Baseball in a Wikidojo

A dojo is a great place to prepare to write a wiki page! Photo licensed CC BY 2.0, Flickr user "superwebdeveloper".

A dojo is a great place to prepare to write a wiki page! Photo by Flickr user “superwebdeveloper”, licensed CC BY 2.0.

When we started the monthly Bay Area WikiSalon meetups a few months back, I was eager to try out a newly-invented way for a group to build a wiki page together. The purpose of a Wikidojo, as the event is called, is twofold. Of course, it’s a way to quickly build a page. But much more importantly to me, and to the purpose of the WikiSalon series, is that everybody involved learns something from seeing how other people approach the task. How does an experienced editor add a footnote? Where does a new editor stumble? How do you add a photo? What’s up with categories and talk pages, anyway? Watching somebody at work, and hearing them describe what they’re doing and why, can be tremendously informative and inspiring.

So at our June event, I proposed that we try out a Wikidojo, and write a Wikipedia article together. It was a delightful experience, though as you’ll see below, it didn’t go exactly as I had expected!

Eugene and Ben got the article started.

Eugene and Ben got the article started. If you look closely in the background, you can see the article growing…

Peter and Andrea continue the fun...

…Peter and Andrea continued the fun…

...Wayne, an experienced Wikimedian, showed Mike how to add a photo to the article. Photos by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, licensed CC BY-SA.

…Wayne, an experienced Wikimedian, showed Mike how to add a photo to the article. Photos by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, licensed CC BY-SA.

I offered the group a few suggested topics, and was pleased that they preferred my first pick. We wrote about the Ghost Town Royals, a little league baseball team (and league) founded a decade ago in Oakland, with the aim of offering kids an alternative to the street life all too many get drawn into. It’s a topic close to my heart: the league is in my neighborhood, and presents opportunities to kids with big needs. The topic passes Wikipedia’s rigorous notability standard, in that it’s been covered in several news articles; but it’s something most people would have a hard time learning about even if they knew what they were looking for, because much of the news coverage doesn’t easily show up in a web search. (You can see the results of our work at the link above.)

The Wikidojo model was invented by Nikola Kalchev, inspired by  Vassia Atanassova’s 2014 talk about educational approaches with wiki; and it has been conducted in many places around the world. I learned about it from my friend Asaf Bartov, and was immediately drawn to the seductively simple idea: everybody takes a seven minute turn at building a wiki page, as the “pilot.” Every pilot has a “copilot,” who engages them in discussion during their shift. And everybody else gets to listen and absorb what’s going on.

Asaf (and various online writeups and videos) had warned me of the common pitfalls. Above all, I was supposed to be rigid on one point…ensure that the audience keeps quiet! That’s necessary, I was assured, to permit the “magic” to develop between the pilot and the copilot, and to permit each team to approach the task in their own way without too much interference or distraction.

Well, there’s only one thing to say on that point: I failed. After the very first round, I was seduced by an eager participant to mix it up. Our second copilot wanted to act as a facilitator, moving around the room with the microphone, to take suggestions and comments from the audience. To be honest, I didn’t want to do that — I knew this was just the thing Asaf had warned me about. But I’m a sucker for enthusiasm, and our copilot had it in spades. So we gave that a shot. To my eye, it made it more difficult for the pilot, who had a cacophony of ideas coming from multiple sources, making it difficult to chart his own course — which is the main thing Wikidojo is designed to showcase. It was also difficult to get back to the original format, as the audience enthusiasm for voicing suggestions lasted into the later rounds. But, my preferences aside, a show of hands afterward (9 to 7 vote?) indicated it was actually the preferred approach. So, this might be a variant to be explored further. As I see it, there’s so much experimentation built into the activity to begin with, that changing the format midstream is disorienting. I’d advise anyone trying a Wikidojo for the first time to be clear about the rules from the beginning (one way or another), and stick with them throughout the event.

This photo was already stored on Wikimedia Commons, making it accessible for inclusion in an article. Photo by Flickr user "wildernice," licensed CC BY 2.0.

