  10:06, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

Programmatic work as an informal group[edit]

Should a group be required to be recognized as a Wikimedia user group for more than two years before considering becoming a chapter? Some groups of people have not actively sought recognition, while having done programmatic work (such as outreach, community empowerment, etc). Such groups might have asked WMF for trademark permission occasionally, but not frequently enough to seek recognition for continued permission. Or more simply, the Wikimedia user group program might have not existed when they could consider if it did. Could their previous work be taken into account when considering eligibility for a chapter, provided that the group reasonably reports (or has reported) the work it did prior to recognition? I should point out, though, that how to interpret the duration might be tricky; 3 years with a 2.5-year pause in between would not equal full 3-year activity, for example. (Disclaimer: I'm involved in an informal user group, 東京ウィキメディアン会.) --whym (talk) 05:09, 15 February 2014 (UTC)

Hello Whym, activity and transparency are the most relevant aspects. When reviewing potential chapters, excellent past work and reports are always welcome, regardless of how the group was recognized at the time. (Similarly, being an inactive user group is no better than being an inactive informal group.)
This decision is specific about inviting potential chapters to be a user group for 2 years. If you have reasons for an exception you can ask -- you yourself use the idea of an 'informal user group', which is close to how user groups were imagined in the first place. But if your group has considered becoming a chapter in the future I would recommend becoming a user group now. SJ talk  06:21, 15 February 2014 (UTC)
@Sj: Thank you, I now understand this as putting more emphasis on actual work and demonstration of it, rather than formality. Most members of our group and other groups in Japan have had interest for a chapter (which is, though, not likely to happen in a foreseeable future due to lack of consistent volunteer time). For now, it sounds like we can use this occasion to recollect and publish what we did and learned in our group, and to become a WUG. :) --whym (talk) 10:13, 15 February 2014 (UTC)
We were definitely aiming for less formality. The current process of becoming a user group can be greatly simplified: it was not intended to take more than a few minutes to register a group's existence and point of contact, and to link to its public work. SJ talk  20:24, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Yes, with some structural rearrangement there are huge improvements that could be made in speed. Currently, in the fastest possible scenario, it takes about "unkonwn amount of time" to establish a "history of projects", 7-10 days for AffCom to adopt a resolution to recognize the user group (7 days of which are spent on voting under Affcom rules, and a further 7-14-ish days to sign the User Group Agreement by WMF and the group. If we wanted to cut this time down, it would make sense to revisit the not very well defined "history of projects" requirement and to move the recognition of straightforward cases from AffCom to a staffer, as well as to speed up the legal side of things (by placing slightly more emphasis on digitally signed documents instead of posting original copies around the globe). Ideally, the process would require about half an hour of work per user group to recognize one and would take a few days (given that the group would need to react to questions posed to it, etc.). –Bence (talk) [personal opinion] 10:24, 24 February 2014 (UTC)
That sounds great to me, Bence. (Paper documents -- quelle horreur! :-) As an alternative to staffwork, it's worth considering the way LangCom does many routine things: any individual committee member can decide on them; but if they feel their decision might be controversial, they raise it as a question for the whole group. Regarding the history of projects: perhaps that could just be a link to the wiki-page listing their past and current projects? A wikiproject that still has no members and no active work might not fit, but any active wikiproject could (for instance). SJ talk  10:06, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

AffCom response[edit]

20 February 2014


Dear Community Members,


The Affiliations Committee shares the surprise and disappointment felt by many in the community with the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees’ recent decision to require all new chapters and thematic organizations to exist as affiliated user groups for two years prior to being allowed to formally organize, and the restrictions placed on the Funds Dissemination Committee.

We remain committed to serving the Wikimedia mission by advising the Board and the movement at large and fulfilling the mandate given to us, but we feel the way this decision was taken and its potential negative effects warrant public comment.

We are deeply saddened by the demotivating effect this decision will likely have on the volunteers building future affiliates, especially those who have already begun their organising work only to find out that the rules have suddenly changed. As a committee, we will continue to provide maximum support to current and future user groups, but that might not be enough to mitigate the immediate and long-term repercussions of this decision.

