2010-2011 AGM/Candidates/Andrew Owens
Hi, my name's Andrew and I'm based in Perth. I'm proud to have this opportunity to run once again for a Committee position in Wikimedia Australia, and am grateful to Brian and Adam for nominating me and to other members who have approached me over past months encouraging me to run this year. My time as an Ordinary Member in 2009-10 has given me considerable insights into the needs, strengths and weaknesses of the organisation moving into 2011.
In summary, my primary reason for running is to advocate for the development and implementation of a strategic plan for the chapter to be the committee's single major priority in the immediate future, and for our message, growth, activities and plans to be generated from this going forward. As the old saying goes, if we fail to plan, we plan to fail, and what has got us through the last 2-3 years will not be enough to get us through the next stage. Additionally, we need to seize the opportunity that the new breadth of geography and ability within the committee will present and use it to get things going around Australia. And finally, we need to grow our membership from outside the Wikimedia universe, as the inflow from the projects is declining. The experience of other mature chapters, such as WMDE, can inform our development in this regard.
Who I am in the real world
My full name is Andrew Owens. I was born in Northern Ireland but moved to Perth as a young child with my parents, and I've lived here ever since. My qualifications are a Certificate IV in IT (1999), which helped me get my first paid job; a Bachelor of Science (Business Information Systems, minor in Chemistry) (2003); and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (2009). I'm studying towards a Certificate IV of Business and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) with a view to teaching high-school-level maths in 2012. I have worked in a range of industries and careers, but spent the bulk of my time in some permutation of IT and/or customer service, and have had experience of working with policies in large organisations.
My 2009 nomination statement contains more information about my background.
I've been associated with Wikimedia projects (under the username Orderinchaos) for several years now, registering my first account on en.wikipedia on 22 March 2006 and becoming an admin on that project almost a year later on 11 March 2007. I now have over 58,000 edits including hundreds of new articles, a featured article and a few good articles, and have worked hard to improve more obscure areas of Australia's coverage (mainly local government and politics), much of which has required extensive library and archive research both in this state and in Victoria. I've been fortunate to work in en's WikiProject Australia which is a very strong group of co-editors with a wide range of backgrounds, opinions and expertise.
I have also uploaded photos and maps to Commons, mostly for geographic articles, and have coded some important historic documents from Western Australia to Wikisource. I've worked with editors from other language Wikipedias to build some relationships and maintain the quality of articles about Australia, primarily those about Western Australia and Australian politics.
In February 2009, I was privileged to become a non-voting participatory member / official observer of the Committee, per this resolution and a subsequent one. In August 2009, I attended GLAM-WIKI on a bursary and facilitated the Education stream, and in November I was elected to the Committee as an Ordinary Member, a position I've held ever since. In April 2010, along with Sarah Ewart, I represented the chapter in Berlin, Germany, at the Chapters Conference and once again ended up helping to facilitate the Education stream, as well as presenting its findings to the wider group.
What do I bring to Wikimedia?
I think my strengths have been carved out of experience. I'm a good team worker and team builder, I also work well on my own when needed. I have a lot of ideas and the energy to see them to completion if necessary, I'm a good "lateral thinker" and problem solver, and I have good people skills. I'm a good listener - a lot of views I have formed about Wikimedia and related actually come from conversations both with those in the membership and those outside it. In my own areas I am no ideologue - I often ask for ideas, as those who are used to the way I operate on en.wikipedia will confirm, and I'll take on any useful feedback, good or bad. Additionally, as of June 2010, I am a committee member of the Mathematics Association of WA and have gained valuable insights from their experience (as a mature organisation which has recently undergone a professionalisation process) which I can bring to Wikimedia Australia.
My views on the current situation of Wikimedia Australia
It would be no secret to anyone, I think, that for quite some time, Wikimedia Australia has not had a clear focus and that this has put a dampener on the enthusiasm which greeted the chapter's foundation and has limited its achievements. When the organisation was first set up, the focus and momentum was in getting the organisation established and in all the "firsts" which seem to occupy an organisation's early months. However, it's fair to say that at no time did we really sit down and ask ourselves, "Why are we here? What do we want to achieve? How will we get there/what steps are on the way?" This came back to bite us in the last 6 months, in my view.
Over two years since our official formation, I think that a refocussing to establish answers to these questions is critical to ensuring a prosperous and productive future for Wikimedia Australia. While in Germany, I noted the steps taken by Wikimedia Deutschland (probably the world's most successful WM chapter) early in their history to set up a meaningful strategic planning process, which was adhered to fairly closely while allowing for changes as circumstances on the ground changed.
It has also not gone unnoticed that our most obvious source (and historically, the most reliable one) of new members and initiative/momentum, WikiProject Australia on en.wikipedia, is not doing as well as it has done historically. It is therefore incumbent upon us to find activities and tasks which bring in a much broader community than we've traditionally been used to engaging. And in order to engage them, we need to know why we're here, what we offer, and what we want to achieve.
