When I asked the Wikimedia Deutschland Board for an endorsement for a new candidacy for the WMF Board in February 2012 they asked me to answer 16 questions. I published their questions and my answers in my private blog, but I'm happy to follow Pierre-Selim's suggestion and post the whole piece here on meta once more. You find the original at User:Lyzzy/16 questions/de. When I translated the text, I realized that I should have written it in English firsthand. That probably would have resulted in shorter sentences and more clarity. (I put in the category "things to consider in the future".)
Future strategy and structures of the Wikimedia movement
Where do you see the strategic priorities of the work of WMF?
In my view the focus of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is still mainly in the two areas a/ technical operation and product development and b/ grantmaking to organizations and individuals. What is known as WMF's Narrowing Focus in the Wikimedia world is only 1.5 years old and internal processes and structures are not yet described accordingly. What is visible already now is that in the area of product development new processes led to more creativity and to concrete changes (eg, replacement of large rare updates of software by small updates in short intervals and thus continuous improvement). In the area of grantmaking new programs are developed. Both areas still need a lot of attention and must evolve in order to achieve the results that are adequate to the importance of our projects. We are not yet where we want to go, and therefore the focus should not move at the moment.
In addition, the attractiveness of the Wikimedia projects needs to get more attention if we want to make sure that what has been created so far, is used and also improved over the next few years. Wikimedia projects such as Wikipedia must not lose their acquired reputation, others like Commons or Wikisource are far away from any similar public attention. Ease of use and an attractive design are as important as quality and quantity of content. If the projects are no longer attractive to volunteer writers, photographers and developers and do not offer what they need for their work - and that could include technical functions as well as the appreciation of their work or the findability and external re-use of their contributions - then they go away or they directly stay away. If the projects are no longer attractive for the readers and users and they get their information somewhere else, we have missed our goal.
High access numbers are angels and demons at the same time. The high presence shows how important Wikipedia has become, at the same time the responsibility for what is created there increases enormously. Although Wikipedia has never seen itself as the only information medium for all kinds of questions, we can not close our eyes to the fact that there is no difference between Google and Wikipedia for many Internet users yet. What impact this fact or the evident trend of declining traffic has on the projects needs to be investigated as well as the questions of motivation and frustration in the projects.
What are you going to contribute to the strategy process starting in 2014?
The review and update of the 5-year plan of the WMF and the 5-year goals, both approved by the Board of Trustees after a year-long public process in 2010, is one of the tasks of the new ED. First of all it is important to find a form that is not only feasible but also corresponds to the current structure and orientation of the WMF. It should provide basic stability as well as flexibility to our two core areas engineering and grantmaking. Whether this is a new 5-year plan or something else, and the way it is produced is not yet fixed. Impulses and perspectives that are build on our new ED's experiences can be very helpful in doing so. Despite all the uniqueness the Wikimedia Foundation is primarily an organization that operates a large and important website. And one that does grantmaking. We may do that differently than others, but we're not the only one.
The fact that this website is created by countless volunteers around the world and would not even exist without them, is a special aspect which of course must also be reflected in the strategic planning itself. Personally, I find it particularly important to address the not yet sufficiently clarified complex of organizational structure in our international movement. This is a task which has to be faced especially by the Board of Trustees, beginning with the not to be underestimated question 'What does the WMF expect from other Wikimedia organizations' to providing financial support. But that can't be done without participation of those who are affected by it - regional and thematic organizations, user groups and individuals around the globe. I tend to separate these considerations - undisputed strategic, urgent and difficult - from the 5-year plan review. A kind of parallel process that deals with the structure of our international movement, wheras the strategical update focuses primarily on the Foundation's real activities. It is still too early to say whether and how this can be achieved, but this is certainly a topic in which I'm particularly going to be involved as in the last strategy process in 2010.
Did narrowing focus from your personal and from today's perspective make sense, and should the Chapters also do something similar?
I still believe that the analysis and identification of competencies that focus on priorities and the farewell to the tasks that can be done better elsewhere is in general a good fundament for organizations. Be it WMF, Wikiversum, or in any other environment. For the Wikimedia Foundation, which I have already touched above in question 1, it was a good and important step. One which has given our organization a profile and which enables our employees to identify with their work.
Core competencies can only arise when organizations care about their essential task and what ranking it has in the portfolio. This in turn opens the path to specialization and target-oriented development. If the organization is able to do two things really well, to be better at them than others, why should it instead choose to explain 10 things to its duties, it only can 'sort of' do? To achieve a really good result and not only any result creates external trust and internal passion for the work and the success. This is regardless of the size of an organization.