We are concerned that the decision sets a negative example for good governance and transparency in the movement. This decision was not made in a process consistent with Wikimedia movement values, and the Affiliations Committee has seen no evidence that this decision will achieve the Board’s stated goals. This approach taken by the board and the contradictory messages sent by this decision and subsequent communications will only demotivate the very volunteers the Foundation proclaims it is working with to engage and empower.

We share the Board’s desire to take a strategic view on how Wikimedia organisations can best achieve the goals of the movement and how we can support them in building up the necessary capacity for long-term effectiveness. Unfortunately, making a decision without any prior consultation or research does not further that discussion — it merely introduces an arbitrary change with unclear goals, impacts, and consequences.

While we appreciate the logic presented by the board, we feel ultimately that this decision was a lost opportunity to address the board’s underlying concerns. The limitations this places on future organizations creates an unfair disadvantage for developing countries and sends conflicting messages about fostering dependency on the Wikimedia Foundation for local programmatic work. By announcing the decision without proper consultation, the board has sent several mixed messages about process, alarmed groups impacted most, and discouraged affiliates from commenting by bundling and framing the two decisions in a way they fear will label them as being financially motivated to comment on.

It is our hope that the Board sees the publication of its decision as the start of a conversation and that it will commit to engage the wider community, the movement stakeholders, and experts in evaluating it. We hope the conversation will be constructive, focusing on how volunteers can best be empowered to fulfill our joint mission. We are ready to participate in, facilitate, or aid that discussion in the interests of the movement.

We encourage candidate affiliates, existing affiliates, and community members to leave on Meta-Wiki their questions, comments, viewpoints, factual briefings, and feedback on the Board noticeboard or the talk page of this decision. We are also happy to hear community members’ perspectives and hope to engage the Board in an open dialogue.


Best regards,
the Affiliations Committee.
Thank you Bence and AffCom, I appreciate this thoughtful reply. -- phoebe | talk 19:39, 20 February 2014 (UTC)


Comment and communication[edit]

There seems to still be a great deal of miscommunication about this. It would be helpful if AffCom facilitated better communication between the WMF and chapters here. The transmission and explanation of any decision that affects affiliates, however the decisions are made, should happen through this committee.

We have ended up in a situation where the committee feels no involvement in such a decision; has unresolved questions about it and does not entirely understand it; does not feel its mandate has changed; and has primarily contributed to public and private discussions by lodging criticism. That's not healthy. Let's work together to make sure it doesn't happen again. SJ talk  05:02, 21 February 2014 (UTC)

Possible solutions:

All parties involved should request and expect a public consultation period for decisions like this.
Delegates from affected committees (Board liaisons or members) should explicitly be asked to represent the committee's views on such decisions.
Advice from committees to the Board should come from committee chairs, incorporating the views of both the committee and supporting staff and advisors.
Committees should be directly involved in publishing changes to relevant policies.
These would be helpful suggestions (note that AffCom did emphasize the need for a public consultation once it was made aware of this decision). I would recommend directly involving the committees, instead of using the liaisons, because the latter would have to serve a double role (relaying the given committee's feelings, and acting as a trustee) that might be in slight conflict.
As for the committee involvement in publishing changes, I am not sure that it would work as a blanket requirement. It would not be a problem as long as the committee and the decision maker are in agreement, but in other cases it might only serve to keep the given committee's concerns hidden. --Bence (talk) 14:47, 22 February 2014 (UTC)


The AffCom note above includes a few claims which could use revision or elaboration:  

" require all new chapters and thematic organizations to exist as affiliated user groups for two years prior to being allowed to formally organize "

