Meeting:2013 AGM/President's Report
Following is the President’s Report to be tabled at the 2013 AGM of Wikimedia Australia, as required by the Rules of the Association and the Act.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the hard work put in by my fellow members of the committee in the past year, namely Kerry Raymond, Steven Zhang, Graham Pearce, and Charles Gregory. A big thankyou must also be made to John Vandenberg, who resigned as President in March, but was always available for support in assistance as I took on the role.
It is something of a cliché to choose not to recontest an election citing a desire to spend more time with family, but thanks should also go to my partner, who has put up with me doing “wiki work” instead of being sociable too often over these past three years. Of all the things that I plan to do with my newfound free time, spending more time with her the one I’m most looking forward to.
Having only served a little over half a year (249 days, to be precise) as President, and lacking the mandate that comes with winning the position at an election, my capacity for change has been limited. However, in the time that I have occupied this position I have focused on three main areas:
- Changing the focus of the chapter from internal administration to externally facing outreach activities. While getting internal administration working effectively is important (and was the focus of my efforts as Treasurer), it is only a means to actually delivering on our mission.
- Attempting to effect a cultural change so that the management committee and wider membership measure and define success in terms of positive impact on the movement, rather than the amount of funding we can acquire. While funding is important, it should only be treated as a means to an end rather than pursued as a goal unto itself.
- Developing a culture of reporting and measuring. As a chapter we engage in a lot of programmatic activity that I believe to be worthwhile, but our record on analysing those activities to determine if they’re efficient or effective is patchy at best. Setting goals is useless if there is no follow-through after a programme has concluded to determine if those goals have been met.
The current management committee was elected at the 2012 AGM, and initially consisted of John Vandenberg (President), Graham Pearce (Vice-President), Craig Franklin (Treasurer), Charles Gregory (Secretary), and Steven Zhang and Kerry Raymond (ordinary members). After John and Charles resigned their positions for personal reasons, a reshuffle conducted on March 17 under the provisions of Rule 21(4) resulted in Craig Franklin being appointed President, John Vandenberg appointed Treasurer, and Graham Pearce appointed Secretary. Kerry Raymond was later appointed to the vacant Vice-President’s position. Following this reshuffle, Charles Gregory and Ross Mallett were appointed as observers to the committee.
It appears that there will be a heavy turnover of committee officers between this term and the next. I would suggest that this is an unavoidable consequence of a system where a heavy administrative and programmatic load is placed upon the shoulders of unpaid volunteers, often with little support from the rest of the movement. The upcoming committee will consist of eight full time members rather than six, and I hope that this reduces the load and rate of burnout in the new committee. However, in the long term I believe that appointing a paid General Manager or other qualified staff member will be required to reduce the day-to-day burden on volunteers, and ensure continuity between committee terms.
The management committee held two in-person meetings during the year, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney. In the case of the Sydney meeting, it was scheduled to coincide with an education conference supported by the chapter which John Vandenberg and Kerry Raymond were already attending, in order to reduce travel costs. While these events were useful, they need to be carefully planned and if possible held in conjunction with other chapter events in the same city to maximise the value for money.
The year has seen a number of administrative reforms take place within the chapter that, while not contributing directly to wider movement goals, will provide a foundation for future committees to build programmatic work upon. Of particular note are:
- Gaining legal recognition as a charity under the framework of the Australian Charities and Non-Profit Commission (ACNC)
- Putting in place a codified conflict of interest statement and register of interests for the first time
- Taking out public liability insurance to enable the chapter to hold “in person” events without having to rely on a partner organisation’s insurance
- A special general meeting held in October resulted in several changes to the Rules of the Association, including removal of the power of the management committee to fine members, making email (rather than postal mail) the default method of giving notice of general meetings, and removing some ambiguity in the provisions for providing copies of the members’ list to members. Other, more radical changes to the way the committee was elected were voted down at the same meeting.
The chapter also held two open planning meetings where the community (both members and non-members) could discuss the chapter’s plans and programmes directly with members of the management committee. The meeting in Melbourne was very well attended, while the turnout for the Sydney meeting was quite disappointing. Discussions of this nature also occurred in Brisbane (in conjunction with Sue Gardner’s visit to Australia) and Perth (in conjunction with the launch of Freopedia), although in these cases planning was not the prime reason for the meet-up and not all members of the committee were present.
Much programme work has been undertaken by the chapter and by volunteers affiliated with the chapter. I intend in this section only to report on the largest and most significant projects that have been conducted, but there have been many smaller projects executed throughout the year, and the time and effort that have gone into those cannot be overappreciated.
Freopedia is the first Wikitown project to take place in Australia, based in the Western Australian city of Fremantle. Using the QRpedia website operated by Wikimedia UK, a number of “QR Code” plaques have been placed on historical buildings and other places of interest around Fremantle that, when scanned, direct readers to relevant Wikipedia articles. This project was supported by the Fremantle Society and Fremantle BID, who generously provided the funding for the manufacture and placement of the plaques.
The key benefit to the movement of projects like this isn’t so much the plaques themselves, although they certainly do raise the profile of Wikipedia among visitors to Fremantle. Rather, the benefit is derived from the improvements to the articles that are made in preparation for the plaques to be installed.
