Wikimedia Conference, Berlin, March 28th – April 1st, 2012
Wednesday, March 28th 2012
Leaving my Dutch home at noon. A train ride brings me to Berlin; on the latter half of the ride I chat to fellow Wikimedian Lodewijk Gelauff, who joined the train in Hanover. Discussing at length the draft charter of the projected Wikimedia Chapters Association.
Tensions between the Wikimedia Foundation and the chapters ran high because of the fundraising disagreements. Discussions on a union of the chapters intensified in 2011. Early 2012 two proposals stood on the page 'Chapters Council' on Meta Wiki ('Model B' and 'Model KISS'). In February chapter representatives in Paris signed a paper about the creation of the 'council'. Without a team designated to make it happen, some Wikimedians started with the preparations by themselves: Among others, the chapter presidents Tomer Ashur of Israel, Sebastian Moleski of Germany and me. I started on March 7th with a draft charter for an organization I baptized 'Wikimedia Chapters Association', taking over the expression 'association' for the whole organization from Sebastian's Model B. I contacted a lot of the chapter representatives coming to the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin.
Our Dutch treasurer Paul Becherer will come to Berlin tomorrow. Our board gave us the permission to negotiate on the establishing the new organization, as did many other boards with their representatives (more than half of the 39 existing chapters). Other participants will be WMF board and staff members, members of the Chapters Committee and other activists on various subjects.
Passing by Bellevue Palace, the residence of my Federal President. Freedom and responsibility belong together, is the mantra of Joachim Gauck. Reich President Friedrich Ebert in 1919 had said in his introduction speech: A freedom shared by several must have its statutes. Passing by the Reichstag, the German parliament building, denounced by the Kaiser as Imperial Ape House.
Thursday, March 29th
Business starts early, with sessions about the new models for affiliation. Wikimedia Foundation wants to establish three new kinds of Wikimedia organizations, besides the chapters. Thematic organizations will be similar to chapters, related not to territories but to subjects. Wikimedia groups will be informal groups of Wikimedians occupied with the same subject. Wikimedia Partners will be outside organizations in a permanent relationship to the Wikimedia Movement.
I strongly advise against the term 'user groups' because of the user groups on Wikipedia and in general the uncertainty what is meant by 'user'. Others, though, like it because of the analogy to Linux user groups etc. I am not a grammar Nazi but a terminology Bolshevik, I know how confusing bad technical terms can be.
Both the WMF Chapters Committee and the smaller 'Movement Roles group' discuss these entities. I am invited as a guest. The task of the Movement Roles group ends, and the Chapters Committee renames itself Affiliation Committee.
From the perspective of the chapters, I speak about possible problems by thematic organizations and groups. If the thematic organizations are going to have similar rights and duties as the chapter, a multitude of them could severely alter the Wikimedia landscape. There is a limited number of countries, but an unlimited number of subjects. A WMF board member emphasizes that chapters can be consulted in the recognition process but that the last decision and responsibility is up to the WMF board. The WMF is the master of the trademarks Wikipedia and Wikimedia.
At the end of the sessions I have the opportunity to show my presentation Entities in an international movement, with a typology of entities, some examples and two scenarios for the future of the Wikimedia movement. One of them foresees a Wikimedia Association, as an umbrella organization for chapters and thematic organizations, but having also individual members directly registered by the Wikimedia Association. This new umbrella organization would be the partner or counterpart of the Wikimedia Foundation, which could concentrate on its core task such as the technical support of Wikipedia. One board member is very much charmed by the idea but can imagine that this view might not be shared by all of the colleagues.
Harel Cain, the organizer of the programme, prints the Wikimedia Chapters Association (WCA) draft charter for the representatives. In a field at the top of the text they can drop two proposals for amendment. My heart says that the representatives had time enough to do that at home. Besides, for many non native speakers of English it is easier to follow written discussions. But reason tells me that we can hardly avoid a last round.
Late evening. A Facebook entry informs me of the death of a friend. I had stayed at him for a couple of days after Wikimania in Israel last year.
Friday, March 30th
Morning. Our chapter is not on the list for the 'State of the Chapters' presentations for today, so brought my little surprise for the audience with me in vain. The presentations are very diverse, I am writing a blog entry about.
In that same big room, Christophe Henner tells about the Paris meeting, and Sebastian Moleski on the planned new organization. In divided sub sessions, we brainstorm about related subjects. Our group on representation discusses all of its 45 minutes about the relationship between a chapter and its elected Council Member.
