Chapter Meetings/Council thoughts by TD

From Wikimania 2010 • Gdańsk, Poland • July 9-11, 2010
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The following are the personal thoughts and ideas of Thomas Dalton (me) and are intended to stimulate discussion and debate on the subject of a Council of Chapters/Chapter Network/Wikimedia Network (the first idea is that we don't worry about the name until the end when we know what it will be doing - I will use the phrase "the Council" because I have to call it something). I'm writing this a few hours before the meeting (because I never got around to it earlier - sorry you won't have much time to read it) so it's going to end up as a stream of conciousness because I don't have time to edit it into anything else. I'll try and add section headings where appropriate. I suggest our discussion roughly follow the order used on this page, but we can make it up as we go along as we discover what issues there is interest in discussing.

The problem

Generally speaking, the problem this idea is supposed to solve is the current inability of Wikimedia chapters and other Wikimedia organisations to act collectively in an efficient and coherent fashion. I believe the existence of this problem is universally accepted, so I will not try to justify it. The first stage in our meeting will be to find out if this belief is correct - if it's not, we'll need to discuss it. We can't discuss solutions until we are agreed on the problem.

Steps towards a solution

I think the final state of Wikimedia governance will be very different to what exists today, however I think any attempt at radical change is likely to fail. Either we won't be able to reach agreement, or we'll reach agreement and implement it and it will all go horribly wrong because it will turn out we aren't ready. Therefore, I propose taking small steps.

The small steps I propose we take are to decide on one a small number of specific things we want the Council to achieve and design a Council that can achieve them. We can then add other functions on later. This might result in the original form of the Council not being optimal for what we want to do with it later, but I think amending the form of the Council will be a much easier job than creating it in the first place, since we'll have a Council to coordinate that decision making process.

Things the Council could do

I have three ideas for what the Council could do (only the 3rd is actually my idea, the rest are other people's). I encourage other people to suggest their ideas during the meeting.

Issuing statements on behalf of chapters

This is basically the idea described at strategy:Proposal:International_Wikimedia_Chapters_Network. A delegate from each chapter (and possibly other organisations) would discuss and agree on the wording of non-binding statements regarding the views of the chapters (etc.) on various issues.

My thoughts on this are that it is a good idea, but I think it is too radical to be the first step. I know it sounds very simple (and it is), but it actually involves delegating the power to state the views of your chapter on a wide range of issues. While the statements are non-binding, that is still a very significant power to be delegating. I think we should start by delegating more administrative powers (the kind of powers that boards might delegate to staff anyway) rather than strategy setting powers (as would be reserved by boards). Once we get a feel for how delegating works and get comfortable with it, we can consider more wide ranging delegation.

The Toolserver

There is already an idea for a "Toolserver Association" in the early planning stages. This association could end up as part of the Council. It would be a body that manages the Toolserver and consists of those chapters that have contributed funds to the running of the Toolserver.

I think it is generally agreed that this is a good idea as a standalone. I think it would make sense for it to exist under the umbrella of the Council since that saves on paperwork, etc.. It shouldn't be the only think the council does at first, though, since it won't include all chapters. I think including all chapters from the outset is very important to ensure the legitimacy of the Council.

Chapter grants

This one is my original idea, so I will go into a little more detail on it. At the moment, chapters that engage in fundraising hand 50% of their revenue over to the Foundation (in principle - the details are complicated and not important in this discussion). Also, the Foundation has a scheme for giving grants to chapters for various activities. My proposal is for some of that 50% to instead go to the Council and for the Council to take responsibility for paying grants to chapters.

There are two main advantages to this arrangement. Firstly, it makes a certain aesthetic sense to avoid money going from chapters to the Foundation and then back again. It also improves the independence of the chapters from the Foundation, since the Foundation would not control the purse-strings to the same extent.

Secondly, I think this is something we could actually get agreement on. There is actually no delegation of existing powers by the chapters, since the chapters don't currently have any power over the grants scheme. That means there is really no reason for the chapters to say "no", besides ideological reasons regarding the direction they feel the movement should be taking (those reasons should not be dismissed, of course). The organisation that is "losing" something is the Foundation, since it loses control of the grants scheme and the associated pot of money. I'm optimistic that the Foundation would be happy with that as long as it is confident the money will be used effectively.

As for the details of the implementation of the idea, the exact numbers need to be worked out later. My general idea is for all chapters to be involved in the approval/rejection of grant proposals, either directly or by electing a committee (I'm not sure which I prefer). However, chapters would get a different number of votes depending on how much money they contribute to the pot. This would be skewed in favour of chapters contributing less. The system used by the International Monetary Fund looks quite good - your votes are the amount of money you contribute plus a constant. That constant will be more significant for chapters contributing less, which means poorer chapters get disproportionately more votes.

Different chapters getting a different sized say is likely to be the most controversial part of this proposal. I think it is necessary, however. Firstly, it seems really unfair for most of the money to be contributed by the richest few chapters but for them to only get one vote each. Secondly, it is important that the money be spent wisely and the richer chapters are likely to be more experienced at making decisions on how to spend money wisely. This is not really a bad deal for the poorer chapters, since they still get more of a say than they do now, since at the moment no chapters have any say at all.

Other points for discussion

  • What role should the Foundation play in the Council?
  • What role should the Council play in the approval of chapters?
  • Will the Council have a secretariat of paid staff? If not, who will handle the admin?
  • Will the Council have some kind of president? If so, will it be an elected individual or a chapter on a rotating basis?
  • ...