Younger organizations should therefore carefully consider if thematically new offers are in a range of duty, which they really want to deal with. And, if in doubt, just not even try it. At the same time they should not restrict themselves too much and tackle something new from time to time. The important thing is then that it is really wanted, that there is the ability to do it, and that the necessary resources of any kind are available.
How should volunteers organize themselves if they want to be supported by the Movement or want to be part of the Movement? On the basis of countries or languages or interests?
They should especially be organized in a way that brings benefit to their root objective. When their objective is language oriented, the organization should not stop at a country's border. When it comes to cooperations with local cultural organizations, it makes more sense to be active an approachable at a regional level. Neither I see a model that can be pulled on all situations, nor do I wish something like that.
I am glad that since 2012 there is the opportunity to officially approve not only regional but also thematic organizations by the WMF. Albeit I do not think that this is already the be-all and end-all, because it is based on given conditions, without questioning them in principle. And it bundkles things whose differences may be larger than their similarity. This is recognizable especially with the regional organizations, European Chapter differ in their culture, their organization and their self-understanding significantly from non-European and even among themselves there are immense differences. Nevertheless, they are considered and treated equal, and the tendency to generalize results in being perceived as 'the Chapters'. I believe that limits the opportunities for development and creativity both in individuals and in organizations and makes the Wikiversum sluggish as a whole. I therefore would like to see more individualized criteria and at the same time more general categories for Wikimedia organizations. Or is it really necessary for the collection and dissemination of free knowledge to distinguish between Wikimedia Amical as a thematic and Wikimedia España as a regional organization? But it is important to support them each so that they can make the most of their individual capabilities in this sense.
As 'part of the Movements' I also see the many individuals, who really care about our mission, who participate in discussions and consultations such as the of the Trademark Guidelines, who engage without any interest in formal structures. And therefore funding and support is not limited to organizations, but particularly include individuals. In this sense they are usually already part of the Wikiversum, when they find a common interest or goal and want to organize themselves.
The variety of options to spread the idea of free knowledge should be used creatively, even with the organization form. I perceive a growing tendency to create rules for the approval and funding of organizations. On the one hand this provides security and promises transparency, on the other hand it creates corsets which limit any innovation. We need more creative leeway and more freedom, and we need all our courage to allow it.
What is the coordination with other international players on issues of culture and education?
The Wikimedia Foundation is responsible for a very special section in the area of culture and knowledge, namely the operation of the Wikimedia projects, which are the places where Free Knowledge is collected and made available by volunteers. Even though I usually like to remind that we are not special and incomparable in all that we do - here it is already the case. The need for coordination with others does not become accessable to me without further information on the origin of the question. For issues about GLAM I would also like to refer to my colleague Phoebe, who has a librarian background and therefore has a close connection, which she also bring into her work on the Board.
In general, such coordination or cooperation would likely be outside our core areas, as outlines in the Narrowing Focus. And this is an area in which the Wikimedia organizations achieve great things. Culture and education can be treated much more effectively as a rule locally on the spot. Activists in the field know that it takes a lot of patience and regular personal contacts, and there are hardly any patterns that repeat themselves internationally. What in my view therefore is much more effective than a responsibility of the Wikimedia Foundation, is to promote local activities and international exchanges, for example, with the GLAM-Wiki conference.
Who should care for future development of the Wikimedia organizations? How can a sustainable development process of organizations be ensured?
This is a central question in what I call organizational structure of the Wikiversum. But as long as it is not clear in which direction a development of the organizations should go in general, what their self-understanding is, which mutual expectations determine the coexistence of WMF and Wikimedia organizations, there are still essentials missing for any clear ideas. Structural analyzes are necessary, but also a common exchange to thereby move forward together. So I'm very excited about the results of Chapters Dialogue. Never before we had findings of this breadth of participation and I hope that they are a good basis for the development of a comprehensible and reliable organizational structure. In this respect I also regret very much that Wikimedia Germany will finish the project with the analysis of the interviews and that there are no additional steps following.
Basically with regards to the development I see a big part of self-reliance of the Wikimedia organizations, but also a commitment by the Wikimedia Foundation. Each organization should have a very vested interest to develop and thereby also show some initiative or connect with others to this end. The Foundation plays a role in so far, as it has to create an environment which leaves room for these personal responsibilities. It only works in cooperation. And it is about creating structures that do not manage themselves, but lead the activities of organizations to success.
How should software development be organized? Should there be one or more central software locations or a global, heterogeneous network?
