“Imagine a World in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”
Every time I read this, I’m just bowled over by how audacious this vision is, how impossible it will be to achieve, and by how far we have come toward achieving it!
Now imagine a World where Wikimedia can direct the funds of those people who invest in our vision, to finance the projects that will best help us achieve that vision.
This too is a vision that will be nearly impossible to achieve, but I want to see how far we can go toward achieving it.
I am here to help the movement, and I think that this should be also the rôle of the FDC. I have been thinking for days about this question before answering and I have come up with not much more than this; what I have been trying to do so far with my Wikimedian activity is bringing content to the projects, raise awareness about them (no blind trust, thanks), helping editors. Sometimes you can achieve this making an edit, building a template or a bot, or taking photos; other times this is indirect like writing e-mails to start partnership with GLAMs and institution, making presentations about Wikipedia in schools and conferences or supporting other editors. Sometimes this projects can rely only on volunteer time and resources, some others you need money: you may need equipment, or a volunteer may have to travel long distances to reach a place/event worth documenting. The FDC should be there to provide resources to chapters and thematic organisations with, I'm sure, will come with new ideas to achieve the mission of our movement.
I believe the FDC has an extremely important role to play in shaping the future of Wikimedia, and by doing so, in shaping our contribution to free knowledge and free education. Wikimedia has a very important responsibility. The Wikimedia websites reach millions of people, and we should make sure that the money entrusted to us is directed towards improving the quality and quantity of content we disseminate for free. This is the task that the FDC has undertaken and it is quite a huge task. I think that our mission and vision are best achieved if we explore all possible paths, if we actively encourage initiative and innovation, wherever and whoever they come from. We already do an enormous amount of this work as volunteers, but there are some initiatives and tasks that are best supported with financial means. I am a contributor, I have been a volunteer organizing events, giving talks, I have served on Chapter boards, I have served as staff for Wikimedia, and through those different positions I have developed a comprehensive outlook of what can best be achieved with different means. By serving on the FDC, I want to make sure that the diversity which the Wikimedia movement originated from stays at the heart of our concerns and that we allow people to have the means to achieve the necessary programs that will allow us to grow and stand up to our responsibility.
My statement is pretty clear about this: I want smarter investment in technology and I want to help bridge the gap to the average Wikipedia editor, who is anonymous and relatively disconnected from Wikimedia or real-life events and relatively connected to, say, WikiProjects or ArbCom. Admittedly, I have an English focus; however, English is widely-spoken across the world. I understand that general model of the FDC at the moment is a reactive grantmaker (not actually the most common model) and I can work within that while also trying to expand purview to ensure that we maximize the effectiveness of our resources.
Good question! I would like to join because I want to help and I believe my experience and vision would be useful.
FDC is still a fairly new concept and it needs to continue developing its ways in terms of programme evaluation, data gathering, communications with stakeholders etc. I would want to be a part of that and I think that my education and profession could be a big help there. Secondly, I believe I would be as supportive as I would like to be: I come from the community and as a long term contributor and now a Chapter person I think I understand many needs and problems of FDC's partners. And as a big reason, I believe in Wikimedians - I would love to see Wikimedia Movement more global and distributed, moving more resources and responsibilities from WMF to the affiliatesove and competent Wikimedians all over the world, using local competence centres and networks of cooperation among affiliates/chapters. Off-shoring and distributing could be both cheaper and more effective, thanks to increasing the talent pool and enriching it with local insight, opportunities. This and a focus on volunteers is a direction I would like to advocate.
As a spender: a few of you already learned that I have no big issues with financing initiatives with proper argumentation and an active search for good projects; on the other hand, I am a fan of getting things done with less money. I would like to keep proposing this "do more but in a smart way" approach. I want to support FDC in expressing interest in new ideas and promoting taking best cases from other affiliates and creating cooperations, while encouraging to review costs and trim unnecessary expences.
This type of oversight is clearly within the remit of the Affiliations Committee, with oversite and approval of that committee's recommendations by the Board of Trustees. The FDC's mandate does not cover this type of oversight, except in a minor (but hopefully effective) way - explained below.
The Affiliations Committee Charter states 6. The (Affiliations) Committee will, upon information or evidence received, investigate the status of Affiliates and where necessary, recommend a change or removal of affiliate status to the Board of Trustees.
so I think it best that the FDC *not* try to expand its mandate into the Affiliations Committee's territory. Individuals on the FDC, however, have the same rights and responsibilities as anybody else to prevent the type of abuses implied by the question, so they should bring up problems on affiliates applications with the affiliates during the comment period (open to all individuals) and if necessary with the Affiliations Committee. In most cases, I'd expect an open and honest discussion of the problem will bring about the desired result. I do not see any reason the FDC members should recuse themselves from this type of discussion.
