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Background of Scholarships
Every year, a number of Wikimania Scholarships are distributed to either completely or partially cover the cost of attending the annual Wikimania conference. The number given and amount spent vary year to year, but including both chapter and WMF funded scholarships, in recent years we have been spending ~$250K on these as a movement.
We believe scholarships to attend Wikimania should be a priority for the movement. Wikimania is an incredibly unique and exciting event that both allows long-term participants the chance to share their work via presentations, and also to be inspired/motivated through meeting others. The goals of the scholarship program are the following:
- To make Wikimania a successful and productive international conference
- To support the Wikimedia projects by encouraging participation.
- To enrich the conference with attendance by a diverse group of participants in the Wikimedia movement
Types of scholarships
In general, there are three different types of scholarships that we consider:
- WMF Full scholarships: Full sponsorship of attendance to Wikimania, including travel, accommodations, and registration.
- WMF Partial scholarships: Set stipend to subsidize travel costs to Wikimania (the past two years it has been 300 euros)
- Chapter scholarships: Full or partial scholarships provided by independent chapters. The chapter has final say on the recipients, but the vast majority use the scores as provided by the International Scholarship Committee.
This report covers at some level all three of these.
The Scholarships process for Wikimania 2012 proved to be both difficult to execute, and ineffective in bringing about the desired results. In fact, the Scholarship process overall received a lower overall rating by scholarship recipients then it did in the last two years (see graph on the right).
Our movement has grown and changed in recent years, and our scholarship process has not changed along with it. We are investing more money than ever before in scholarships. We are receiving thousands of applications for limited scholarship slots. Our movement is diversifying more and more geographically. We need to come up with a more effective way at distributing funds, and if we choose to continue to feed it into an annual conference, Wikimania Scholarships need to be taken seriously. Last year, the scholarship committee found that it was not able to manage in the best way the number of applications, the urgent and stringent timeline, or the chapters providing scholarships. There is room for tighter coordination and higher performance across all those issues.
Process of review
The following recommendations are an attempt to summarize and pull out the collaborative thinking behind how to make the scholarships a more effective and efficient process. The recommendations were informed by:
- A conversation on process hosted on meta
- A survey sent post-Wikimania to all scholarship applicants who made it to the 2nd round (n=606)
- First-hand experiences and conversations by the Scholarship committee
- Evaluation of the distribution and metrics behind the 2012 scholarships
Results of study
From the conversations and research, four primary issues have emerged meriting resolution:
- Non-transparent process
- Difficulty assessing best candidates
- High decline rates
- Frustrating communication
While some of these are perceptions rather than necessarily reality, they are worthy of further exploration in order to appropriately inform the valuable members of the movement.
Underlying these four issues are a variety of root causes. Each of these root causes will be addressed more thoroughly in the "Proposal" section.
|Non-transparent process||Difficulty selecting right mix of scholars||Frustrating communication||High decline rates of recipients|
The Selection Criteria are created annually by the scholarship review committee. The complication with the selection criteria is that they are somewhat subjective and some are indeed unmeasurable. The exact components and weightings of the scholarship criteria have changed over the years, but in general attempt to balance the following dynamics:
|More Measurable||Less Measurable||Not included|
|Activity in Wikimedia (0-4)||Residence||Financial need|
|Relevant activity outside of Wikimedia (0-4)||Language project|
|Future Potential (0-4)||Past funding|
Root causes and proposals
|Wikimedia activity biased towards long-term editors||Continue to look at total edit counts, but also create a program to look at the last 6 months of activity of the editor (i.e., since Wikimania of the previous year). This would help ensure the contributor was still highly engaged in the projects.|
|Inconsistent consideration of past Wikimania recipients.||More explicitly take this into account when reviewing applications. Limit the total number of those who attend on scholarship who received scholarships in past years to <5% of total. Note that this would apply to Full scholarship recipients only.|
- Financial need: There is not a way for us to measure financial need beyond self-reporting.
insert quote from survey— Full Wikimania Scholarship recipient
A lot of people wanted to know the reasons they were not selected for the scholarship.