This is confusing. Nothing in the update from the board stops any community group from organizing as they see fit.
Thank you for this observation. The original version of the Board's decision, stated that chapters or thematic organisations needed to be unincorporated user groups before allowed to become chapters and thorgs. As the latter two are by definition incorporated entities, it follows that the to-be chapters and thorgs are encouraged to work under one model of existence before they are allowed to switch back to ("formally organize" under) the real model they were aiming for. The signs that the Board might be changing its view on stipulating that user groups need to be unincorporated are welcome and make this requirement appreciably less harsh (it still involves a change in name and communication strategy for the groups following on two years of work establishing their reputation under the user group model). --Bence (talk) 10:11, 21 February 2014 (UTC)
Actually, as I and others have said above, that's not what 'unincorporated' meant in the original statement's context. It is being corrected; but is not a change of view. SJ talk  11:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Thanks for the clarification. It is really appreciated that the Board is open to fixing an unintended error. Please note however, that Board resolutions are binding in their text (with the common meaning of the terms being the basis of interpretation, not the intention of the Board members), and better preparation of the decision could have resulted in there not being a need to issue a fix. Nevertheless, as stated, the fix in this case is really important, and it is appreciated. --Bence (talk) 14:47, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
This wasn't a resolution; and the only group interpreting it is the Board, since it is a statement about our intent ('seeks to make'). Regarding preparation: public drafting would have been better. But please recall the language was shared with AffCom a month before publication, and you recommended other changes, which were applied. Noone noticed this possible misinterpretation until it was published. SJ talk  20:24, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
This was very much noticed, only it was assumed to be intentional on the part of the Board. --Bence (talk) 20:31, 22 February 2014 (UTC)

" advising the Board and the movement at large and fulfilling the mandate given to us "

The committee's advice would be welcome. How would you advise that our movement develop and support our affiliates?
How should we help chapters and thematic orgs remain active, and help young affiliates develop in a sustainable way?
What have we learned from chapters that have run into difficulties?
How are guidelines for new affiliates reviewed and updated?
Thanks SJ, these questions are the ones that move forward the discussion, and illustrate well the point of a lost opportunity to focus on this already in November and before - therefore we do not have complete answers or recommendations on these, only parts of the answers, and unless the Board had answers to these, we felt that the current decision did not address the concerns.
Thank you for answering. No answers are perfect, be bold in sharing incomplete ideas. Does the committee reflect on and answer these questions each year? SJ talk  11:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Yes and no. Questions like these are raised and discussed at our annual meetings, but much of the time is taken over by the "newest idea on the block" of the year (e.g. in 2012 the introduction of the user group and thorg models; last year a good deal with resolving thorny applications and seeing if the movement partners idea can be revived) and therefore mostly incremental improvements are introduced to existing processes. As my personal opinion, I would love to spend time on finding answers to these strategic question, but without more time to dedicate to this, without creative input (data, internal researhc, research on how other movements work, outside ideas and proposals, skills development) there is a limit to our possibilities. -Bence (talk) 15:14, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Some ideas on the table and worth discussing:
support small groups with recognition and support as simply and as early as possible. focus on function over form.
help develop lasting, successful programs on a small budget, and programs that need startup funds but transition to the community.
pay attention to the capacity and experience of a group before granting the highest levels of recognition.
let committees update their own guidelines regularly.
One point of data is that we have not quantified at what point do we see troubles in chapters - my intuitive guess is that this has usually happened well after the chapter has existed for two years, or alternatively from the very start of a chapter's existence (and the chapters that might see trouble have all existed for over two years). In the former case, the Board's decision would only move the crisis point to an earlier point in a chapter's existence (given that the chapter would already be two years old on day 0), whereas the latter intuition would suggest that there was some mistake made in the approval of the chapter. (And there are many interesting tangents to go on and explore from here --> are we failing chapters after they are approved? does the failure rate of newer chapters indicate an improvement of the approval process? what outside factors are we not considering?)
What seems like a no-brainer is that we should invest into building the community organising, financial, leadership, project management capacities of our volunteer community leaders -- the question is, who in the movement is willing to take on this task, how would that training look like, who would fund it (remember, the WMF was considering hiring a Chapter development director some years ago for similar tasks, but then abandoned the idea)? A related consideration is to base recognition of chapters on the existence of these capacities. There is a lot that could be done that requires some research, dedicated time to think and negotiations with the various pieces of the decision making puzzle (is there a will, is there money, is there staff, is there outside research that needs to be commissioned, are there volunteers?).
Yes, this is uncontroversial and important. There are certainly WMF staff (Anasuya's team; technical teams) who think about our community-wide capacity. Making this part of the consideration for recognizing chapters is a good idea to consider: certainly it is as important as experience running and completing projects. :) SJ talk  11:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Some of the above answers could come from AffCom and the Berlin WMCON could be a good opportunity to explore the questions that rely on multiple actors. The AffCom meeting held at the same time would also be the time to review and update guidelines (some of which are Board resolutions, others are derived from Board resolutions) - the Board's guidance on what its concerns and questions are are appreciated for setting the agenda. --Bence (talk) 10:58, 21 February 2014 (UTC)
Just so cause and effect are clear: Board resolutions touching on committee guidelines are generally proposed by the committee and approved by the Board. SJ talk  11:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)