The place this might come up for the FDC is if a complaint is received after the comment period, or if an affiliate chooses to ignore comments of the type "Organization X in project Y actively discriminates against group Z." The FDC has limited powers to recommend funding for projects - it recommends funding for a general budget for the organization. Projects are only mentioned in the application as a justification for the overall budget, and affiliates may spend that budget as they see best. This is the right way to do it, since the FDC cannot micro-manage all the affiliates budgets. A project that discriminates against group Z, however, would *not* be a good justification for the overall budget, and *might* have the opposite effect. In general though, I hope that the FDC, as a committee - not as individual members, can stay out of this type of political question: it will have enough difficult work to do deciding which are the most effective proposed budgets (and indirectly, the most effective projects) to be funded.
Yes, truth be told I think that the measure of the quality of a project (as in "the metric to judge if a project is worth being funded or not") should focus more on general principles like: adherence to the movement vision and transparency of the operations. About transparency and inclusiveness, I second Delphine position: whilst we can set a standard we need to understand that usually the law of the countries where chapters/thematic organizations operate can have different requirements about these matters, this in turn are reflect culturally in what is perceived as sufficiently transparent/inclusive or not, so I think we need a "bare minimum" standard. Another interesting question is "how do we set reliable criteria for in itinere evaluation?".
Assuming that we actually did have established norms of transparency or inclusiveness, then yes, they could be used as a measure to withhold funding from affiliate groups who violate them. In short, if we have rules, and they are violated, then funding should not happen. The thing is, we don't. As far as I am aware, while there are a number of guidelines and requirements to become an affiliate (for example the Guidelines for future chapters and thematic organizations and afferent pages), there are no strictly defined requirements especially for transparency and inclusiveness. I am a bit at a loss what you mean by those to be honest. Transparency as in "public financial records, public list of members, public board meetings or on wiki everything"? Inclusiveness such as "anyone can become a member, everyone IS a member by default or everyone can vote on board resolutions"? Those two fields, transparency and inclusiveness, will definitely have to be accomodated depending on culture, legal framework and common sense in the way we recognize affiliate organisations. I don't see at this stage any "norms" that we can pretend to uphold by granting or withholding funding. I do think, however, that we should be working further on common standards (among which standards of transparency or inclusiveness) to allow us to have a common ground for successful evaluation.
Clearly transparency is a major requirement for receiving funding, as we can't recommend that a group be funded if we don't understand how effective they are or what they're doing. I also agree with the general comments from others, such as notafish above, in that transparency is a very broad standard. Inclusiveness is important as well, although again, it's a broad word. These communities naturally exclude people over time, as anyone who has edited Wikipedia can attest to, with frequent (and necessary) blocks and bans.
As a principle, certainly yes: violating fundamental standards like transparency, inclusiveness (and coherence with Movement's goals, efficiacy etc.) is a substantial reason for financial consequences. Each recognized misbehaviour needs to be assessed, an improvement plan should be discussed and implemented, and the FDC should consider a reduction or complete withdrawal of funds. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done and the implementation will require a lot of work. Currently we are lacking guidelines in terms of transparency and inclusiveness so they need to be discussed, agreed and written. To my best knowledge, we have not found proper metrics and benchmarks in these (and many other) areas and we are not even aware of local regulations, so the evaluation may be problematic and disputable. Even the term "inclusiveness" is debatable. The problem has been highlighted in general and some steps have been taken (here spotlights on Programme Evaluation people in WMF!), while some other are yet to come (trainings for Chapters/Affiliates, farther peer reviews and a research initiative by WCA). Now we need a process in making these guideliness, minima and criteria. And to write it clearly: my case is not increasing a bureaucracy and worsening the situation of affiliates; I believe affiliates should be stronger and more visible. However, I think these standards would be helpful for everyone: WMF (as an evaluator AND an org wchich should be transparent etc.) and Affiliates to perform their tasks better and Wikimedians to monitor them.
Do you think that the entities should be required to describe their goals as precisely as possible, and as close to SMART requirements as viable? Also, do you think that all projects have to have quantifiable and measurable results, or should it be sometimes not required? Pundit (talk) 13:33, 14 June 2013 (UTC)
SMART goals are a smart way of planning. The FDC may have to work hard to get all applicants to adopt this method, but it will be worth it. From my reading of this year's proposals almost all applicants need to work on this, right from the beginning. The FDC needs to see Specific and Measurable plans, or there is just no way to do a proper evaluation. If one group plans to "get a lot of people together" and another wants to have "a bunch of meetings" - all else equal - the FDC will have no way to distinguish between them. But if one plans to have two meetings attracting 200 people, and the other plans for 3 or 4 meetings, attracting 40 people, the FDC will have some understanding of which one, or both, should be funded. And the applicants will have a better start in planning the meetings and reaching their goals. People can be afraid to put down specifics, probably because they are afraid to be judged (but the FDC, for better or worse, is required to judge possibly competing plans), or they may be afraid of failing to reach these specific goals. The FDC must be careful to understand that results that are quite different from the stated goals may in fact still be quite acceptable, and applicants should understand that if they do not sometimes fail to meet their goals, they are probably not aiming high enough. To quote Daniel Burnham "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work."
I think that approches like the SMART one are the way to go to do The Right Thing(TM) in general. That said I don't think we should impose this kind of approach. Project submitted to the FDC can be very diverse and as I said in my candidate statement, bureacracy should be limited and most importantly should not be a goal per sé. We want measurable project because we want to be able to: 1) explain how donors money are used 2) learn to make better projects from what we did in the past. So, if for big projects and chapters SMART projects are a natural request I would not say the same for all organisations.
