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WMDE governance & accountability

In a recent blog post, Stu West detailed the governance and accountability practices established in the Wikimedia Foundation. He’s also asked other organizations to add their practices, which I want to do with this post.

Overview

“Wikimedia Deutschland – association for the promotion of free knowledge” is a Germany-based non-profit, charitable membership association created in 2004. It has received charity status in the same year and has kept it since then. Its primary governing document is the charter (English and German version) found at. Its mission is the creation, collection, and distribution of Open Content in order to support equal opportunity to access to knowledge and education. Main focus of the organization lies on the Wikimedia projects.

Wikimedia Deutschland has a wholly-owned tax-exempt subsidiary set up in 2009 for the sole purpose of collecting donations in Germany and transferring a portion to the Wikimedia Foundation and a portion to Wikimedia Deutschland. This is purely a legal construct to satisfy German tax regulations regarding sending donations into foreign countries. Formally, Wikimedia Deutschland’s CEO is also CEO of this subsidiary. The Supervisory Board of Wikimedia Deutschland also serves as the Supervisory Board of the subsidiary. All the disclosure and accountability standards we adhere to for Wikimedia Deutschland also apply to the subsidiary, including publication of the financial and annual reports, setting up and discussing an annual plan, etc.

Governance

Members Assembly

The governance structure of Wikimedia Deutschland is defined in parts by the German civil code (BGB) which requires that each membership association have a written charter, regular meetings of the Members Assembly, an Executive Board, and some minimum rights for each member that cannot be abrogated. Beyond those basics, membership associations are free to structure themselves according to their own needs, which we have used to adapt to the evolving nature of the organization.

Wikimedia Deutschland has three “governing bodies”: the Members Assembly, the Supervisory Board, and the Executive Board. The Members Assembly currently meets twice a year. Among its responsibilities are electing the Supervisory Board, electing the auditors, appriving the annual plan, receiving and deliberating on the annual report, approving the actions of and discharging the members of the Supervisory and the Executive Board, approving rules of procedure, determining membership fees (currently €24 per year minimum), and approving liabilities in excess of a certain minimum.

We have currently 1272 members, 927 of which are “active members” and 345 of which are “supporting members”. Active members are entitled to attend, speak, file motions, and vote at the Members Assembly. Supporting members may attend, speak, and file motions but do not have a vote.

Supervisory Board

Since November 2011, there’s a Supervisory Board consisting of 10 members elected for one year. Four of those members are also officers of the organization, specifically the President (currently yours truly), two Vice Presidents (currently Ralf Liebau and Sebastian Wallroth), and the Treasurer (currently Delphine Ménard). The Members Assembly elects each of the officers as well as six at-large board members. All board members are unpaid volunteers and are not liable for the organization’s actions.

The primary role of the Supervisory Board is to provide guidance and oversight. Among its responsibilities are appointing and removing members of the Executive Board as well as setting terms of their employment contracts, setting targets and objectives for the Executive Board, revising the organization’s strategic plan, overseeing/controlling the Executive’s activities, granting or denying approval for certain significant transactions, amending the annual plan, and serving as legal representatives of the organization in subsidiaries.

We meet about three times a year for a full weekend as well as twice a year for one-day sessions to prepare the Members Assembly. To better distribute our work, the Supervisory Board is divided into 11 departments with two or three board members each serving in one. As a result, every board member is usally part of two or three departments. In addition, there is one permanent committee (the Executive Committee) and currently two ad-hoc committees (Members Assembly and Strategic Plan).

The Executive Committee is charged with conducting the annual executive review. Over the past three years, we’ve designed an elaborate review process that takes into account day-to-day activities, strategic target achievement, and employee surveys. The review is typically conducted after the first Members Assembly and directly influences the variable component of the Executive’s pay as well as contract renewal, if applicable.

Most of our work is one on our board wiki and irregular phone conferences. Access to the wiki is limited to the Executive and our shared assistant. Time commitment for board members varies.

The Supervisory Board does not engage in the day-to-day activities of the organization. Members of the Supervisory Board may not be employed by the organization, nor can they accept any sort of paid contract.

Executive Board

As of November 2011, there’s an Executive Board which is tasked with managing the actual operations. It currently consists of one person, Pavel Richter, who serves as the organization’s CEO. The members of the Executive Board are paid professionals with fixed-term contracts not exceeding five years. Pavel’s current contract runs until the end of 2015 with renewal negotiations likely to start a year in advance. Having two separate and distinct boards implements what is customarily called a two-tier system, which is very common in Germany.