The project was run by a small but enthusiastic team of volunteers in Fremantle and surrounding areas, and was assisted by the kind support of staff at the Western Australia State Records Office. Much experience was gained in developing a QRcode plaque that fit the needs of the project while also being resilient in the often harsh environmental conditions of Australia. This knowledge will be utilised in future projects and has been shared with other Wikimedia chapters abroad to assist with their own Wikitown projects. The project also garnered positive press coverage in newspapers and on radio.
The success of this project has led directly to further Wikitown projects in Western Australia, which are expected to come to fruition in 2014.
- Project page on English Wikipedia
- Report in “This Month in GLAM”
- Travel Report for Craig Franklin’s trip to Perth to launch Freopedia
State Library of New South Wales Wikipedian-in-Residence
The first official GLAM Wikipedian-in-Residence in Australia took place in 2013 (although another Australian volunteer has previously held a position with that title at a non-GLAM institution), with User:whiteghost.ink taking up a position at the State Library of New South Wales. This position entailed a number of responsibilities, including providing internal training for staff, organising Wikimedia events for the general public at the library, and providing a conduit for communication between the institution and the larger Wikimedia community.
An extensive library of documentation and reports was compiled during this period, which is hosted on the English Wikipedia at Wikipedia:GLAM/State Library of New South Wales.
The chapter’s outreach workshop programme continued. Events were held across Queensland (Esk, Toowoomba, Gold Coast), New South Wales (Sydney, Newcastle, Wagga Wagga and Broken Hill), and in Victoria (Bendigo) to introduce new editors to Wikipedia. Demand for these workshops is strong and the chapter was not able to satisfy all requests from external organisations for trainers and events.
While these sessions are very well attended, result in the creation of valuable content on topics of local interest, and elicit in very positive feedback from participants, there is little evidence that they are an effective way of creating new, long-term editors. In addition, the cost of sending volunteers and trainers to some of the more remote locations in Australia is becoming prohibitive.
While this programme should continue in some form, its structure should be reviewed to identify ways of delivering training more efficiently and at a lower cost per trainee, and to develop ways of following up with trainees after the session to raise the chances they will become regular editors. Alternatively, given the strong demand for this service, the chapter could consider charging partner organisations on a cost recovery basis for these sessions, developing them into an alternative revenue stream that also makes some contributions towards movement goals.
In January, Wikimedia Australia sponsored the NLS6 (New Librarians Symposium 6) conference which was held at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. This was in conjunction with the appearance of Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, at the same event (although Sue did not officially attend as a guest of Wikimedia Australia). This conference provided an opportunity for the chapter to introduce itself and the movement to hundreds of students and recent graduates in the Library and Information Studies space.
For some time, Wikimedia Australia has been engaged in a process with the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) to seek funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for a grant in order to tell the history of the Paralympics in Australia in an accessible and free format. During the year, ARC approved this grant request.
While ARC has agreed to fund part of the project, there is still a funding requirement from Wikimedia Australia of approximately $125,000 over three years. As at the time of writing, negotiations are still underway to determine how this will be managed. There are four critical elements for Wikimedia Australia here:
- Negotiating an ability to withdraw without penalty from the project if funding to cover these significant expenses is not raised. The chapter must not enter into a contract where a failure to receive further funding would leave it in danger of insolvency.
- It has been suggested that in lieu of cash funding, the chapter could instead provide in-kind support. This is an idea worth exploring, but the nature of that in-kind support must be agreed to before signing any documents so that all parties know where they stand.
- The ownership and licencing of any outputs from the project, including work that is not directly aligned with Wikimedia. It is my expectation that most if not all outputs should within a relatively short timeframe be released under a Creative Commons licence or similar.
- The design of the Wikimedia component of the wider project to ensure that its outputs are aligned with wider movement goals, and that the outputs deliver clear value for money to the movement.
The required contracts have not been signed, and there is still the opportunity for the chapter to pull out of this project without financial penalty. It is my recommendation that Wikimedia Australia’s participation in the project should only proceed once all of the above critical issues are unambiguously resolved.
While there has been a number of useful projects take place in the past year, there have also been a number of frustrating missed opportunities. While there are many reasons for these missed opportunities, I believe that a prime reason has been that the projects the committee has tried to introduce have been overly complex, requiring a level of funding and volunteer engagement that the chapter does not have the present capacity for. In particular, sustaining volunteer interest in projects over a sustained period of time, especially when those volunteers are required to travel or attend real-life events, has proven to be quite challenging.
It is therefore my recommendation that the next committee stick to smaller, more manageable projects that require less in the way of funding, and less in the way of on-site volunteer contributions over a sustained period of time. Each project should have a clear business case establishing an unambiguous fit to the Wikimedia Foundation’s movement goals, clear metrics for measurement and realistic targets for those metrics, and consider whether the proposed course of action delivers the best possible value for money to the movement. Projects that have the potential to develop further volunteer capacity within Australia should be prioritised, and the committee should not be afraid to decline proposals from members where the business case does not stack up.
On the question of gaining funding, it is my view that this is not a critical question at the current time. A significant amount of money (over $50,000) is in the bank, and there are no significant financial commitments on the horizon. It ought to be possible for the committee to run projects with significant movement impact without needing to ask for a further cent in funding. It is also my understanding from extensive discussions with the Wikimedia Foundation that the chapter is unlikely to be successful in any requests for significant amounts of funding until conclusive evidence of significant positive impact to the movement can be demonstrated.