" creates an unfair disadvantage for developing countries "

How so?
The consideration here is that the majority of existing chapters are located in developed countries, whereas most developing countries do not have Wikimedia affiliated entities working in them. With this decision where there will be no new chapters incorporated for the next two years and each new attempt will have a two year waiting period will necessarily result in the developing countries continuing to be underrepresented among chapters - an underrepresentation that will be skewed by the extra waiting period imposed on new chapters (that will mostly come from developing countries) that was not present for the already existing chapters (the majority of whom are in developed countries). I am also concerned that without a concentrated effort to help communities form and grow in the developing countries, the under representation will not solve itself regardless whether those communities go for the user group, chapter or thorg model or even if they remain unaffiliated. --Bence (talk) 10:28, 21 February 2014 (UTC)
Our current process isn't working, true. We need to find better ways to help those communities grow. I don't think the high barrier to becoming a chapter helps here. As to chapters-in-discussion: roughly half of them seem to be from developing countries (as imperfect a notion as that is). So I see no special geography-based disadvantage. SJ talk  11:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)
Based on the various definitions of the term, and basic back of the envelope estimates there are more chapters in developed countries than in developing countries: around 22 to 18 in absolute terms based on the first list on Wikipedia, which in relative terms still means that 46% of developed countries have a chapter, whereas only 12% of the remaining countries do (using different definitions [e.g. the one used by the CIA Factbook], it is possible to show that there are more chapters in developing countries in absolute terms, but still fewer in relative terms). If we continued adding chapters in the developed and developing countries at the same pace, the disproportionality would remain until we reached saturation in the developed countries and then it would slowly start going down. With a two year waiting period, we are extending this turning point into the future.
Nevertheless, it needs to be said that as Wikimedia Iceland and Wikimedia Belgium seem to be very much affected by this issue, as well as The Wikinewsie Group (a proposed thorg incorporated in Iceland) and the Wikivoyage Association (incorporated in Germany), the decision could be seen as arresting the existing disproportionality. --Bence (talk) 15:01, 22 February 2014 (UTC)

" fostering dependency on the Wikimedia Foundation for local programmatic work. "

How so?
I think Nicole and Greg's letters explained this best on wikimedia-l. Unincorporated groups are limited in their capacity to have bank accounts and by extension to collect either (voluntary) membership fees or local grants and donations - they are expected to request support from the WMF for every single programme they are not able to cover from their pockets or from in-kind donations. This assumes that the WMF has the capacity to support each group in a timely manner, and for the groups to learn to rely on the WMF. (This is also contrasted by the tendency to require more advanced affiliates to seek outside funding sources [this seems to be a recommendation from the FDC, and their limited funding also points in this direction], in effect sending very confusing messages to groups whether to invest into building up their capacities to be independent and whether to expect ever requesting FDC funds which require these capacities.) --Bence (talk) 10:28, 21 February 2014 (UTC)
See above: User groups are free to incorporate. And In many jurisdictions that is not related to having a bank account or accepting grants. All groups should know that they have access to multiple sources of support. Our movement is full of support -- from friendly international foundations that give out both individual and small-group grants, to the network of chapters and thematic orgs that offer their own small grants, to the variety of grants programs offered by the WMF. SJ talk  11:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)