This photo was already stored on Wikimedia Commons, making it accessible for inclusion in an article. Photo by Flickr user “wildernice,” licensed CC BY 2.0.

Another factor that made it tough to stick to the original format was…me. I wasn’t so great at following my own rules! Several times, I jumped in with suggestions for the pilot and copilot. I tried to restrain myself, but in some cases I think it was the right thing to do. For instance, the topic we had chosen has only sparse media coverage, and because I had researched it prior to the event, I knew some approaches to searching that would prove to be time-consuming dead ends. I didn’t think having a team take up most of their seven minutes in a fruitless search would be very satisfying, so I intervened. And at another point, a new wiki editor suggested adding an image to the article. He wasn’t worried about it being perfect for the article, as he was mainly interested in learning the process; the pair seemed poised to run a time-consuming search for an image which, at best, would have yielded a photo under copyright, and complications that couldn’t be resolved in the allotted time. I again jumped in, to suggest adding an unrelated photo of a child playing baseball. I think it was a good suggestion, as it permitted them to successfully post a picture in the time allotted.

Overall, I had a lot of fun, and am looking forward to trying it out again. Before encountering the Wikidojo model, I have often wanted to engage a larger group in improving an article in person, but I didn’t see any effective way to do it. Edit-a-thons tend to follow a less formal structure than Wikidojo; at an edit-a-thon, smaller groups typically form. That’s a great approach too, but can limit cross-pollination of ideas. Wikidojo is much better suited to a shared experience and shared learning.

The informal feedback I heard was positive; participants enjoyed watching each other work, and a number of people learned new wiki skills. There were some good suggestions, as well; I have collected more detailed notes and feedback on this wiki page. The next time I do it, I think I’d choose a less esoteric topic, that’s easier to research, and that the audience already knows to some degree. But even with a few unexpected twists and turns, it was a lot of fun, and it stimulated some great discussion about how different people approach wiki.

Our June event also featured an informative and fun presentation by staff of the San Francisco Public Library and OCLC; watch the video here. And this month, we look forward to a meetup at San Francisco hacker space Noisebridge, in which we’ll focus on the Wikipedia article on basic income.

Posted in Beginner how-to, edit-a-thon, events, How-to, wiki, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, Wikipedia and education | Leave a comment

We create Wikipedia editors, not Wikipedia articles


Posted in conflict of interest, How-to, paid editing, Terms of Use, wiki, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

French Wikipedians discuss conflict of interest, paid editing

Editor’s note: Readers of this blog may be familiar with the ongoing controversies around paid editing on the English language Wikipedia. (See here for our past writings on the topic.) Wikipedia editors struggle with a number of issues around paid editing: conflict of interest, maintaining neutrality in our writing, tensions between volunteers committed to Wikipedia’s success and those primarily focused on their company’s interests, etc. These issues are of course not confined to the English language edition, or to the USA; but parallel discussions taking place across the ocean and in other languages can be difficult to track.

It was recently revealed that Racosh Sàrl, a public relations agency engaged in undisclosed and ethically questionable Wikipedia editing, was closely linked to the Swiss chapter of Wikimedia. In this post, we are pleased to present Gabriel Thullen, a Swiss Wikipedian who contributes primarily to the French language edition of Wikipedia, and one of the Wikimedia Switzerland board members who is not involved with the paid editing agency. Here, he describes the discussions among French Wikipedians that resulted brought the paid editing out into the open. Readers may also be interested in Gariel’s op-ed piece in the English Wikipedia’s Signpost.

French-speaking readers interested in the topic may wish to participate in a vote that is currently underway on the French Wikipedia.

Discussions on the French Wikipedia

by Gabriel Thullen

Gabriel Thullen, Swiss Wikipedian and board member of Wikimedia Switzerland. Photo CC BY-SA, Ludovic Péron.

Gabriel Thullen, Swiss Wikipedian and board member of Wikimedia Switzerland. Photo CC BY-SA, Ludovic Péron.

