Earlier this year, the board of the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind the free onlince encyclopedia Wikipedia, decided to substantially reform its governance structures (see “Contours of Future Wikimedia Governance: More Centralized, More Diverse“). Two issues were key in this reform: allowing for greater diversity of potential models of affiliation, in addition to the established model of national chapter organizations, and centralizing fund raising and dissemination in a newly formed body termed “Funds Dissemination Committee” (FDC).

Over the last two months, Wikimedia moved forward in both regards. First, the former “Chapters Committee” was officially transformed into the “Affiliations Committee” for making recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees on the recognition and approval of Wikimedia movement affiliates. Such affiliates need not only be traditional chapter organizations but can also be thematic organizations or user groups, as is explained on Meta-Wiki:

While chapters support and promote the Wikimedia projects in a specified geographical region or country (for example, Wikimedia Argentina), thematic organisations will support and promote the Wikimedia projects in a specified thematic field or focus area (for example, Wikipedia Astrophysics Editors). User groups, on the other hand, will be loose associations of local volunteers, highly variable, but still within the overall mission of supporting and promoting the Wikimedia projects (for example, a WikiProject Stroopwaffle).

The Affiliations committee has already developed guidelines for the creation of each of these three potential affiliate models (see, for example, the “Step-by-step Thematic Organization creation guide“). Interestingly, the previously discussed idea of “Movement Partners” – like-minded organizations that actively support the Wikimedia movement’s work – has not been implemented so far.

Second, on November 15, the FDC published its first recommendation to the board of how to allocate funds to eligible entities within the Wikimedia Movement, i.e. mainly Wikimedia chapters. Several points in this recommendation are remarkable:

  • The proposal of Australian chapter, while acknowledging its pioneering role in working with Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM), was rejected entirely due to “compliance aspects of previous grants, and gaps in the present proposal with regard to alignment and metrics”. Also in the case of the French chapter, the FDC recommends to allot only $94,000 instead of the $961,109 that were applied for. If the FDC wanted to state examples, it did; however, the FDC left a door open in allowing both chapters to apply again in a second round of proposals.
  • The largest chunk of funds – with about $4.5 million more than one third of the total amount of $11.14 million – goes to the focal Wikimedia Foundation Headquarters, with one FDC member opposing the decision. Seemingly, this FDC decision was the only one that was not made unanimously. Moreover, the FDC did allot exactly the amount of funds the Wikimedia Foundation had applied for, while in many other cases it reduced the amounts.
  • In the case of the oldest and by far largest chapter organization in Germany, the FDC recommends full funding, less Wikimedia Chapters Association (WCA) membership fees, leading to a total amount of to $1.79 million. Eliminating membership fees for the WCA is a delicate decision, since the WCA was founded by Wikimedia Chapters in the run-up to the establishment of the FDC as a counterweight to the Wikimedia Foundation – even though both sides publicly assert each other of their reciprocal support. Explaining the elimination of WCA membership fees, the FDC argues that the WCA “is not yet a legally incorporated entity, and may apply for FDC funding for start-up staffing and other expenses.”

The recommendations by the FDC are set to be approved by the Board of Trustees by December 15, 2012.

As far as the community of Wikipedians is concerned, both these recent developments in terms of broadening the scope of potential affiliates and of reforming funds dissemination have not dampened calls for further democratizing the formal Wikimedia organization. On Meta-Wiki, a lenghty page is devoted solely to discussing the different avenues for Democratizing the Wikimedia Foundation. Topics in the current “initial brainstorming” phase include the ‘Board Mystery‘ (“The board is a very mysteriously functioning body, nobody knows how it works or what it does.”), term limits for board members (“They can be limited to 2-3 terms, even if re-elected.”), and referenda on movement-wide decisions (“Do we need to improve or clarify the process for global votes?”).

Probably, the current changes in Wikimedia governance let the genie of governance reform out of the bottle. Wikimedia’s organizational structures have been revealed as contingent and open for change. I think it is safe to predict that the establishment of the Affiliations Committee and the FDC will have been just the beginning of a series of governance changes in the near future.

(leonhard)