Current voting members of the FDC at last year’s Wikimania: Itzik Edri (left), Liam Wyatt, Osmar Valdebenito, Michał Buczyński, Anne Clin, Matanya Moses, Lorenzo Losa, Mike Peel, and Dumisani Ndubane (not present).
Nominations for four new seats on the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) have just closed. The FDC is a volunteer WMF body that strongly influences how a high proportion of donors' funds are spent. The Committee was created in 2012 after the Foundation Board stopped all but a few chapters from directly processing donations raised on its behalf. The move brought the review and funding of most "eligible" affiliates under more centralised community review, and the FDC has since been the primary instrument for scrutinising their applications for recurrent operating expenses, and recommending to the Board who should get what. Thus far the Board has accepted all of the FDC's recommendations from the twice-yearly application rounds.
The FDC has been no stranger to controversy. In late 2015, with the Foundation in turmoil over issues of governance, funding, and leadership, the FDC stepped outside its official mandate to publish a scathing critique of the WMF’s performance. This step was well received: the WMF accepted and acted on the feedback (video 14:27), and invited the FDC’s comments in the subsequent funding round.
The FDC's two-year memberships have been designed around a leap-frogging process of yearly alternating Board appointments of four volunteer voting members and community elections of five volunteer voting members. In addition, the Board maintains a close relationship with the FDC through the appointment of two of its own members as non-voting FDC members (currently ex-chair of the FDC, Dariusz Jemielniak and Guy Kawasaki), and the participation of three non-voting staff members in FDC processes (Katy Love, Winifred Olliff, and Delphine Ménard, herself a former voting member of the FDC).
The current round is for the four Board appointments, and has attracted 13 self-nominees. Nominations closed just over a week ago, after which there was a short public Q&A. FDC staff will now confer with the two FDC board representatives to draw up a shortlist by 5 August; a decision on the final four candidates will be finalised in consultation with the Board, and announced 2 September. In the last, 2014 round of Board appointments, the factors weighed up by the Board's were reported by a Trustee as: "solid Wikimedia contributions (online or offline); complementary non-Wikimedia background, some in finance or budgeting or program evaluation/review (not all though and that's not a must); grantmaking/reviewing experience in Wikimedia; chapter leadership/exec experience or non-chapter contributor; geographical, age, language, wiki diversity; reasoned, analytical responses to the Q&A on Meta and during the interviews."
The FDC's charter explicitly requires membership diversity; in practice, this has clearly been a stumbling block, probably for a complex set of reasons that are difficult to resolve. Of the five ongoing voting members (recommended last year via community election), two are native-speakers of English, all are males, and all are from the global north; of the four whose terms are about to become vacant, two are native-speakers of English, three are males, and three are from the global north (depending on how the south–north boundary is defined). Among the 13 nominees, six declare themselves to be native-speakers of English and nine as male, with roughly eight from the global north.
Questions from Wikimedia community members involved the duties of Wikimedia affiliates regarding paid editing; depth of experience in evaluating grants; diversity (specifically, geographic and gender); the need for innovation, its tension with evaluating success by standard measures, and the value in sharing stories of successes and failures; the nature of what FDC money should fund; and its relation to the committee’s volunteer community.
Two candidates came to Wikimedia through high-profile roles with the WMF (which they have since left): Garfield Byrd as chief financial officer, and Bishakha Datta as trustee. Several have extensive experience in Wikimedia governance, including past service on the FDC itself. Several women, and several candidates from the global south, could increase the diversity of perspectives on the FDC. Some have very little experience with editing wikis, and point to their professional backgrounds for their main qualifications. Along with this elaborate matrix of backgrounds, the staff and Board will need to factor in the relevant expertise and experience required by a task that at certain times during the year will require a full-time effort by members. Former chair of the FDC and now member of the WMF Board, Dariusz Jemielniak, posed a significant question to all candidates on the Q and A page:
||... the FDC requires a lot of past experience in evaluating grants (not just writing grant proposals, which also is a must, but of having had a chance to read and compare 100+ applications for money), or extensive professional background in management, strategy, finance, or auditing.
Jemielniak asked for nominees' attitudes to this proposition, and how they saw their background in relation to it. There was surprising variety in the responses, revealing something of a clash of cultures between valuing on-the-ground programmatic experience and professional, technocratic expertise, although some nominees emphasised the need for both dimensions to be represented on the Committee. One answer asserted a strongly different view of the importance of grantmaking experience:
||Some of the best grantmakers I've worked with in foundations had none of these skills. But they had other skills needed to make good grants. They had domain knowledge or expertise. They had a vision.
The other answers echoed one or both of these positions, reflecting a range of views of the relative merits of grantmaking experience and programmatic experience.
The Board and FDC staff face a range of competing needs in their judgment of the nominations. Not only are there issues of diversity and grantmaking-related professional skills; there is the need to prepare the FDC, and grantmaking more broadly, to grapple with deeper issues over time. Among these are the inherent difficulty of predicting and measuring impact-value for money of programmatic activities on WMF sites and their readers; and the likelihood that we are entering a period in which the model for fundraising is under challenge. – T and P
Membership of the FDC since inception in 2012. Board appointments (dark green), community-elected appointments (yellow), non-voting Board liaisons (dark orange), and independent FDC ombudspersons (light green). Image from Meta
Geoff Brigham departs
Geoff Brigham leaves an enviable record of service as WMF legal counsel
With regret, the Signpost passes on the news that Geoff Brigham finished up on 18 July as general counsel and secretary to the Foundation, after five years of service. Geoff, who came to the WMF from a very senior role at eBay, posted a message to the Wikimedia mailing list expressing his love for "the mission, the Foundation, the Wikimedia communities, and my colleagues at work ... I stand in awe of the volunteer writers, editors, and photographers who contribute every day to the Wikimedia projects. The future of the Foundation under Katherine's leadership is exciting."
Executive director Katherine Maher replied to Geoff:
||You’ve seen the Foundation through a remarkable five years. You’ve built a tremendous team that is critical to helping the Wikimedia projects thrive well into the future. You’ve expertly navigated our challenges, focusing our efforts where we can have the most impact. Through your team, you've empowered the Foundation as fierce advocates for open licensing, privacy, freedom of information, and contributors rights, truly embodying the values of our movement. And as a colleague, you’ve been a counselor and voice of wisdom for our executive team and Board of Trustees.
Michelle Paulson will be interim head of legal, and Stephen LaPorte will be interim secretary to the Board (pending Board approval). Geoff will take up the position of director of YouTube Trust & Safety, managing global teams for policy, legal, and anti-abuse operations. We wish him well. – T