In February 2016, Jules78120 (an administrator on the French language Wikipedia) learned from a fellow Wikipedian, Nattes à chat, about the paid editing activities of a trio of experienced Swiss contributors operating through the PR company Racosch Sàrl. Their web site states: Continue reading

Posted in Administrator, conflict of interest, governance, paid editing, Statements of Ethics, Terms of Use, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia, Wikipedian in Residence | Leave a comment

Public relations for Wikipedia

How to move the dial to “notable”

Companies often want to put something on Wikipedia that has no independent, reliable sources to back it up. For Wikipedia, that’s a non-starter; no matter how many press releases or social media posts you issue, Wikipedia policy is unmoved. Sources must be independent to carry weight; and no, publishing a story on a content farm like Business Insider or the Examiner won’t work any better. So if there is important information about your company that you want covered, you need to do exactly what you would have done before the Internet existed: persuade qualified news reporters that it’s important enough to cover.

Executing a public relations campaign to support an article on Wikipedia is a very different practice from most current public relations strategies. Today, the field relies heavily on a social media componentmentions on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, relevant blogs and so on. Yet social media “mentions” are of little use when attempting to meet the notability standards of Wikipedia, either to begin a new article on Wikipedia or to add information to an existing one. Wikipedia standards demand that information to be included in an article must be published by third party, noteworthy media.  In a sense, the strategy is a back-to-basics public relations plan that targets newspapers, magazines and television networks.

One would assume that start-up ventures would have the most difficulty meeting notability standards. While that is often the case, we  have worked with clients who have been successfully operating a business for a decade or more, and whose significance is well established, but have nevertheless had their attempts at creating  a Wikipedia article rebuffed by volunteer editors who tell them they are “not notable.”  When they ask us how that can be, we do a media audit of the coverage the company has received. Inevitably, our research shows that these companies have earned little coverage in traditional, respected media outlets. As far as Wikipedia is concerned, they are not notable, no matter how many millions of widgets they have sold, or how many scores of satisfied customers have sung their praises.

These companies have had the Wikipedia “Ah-HA! moment.” In their early days, earning media coverage was a low priority; they understood their niche, and successfully built their business accordingly. They were succeeding without earned media. But once years have passed, thin media coverage becomes a problem; a more mature company has a legitimate interest in having a lasting record of its impact. Difficulty in getting a comprehensive Wikipedia article can be the most significant manifestation of this deeper problem, and can be what brings it to light. If your business isn’t on Wikipedia, customers, staff, potential investors and business partners may wonder what is wrong with the company. Certain businesses can get away with ignoring earned media for a while, but over time, it becomes a problem.

To move the dial from “not notable” to “notable,” a company must earn media coverage of  a certain type. Wikipedia public relations is not slick, and not particularly excitingbut it’s important. If a company has already made an impact, it may be time to get started generating news coverage:

  • Determine what basic information a Wikipedia entry would ideally include. For a corporation, this might include headquarters and satellite office locations, year founded, key events in company history, current leadership, and products and services offered.
  • Ensure that those bits of information are liberally scattered throughout all company content: press releases, videos, speeches by executives, website content, etc. Following this practice consistently will tend to lead to those facts being included in news coverage.
  • Ensure that the written materials, and the way key executives talk about the company, its products, services and mission, are consistent and include, whenever possible, the basic information to be found in a good Wikipedia article.

The time-honored press release offers an excellent platform for working on consistent Wikipedia article supporting messaging. Here are some press release basics for supporting a Wikipedia article:

  • It must be written in AP style and crafted so that when a reporter copies and pastes portions of it, the content can stand alone as a story as though a reporter had written it. It must have a strong lead paragraph, followed by the important information that it is intended to impart, and it must include quotes from one or two high-level company executives.
  • Quotes from company executives must say something that adds to the content. No throw-away quotes; make sure they advance the article.
  • The quotes should also include specific, relevant details about the company. For instance: “As an employer of 500 people that provides medical care, we are concerned about the pending legislation.” This quote, if a news outlet fact-checks it and includes it in an article, will offer a potential Wikipedia citation for the company’s size, number of employees and industry segment.
  • The press release needs a boilerplate description at the bottom with the subhead: About [company name]. It should explain, in layman’s terms, what the company does again, including specific facts. If this is too jargony, the reporter will not use it.
  • International, national, and local, and industry-specific versions: If the news release includes information intended for various regional audiences, the releases should include different information  and quotes in order to maximize the amount of information that a single piece of news can generate toward citations for a Wikipedia article.

