The recent UK report and movement governance

As part of the Wikimedia movement, there are entities such as chapters, the Wikimedia Foundation, thematic organizations, and user groups, established to support our shared global mission of freely sharing educational content. With the growth of these organizations comes a need for “good governance” — a recognition that movement entities are stewards for our contributors, donors and developers, who generously donate their time, expertise and money to promote the Wikimedia movement. Our organizations are called upon to use resources efficiently and carry out official positions for the benefit of the community. When they do not, they hurt the trust of the movement.

Last month, the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia UK announced the release of the final report and recommendations regarding the governance of Wikimedia UK. The review was conducted by Compass Partnership, a noted management consultant company with particular expertise in evaluating nonprofit organizations. Although the report includes highly specific recommendations to be implemented by Wikimedia UK, as a whole, it suggests several foundational themes that may be broadly applicable to all movement organizations. Each of us (including myself) who holds positions entrusted by our community may benefit from the learnings of the report. The following ones are worth consideration by all of us in Wikimedia organizations.

  • Maintain Respect and Professionalism. According to the UK report, strong and effective relationships are an essential ingredient of any movement involving multiple organizations in dispersed territories and cultures. To foster effective relations among Wikimedia groups, the report recommends that communications within the movement be respectful and professional. It also suggests that this tone should be set and modeled by those in entrusted positions in the movement – such as trustees, executives and employees. We need not avoid controversy and disagreement, but respectful and professional behavior benefits the community as a whole. It ensures we are talking about and solving issues that benefit the community in a constructive, objective and productive way.[1]
  • Keep Roles Within the Movement Separate from Your Personal Interests. The report suggests that, to best serve the movement, community members should keep their Wikimedia organizational roles separate from their own personal interests. For example, a trustee should never use that position within the movement to advance their own financial interest. Similarly, when individuals within the movement are acting in their personal capacity, for their own benefit, they should not rely on their Wikimedia title or office in any way, and they should be clear about it.[2]
  • Be Transparent With Regard to Conflicts of Interest and Cooperate in Resolving Them. As many of you may know, the WMF Board is currently considering the proposed “Guidelines on the Disclosure of Potential and Actual Conflicts of Interest in Requesting Movement Resources,” which were developed through a six-week consultation period with the community. The guidelines encourage community members to disclose actively their potential conflicts of interest when requesting Wikimedia resources, and also provide guidance regarding (1) what circumstances may constitute a conflict of interest, and (2) when to disclose such circumstances to the appropriate decision-maker within the movement. The community’s efforts to improve the handling of conflicts of interest are recognized in the UK report. The report specifically discusses these guidelines and highlights their value in providing a framework for the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest so that they may be fully evaluated and managed.

    The UK report explains that, in a charitable organization, the highest standards should be followed in managing conflicts. If an employee, officer or trustee of a movement entity believes there is any possibility that they present a potential or actual conflict of interest, this should be raised immediately with the appropriate decision-maker. Furthermore, the employee, officer, or trustee should be forthcoming and transparent with regard to all relevant facts, so the appropriate decision-maker may fully assess the potential conflict.[3]

  • Go Beyond the Minimum Requirements of Law. Finally, the report recognizes that the demands and values of the worldwide Wikimedia movement call for us all to hold ourselves to the highest standard, going beyond the basic legal requirements.

    The WMF Board encouraged as much in its Resolution on Organizational Best Practices, suggesting that “every organization in our movement must go beyond local regulatory requirements and adopt our movement’s unique principles and best practices around governance, transparency, and accountability.” In the words of the Board, movement resources should be used “to achieve the highest possible impact in the pursuit of our vision.”[4]

By considering these principles as they may apply to us individually, or the particular Wikimedia entities that we serve, we all have the opportunity to embrace our values while supporting a Wikimedia movement that mandates the highest of standards. As I believe we all agree, our community deserves nothing less.

Geoff Brigham, General Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation

Notes:

  1. For Compass Partnership’s specific recommendations on respectful and professional communication, see Recommendation 4.4, paragraph 43; Recommendation 4.5, introductory paragraph; and Recommendation 4.5, paragraph 46 of the final report.
  2. For Compass Partnership’s specific recommendations on separating one’s Wikimedia position from one’s personal interests, see Recommendation 4.4, paragraphs 27, 30, and 41 of the final report.
  3. For Compass Partnership’s specific recommendations on transparency and the management of conflicts of interest, see Recommendation 4.4,, paragraphs 26, 27, and 29; and Recommendation 4.5, paragraph 48 of the final report.
  4. For Compass Partnership’s specific recommendations on going beyond the minimum requirements of law, see the Introduction of the final report.
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