The CEO is the legal representative of the organization in and out of court. He signs all contracts, hires and fires employees, and is in general responsible for making sure the annual plan is carried out. All employees report to him, whether directly or indirectly. Within the framework of the annual plan and the organization’s rules, the CEO is free to choose what projects to undertake, what resources to use, and in general how to conduct the activities of the organization. He also prepares the annual report and financial statements and reports to the Supervisory Board and the Members Assembly.

Auditors

Each year, the Members Assembly elects two volunteer auditors. Auditors must independent of the Supervisory and the Executive Board and must not be employed by the organization either. They are charged with reviewing the financial accounts of the organization after the close of the fiscal year, in preparation of the upcoming Members Assembly. The CEO and the Treasurer typically attend the audit. The auditors may call for a special Members Assembly if they discover irregularities that warrant it. Starting in 2012, we will also hire an external auditor to review our books.

Our fiscal year is the calendar year, with all the disadvantages that brings from an operations perspective.. German non-profit tax law requires that annual reports for charitable organizations must be presented according to the calendar year, regardless of whether the organization chooses a different tax law. Charity status is also bestowed for three calendar years at a time. As a result, German non-profit organizations tend not to have fiscal years deviating from the calendar year.

Community projects budget

In March 2011, the Members Assembly approved a board proposal to create a new fund to support community-driven programs, the Community projects budget. The fund has a volume of 250,000 Euro for 2012. Allocation of funds is steered by a special budget committee consisting of three chapter members, three community members, and the Treasurer. There are two rounds per year where community members can submit project proposals for funding. The budget committee collects all proposals, invites some for personal presentations, and finally recommends a set of projects for funding to the CEO. The funding guidelines are determined by the budget committee in consultation with the community, the CEO, and the Supervisory Board. The CEO typically approves the committee’s recommendation without changes.

The budget committee is tasked with evaluating its work as well as the effectiveness of the fund itself and reporting to the Members Assembly. The fund has already been a great succcess in that over 100 project ideas have been submitted already with about 15 of them being supported financially by the organization. Please check out the Meta page for additional information.

Government regulations

Germany is a federal republic consisting of sixteen states. As a tax-exempt organization incorporated in the State of Berlin, Wikimedia Deutschland is subject to the laws and regulations of Berlin, the federal government, and the European Union. Non-profit tax law is determined by the federal government, as interpreted by the tax office in Berlin. There are extensive laws and regulations covering tax-exempt organizations which are mostly led by the principle that tax-exempt organizations must not use their tax advantages to compete with for-profit organizations and that tax-exemption is only granted for activities that benefit society as a whole, or at least large parts of society.

There are no German laws requiring disclosure of financial accounts for non-profit organizations, regardless of size. The tax office requires annual reports, but those are covered by the same privacy regulations applying to individual tax returns and are therefore not available to the general public. There are, however, a number of non-government institutions that have created codes of conduct for fundraising organizations which we voluntarily abide by. As a result, we make a number of disclosures on our website including annual financial statements, annual reports, legal representatives, staff, and major donors.

Finance & legal

The organization’s finances are governed by the laws of Germany, rules of procedure approved by the Members Assembly, the annual plan, and the operations plans. We currently have one full-time staff responsible for managing day-to-day financial activities. Most of our accounting, payroll, and tax return preparation work is done by an external accounting/tax advisor firm that specializes in non-profit organizations.

We have no legal staff of our own but rather rely almost entirely on JBB, a Berlin-based law firm specializing in copyright, personality rights, labor, and other areas of commercial law. They have been our representatives in all our cases where Wikimedia Deutschland was sued for Wikipedia content issues. JBB has also assisted or represented the Foundation in a number of cases originating in Germany.

Transparency

Main vehicle for transparency is our website. The staff publishes monthly reports as well as irregular progress reports on individual projects. All our financial and annual reports can be accessed on our website as well. We also employ Meta to publish drafts for our annual plan as well as our strategic plan.

In addition, Wikimedia Deutschland maintains a wiki (open to everyone, one-time registration is required) called the Forum aimed mostly at our members and the community for discussions on the Members Assembly and other current topics. The Forum also contains agendas and minutes of Supervisory Board meetings, motions filed for the Members Assembly, and minutes from the Assembly.

Mission oversight & strategy development

In 2009, Wikimedia Deutschland started a strategy development process culminating in a ten year vision and five year strategic goals. The strategic plan is subject to periodic review and updates based on the results of past activities. The responsibility to update as well as oversee implementation of the strategic plan lies with the Supervisory Board.