A Wikipedia public relations campaign is, in a way, nothing newit’s basic Public Relations. A press release needs to include the “who what when where and how” that reporters were once mercilessly schooled on by grizzled editors. In this day of high-tech PR fueled by the latest social media platforms designed to make something out of nothing, basic PR techniques are often skipped. But Wikipedia’s unbending and shamelessly old-school standards keep the techniques relevant. If you want something on Wikipedia, it must first be in traditional media.

So if it’s notability you lack, and notability you want, you could do worse than follow the rigid discipline of TV’s fictional police detective, Sgt. Friday. In each episode of Dragnet, the poker-faced Friday would advise a potential witness, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” The facts are what you need to establish, if you want to move the dial to “notable” and get your business mentioned on Wikipedia.

Posted in Beginner how-to, conflict of interest, core, How-to, journalism, Terms of Use, wiki, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

Wikipedia edit-a-thon at Nueva School in San Mateo

Jan Patton is the research librarian for the Nueva Upper School, a high school in San Mateo, California.

Jan Patton is the research librarian for the Nueva Upper School, a high school in San Mateo, California.

This April, Nueva Upper School will host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon – a first for Nueva, and one of the first such events for any high school. Students will create original articles or improve existing entries in Wikipedia, the world’s largest, free-content, online encyclopedia.

I have planned the event with the help of Pete Forsyth of Wiki Strategies, a Wikipedia expert who specializes in using the site as a teaching tool in universities. I saw an opportunity to engage our students, who are extraordinary researchers, fully engaged in verifying sources and information at a level far beyond their years. While edit-a-thons have become increasingly popular among adults, Nueva will launch the first full-fledged edit-a-thon for high-school students. Nueva’s focus on communal, participatory learning makes our students extremely well-suited for this event. We’re excited to contribute our voices and our research to Wikipedia.

In the weeks ahead, students will propose themes they’d like to focus on during the edit-a-thon. During the event, Forsyth will bring colleagues to demonstrate the process, teaching the team how to use Wikipedia’s system and finding specific pages to update. Will the students tackle Wikipedia articles on economics, snails, or young adult novels? Stay tuned…

Are high school students at your school working with Wikipedia? Please let us know in the comments below!

Posted in edit-a-thon, events, open educational resources, wiki, Wikipedia, Wikipedia and education | Leave a comment

Wikipedia: Six hopes for the next 15 years

This post was originally published on

Wikipedia is an unheralded crown jewel of the Internet. And today, it turns 15!

Founded before current titans like Facebook and YouTube (and even before predecessors like MySpace and Friendster), Wikipedia has shown remarkable staying power. It is the most extensive compendium of knowledge ever, and the most widely read. But it’s more than a big, popular encyclopedia — it’s also the biggest collaborative project in history. Every month, more than 100,000 people pitch in, contributing to its ever-evolving, ever-expanding collection of knowledge. What are the important things we, as Wikipedians, should focus on as we look to the future? Here are some ideas:

