It’s time I step in with some basic thoughts on the grant process in general and
Wikijunior in particular.
I want to start by saying that my position with regard to the Wikimedia Foundation is that
our objective is to collect and disseminate knowledge in all its forms. This is our goal.
The sense of community and camaraderie that derive from this are wonderful, but our goal
is to collect and present the sum of human knowledge in a way that is freely accessible to
people anywhere, whether in print or online. That is why we have so many different
languages and projects. When deciding on new projects, our criteria should be this goal
alone: does it assist in the collection and/or dissemination of knowledge to a specific
Our grant process, which is still in its infancy, should respond to that. Our purpose is
not to bolster some virtual playground, where people can play around with their favorite
topics. In fact, this is the basis of the criteria for inclusion: “Is it encyclopedic?”
Our grants should focus not just on getting new servers, but on finding ways to make the
Wiki projects accessible and friendly to the most divergent audiences. I think Anthere
said it best when she wrote:“It is not a party.” We are committed to the serious work of
creating an encyclopedia.
Of course, this is totally in character with what funders are looking for. No one wants to
give money so that some random group of people can get together on the Internet. They want
to see bang for their buck (pardon the Americanism). They want to see that their money is
invested wisely in creating something. Any grant we receive will want to see some outcome.
They have a right to demand a product that is created as a result of their funding. If
not, they will not give funding.
At this point, perhaps I should clarify regarding a misconception in an earlier post. The
NEH grant was not dropped because people opposed it. We simply weren’t ready for it this
time around. I hope that next time we will be.
We are now in the process of requesting substantial grant moneys. It is no exaggeration to
say that the sums are of the six and seven digit kind. That kind of money will empower us
to do quite a lot. However, it also commits us to doing what we promise.
I myself am opposed to open discussion of this process. While this may sound un-wikilike,
it is obvious to me that the discussion leading up to grant proposals will be done in a
casual, informal style. Things may be said that we do not want the potential grant-givers
to hear. If it is open to the kind of public debate that is typical of Wikipedia, we are
seriously endangering our chances of receiving those grants.
I also believe that grants should be coordinated. Grants involve making promises (that we
can stick to). The grant process is not panhandling. Uncoordinated grant applications
could mean that six or seven people approach a certain group (let’s say UNESCO), asking
for different things and making different promises. It certainly impinges on our
credibility, especially when some of those same groups may well be coming to us at the
same time (and yes, we have been approached by some major charitable organizations). At
the same time, we do not want to be seen as being in a position of turning down grants and
perhaps burning bridges with organizations in whose good graces we will want to be, if
only at a later date.
To me, approval of grant requests means board approval. Believe it or not, there are some
people who do see a larger picture and know what is going on in various competing spheres.
I certainly don’t know everything that is going on, so when I ask for a grant, I turn to
them to inform various considerations I might have. That is not hierarchy. That is
informed decision-making based on consultation.
Back to Wikijunior. An organization approached us. It is a relationship we would like to
foster. The objectives of their request clearly meet our own goal of creating and
disseminating knowledge. In fact, it is a wikibook (or series of wikibooks) for a younger
audience. I don’t know when that idea was ever rejected, and the fact is that people have
shown quite a bit of enthusiasm for the idea. Obviously, it needs some working out still.
It is not a fork, just as Wiktionary or Anglo-Saxon are not forks. It will be the same
people working on the same material. I also believe that it will benefit our other
projects as well, both in terms of information offered and dissemination. If anything, I
would hope that people welcome the idea of developing educational materials for younger
children, whether they plan to work on them or not.
I am anxious to hear everyone's thoughts on this.