Even now, software development in the Wikiversum is nothing what is happening behind one locked door. Alongside with the development team in San Francisco, there are a whole lot of outside employed or commissioned developers, in addition there is also a regular bunch of volunteer developers. And of course there is also Wikidata, which was realized by Wikimedia Germany. Especially the last example shows that a division of software projects can be very useful. The Wikimedia Foundation had other priorities and therefore did not have the capacity to develop this project. Wikimedia Germany could fill this gap. What more could you want?
Both the central development and distribution in different locations have advantages and disadvantages. Be it the different labor costs, challenges in communication and cooperation, control of the time frame and code verification - there is not one true solution. Isn't it essential, that the necessary mobility remains to find the best realization depending on the type of task? That may be a regional organization, which takes over the software development of a specific amount, that can be the Foundation itself, when it comes to the regular maintenance and the development and implementation of sub-projects of high priority, that can still be contractors or volunteers. And between these groups, it can also lead to collaborations. I don't see any need nor a current reason to regulate the current practice in one of said directions.
The chapters' role in the Movement
How do you feel in general about the creation of additional chapters and how far should their independence go in your opinion? How do you see the chances of greater independence at a continental level, especially for the European self-determination? How can the independent status of the Chapters can be improves within the movement and concretely at WMF?
A whole battery of questions - which would be enough to fill an entire conference agenda ;-) Where do I start? With the establishment of additional regional organizations (chapters).
Crucial to my vote on the changed appointment conditions for additional regional or thematic organizations was apart from the reasons set out in our FAQ something quite banal. I think it is irresponsible to confirm new organizations, without thereby being aware, a/ what is expected of them and b/ what turbulences they are exposed to, as long as the basics of organizational structure have not been clarified in Wikiversum.
Many times in the past, the Wikimedia Foundation tried, mostly with event-ralated changes, to adapt the structures and functions in the fabric of the different Wikimedia organizations to the situation. Without any ill will, but in the result too often combined with excessive collateral damage as noticeable loss of confidence. However, a concrete picture of how the structure should look like, what responsibilities are where located, which the expectations exist in the one as in the other direction is, in my opinion, a prerequisite for further approvals. I can't on the one hand formally recognize groups, if I do not make it clear on the other side, what their work for the Wikiversum means, which requirements exist and how they can accomplish them. Here, the Board of Trustees is in demand, we can not close our mind to this task and we can not solve it without those who are concerned. I hope we are able to take it up with the strategic plan review. Either as part of the update, or as a separate process, in order to clarify these basics and to provide the necessary base for longer-term and trusting commitment for those who wish to organize.
The independence thing is tricky. Yes, regional organizations are legally independent, they could theoretically also exist if the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) wasn't there. But would they exist in the same form? The question leaves me wondering what misschief exists, that could be fixed by more independence through (of what kind?).
The Wikimedia Foundation is and was never authorized to issue directives. And unlike, for example, Greenpeace, our regional organizations, boards, councils and the rest of them operate in general without any supervision or direct influence of the Foundation. But was there ever any real independence? I claim no. And that is by design. The donations we get aren't generated directly by the WMF or the regional organizations in the strict sense. They are given to a large extent to support the 'Wikipedia'. The use of that funds therefor can't ignore the donor's will and the source of that funds can't specify the country in which they are spended. Although the nature of the funds dissemination has changed in recent years, it was always been associated with a split between WMF and donation processing organizations. And that's one of the many inter-structural dependencies, which we can not argue away.
That there are dependencies in the Wikimedia environment is basically indisputable. Are they harmful to our mission to spread free knowledge? Harmful to our projects like Wikipedia? Could the individual organizations actually being detach from the overall structure, without jeopardizing their basis of existence or their financing? I do not know, but I'm also not clear what advantages lie in an unspecified independence, without knowing the specific background of the question. Independence per se is not something to aim for, it is usually associated with additional responsibility, redundant structures and an task enlargement. This is a balancing process, which must of course also be guided by realities. Each generalization withdraw substance from the considerations, and it makes little sense, in my view, to create theoretical constructs without concrete reference.
What direction should the structure of the Wikimedia movement development take? Should it be centralized, more like a cluster composite or heterogeneous?
Here, too, the structure should be pursued, which serves the purpose best. And so, first it must be clarified what is the purpose of the 'Movement', where are priorities and which tasks are performed at which point. When I look at the different Wikimedia organizations, there are very different views on goals and self-understanding, starting with a friends' association, which support and provide meetings of Wikipedians and workshops, to a socio-political approach with activities far beyond the Wikimedia projects. Where is the common thread, where are hidden and unspoken demands and expectations, where are limits? Is it useful to think in one level and to develop an organizational model, which all have to bow to?