  1. Form a strategy. The five year strategic plan 1,000 of its volunteers created in 2010 expired last year. There is currently no plan to build a new one. A strategic plan can help hundreds of thousands of individuals, as well as a growing stable of organizations, stay organized and aligned. It’s the best way to maximize our impact on the big issues. We need a new strategic plan, drawing from broad and deep input from our enormous and talented community. The items below could be part of such a strategy.
  2. Embrace our connections with age-old institutions. In many ways, Wikipedia’s goals and values overlap with what museums, universities, libraries, news organizations, non-profits, government, and other institutions have done for centuries or millennia. In our first 15 years, we shook those institutions up. In our next 15, we should help them evolve their practices to better serve an increasingly online world. We should also allow ourselves to grow and evolve with their input, as Wikipedia is not the first institution to try to change the world for the better. Wikipedia should be the nexus of how a grassroots movement can interact with structured institutions, to make the world a better place.
  3. Broadly invite the world to engage. Although we Wikipedians say the right words consistently, we have not attracted participation at the level we should. We count our volunteer base in the tens or hundreds of thousands, while those who give money number in the millions. But money isn’t what Wikipedia needs to thrive. When we invite people to contribute, we should focus on their time and good will, not just their bank accounts.
  4. Be better at collaboration. When people engage with Wikipedia, they should come away proud and inspired. We should strive to truly become the “encyclopedia anyone can edit.” If you look closely at the dynamics among Wikipedia editors, you’ll find great inspiration in some places — and utterly intractable, nasty debates in others. The problems have both external and internal causes: the inherent controversies in the topics we cover; nasty dynamics all over the Internet and society; and, notably, Wikipedia’s own policies and processes. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for what’s outside our control. But we should always seek ways to improve the collegiality of our policies and processes.
  5. Instill our values in the organization that represents us. The Wikimedia Foundation does much good for Wikipedia, but in many ways it has lost track of Wikipedia’s founding principles. Its board has grown increasingly secretive; its deliberations and objectives are often opaque. But the results are sometimes shocking: in just the last month, the Wikimedia Foundation has made not one, but two shocking decisions about its own membership. It has largely forgotten that its volunteers aim to serve the world’s readers, and claims exclusive ownership of that passion in many ways. There is a glimmer of hope for one value (financial transparency), but still much work to be done regarding values like operational transparency, inclusion, good governance, and healthy communication.
  6. Define and share our expertise. Wikipedians know a great deal about collaboration (big and small, online and offline), encyclopedia creation, copyright freedom, free content/open source values, and how to run a massive web site without a massive corporate sponsor. We should make the wisdom and knowledge we have accumulated more accessible, so it can inform other great new ideas — both within the Wikimedia movement and beyond. When somebody thinks, “who can help me think about massive collaboration?” the obvious — and fruitful — answer should be, “Wikipedians.”
Posted in core, governance, history, journalism, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia, Wikipedia and education | 1 Comment

Wikimedia Foundation’s strong step toward good governance

The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) today took an important step toward running its finances in a more transparent and accountable way. Luis Villa, the WMF’s Senior Director of Community Engagement, explained (see video clip below, ~10 minutes) how the organization had incorporated a November 2015 statement in which the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC; elected by the Wikimedia community, and largely independent of the organization):

…laments that the Wikimedia Foundation’s own planning process does not meet the minimum standards of transparency and planning detail that it requires of affiliates applying for its own Annual Plan Grant (APG) process.

That statement was a strong and pointed criticism — something that is not always well received in the Wikimedia world (or, for that matter, in the world at large). It’s criticism I echoed in a recent blog post, about the lack of transparency around major grants awarded to the WMF.

Nevertheless, the Board of Trustees approved the FDC’s overall recommendation without public comment on December 9, 2015; and today, Villa’s more detailed commentary reveals that the organization understands the problem; that the recommendation was timely, and therefore easy for the WMF to incorporated into its Annual Plan development process; and that the WMF has modified its internal processes to prioritize the kind of external review recommended by the FDC.

Kudos to all who brought this about — to the FDC, for taking the first step, and to the WMF, for incorporating legitimate criticism in a healthy way. Wikimedia’s stakeholders will be well served by the process, and I look forward to seeing the outcomes.



Posted in conflict of interest, core, governance, systemic bias, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia | 4 Comments

Announcing 15 for 15: Perspectives on Wikipedia’s Quinceañera

Here at Wiki Strategies, we are excited to celebrate Wikipedia’s 15th birthday on January 15, 2016. January also marks my 10 year anniversary as a Wikipedian.