Based on these strategic goals, our staff prepare an annual plan to be presented to the Supervisory Board by the CEO in early September. The annual plan is fairly high-level and mostly names the top priorities for the next year and what parts of the budget to spend on it (2012 annual plan). Based on conversations and deliberations by the Supervisory Board, the CEO revises the plan and publishes it in the Forum for our members and the community to see and comment. In parallel, the CEO and members of the Supervisory Board conduct a tour through Germany where we present the plan and solicit feedback on it in five different cities. The tour is a direct consequence of the fact that, so far, we have rarely received much feedback online.

Taking into account all the feedback collected, the CEO publishes another revision of the plan in October, presents it to the Supervisory Board for final approval, and finally presents it to the Members Assembly to vote on in November.

Following the Members Assembly, our staff creates a specific project plan for the year outlining which activities and programs specifically to engage in, what resources are to be used, and how to measure success. The project plan is submitted to the Supervisory Board for approval and serves as the blueprint for the organization’s activities throughout the year.

Wrap-up

I know that was a lot, even though I’ve left out much of the detail.

One thing I want to add is that it took some years to come up with the governance structure we have today. The two-tier system was created just last year, for example. 2011 was also the first year that the annual plan was submitted to the Members Assembly for approval. 2010 was the first year an annual plan was created based on strategic objectives. We’ve only started publishing our financial statements in 2009. In the early years, our board was very hands-on, similarly to the Foundation prior to Sue becoming ED. I expect our governance structure to continue to evolve in the future, just as the organization continues to change and develop. There will be, for example, a push to regionalize our activities more starting in 2012, which may lead to actual sub-sections being started in two larger German cities. Having external auditors reviewing our books is also likely have an impact on how we understand and live governance and accountability. To make it short: this is all very much a work in progress that won’t likely ever come to an end as long Wikimedia Deutschland keeps evolving.

Alright, now I’m done. I hope this was helpful to you. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me personally.

Eurobonds oder EU-Bonds?

Der Begriff „Eurobonds“ ist mehrdeutig. Historisch waren damit Anleihen zur Stützung des EU-Haushalts gemeint, in Form von Projektbonds gab es sie auch tatsächlich schon: die Europäische Union gibt Anleihen aus und haftet als Institution mit ihrem Haushalt für deren Einlösung. Eine sinnvolle Sache, die man gemeinsam mit einer originären EU-Steuer durchaus ausbauen könnte. Zum Beispiel könnte man überlegen, ob die EU selbst konjunkturpolitische Maßnahem einleitet, die dann aus Steuern und Bonds finanziert werden. Das alles ordentlich durch das Europäische Parlament legitimiert wäre allemal besser, als das unüberschaubare und in der Verantwortung nicht mehr nachvollziehbare Chaos der jetztigen Rettungsaktionen. Ich nenne dieses zur Unterscheidung mal „EU-Bonds“.

Wenn heute von „Eurobonds“ die Rede ist, dann ist etwas ganz anderes gemeint: ein Instrument zur Stützung der Haushalte in den Mitgliedsstaaten. Das Konzept geht so: eine zu schaffende Institution gibt Anleihen heraus. Für die Einlösung dieser Anleihen haften die Mitgliedsstaaten (nicht die Europäische Union!), bedienen darf sich an den Erlösen jeder Mitgliedsstaat bis zu einer gewissen Höchstgrenze seines BIPs. Um mal einen Vergleich zu bemühen: das wäre in etwa so, als wenn sich New York, Texas, Kalifornien, Massachusetts, Mississippi und Alabama zusammentun, eine Anleiheagentur eröffnen, Anleihen ausgeben und alle gemeinsam für diese Anleihen haften würden – und das alles an Präsident und Kongress in Washington D.C. vorbei.

Welchen Vorteil hätte das? Primär die Mitgliedsstaaten, die auf dem Finanzmarkt nicht mehr sinnvoll neue Schulden aufnehmen können, weil große Zweifel an ihrer zukünftigen Zahlungsfähigkeit besteht, würden damit eine neue Finanzquelle erhalten. Technisch betrachtet sinkt für sie einfach der Zinssatz, den sie mit der Schuldenaufnahme zahlen müssen. Direkte Gewinner der Eurobonds sind ganz klar diese Staaten.

Ein sehr großer Nachteil dieses Konstrukts ist jedoch, dass die anderen Mitgliedsstaaten, insbesondere diejenigen mit hervorragender Zahlungsfähigkeit, zukünftig höhere Zinsen zahlen werden müssen. Das liegt schon allein daran, dass sie jetzt auch für die Schulden anderer Mitgliedsstaaten haften, was notwendigerweise die erwartete Zahlungsfähigkeit reduziert.