  • Bence, a strong assumption in this discourse appears to be that there's something second-rate about being a user group and/or not incorporating. Given the magnitude of the bureaucratic overheads associated with incorporation, I wonder whether the shoe might be on the other foot: that user groups, when motivated by dynamic Wikimedian individuals working together, can be more supple, spontaneous, flexible, and much better value for money. Just looking here, I see a few user groups that seem to do much more than some incorporated affiliates.

    The matter of not being able to open a bank account in some jurisdictions might need to be addressed, but is it not possible to satisfy minimal regulatory requirements in a jurisdiction for the purpose of opening a bank account? That's where AffCom's opinion would be valuable, since it must be well acquainted with the situation in many jurisdictions, and well placed to advise applicants. Tony (talk) 12:47, 21 February 2014 (UTC)

Hi Tony, there is nothing wrong with not incorporating. Indeed, it might be a safe choice to start as an unincorporated group and make the switch when and if that becomes necessary. The assumption that incorporation is necessary overhead heavy, or something that is necessarily distracting volunteers instead of being an enabler (by allowing them to sing contracts, to have collective and limited liability instead of one member bearing full responsibility, etc.) is an assertion that cannot be taken as universally applicable. In Hungary, a group of university students can create incorporated associations with minimal time or cost requirement - the situation might be different elsewhere, but the time requirements of being an affiliate (going to meetings, filing reports, etc) would be higher than that of having an incorporated entity.
The point is, that we cannot make a blanket claim that incorporation will be too difficult for a group - that is the research they will have to conduct for themselves looking into set up requirements, costs, on-going requirements (do they need to file anything, are there free templates they can use, how much time does it take to put in "0" everywhere in the tax form, are there mandatory meeting requirements that are more frequent than the group's expected meeting frequency), and what are the requirements for winding it down. Fortunately, it seems the Board is amenable to allowing user groups the flexibility to make that determination.
However, the wider point remains that the Board has set a two-year requirement before a user group can convert into a chapter or a thematic organisation. In the original form, this was imagined in a group being an informal entity for two years after which they could incorporate and be a formal entity. The trouble with that is that it describes two different organisations that might attract different people and have different activities (due to the fact that the unincorporated entity might be limited in its scope of action, including the ability to sign contracts).
With the unincorporation requirement removed, we have a two year waiting period after which a user group may be given the title of chapter or thematic organisation - this is not necessarily a bad concept to build on, but in itself is pretty empty. On the one hand, it is unclear what is the goal: if we want to make sure that the to-be chapter remains active for a longer time, then we should focus on seeing whether the group in question has the indicators for long-term activity not its age - with everything else being the same all we are achieving are chapters with two years shorter life spans. If we want to make sure that groups given the chapter or thorg title have a long track record of existence, than the two year requirement might make some sense, however, it still not solves the perceived problem of inactive chapters (again, the chapter will have two less years of activity as a chapter). An administrative step towards a solution would be to review chapter and thorg status every two years. A deeper solution would focus on identifying the factors of successful chapters and groups, and the common reasons of failure and address them directly by coaching the volunteers.
This whole discussion of chapter or thorg status is obviously only relevant for groups that have reached a critical mass of about 25 people (the current requirement for chapters and thorgs) - there are a few who have and were caught in the crosshairs of this decision -, unfortunately, the real issue is actually growing our communities from 0 to 1 person to 3 to 25 people, because that is the real key to creating new chapters (whatever they may be called) that can have a local impact on our mission; sitting around waiting two years might help as groups naturally attract more people, but from the face of it does not seem to be a good strategy. --Bence (talk) 14:55, 21 February 2014 (UTC)

I thought we had plenty of money. Isn't the WMF growing as well? Is this just an effort to curtail chapter growth?[edit]

In my humble opinion, the answer is obviously yes.