Obviously many chapters are uncomfortable with a council member they cannot replace at will. I think that there should be an intimate relationship between work, responsibility and the right to make decisions. Some say that this is a question of small chapters and big chapters, which I don't believe. Small chapters will always find it difficult to find someone who has the time to be a good Council Member.
From contributions between Christophe, others and me I forge a compromise: shorten the term of a council member from two years to one, and allow a Council Member to pass his voting right to a colleague Council Member if he cannot attend a meeting.
After lunch gathering in the big room again. The charter discussion is drawing quite a lot of attention. Sebastian comes in at the last minute, with the amendment proposals from the papers. He goes through the proposals with the audience. The lack of discipline of some persons makes it really difficult for all of us to follow. Who shouts the hardest is the utmost right?
What are the rules for the discussions and the votes on amendments? A detail that may have better been dealt with in advance. Does anyone in the room have the right to vote on proposals, or only the chapter designated representatives? Unrest. Okay, the facilitator lets the people vote. Of course, a large majority wants everybody in the room to vote. The proceedings go on, and before the next vote, I raise my voice a little bit more than necessary and protest: This is an official meeting of the one or two people elected by the chapter boards to represent the chapters; if simply being in the room gives everyone/anyone voting rights, why did the chapter boards elect representatives at all? It is a session on the charter content, so the voters must have a democratic legitimation.
Nearly all amendment proposals were reasonable by themselves, in my opinion, but many of them were just not necessary for a charter. In the phase of legal incorporation it will have to be modified anyway. About some amendments we can agree that we will deal with them in the Rules of Procedure.
At the coffee desk I talk to a nice young representative from a South American country. He is in his twenties, a brilliant nerd editing Wikipedia for a long time. How does he experience this trip, I try to figure out. Being for the first time on a different continent, cold climate, many North European people who look as pale as those from US shows, smell different because of a different diet, mostly a head taller than him. He knew only a few people before, from Spanish Wikipedia. Maybe that explains some of his (anti-Anglo-Saxon) sentiment I noticed earlier on a list?
We must declare this (prolonged) afternoon session unfulfilled and agree on going on the next day. A couple of representatives come to me and admit that they have read the draft charter for the first time not one or two weeks ago, but only the night before. I find it difficult to blame them – time is short and talk pages are long. Still, we will never get a result if there is e.g. no time line for amendment proposals. They say that they understand that.
Early evening. Photo date with Denis Barthel, Jimmy Wales and the people from the Leonardo Award for Corporate E-Learning. Denis, Nando from Switzerland and I had accepted the award on Jimmy's behalf in September 2011 in Cologne. While rushing back to a board meeting, Jimmy signs my Wikipedia text book.
Late. I see in my mailbox three resolutions from the WMF board: They include a moratorium for fundraising. Until 2016, no new chapter can do the key part of it in its country. The controversy will undoubtedly continue, in spite of Sue Gardner's and the board's hopes.
Saturday, March 31st
Another day of pulling with me the little surprise in vain: Again the list of chapters for the 'State of the Chapters' comes too short to include our chapter. I don't attend much of the session, the same about the next session, the Q&A with the WMF board. Great that our knowledgeable treasurer Paul is present. The recent board resolutions make the session not an easy one, I guess.
I hear Sue Gardner's introducing words, stating that she will try to speak slowly so that also the non native speakers of English can understand her. The sentence next, she calls the past months her 'winter of discontent'. Does the average non native speaker (or even the younger Anglo-Saxon) know what she is referring to, and does she know how the winter of discontent ended?
Already yesterday evening and in the morning I considered to lead the amendments session of this day. Sebastian is fine with that, Delphine too. Before the session I succeed in talking to some participants of the previous session, one-on-one. It's great talking in private and rest about some issues – totally agreeing on most of them in the first place and finding compromises on others. Because of the short time I don't reach all of the participants.
Delphine comes to me with the idea to prepare a common statement with two parts: One for those chapters who want to join in the near future and one for those who are unsure but wants to be in the boat and support the WCA morally. I quickly write the text, let Delphine and others read it, she adds a sentence in the support part to make it more substantial. Others read the text of the 'Berlin Agreement', as I call it, too.
Now comes my moment of discontent: I want to give every proposer of an amendment one minute to explain it, and then give the word to an opponent for a minute, then to a supporter and then to an opponent again. In general I don't even want to talk about amendments that are no real amendments – just saying 'add somewhere something on X' brings us nowhere. This time it is Tomer to raise his voice, and I give in.
Showing the instruments of torture obviously did have an effect: Compared to the previous day, the participants are closer to making a statement on whether they support or reject an amendment. They became aware of the importance having a concrete piece of text, and they accept without hesitation the limitation to one minute per person.