Das viel größere Problem jedoch, und das ist auch der Grund, warum CDU und FDP auf die Barrikaden gehen, ist moral hazard. Darunter versteht man allgemein, dass derjenige, der eine Versicherung kauft, danach diesem Risiko offener gegenüber steht und zu riskanterem Verhalten neigt. Ein einfaches Beispiel: wer ohne Sicherheitsgurt Auto fährt, tut dies in der Regel vorsichtiger, als derjenige, der mit einem fährt. Übertragen auf die Eurobonds bedeutet das die Gefahr, dass Mitgliedsstaaten sich zukünftig stärker verschulden, als sie es ohne Eurobonds täten, weil sie wissen, dass die anderen Mitgliedsstaten sie im Notfall schon unterstützen würden.

Tatsächlich ist diese Gefahr gar nicht so weit hergeholt, wenn man berücksichtigt, dass die strauchelnden Länder in den Jahren bis zur globalen Finanzkrise erheblich vom starken Euro profitiert haben, der ihnen Zugang zu billigen Importen und billigen Schuldzinsen verschafft hat. Warum genau sollte die erneute Bereitstellung einer billigen Finanzierungsquelle zukünftig nicht dafür sorgen, dass genau dasselbe passiert?

Dass der alte Ansatz der EU-Bonds derzeit nicht weiterverfolgt wird, ist ärgerlich. Noch ärgerlicher ist, dass die Mitgliedsstaaten abseits von den EU-Institutionen (und damit auch abseits ihrer Kontrolle) weitere Institutionen schaffen wollen, um Dinge zu regeln, die inhaltlich betrachtet durchaus in den Kompetenzbereich der Union fällt. Statt einer offensichtlichen demokratischen Legitimation, bei der man vom Europäischen Parlament noch sprechen kann, verhandeln die Regierungschefs und Finanzminister unter sich und basteln sich etwas zusammen.

Hier rächt sich, dass der europäische Integrationsprozess an der Stelle bestenfalls die Hälfte der Strecke erreicht hat. Eine solche gemeinsame, unabhängig durch die Bundesstaaten gestaltete Anleiheagentur, würde die amerikanische Verfassung glasklar in die Schranken weisen – vermutlich wäre sie schlich politisch im Kongress gar nicht durchsetzbar. Bei der EU hat man aber spätestens mit dem Lissabon-Vertrag versäumt, die Freiheit der Mitgliedsstaaten untereinander nach Belieben Verträge abzuschließen, zugunsten der EU-Institutionen zu beschränken. Das ist deshalb so fatal, weil die Akzeptanz der Europäischen Union und ihrer Institutionen in der Bevölkerung eh schon ausbaufähig ist. Wenn zunehmend mehr fundamentale Europa-relevante Entscheidungen an den EU-Institutionen vorbei getroffen und durch eigene Institutionen auch noch gefestigt werden, wird diese Akzeptanz eher noch abnehmen – und dann fragt sich erst recht, warum er eigentlich zur Europawahl gehen soll oder warum dieser Barroso wichtig sein soll.

„Warum ich für den Wikipedia-Filter bin“

Eine Gegenposition zu meinem gestrigen Post schreibt heute der geschätzte Vorstandskollege Attila Albert.

Übrigens: auf der WikiCon dieses Wochenende in Nürnberg wird es eine Diskussionsrunde dazu geben. Eingeladen ist auch Ting Chen, seines Zeichens Vorsitzender des Kuratoriums der Foundation und Befürworter des Bildfilters. Auch aus diesem Grund kann ich die Teilnahme an der WikiCon nur empfehlen.

Was ich von einem Bildfilter in der Wikipedia halte

Derzeit läuft innerhalb des Wikimedia-Universums die Diskussion, ob die Foundation ein Stück Software entwickeln soll, dass es Lesern erlaubt, nach eigenem Wunsch bestimmte Gruppen von Bildern auszublenden (vulgo „Bildfilter“). Hintergrund der ganzen Angelegenheit sind eine Reihe von Einzelereignissen rund um Mohammed-Karrikaturen, Inhalte mit sexuellem Bezug, und das eine oder andere aus anderen Gründen kontroverse Bild. Den Auftrag, diese Software zu entwickeln, hat das Kuratorium der Foundation im Juni 2011 erteilt. Relevant ist das Thema heute, weil in den letzten Wochen eine globale Abstimmung zu Details dieses Bildfilters statffand sowie derzeit ein Meinungsbild in der deutschen Wikipedia läuft. Wer mehr zu den Hintergründen erfahren möchte, kann sich auf den verlinkten Seiten informieren. Das Thema wurde ebenfalls von einigen Medien aufgenommen, darunter in Deutschland der taz, telepolis und heise