While people are curious to know this, it is a very time consuming thing to do for the over 1000 applications. However, it would be possible to post the average scores from each region at the beginning, in order to demonstrate more clearly the equity of the applicants.
Communication of process
As in past years, there was no announcement to the scholarship recipients following the receipt of their application. This caused confusion in the stages of the process.
Secondly, there was also confusion as to whether or not an application was in a position for consideration for a Chapter scholarship.
Fortunately, these are fairly simply fixes :)
Root causes and proposals
|No communication from the Committee between application and announcement||Communicate with the applicant at three places:
|Candidates are unclear about their eligibility for chapter scholarships||
|Different Wikimania teams working in isolation - specifically, Programs and Scholarships||
Selecting the right candidates
Scholarship Review Committee
In the past, the committee has consisted of 7-10 members, selected in various ways (e.g., call for applications in 2009, individual nominations, legacy Wikimania team members).
The committee has carried an enormous amount of responsibility, reading through hundreds of applications every year. When able to dedicate large amounts of time, the committee was functioning ok. But in 2012, there were large timeline delays, due in part to the inability of the committee members to keep up with their workloads.
Root causes and proposals
|Low activity by reviewers||Rotate the members of the committee (2 years)|
|Little diversification||Expand representation of the committee to include representatives from different areas of the world, as applicable and possible.|
|Difficult software for managing applications||Establish functionality criteria for easier navigation of applications|
|Too much work||Increase number of members on the committee to 3 per region, with each representative in charge of reviewing only 2 pre-established regions|
This implies a need to reform how the scholarship review committee is structured. This is what we need to figure out first, in order to meet the desired timelines.
We have far more qualified applications than we have resources, which is a hard thing to combat. While we won't be able to add to the scholarship budget, we could likely help maximize the efficiency of the dollars spent by improving the structure of the partial scholarships and more closely coordinating with the chapter scholarships.
Root causes and proposals
|Chapters heavily sponsor their areas||Countries with chapter scholarships are not considered for WMF scholarships|
|Partial scholarships take resources||Modify partial scholarships to cover 50% of estimated travel by region.|
Improving communication across constituents
Given the brevity of these, I'll combine all the root causes and suggestions into one table:
|Wikimania teams working in isolation||More closely sync timelines of work. Ensure there is an input on the scholarship application on whether or not the applicant submitted a program proposal.|
|Candidates are unclear about their eligibility for Chapter scholarships||After Round 1, send all individuals an email if they qualify for a chapter scholarship and/or a WMF scholarship|
|Poor communication during process||See above.|
Increasing acceptance rates
The timeline was delayed several weeks in 2012. This inhibited people from getting visas and also from finding less expensive flight options.
Root causes and suggestions
|Application site was delayed in going up||
|Review committee inactive||See above. Essentially, (a) Increase the number of committee members (b) crystalize committee tasks, and (c) create cycle for committee members|
17 full scholars declined their scholarships due to visas and/or passports.
Root causes and suggestions
|Not enough time||See "Timeline"|
|Scholars not proactive in seeking visas||Improve communication with the scholars, including reminders|
|Countries unclear about requirements||Wikimania team ought to create custom visa letters for the scholars, articulating that these individuals are being funded for travel both TO and FROM the event.|
|Difficulty of host country in granting visas||Recommend difficulty of this to Wikimania selection jury|
Many have said the 300 euro flat rate partial scholarship is not nearly enough to attend Wikimania, and therefore should be eliminated or changed. Given that there were still ~50 people who received partial scholarship funding, there is clearly still a need for these types of awards.
One suggestion (which still needs to be run off the finance department at WMF) would be to have a tiered system of payment, so that from each region there would be a set stipend for that region based on 50% of early estimates of ticket price.