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Wikimania/Scholarships/Vision 2015

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A scholarships program vision is considered an integral part of a Wikimania for its success. This proposal for the program is being drafted by Federico Leva and Martin Rulsch as part of the Wikimania Esino Lario team and of its research and preparation work.

Feedback on the proposal and other information has been summarised in a SWOT analysis.


In the past few years, despite increasing funding, Wikimania scholarships have often been a major source of conflict. Often, applicants (or prospective applicants) didn't feel considered enough, nor treated equally. Attending Wikimania with expenses reimbursed, both for volunteers and staff, is often perceived as a "prize to the career" and as a recognition of one's merits: if you're denied a scholarship you feel useless; positive discrimination is enacted to show that we care about the Global South; European associations counterbalance the discrimination with their own funding.

As a result, in the last couple years we've improved some aspects of the program as seen e.g. in the recipients' satisfaction metrics, but we've probably lost the sense of the scholarships for the general Wikimedia point of view: the considerable amount of money invested (though lower than the costs for WMF staff) has been questioned and may not be sustained in the future. We need to rethink the program from scratch in order to be confident that it's worth the investment we're putting in it.


In this challenging period of the Wikimedia projects' life, we can't rest, we must do our best and constantly reinvent ourselves. Wikimania Esino Lario has ambitious goals for a long-term impact on the Wikimedia mission: after all, it will happen on the last year of the first strategic plan, a period when we'll need to finalise the second five-year plan.

The functioning of scholarships is crucial for the success of this Wikimania plan, for two reasons:

  • the possibility to attend Wikimania should be determined only by how much a person can bring and take away from Wikimania (engagement), not by personal wealth;
  • not all wikimedians, and even less all world citizens of value for our mission, are born wikimanians, so we need an incentive for all those we need to come to us.

The success of Wikimania is made by its participants: we will succeed if we get the maximum number possible of engaged attendees, who pro-actively interact with each other.

The success of a scholarships program is built over the years – the recipients of today are our evangelists of tomorrow –, so the first year of this renewed program won't get us on track at once, but we can aim big if we give strong signals of what's the path. The first signal will be the process, the criteria and our demands to applicants. Some ideas follow; we'll need your help to tune the good ones.

  • Transparency: must be complete, because scholarships are a public, not a private affair. All applicants will agree to have their username and/or full name[1] published in the wiki lists of attendees. They will also be encouraged to add themselves more contact information, topics of their interest etc. to further facilitate interaction.
  • Accountability and self-reflection: we don't need bureaucratic forms and reports, we need the recipients and applicants to foster a general reflection on what we gave and took from Wikimania. All recipients will be required to publish[2] a... report, retrospective, story, summary, paper, novel, manga, photo/movie documentary – whatever format they choose! – in the language they prefer, sharing it with their "home" community.
  • Grassroot: a global event with a global scope needs a global effort and responsibility. We need to involve all movement organisations, groups and individuals as our "headhunters" and reviewers. Even without changing the committee composition,[3] we can recruit a pool of additional reviewers who will see some portion of each application from their area/language and give the committee an additional opinion.[4][5] Applicants can write their application in their preferred language,[6] but the application software will ask for a translation to English if we don't yet have any reviewer speaking that language.
  • Efficiency and fairness: don't spend more than needed to achieve the same goal (i.e. participation). Borrowing an academic trick, we'll ask applicants to tell us what's the minimum proportion of the full scholarship that they'd be able to accept. The minimum "score" for acceptance should not vary depending on how many scholarships there are for your (sub)continent; we'll instead give each area a budget and try to get the best out of it.
  • Innovation: this is probably the main goal of Wikimania that scholarships should help with and, to achieve it, it's key that we involve new participants, not just "the usual suspects"/Wikimania regulars.[7] A "younger" and more engaged attendance will make Wikimania more fun and interesting also for the regulars, after all. For this reason, we'll ask all applicants to tell if and how many Wikimania scholarships (whatever the issuer) they benefited from in the past, and subtract a substantial portion of the score for each of them depending on how long ago they were.[8]

Needs and goals[edit]

  • From the program committee: the program must be already in draft during application and ready before scholarships are decided.
  • From the general organisation:
    • accommodation information must be available before scholarships application deadline, including beds availability and costs, to allow planning and personal budgeting (see also "Efficiency and fairness" above);
    • early support to recipients, especially those from visa-impaired countries, and smooth management of payments and so on.
  • From the budget: Spending money on scholarships is more important to reach the goals of a broader attendance, than funding catering.
    • For instance with pseudo-random numbers, if catering costs 150 k$ and scholarships another 150 k$, but we only have 150 k$ funding, make 2/3 of all attendees pay their own catering and an additional 50 k$ in fees; with the 200 k$ income reached, pay 150+50 k$ scholarships including 50 k$ food (registration fee) reimbursements for the remaining 1/3 of attendees.
    • There is no such a thing as free lunch, even less if donors pay. Paying for your own food at Wikimania (as in any "trip") should not be a taboo, nor the size of this component of the budget is set in stone. Especially if funding is insufficient to cover the budget, we should include the food costs in the registration price (ideally making it at zero cost) and instead expand the scholarships budget. The minimum scholarship support would cover the increased registration cost.
  • From the program funders/supporters and the wider community: help in spreading the word and reviewing the applications. This includes, for instance, emailing all the donors to let them know that 1) we spend for good, 2) they can go a step further in their participation.


  • 5000 applications (+400 %)[9]
  • 10 chapters/affiliates or more help fund the program;[10] ideally, none feels the need to make their own
  • 20 affiliates or language communities support the review of applications, making it solid, equal and transparent[11]
  • Extended committee (core committee+local reviewers) with at least 20?? members[12]; total pool of reviewers (extended committee+application translators) covering at least 20?? languages.
  • 10 % decline rate or lower[13]
  • 0 scholarships declined for visa reasons[14]
  • ?? scholarships (full or partial): maximise the recipients and points of view earned with the available funding
  • 90 % of the recipients submit a "report"

See also[edit]

Resources used
Other references


  1. Default: only username; or only real name if no username is provided. Possibility to pick either of the three options during application.
  2. If they fail to do so, they won't be eligible for a scholarship in the next three years. Already in 2013, score was reduced to all previous recipients who failed to submit a report.
  3. Though the rules are sometimes tough and their consequences need to be taken into account. For instance, if all wikimedians of Africa need a scholarship we can't have any African member of the committee (membership prevents scholarship).
  4. Including basic helpers who agree to translate the application text to English.
  5. This doesn't create conflicts of interest because only the committee decides. We could use a blind evaluation by hiding names, but that would only prevent us from benefiting from close knowledge of applicants without making cheating impossible.
  6. TODO: Martin to write on discrimination
  7. A long-term impact should mean that attendees don't have to come back to Wikimania every single year in order to "leave a legacy" and improve their year-round motivation and relationships; or that they're satisfied with Wikimania and motivated enough to come back on their own.
  8. For instance, -25 points out of 100 for a scholarship 1 year ago, 20 for one 2 years ago and so on.
  9. WMIT's program had about 200 applications in 2013 with Italian representing about 3.5 % of the global active editors userbase. In proportion, global applications should be around 5700.
  10. Conservative number: same as in 2013.
  11. Non-financial support is easier to expand, but not less important: one wrong recipient less, or one great recipient more, is as important as a financial contribution for the same amount.
  12. To have at most 250 applications to review for each of them in the first screening, similar to the workload for the WMIT scholarships committee members.
  13. Was 12 in 2013, but much more in 2012.
  14. 15 in 2012!