And the assumption "The WMF's pace of growth has slowed considerably in the last couple of years", well... still 30% growth in expense in the Wikimedia Foundation Annual Plan/2013-14, after years of existence and even higher growth, whereas that makes an average of 0 % growth for chapters that are pretty younger, I don't think that makes it a faithful answer. "today we have ample funding thanks to public support" And what ? How could it dramatically change whereas the fund raising period has turned much shorter as the years before not to raise too much money ?? Wikimedia DE made a relevant point in Extensive feedback from WMDE to the FDC process saying that "Money is currently not the limiting factor within the movement".

By the way, in the Annual Plan 2013-14, chapters are nearly only associated with crisis (4 times), governance issues (2 times), and they were the same tone in User:Sue Gardner/Narrowing focus#About the chapters, in Grants:APG/FDC portal/Annual report on the Funds Dissemination Committee process 2012-2013#The WMF Executive Director’s Reflections on the FDC Process and some others. After having considered the "risks and costs" of the chapter for the WMF, we may remind that the community, the projects editors, the readers and the "movement's money" altogether come from the countries where they work, shouldn't we ?

It's not very engaging to work with such a centralized organisation, so if I have choice I don't.

My first thought was that the decision to cap the chapter funding was franker than asking them new requirements every 3 month for funding. Nevertheless it could be frank depending on the answer to this question. So I think we can say yes, this board decisions on movement funding and approval issues is an effort to curtail chapter growth. Astirmays (talk) 17:30, 21 February 2014 (UTC)

Astirmays, you raise a number of different issues.

First, WMF fundraising is estimated to fall by a few percent in 2013–14 after several years of dramatic increases. Fundraising comes at financial and opportunity costs, and there's a point at which we might hit a downward curve if we're not careful.

No matter what the donors choose to give in total, we need to allocate their money in good faith with the greatest possible impact on the online sites that are the basis for donors' generosity. My own experience accords with Sue Gardner's (and the Board's) caution about (a) the ratio of bureaucratic overheads in affiliates to (b) the impact on the quality of WMF sites.

It is the dedication and hard work of up to 100,000 volunteer editors that earns us the donations. Those editors are largely unaware of chapters and thorgs, and many are surprised to learn that up to a quarter of donors' gifts are passed on to them. The cleft between editorial communities and affiliated organisations is widespread—and nowhere more than in Germany itself.

The elephant in the living room that I haven't seen factored into this discussion is that the WMF has suddenly stopped allocating donors' funds to its reserve (even though the FDC framework, for example, requires that unspent money be put into that reserve). The reserve is our insurance policy for the future; it is vital to the cause of long-term free information on this planet. Tony (talk) 05:11, 22 February 2014 (UTC)

New FDC entrants without a recent track record at WMF[edit]

The list of eligible affiliates for the current round have been announced at Grants:APG/FDC portal/Eligibility checklist/2013-2014 round2. There is at least one new entrant, Wikimedia Australia which saw its last WMF funding in 2010 and I think Wikimédia Magyarország's last WMF funding was in 2012 but I may be mistaken about that.

The FAQ specifically addresses new entrants to the FDC saying:

"[WMF] can increase the total of Annual Plan Grant/FDC funds if there are new applicants in the next two years that had previously been receiving significant grants from another process. In other words, we expect grant money to travel with any new FDC entities, to accommodate entities moving between funding paths."

That seems to suggest that the WMF are not allowing for an increase due to new FDC entrants that have not recently received significant WMF funding from another WMF grant program.

Also there are chapters like WMID that currently consistently receive over USD 750,000 from other grant bodies. Should they decide to seek future funding from WMF instead, are they prevented from requesting funding levels consistent with their current organisational capacity because they are a new entrant to the FDC and haven't been using other WMF grant programs? John Vandenberg (talk) 16:13, 19 March 2014 (UTC)