I definitely can imagine different layers, even layers which each are organized differently, and perhaps overlap partly. Depending on the purpose and approach, so there could be a central approach to a topic A, and a distributed approach for topic B. Most of all, it should be ensured sooner or later that the patchwork rug, which illustrates the Wikimedia organizations on the world map, developed into an area-wide coverage as possible. Maybe we have to break new ground, daring risks and try something new, but only then the division of tasks between Foundation and Wikimedia organizations can fall into place even there where it is currently still problematic, even if it is in the amidst the US.
Another, still half-baked and non-discussed approach would be to limit the WMF to the pure operation of the projects, i.e. the technical hosting and development, and a second priority on grantmaking for individuals and organizations. In Principle a very rigid concentration on the core areas which have been defined in the Narrowing Focus. We all know that this is not enough to keep the projects upright, for there is still the community, authors, photographers, chapters and other organizations. But why must the same organization, which build up competencies in fields of engineering and grantmaking, also take care of the areas that makes up the social fabric of our international organization? Like so much in the Wikiversum this has evolved somehow, but does that mean that it has to stay that way too? Would a segmentation be thinkable in which the community area, the international structure, the cooperation between different organizations and individuals are planned and conducted by a different level or organization? I am in favour of playing a bit with such a thought and to ponder the possibilities and risks.
How should the role of Wikimedia Germany look like in the Movement?
Wikimedia Germany has, due to its experience, its power for execution, and also its ability to take new paths successfully, a big impact on the entire Wikiversum. For many it is a role model for others it is the enemy. That probably can't be avoided on the road to professionalization and the development of permanent staff. Not every successful organization needs to develop in the same way as Wikimedia Germany or emulate it. Wikimedia Germany can share their good and bad experiences yet, be a mentor or liaison and mediator between the different organizations. And Wikimedia Germany itself can learn from other organizations. I see all this already covered, with varying intensity and depending on various factors. The detailed alignment and definition of WMDE's specific role, however, is basically a task for WMDE's board, not one of the Wikimedia Foundation.
The FDC process
How will the FDC process be optimized so that it comes to a better integration of the Chapters in the future?
The Funds Dissemination Committee advises on the submitted annual plans of (mainly) chapters and prepares recommendations for the Board of Trustees. When the FDC process was launched in 2012, it was already quite clear that it a/ has to proof itself in a test phase and that b/ there is a certain risk going with appeal of novelty. No one knew if it would work at all, how much effort is required and whether the untried processes stand the test in reality. To pursue this, the process has been accompanied by an advisory group from the beginning, and the development is regularly reviewed and documented. The annual report 2012-2013 includes adequate information from different groups. For the further development of the FDC, 2014 is a decisive year. Probably in May, the Advisory Group is going to address a significant part of their task, which is to suggest improvements and changes and to discuss with the Wikimedia Foundation. The Board of Trustees then has to decide during the further procedure whether the FDC process will be continued as before, or whether it has to be modified or even abolished.
I assume that there will be changes, especially from Wikimedia Germany, there were already well-founded criticism, which, I assume, will also be taken up by the FDC Advisory Group. How that happens can not yet be said. There is a great responsibility in the advisory group, whose expertise and experience however are good preconditions to analyze criticisms and suggest improvements. An equally important responsibility lies with the WMF, which is to include this input into the decision.
In this context my vote against a cap of the FDC's total budget should be seen. I do not believe in implementing solutions before it is not clear what exactly the problem is and whether it can be solved by the measure at all. And even as a signal the decision does not work, because growth is in my opinion not bad per se, however, it should be well-reasoned. However, I can go with the decision of the Board of Trustees easily. Because on the one hand it is limited in time, on the other hand it possibly part of the evaluation.
Do you rate the FDC approach as a failure?
I see the FDC process especially as a process in progress. What we see today is version 1.0.x. So far there have been minor adjustments, but mostly the process still meets the framework which was developed in 2012. And I'm glad that this is so and initially a sufficiently large experience period has been created, which will be evaluated soon. From this evaluation, changes are expected to arise, maybe a version 2.0. And I like that. A process which supports 11 chapters Wikimedia with a total sum of $ 4,432,000 in its last round in autumn 2013, I can not consider as failed. In particular, since these funds were given with the conviction that they are meaningfully used for the projects and the community to promote and spread Free Knowledge. If they were not used in this sense, that would be failure.