We have a unique opportunity coming up. If I am elected at the AGM, every mainland state will have one member, with the final member coming from either Victoria or Tasmania. Remembering back to the 2008-09 committee, which was heavily concentrated in two cities, this is a pleasing development. Additionally, at the end of this year we should be participating in the fundraiser thanks in particular to Brian Salter-Duke's hard work in getting approvals to conduct fundraising in each state and territory. So I believe we need to take advantage of the opportunity to engage regional participation, a cause which I've been espousing since the very beginning.
Review of the term
I was explicitly clear about what my priorities were last time, so I wish to address that statement point-by-point.
- Growth in membership - No action was taken with regards to growing the membership, but in terms of engagement/involvement, we initiated a small grants scheme to enable members to commence projects, and two members have successfully applied for them.
- Constructive communication - Sarah is working on our inaugural newsletter while I am working on the information pack.
- Regional participation - See below.
- Standard pack for presentations - After the IdeaScale process, our in-person planning meeting in January endorsed an information kit as its key priority for the term. I took the idea to Berlin where I had the opportunity to discuss it with officeholders from a variety of chapters, and got the plan completed in May. The components are coming together as I have time to construct them. I'm hopeful that the new committee will be able to offer active support in providing ideas and completing the pack.
- A focus on education - Craig Franklin, our Treasurer-elect, developed a Powerpoint presentation to be given at a school, and got to roadtest it at a suburban Brisbane high school, where it was well received. Additionally I have been in discussions with the Mathematics Association of Western Australia and through my role there have been able to engage more widely and build contacts. WMAU has, separately to this, met with at least one other organisation on this topic.
- Corporate governance issues - I believe we handled this well during the term.
What my priorities will be for 2010-11
It's been an experience learning what one can and can't do in this job. For example, I vastly underestimated the difficulty in getting motions up to get ideas moving. I realised how little the committee can actually do when the community leaves it to do everything (a point I know Sarah has also made before). And on regional participation, I realised through my own efforts here in Perth just how difficult it is for one person to get a project going that relies on state institutions. So here are my priorities (many of which I have already advocated for within the committee):
- Strategic plan - Our organisation needs one around which we can structure approaches and activities. At present we have a mission statement but it is "in the clouds" - it needs to be brought down here and broken into achievable steps taken with a known purpose if it is ever to be met. If elected I will do whatever is needed to help facilitate this, including getting outside expert help if necessary.
- Making things easier/more relevant - A large part of why I think the community aren't engaging with the committee is that we're working on stuff which requires an honours degree in something or other to succeed or meaningfully participate in. That isn't our membership profile, nor should it be - if it was, we'd have about 2 members. What we need is to make it fun and make it interesting - and bring it back to the projects, to Wikipedia, to Commons, to Wikisource, etc. The Indonesians succeeded in generating interest with their Free Your Knowledge project - this project met their particular needs but we need to find one that meets ours. This will allow us to grow our membership beyond the traditional Wikipedia group. Additionally we can encourage projects such as photographing expeditions and article drives and archives excursions and the like.
- Regional participation - In order for Wikimedia Australia to succeed we must aim to have projects in every state and region of Australia. It's important as I said last year to recognise that a "one size fits all" approach wouldn't work - we need to rely on our community in each part of Australia to interpret our mission. Methods which get the word out and encourage others to join us should get priority, especially if funding is coming from the organisation to make something happen. If this were to become a reality, we would have an extremely valuable recruitment device - "what does WMAU mean to Perth/Brisbane/Hobart/XXX" can be easily answered by a list of things we've already done.
- Educational focus, in particular enabling the creation of teaching resources developed with teachers, not for them (starting with a perspective of, what do they need from us?), and fully rooted in state and future national curricula. This would integrate aspects of all of the major Wikimedia projects (Commons, Wikisource etc) rather than simply being "a wiki for schools", and must account for the low prevalence of computers in classrooms, and the wide diversity of education which takes place. Assisting state bodies which conduct PD sessions for teachers and providing packaged material to them works as a "multiplier" in achieving Wikimedia's other objectives.
- Corporate governance issues - Ensuring we meet the highest standards of ethical conduct, professionalism and compliance to relevant standards, and also ensuring in fundraising or relationship-building exercises that Wikimedia Australia avoids conflicts of interest with outside organisations or causes. This is especially important in a time of change, as it's tempting sometimes to take shortcuts or to make exceptions. The 2008-09 and 2009-10 committees did well in this area.
I would like to thank those that nominated me and all those who expressed an interest in my running. I believe that I bring many useful ideas and skills to the table, and that I've had a chance to demonstrate this during the last 20 months in various ways. If I am successful, I hope that I will meet (hopefully exceed?) your expectations. And whether successful or not, I intend to give the elected Committee my full support. I look forward to continuing to work with you all.