Wikipedia is the world’s most extensive platform for collaboration, as well as being the most widely-read publication in history. It touches the lives and work of nearly everyone, in many different ways. So, to mark the occasion, Wiki Strategies will present 15 video interviews with leading thinkers in different industries and disciplines. How does Wikipedia affect practices like journalism, social justice, education, or politics? We’ve been asking around, and we think you’ll find these perspectives fascinating.

We will kick off this video series at Wikipedia’s 15th Birthday Party in San Francisco, one of many events around the world. The San Francisco event will be held on Saturday, January 16, 2015; it’s a half-day event, including presentations, panel discussions, video links with Wikipedians in other cities, and of course…CAKE! Read more and register here.

For this event, I will interview four people, and lead a panel discussion. Our panelists will include (subject to updates): Continue reading

Posted in events, governance, government, history, journalism, open educational resources, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia, Wikipedia and education, Wikipedian in Residence | Leave a comment

Grants and transparency: Wikimedia Foundation should follow standards it sets

Former Wikimedia ED Sue Gardner (right) championed strong views about restricted grants and transparency. Have those values survived into the era of Lila Tretikov (left)? Photo by Victor Grigas, licensed CC BY-SA

Former Wikimedia ED Sue Gardner (right) championed strong views about restricted grants and transparency. Have those values survived into the era of Lila Tretikov (left)? Photo by Victor Grigas, licensed CC BY-SA

I wrote and edited a number of grant proposals and reports on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) from 2009 to 2011. In that role, I participated in a number of staff discussions around restricted grants, and transparency in the grant process. I was continually impressed by the dedication to transparency and alignment to mission and strategy.

As of 2015, however, the four people most strongly associated with those efforts at WMF have all left the organization; and I am concerned that the diligence and dedication I experienced may have left the organization along with them. Yesterday’s announcement of a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation increases my concern. That grant is apparently restricted to activities that are not explicitly established in any strategy document I’ve seen. It is also not specifically identified as a restricted grant.

In the WMF’s 2015-16 Annual Plan (which was open for public comment for five days in May), this phrase stood out:

Restricted amounts do not appear in this plan. As per the Gift Policy, restricted gifts above $100K are approved on a case-by-case basis by the WMF Board.

There does not appear to be any companion document (or blog posts, press releases, etc.) covering restricted grants.

When I worked for WMF, four people senior to me maintained strong positions about the ethics and mission-alignment relating to restricted grants:

  • Sue Gardner, Executive Director
  • Erik Möller, Deputy Director
  • Frank Schulenburg, Head of Public Outreach
  • Sara Crouse, Head of Partnerships and Foundation Relations

They strongly advocated against accepting restricted grants (primarily Gardner), and for publishing substantial portions of grant applications and reports (primarily Möller). At the time, although we worked to abide by those principles, we did not operate under any formal or even semi-formalized policy or process. [UPDATE Jan. 28: I am reminded that Gardner did in fact articulate a WMF policy on the topic in October 2011. Thanks MZMcBride.] I am proud of the work we did around restricted grants, and I benefited greatly in my understanding of how organizational needs intersect with community values. These principles influenced many activities over many years; in public meeting minutes from 2009, for instance, Gardner articulated a spending area (data centers) that would be appropriate for restricted grants.

Today, however, none of us still works for Wikimedia (though Gardner retains an unpaid position as Special Advisor to the Board Chair).

In the time since I left, there has been very little information published about restricted grants. The English Wikipedia article about the Wikimedia Foundation reflects this: it mentions a few grants, but if I’m not mistaken, the most recent restricted grants mentioned are from 2009.

Restricted grants can play a significant role in how an organization adheres to its mission. Last year, Gardner blogged about this, advocating against their use. While her observations are valuable and well worth consideration, I would not suggest her view settles the issue — restricted grants can be beneficial in many cases. But irrespective of her ultimate conclusion, her post does a good job of identifying important considerations related to restricted grants.