Slowly the session finds its productive rhythm. A couple of amendment proposals are postponed, sometimes after I ask the proposer to find with a colleague a new wording. Those wordings then usually are accepted without much problems. Some amendments are withdrawn.
Delphine has an important role in finding good compromises and dimming the enthusiasm of putting too much stuff into the charter. Some people who have lengthy proposals – they originally wanted to keep the draft short and simple. Anna Lena, the facilitator, keeps an eye on requests to speak, Tim writes the minutes, and Julia counts the votes; alas those youngsters with iPhones but no wristwatches find it difficult to check the speaking time. But the speaking time is no problem, with a little soft insistence of mine to keep to the point and to come up especially with new arguments not heard before.
On the last subject we have a vote between two proposals: Can a chapter replace its Council Member at will? The original draft said no, only under relatively limited conditions. An amendment proposal by Lodewijk and others wants to make it possible that a new Council member is elected instead of the old one for the rest of the term.
I had already lost the hope keeping the original wording the day before. Someone warns me that the chapter representatives will never accept it, and Sebastian talks to Lodewijk for a compromise. In the meanwhile I read that particular amendment proposal (A4) again, and I recognize it to be the very maximum possible – given the circumstances it is more than acceptable because it at least speaks about a term.
Is this going to become the last showdown, the voting between A4 and my own text with the number A17 from the previous day? How long will it take to find a compromise? Sebastian explains what he had discussed with Lodewijk. Delphine and I declare that we can live with A4. So there is a quick and clear vote on A4 (only Paul and Rover for A17, is it?).
Another fine remark from Delphine: She thinks that the chapters will not easily replace their Council Member in the future anyway. It would be difficult to find a new person that could prepare himself quickly to be capable to follow the Council proceedings on a high level. I keep for myself that I perceive this as a pre-emptive vote of no confidence of the representatives against the future Council Members. But as Delphine had said, at the end of the day it will not change much.
We planned 45 minutes for this second part of the amendment proposals. It became more than an hour. Anna Lena had proposed a break and received more protest than anything. Do committees not write well? I'll read the altered charter text as a whole later.
Next point on the agenda: Election of an interim Secretary General plus Deputy, for the time until the first Council meeting at Wikimania in Washington. I introduce the subject briefly and pass the microphone to Sebastian.
To be honest, I don't follow his entire explanations on the tasks of the interim Secretariat and the role he could have in it. We know, and Sebastian says it often himself, that his upbringing in Texas gave him a pronunciation in English not easy to follow for non native speakers. I am also a little tired after the amendments session. It is obvious that it is difficult to make clear what the interim period will be about. Sebastian meets resistance. Some chapters seem to be still not sure why a Wikimedia Chapters Association is necessary.
The microphone goes back to me. I call for candidates. The session comes to an awkward moment. Nobody stands up. What about the earlier efforts to find candidates, some people ask. I repeat what Harel had posted on the lists before: That there were no official candidates. And unofficial ones, the question returns. I let Harel come and explain himself. Somebody wants the representatives to propose names. I prevent this as being not appropriate. It can be embarrassing for a person nominated by a third party and having to respond quickly under pressure.
One person comes to me and still wants to change a wording he dislikes in the charter. In Dutch they say: mosterd na de maaltijd, mustard after the meal.
While Harel talks and Anna Lena leads the discussions, I talk briefly to some persons for their advice, partly trying to pulse their own interest. Nothing. In the meanwhile the discussions go on and it is proposed to elect a team, a committee. This is not totally in my favour: Isn't creating the team the prerogative and responsibility of the interim SG? Shouldn't a team be created with care and consideration, instead of ad hoc? Is there a last chance to get candidates for the interim Secretariat, and stop this development?
My repeated call remains without fruit. The gathering, seeking a team leader, and a reluctant Tomer Ashur come closer to each other. Tomer accepts the idea to support the team, to be in the team, to be head of the team. Then I mention the papers I prepared for the Berlin Agreement. There has to be filled in an interim Secretary General. If Tomer will be anyway the person to create the team or Secretariat – can't I simply put his name in that gap? With a shy smile he accepts, or does not protest enough, and I call it settled, and a vote shows an enormous support for him. He has the confidence of the representatives to build a team and announce it later, I add.
In the break following I ask Maria from WMDE to print two copies of my drafted Berlin Agreement. I have erased the gap for the Deputy, but forgot to put in Tomer's name. I now fill it in on paper by pen.