Which role does the opinion of the Chapters play with far-reaching decisions of the board, which affect not only the WMF? How can the communication process be improved here?
The question is rather, which concrete influence the regional (and thematic) organizations want to exert on decisions of the Board of Trustees. To this end, I've heard very different considerations, right up to complete decision takeover by community votes. In all this, however, we must follow certain legal frameworks, in our case this is Florida law and our fundamental obligations as Board of Trustees. For the benefit of the organization each governing body from time to time has to make decisions that do not meet with cheering approval or even leave the community or members behind. This applies to the WMF as well as for chapters.
Of course, these decisions should not be made without any input from those affected. The Board of Trustees particularly draws on the advisory committees FDC and AffCom back. Especially with the recent decisions with respect to Movement Roles it became clear that here the expectations and perceptions diverge and that in the future it must be clear and communicated more distinctly that a Board decision is pending on a particular topic. Basically, I still think that this is the right way and that the involvement of these bodies enriches the Board's decision base effectively.
This does not mean that this exchange could not be improved significantly. I can imagine, for example, that the discussion documents the Board of Trustees receives, are made available earlier, not only to the Trustees but also to the community. Whether it is really possible for the Board to discuss this with the community in the preparatory phase of a meeting would be worth a try. However, it should not further expand the already very long decision paths in the Board of Trustees and it must be clear to all involved that the participation in a decision does not necessarily mean that a recommendation is adopted without change.
Do you see the board as a body of WMF or of the entire Wikimedia movement?
One of the surprising experience for me is that the Board of Trustees is seen and challenged differently by different people and organizations. I simply was not aware of that before. Personally, I see the Trustees primarily as a supervisory body of the non-profit organization WMF. That is, it is responsible for the organization and its achievement of objectives. The latter however, is not just the responsibility of the WMF but primarily dependent on those who put content into our projects, be it Wikisource, Wikipedia or Commons. Can not have one without the other. There are blurred boundaries and so it sometimes happens that the Trustees will be called for example to do something against the bulk deletion on Commons with respect to the URAA or to explicitly include photos and other media into the resolution about articles of living people and much more.
So currently we have to primarily find a way to cover this double function as conflictless as possible. We succeed sometimes more and sometimes less. I doubt that the attempt to cover both levels can work in the long run, without having to accept failings on one side or the other, or to tear yourself apart. This is simply down to the fact that you need different skills, interests and knowledge to oversee an organization with 200 employees than you need to take a leadership role in a community of individuals and organizations and to develop together with them the guidelines, which are relevant to the projects and the organizations. I have already addressed it before, the idea to separate the two areas is, in my view, worth a discussion.
Your vision for the Wikimedia universe
How would a Wikimedia organizational model look like, that you would draw if you were to start with a white sheet of paper today?
The present structure has evolved out of itself. When in 2004 Wikimedia Germany was founded, one reason for this was an understandable idea: To give the donors the opportunity to get tax deduction for their donation. Many other organizations followed same pattern, even if they had other destination routes, different needs and different ideas about what their organization really wants to do and can do. However, we believed and trusted in this organizational from and its integration into the Wikiversum for a long time. Is such a closed scope for development fair at all for an international organization whose projects are created by volunteers? I don't think so. In this respect, I welcome the fact that since 2012 it is possible for thematic organizations regardless of national borders and for user groups without formal organization to be officially recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation, and that the receive the rights they need for their work. But I don't think that this model of an organizational structure is already the one which serves our common goal to collect and spread Free knowledge best, which brings out the best in people and organizations in our Movement, and which in return gives them the best back.
What I would make therefore, is first of all to put down the pencil. And then I would hold many calls, with my Board colleagues, with the staff at the Foundation, with regional organizations and all those who feel the desire to be part of the Wikiversums. Something like Chapters Dialogue (which is why I am so curious to see the results). And I would bring in analysts, to get numbers about cash flows, effectiveness and international coverage. Along with scientists and other NGOs, with whom I would discuss different organizational models and their experiences with it. Sociologists, so that I can include their findings on motivation of volunteers, especially in our project environment. Visionaries and futurists. And certainly many more. And only then I would take the pencil back in the hand.
What is your ideal image of the Wikimedia universe in 5 or 10 years?
- It is still there - alive, visible and diversed.
- It is flexible, focused on the welfare of the Wikimedia projects and appreciated by them.
- It knows where it (maybe) is still unique and where it can fall back on proved recipes from outside the Wikiversum.
- It's fun to get involved in it.
- It appraises and relies to all individuals who putter therein, and their respective contributions.