SMART goals are a very good start when trying to map out the annual plan of an entity, as they tend to give a frame for thought and drive discussions in a constructive way. In my experience however, they only serve if a- they are well thought out and b- if they are critically assessed during and after the defined amount of time (as in T). In short, SMART goals are only smart if they are revisited periodically to assess how implementation actually is following the SMART planning. Trying to be as precise as possible in goal definition is a good exercise, but we should be careful not to let precision kill innovation and creativity to the point where the accuracy of planning does not leave room for opportunities to change the course of a program. The same applies to quantifiable and measurable results. I think they should be required, because they do give an idea of what needs to be achieved, but the FDC should be careful not to assess programs and track records only on a success/failure basis based on figures. Wikimedia's mission is inscribed in a field that is rapidly shifting and evolving and we should be sharply aware that failures sometimes will do more for shaping our future actions than actual achievement of quantifiable goals.
Yes, I agree with others that SMART goals are important for several reasons and probably most importantly for the organizations themselves. I've also been a fan of Givewell and evidence-based philanthropy movement, which incidentally has been discussing a less quantitative approach recently ("The moral case for giving doesn’t rely on questionable quantitative estimates"). As my statement alludes to, I probably have a relatively strict philosophy about handing out money, but the entities are likely to argue that without resources, it is not possible for them to come up with detailed strategic plans. I think there's probably some truth to this argument. These chapters are sometimes fairly small; Wikimedia France is 470 members (that might sound like a lot, but large towns in the US might have a few local nonprofits with more members) while Wikimedia HK has only 40 members in a city of 7 million. These members probably became Wikimedia volunteers to edit content or out of philosophy, not to become program officers, and may not have the ability to manage or oversee these organizations effectively. Do we then just abandon our foothold in a region, or do we take a chance? If we want to take a chance, is it appropriate to take that chance on a group if we're not sure they have the oversight and management skills, or vision? I'm not sure how to answer this question.
As this process evolves, I suspect that the proposal forms may improve significantly as the entities learn to write what the FDC wants, but the next step will be execution. It is much easier to promise big with a few hundred words than it is to deliver. At the risk of sounding overly cynical or suspicious of our Wikimedian brothers and sisters, we may find that verifying the veracity of reports could become an issue. Hopefully many of the goals can be verified with electronic data or other unambiguous documentation. If not, local financial support is a possible way to moderate this risk. Hopefully unnecessary in most cases would be formal assurance services, although large entities will probably need to be financially audited, including an audit of internal control. If over time the Chapters do not seem to be effectively executing and the FDC denies funding, the other question which arises is what to do with the money - does it all go to the WMF? Regardless of the FDC, I think the community needs to put more pressure on the WMF to spend this money on improving the technology platform, particularly in ways that the community desires rather than only imposed top-down. While this isn't directly an FDC issue, the FDC should keep in mind the opportunity cost of the spending by Chapters on outreach.
SMART(ER), or any similar framework, is a good help for affiliates' members and evaluators but mostly for the activists/boards themselves. In everyday work it is very easy to forget about strategy, planning and evaluation and limit yourself to methods and activities one is most used to or feels most comfortable with. It is natural to focus on things where you feel most experienced and just do stuff (tm). SMART(ER) can be used as a time for breath and a second thought, allowing Boards to reconsider their actions, establish relevant, specific and measurable goals to act and learn more efficiently, rework/drop ineffective programmes and judge them on a effects/costs ratio. I think every Board does it to some extent, sometimes it is just needed to be reminded and it is very useful while evaluating orgs and employees. Documented key learnings from such sessions etc. are a good sign.
However, mind that any SMART-like framework does not tell everything. Organizations still need to be aware of their strong and weak sides (like: great experience in events, active base of volunteers but weak connections with GLAM and advocacy groups) and match them with their needs. In result, for me it is perfectly O.K. to focus your limited resources on activities you feel the strongest, if you are trying to map your strategic goals/possible actions and widen your competences e.g. expanding your Board or volunteer base with people bringing new skills and connections. Worse performance/costs in some key areas does not need to lead to axing the programme or limiting funds - it may just be an inherent specific of particular activity or a country; it may also mean a need of help: expertise, training or resources for the Chapter.
What is more, not all measurable effects are relevant and not all relevant achivements are measurable, at least easily in numbers. It is not easy to fairly quantify effects in terms of many perfectly legitimate goals, like keeping up enthusiasm among volunteers or external partners (there are many random factors to filter out) or judge whether new pictures of architecture are more important than quality legal articles or vice versa. Moreover, as a social researcher I must say that a number (a.k.a. key metrics) is just a step to an explanation.
Summing up, do not worry Chapter Boards, I would not require a number for everything; in many cases a reasonable explanation is fair enough. I also believe that FDC should cooporate closely with Chapters, explaining them its needs to evaluate them properly. On the other hand, please expect a need to give some numbers and supplement them with a commentary.