On Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 5:23 AM, Sue Gardner <sgardner(a)wikimedia.org> wrote:
On 21 March 2014 13:23, Erik Moeller
We will update the wiki page at
with more information and details. I encourage
others to participate
in this as a collaborative process.
For everyone: following up on Erik's e-mail, the WMF has done a
postmortem of the Belfer situation, which I've just posted at the link
from Erik above. Suffice to say here that we implemented the Belfer
Wikipedian-in-Residence project with editing as a core activity of the
WIR role, despite internal and external voices strongly advising us
not to. That was a mistake, and we shouldn't have done it.
I want to apologize for it, particularly to Asaf Bartov, Siko
Bouterse, LiAnna Davis, Frank Schulenburg, Pete Forsyth, Lori Phillips
and Liam Wyatt, who tried to guide the project in the right direction
and whose voices didn't get heard. We did advise the Belfer Center and
the Wikipedian-in-Residence about conflict-of-interest policies on
enWP, and so far we haven't seen any evidence to suggest major
problems with Timothy's edits. That said, we didn't structure the
program in a way that would've appropriately mitigated the risk of
problematic edits, and we wish we had. We also wish we'd been better
able to support our partner organizations in understanding and
navigating community policies and best practices.
Hi Sue et al,
tl;dr: The underlying why did this happen still goes unanswered. Can we do
It's great to see that the WMF put this post-mortem together, and
identified the mistakes that were made in this project (or possibly that
this entire project was a mistake), and especially what decisions were
made. While reading the report, it strikes me somewhat as a concession to
some aspects of this mailinglist (repent! publicly! now grovel! louder!
like you mean it! again, but now on one leg!) which may be understandable,
but not all that necessary, and possibly counter-productive in that it may
create an atmosphere that mistakes are OK when you repent deeply afterwards
- while in reality mistakes are to be expected, and investigating them an
effective means for improvement of the movement. This is also where my
concerns in the report are.
I'll immediately concede that I don't have much experience in what is
customary in these kinds of reports. The important part of lessons learned
to me shouldn't stop at what went wrong, but why. The current "Lessons
learned" section only identifies the mistakes made, but doesn't go in to
the reasons these mistakes were made. It's possible that "lessons learned"
is customary corporate-speak -which I am not fluent in- for "mistakes
made". This leaves out the underlying causes, which are somewhat addressed
in the decisions made, but never made explicit, so I'm asking these
questions here. (transparency never hurts the movement - though it can
definitely sting the people involved at times, but let's rip off the
1. At the point when it became clear that this project was not a simple
pass-through grant but required programmatic work, the Executive Director
should have transferred responsibility for it to a programmatic area. In
general, it's a good practice to separate fundraising and programmatic
work, because programmatic staff have programmatic expertise that
fundraising staff lack. (For example in this instance, programmatic
oversight would have likely resulted in regular public reporting.) Having
programmatic work overseen by the fundraising department was a mistake.
So how did it end up at the fundraising department, and why didn't it get
transferred? Did the fundraising department regard it as "their" programme,
or did they maybe fear deteriorating relations with the donor of they
didn't handle the programme themselves? Were boundries between fundraising
and programmatic activities too vague, or were they deliberately
overstepped in the believe it would work out? Did the fundraising staff at
any point feel they were doing something outside their expertese? If so,
what were the causes they didn't solicit help? If not, do there need to be
clearer guidelines what is and isn't within their remit?
2. [T]he WMF acceded to that request, replacing the job description with a
new version provided by the Stanton Foundation and the Belfer Center. The
WMF didn't give that new version enough scrutiny before agreeing to it, and
didn't inform the people who'd been advising us. This was a mistake.
So why did this happen? Were the people who accepted the replacement
thinking people were "being difficult" and overstepping their boundaries?
Was this discussed internally? If so, what was the outcome, and why? Did
fundraising identify the concerns about the job description as an important
problem, or did it get more or less dismissed as meddling troublemakers?
Maybe promises or expectations were given to the Stanton Foundation and the
Belfer Center that left fundraising feeling there was no way back anymore?
3. [I]t was flagged internally at the WMF that paid editing is
controversial in the Wikimedia community. Despite these concerns being
raised, the residency continued unchanged.
Again, how, and why? Was it something that petered out with little
When I read the decisions made, they leave little doubt that something like
this in the narrow sense will never happen again. Decisions 1 to 3 take
care of that very well. That's a great win, but a narrow one, it is only
relevant in the realm of a very specific kind of donation. I think we can
do better. Decision 4: "The ED plans, with the C-level team, to develop a
better process for staff to escalate and express concerns about any WMF
activities that staff think may in tension with, or in violation of,
community policies or best practices. It will take some time to develop a
simple, robust process: we aim to have it done by 1 May 2014" is a step in
the right direction. Providing an effective escalation path can rectify
mistakes quickly after they happen.
What none of these do however, is provide a means how such mistakes can in
the future be avoided. The central question to me is unchanged, and
unanswered: looking at the mistakes made, why did they happen, and once we
find out that why, can we eliminate it?
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