I called the chapter representatives to come and sign if they like; this finally makes me the most photographed person of the day (although often from the back) standing next to the signers. This photographing gives me the feeling that the chapter representatives too feel that this is an important moment for our movement. They want to remember it and that they have been a part of it.
Some representatives don't not show up while I read out loud chapters and representatives. Danny tells me that some chapters feel that they had not enough mandate from their board.
The two guys from Austria quickly count the signing chapters for me while I still welcome the last representative to sign. I join the people who had announcements at the end of the session, I report that 24 chapters have signed 'part 1' (intention to join) and six more 'part 2' (statement of support) at the moment. Huge applause. I congratulate Tomer Ashur, explain briefly how I came to be involved in the process to write a draft charter, and I call my task to be done, handing the sheets with the signatures over to Tomer, our interim Secretary General.
Evening. Scheduled is a tour of Berliner Unterwelten e.V., an association of citizens interested in the parts of Berlin under the ground. The tour through World War II air raid shelters is a little bit disappointing to many of us, because the leader (a volunteer from Berliner Unterwelten) talked too much on general history while we stood in the historical rooms. Some participants share with me quite negative sentiments about her. But nobody regrets having been on the tour.
I talk to an Israeli about the more than notable German influence on the whole Wikimedia movement, and whether this could make some people uncomfortable. Do people perceive me primarily as a German or as the president of the Dutch chapter? Most of them don't even know that you are German, I guess. But my accent in English? They can't hear the difference. I smile and imagine how I am going to tell that the Dutch at home, they'll be furious.
Later, going home, I come to know Slobodan from Macedonia better. I accompany him to a supermarket where he buys some cake for his birthday the day next. A Wikipedia editor somehow drawn into the work of the national Wikimedia chapter – the same old story.
Before going to sleep I edit some pages on Meta, create a new page Wikimedia Chapters Association with category and incorporate the amendments of today session. Shortly I consider to put a short note on the WCA in the German Wikipedia 'Kurier'. But the page is blocked because of April Fools day. What joke could I have added, that WMF is going to install an office in Brussels?
Sunday, April 1st
At the venue again, for the last time, I can finally deliver our 'State of the Chapter', a condensed version of what I have presented to the Dutch chapter general assembly a week ago. We had in 2011 the tenth anniversary of English and Dutch Wikipedia, the fifth anniversary of the chapter, a lot of activities which I quickly referred to by photos.
I used the GLAMcamp in Amsterdam as an example for the huge amount of work for board members, above all for our treasurer Paul. This in spite of the hired person for organizing the GLAMcamp, because some signatures must come from the treasurer. In a graph I compared the activities of 2008 and 2011, showing the growing number of activities but also the workload for the board (more meetings and other gatherings, especially for the strategy process). We must be more careful with our time and energy, and concentrate on important things. Many representatives nod, they know the problem: When one activist falls away, the whole organization is in trouble.
At the end Paul and I handed out a special Dutch treat that seems to be very popular in the (inter)national Wikimedia movement – stroopwafels. Funny how easily you can make Wikimedians enthusiastic, just go to a Dutch supermarket and invest a few Euros.
The other presentations, to my shame, I nearly completely missed. Manuel Schneider from Wiki TV asked me for an interview on the WCA. In English, in German? German, later subtitles. No, English. We then quickly do it in both languages.
In the 'barcamp' I repeat my presentation on Entities in an international movement, with Arne and Delphine explaining a lot on the present day movement and the newest developments, especially around the 'movement roles' (the new kind of Wikimedia affiliates).
A session about the Chapter Selected Board Candidates turns out to be a small round with Arne about the work of the WMF board, the importance of diversity, and the latest WMF resolutions. The decision of the board to publish resolutions with a list of how which board member voted was welcomed by Arne. His board colleague Sam joins us later. Arne won't say that this would change the whole essence of the board but that it was a very important step to transparency. He doesn't believe, though, that it will much affect the voting behaviour, but it may take tension from the board members. They always felt uncomfortable, earlier, to tell people about the votes of their colleagues.
In a small conference room connected with to the big room, finally, chapter representatives gather to talk about the eight candidates for the WMF board. Two persons can be nominated by the chapters. This is a closed meeting, and the door is kept shut.
Some talks, also about the session of yesterday and the day before, including the fickle behavior of some, and farewells conclude my stay. With Damian I take the U-Bahn to the Central Station. We exchange ideas on 'the way to Washington', as he calls it. A lot of work to be done, we agreed, and we remembered with pleasure having seen Sebastian having a long talk with Tomer. Combining our diverse talents is the only chance for a successful Wikimedia Chapters Association.