The principles of Open Philanthropy, an idea pioneered by Mozilla Foundation executive director Mark Surman, and long championed by Wikimedia Advisory Board member Wayne Mackintosh, align strongly with Wikimedia’s values. The Open Philanthropy doctrine emphasizes (among other things) publishing grant applications and reports and inviting scrutiny and debate.

In its grant-giving capacity, the Wikimedia Foundation appears to practice Open Philanthropy (though it doesn’t explicitly use the term). It has published principles for funds dissemination:

  • Protect the core
  • Assess impact
  • Promote transparency and stability
  • Support decentralized activity
  • Promote responsibility and accountability
  • Be collaborative and open

Those principles are not mere words, but are incorporated into the organization’s grant-giving activities. For example, the WMF’s Annual Plan program, which funds chapters and affiliates, requires applicants to submit proposals for public review for 30 days, and to make public reports on past grants. The Project and Event Grants program also requires open proposals and open reports.

But the Wikimedia Foundation appears to still lack any clear standard for transparency of the restricted grants it receives. (There is less urgency for openness in the case of unrestricted grants, which by definition do not obligate the recipient to shift its operational priorities. But conditions are sometimes attached to unrestricted or restricted grants, such as the appointment of a Trustee; these should be clearly disclosed as well.) The WMF Gift Policy merely asserts that “Restricted gifts [of $100k+] may be accepted for particular purposes or projects, as specified by the Foundation [and with Board approval].”

Addendum: I have been reminded that in November 2015, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Funds Dissemination Committee — which advises the Board of Trustees on the Annual Plan Grants mentioned above, but has no formal authority over the WMF itself — voiced strong criticism of the Wikimedia Foundation’s lack of adherence to the standards it requires of affiliates. The critique is well worth reading in full, but this sentence captures its spirit:

The FDC is appalled by the closed way that the WMF has undertaken both strategic and annual planning, and the WMF’s approach to budget transparency (or lack thereof).

In December 2015, the Wikimedia Board of Trustees removed one of its own members, Dr. James Heilman — one of the three Trustees selected by community vote. Though the full story of behind this action has not emerged, Dr. Heilman has maintained that his efforts to increase the organization’s transparency were met with resistance.

What can the WMF’s current practices around restricted grants, and grants with conditions attached, tell us about its commitment to transparency? Can, and should, its transparency around grants be improved? I believe there is much room for improvement. The easiest and most sensible standard, I believe, would be for the WMF to adopt the same transparency standards in the grants it pursues, as it requires of the people and organizations it funds.

Posted in conflict of interest, core, governance, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

Wikimedia Foundation ousts community-elected Trustee

Dr. James Heilman, former elected Trustee, Wikimedia Foundation. Photo licensed CC BY-SA, Victor Grigas.

Dr. James Heilman, former elected Trustee, Wikimedia Foundation. Photo licensed CC BY-SA, Victor Grigas.

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation’s ten member Board of Trustees voted to oust one of its members. (Updated links: see these two email list threads: one initiated by Dr. James Heilman, the other initiated by Board chair Patricio Lorente. The Wikipedia Signpost has also published a thorough breakdown: Wikimedia Foundation dismisses community-elected trustee)

Dr. James Heilman is a founder of the WikiProject Med Foundation, the first and only formal, topic-based organization to grow out of a Wikipedia WikiProject (corrected). In June 2015, he was elected to the Board of Trustees. The election had a substantially higher turnout than any prior Wikimedia election; he earned the second-most votes of any candidate in the organization’s history. That election was regarded by many (including myself, as well as Wikipedia historian Andrew Lih in a New York Times op-ed piece) as a referendum on recent actions of the Wikimedia Foundation, including releasing an unprecedented software feature in 2014 that undercuts elected volunteers’ ability to edit pages, and ignoring an open letter, authored by myself and signed by more than 1,000 people, requesting actions related to that software feature.

Wikipedia is arguably the most widely read publication in history; but its Board of Trustees has very little accountability. Only three of the ten Trustees are popularly elected; all three of the incumbents were voted out in the 2015 election.

Posted in conflict of interest, core, governance, wiki, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia | 3 Comments