2008-2009 AGM/President's Report

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Wikimedia Australia - We have only just begun

2009 has been an exciting and challenging year for Wikimedia Australia. As president, I have seen our committee coalesce into a more and more capable unit, our activities turn from nebulous possibilities into concrete realities, and our members take opportunities to spread the Wikimedia word around Australia.

We have only just begun! I say this as a statement of excitement, embracing the possible futures available to us. Our greatest challenge remains scrambling to take advantage of the opportunities available to us -- what a wonderful challenge to have. I also say it as a tempered assessment of our journey to date. As long as our dreams outstrip our capabilities, we have to keep perfecting our "crawl", in preparation for our "walk". This often means tedious red tape and formalities that seem to hold us back rather than push us forward. But learning to navigate the worlds of government, law, education, business and charity is a necessary activity, and helps to build an institutional knowledge, a foundation, that we need to have for the future. This knowledge can't be outsourced.

External outlook

The major event of the year for Wikimedia Australia was, of course, the GLAM-WIKI conference at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, in August. I have asked our vice president, Liam Wyatt, to write something about this event, as it was undoubtedly his "baby". (See 2009-2010_AGM/GLAM-WIKI Report.) I am proud that Wikimedia Australia was able to help make it happen, and I was especially proud of the volunteers who helped out through the course of the conference. Their professionalism impressed many attendees including myself.

Something of a precursor to GLAM-WIKI, the Backstage pass event in March was also a success, and an important first example of how we might start to build sustainable relationships with cultural institutions. Around a dozen Wikimedians visited the Powerhouse Museum and were treated to a "backstage" tour of some of the museum's most interesting collections. The PHM staff who attended also appreciated the opportunity to hear from real editors about how they work on Wikipedia. It is so far the first and only such event but I hope it will not be the last.

Throughout the year we have also seen signs that the tide is turning on Australian government attitudes towards the dissemination of public sector information (PSI). This is a topic closely aligned with the Wikimedia Australia aim of promoting the development of Free Cultural Works. To this end, we made a formal submission the federal Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Australian Digital Future Directions inquiry. Informal contact with relevant groups such as Creative Commons Australia, and politicians via GLAM-WIKI, also helped us push this message.

Since our inaugural AGM in January 2009, Wikimedia Australia has been represented at the following events:

  • Free as in Freedom miniconf, Linux.conf.au conference, Hobart, Tasmania
  • Open Day, Linux.conf.au conference, Hobart, Tasmania
  • Wikimedia chapters meeting, Berlin, Germany
  • Unlocking IP conference, UNSW, Sydney
  • Victoria EDNA ICT Workshop, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
  • Australian Historical Association annual conference, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland
  • Wikimania, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Wikimedia Multimedia Usability Meeting, Paris, France
  • MelHack, Lonely Planet, Melbourne
  • OpenEdge conference, Sydney
  • National Digital Forum, Wellington, New Zealand

These events represent a mix of technology, education and law events in Australia. They also show our participation in the Wikimedia chapters network and general Wikimedia movement. As a chapter I believe we have done a good job of staying abreast of happenings among other chapters, and calling on them for advice where appropriate.

We have an impressive array of contacts and relationships with people in a large number of different organisations. Developing this network has certainly been a success for 2009.

Internal outlook

Looking now to more "inward" facing topics, a mixed success was the receipt of four grants from five applications to the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) chapter grants application process, as well as a special grant for the GLAM-WIKI conference (see http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_chapters/WMF_grants/Reporting_Guidance for the list of accepted grants; the GLAM-WIKI grant was awarded outside the ordinary timeframe). The other grants received were

  • Board Development (for the committee to meet in person and undertake training related to their committee position)
  • Conference and signage (for paying conference attendance fees)
  • Outreach Conference (for an inaugural Australian Wikimedia Academy)
  • Printing and collateral (for "start-up" merchandise and stationery costs).

While it is pleasing that we were able to obtain these grants, and the trust from WMF to use them wisely, our activity in taking advantage of them since then has been disappointing. Plans for the Wikimedia Academy event fell through and this money has been returned to WMF. That was a sobering reminder that our first steps always need to be followed through.

One of the first decisions the committee made was to ask Andrew Owens and Gideon Digby to become non-voting participants in the committee. Their presence and input has always been welcome and I believe this approach would be a useful one for future committees to adopt.

Committee communication has been an ongoing topic of interest to me throughout the year. The committee primarily communicates via use of a committee mailing list, with a committee wiki also available. Meetings have mainly been conducted via IRC (similar to instant messaging), with one attempt at using Skype (internet telephony). We have held ten meetings since the 2008-2009 AGM, organised on an ad-hoc basis, which itself has been frustrating. I suspect the next committee will be better served by a fixed monthly meeting. We created a method to pass motions "by wiki", but this has not yet been used. Although we should know better than most how effective wikis can be, I think we have not found that sweet spot in our own communications yet. Committee meeting minutes have been promptly recorded by our secretary Sarah Ewart and published in a timely manner, which is a good precedent to have set.

In February, the committee attempted to undertake an in-person strategic planning meeting, but this was significantly hampered by the non-attendance of two committee members and the two non-voting members. This was difficult as Wikimedia Australia had few funds at this time, and needed to ask participants to cover their own costs - something I don't consider to be acceptable or sustainable in the long-term. As we are a national organisation with people on both coasts and a few places in between, organising meetings will always be a trade-off between costs (both monetary and time) and effectiveness. I am a great believer in the benefits of in-person meetings, especially for building trust and avoiding misunderstandings so common in text-only communication. With receipt of the "Board Development" grant mentioned above, I hope that a better balance can now be found. It is a great shame that this committee was never able to completely meet even once in-person.

Regarding our technical infrastructure, we made some slow progress on this front in 2009, appointing Andrew Garrett (User:Werdna) as our sysadmin, and thanks to the Linux Users of Victoria, gaining a new (free) server. This will be a big improvement as we will have more control over our own systems, no space restrictions, and it may make the website load marginally faster for Australian visitors. Migration of existing systems is partially complete, and ongoing.

Limitations of the memberdb software have also become more prominent, and there are plans to migrate to another system such as CiviCRM's CiviMember program. As we are likely to begin using CiviCRM for handling donations soon, it should also be easier for committee members to use a single cohesive system. We also opened a Paypal account and since August have been accepting credit card payments via Paypal.

Taking part in the Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser was another issue we were slow to grasp, mainly because of mixed unspoken assumptions about what our role in it would be. Timing the AGM to be the same month as the start of the fundraiser is certainly a mistake, and in future I expect the AGM will always be held before November to give the new committee a chance to settle in and become familiar with the issues before the topic is thrust upon them.

We still have a lot of progress to make on "internal" issues! Unlike external ones they are less likely to be noticed or appreciated, but things like setting up correct policies, or gaining deductible gift recipient (DGR) status, are insurance against future would-be mistakes and building blocks for bigger things in the future.

Thanks

I would like to thank all the committee members for their time, energy and expenses that they have put towards Wikimedia Australia in 2009. Discussion has been at times, spirited, almost always, respectful, and ultimately, we make better decisions for challenging one another. Thanks especially to Liam for his enormous effort on GLAM-WIKI, Sarah for her tireless (and often thankless) work on memberships and minutes, and Brian for his careful account-watching.

Thanks also to

  • Linux Users of Victoria, for providing web hosting
  • Andrew Garrett, our volunteer sysadmin

--Brianna Laugher, Wikimedia Australia president