Soviel zum Hintergrund. Nachdem ich ein paar Mal gefragt wurde, was ich denn nun von diesem Bildfilter halte, möchte ich die Gelegenheit nutzen, meine Position zum Thema darzustellen:

  1. Ich bin der Meinung, dass jeder das Recht haben sollte, umfassend nach eigenem Interesse am Wissen der Menschheit teilzuhaben. Das schließt auch benutzerdefinierte Filtermechanismen grundsätzlich nicht aus. Ich denke nicht, dass irgendjemand gegen seinen erklärten Willen gezwungen werden darf, Informationen ausgesetzt zu werden.
  2. Die Wikimedia-Projekte, allen vorand Wikipedia, haben es sich zur Aufgabe gemacht, Wissen zu sammeln und zu verbreiten. Grundsätze wie Neutralität, keine eigene Forschung und Belegbarkeit sowie der universale Anspruch der Projekte drücken für mich klar aus, dass es grundsätzlich keine Einschränkungen bei dieser Aufgabe geben darf. Daraus folgt, dass Ausnahmen gut begründete Einzelfälle bleiben müssen, die stets erneut auf den Prüfstand zu stellen sind.
  3. Gelder von Spendern, die uns und unsere Mission des Wissen sammeln und verbreiten unterstützen, gehören meiner Meinung nach nicht für die Erstellung eines irgendwie gearteten Bildfilters verwendet. Das gilt umso mehr, so lange es eine Unmenge ungelöster Probleme in unseren Projekten gibt, angefangen von der völlig schiefen demographischen Verteilung, über die schrumpfende Community, hin zu den vielen Millionen Menschen, die wir bisher kaum oder gar nicht erreichen. Das sind echte Probleme, die meiner Meinung nach unsere ungeteilte Aufmerksamkeit erfordern. Der Bildfilter ist eine unnütze Ablenkung von dem, was eigentlich wichtig ist.
  4. Wenn es einen tatsächlichen Bedarf an einem persönlichen Bildfilter gibt, so steht es Dritten frei, einen solchen zu entwickeln und beispielsweise als Browser-AddOn unter das Volk zu bringen. Es ist aber völlig unangemessen, diese Entwicklung mit Wikimedia-Ressourcen, ob nun mit Geld oder Arbeit, zu unterstützen.
  5. Schließlich sollte uns allen bewusst sein, dass Wikipedia gerade wegen ihrer Offenheit, ihrer Neutralität, ihrer Aktualität und dem Fehlen jeglicher Zensur geschätzt und geachtet wird. Ich sehe überhaupt gar keine Veranlassung, für soetwas Unwesentliches wie den Bildfilter diesen Ruf aufs Spiel zu setzen. In Projekten, die sich primär aus ihren Ideen und Grundsätzen speisen, ist die Identifikation der Beteiligten mit diesem Projekt einer der größten Werte. Die Entwicklung eines Bildfilters durch die Foundation führt, wie insbesondere das Meinungsbild in der deutschen Wikipedia zeigt, zu einer völlig unnötigen Entfremdung zwischen der Freiwilligencommunity und dem Betreiber.

Kurz gefasst: ich halte nichts davon, dass die Foundation einen Bildfilter für Wikipedia entwickelt. Es wäre für alle besser gewesen, wenn das Kuratorium das Thema einfach ignoriert hätte, statt den kurzsichtigen Beschluss zu fassen, den es gefasst hat. Ich weiß aus meinen Gesprächen mit Foundation-Mitarbeitern und Board-Mitgliedern, dass es auch innerhalb der Organisation sehr unterschiedliche Meinungen und Ansichten zu dem Thema gibt. Daher bin ich auch überzeugt, dass das letzte Wort dazu mitnichten gesprochen ist.

P.S. Wie alles in diesem Blog stellt auch dieser Beitrag nur meine persönliche Ansicht dar. Sie ist weder vom Vorstand des Vereins noch von irgendjemanden sonst autorisiert oder gar begutachtet worden.

Eine europäische Wirtschaftsregierung

Wer sich die Muße macht, mit mir über die Europäische Union und die Finanzkrise zu sprechen, wird schnell feststellen, dass ich großer Freund einer wesentlich durchdachteren und verantwortungsvolleren europäischen Integration bin. Eurobonds, eigene Steuern, eigener Haushalt – alles sehr gern, aber bitte nur im Zusammenhang mit einer klaren Aufgabentrennung zwischen Union und Mitgliedsstaaten.

Insofern könnten mich, auf den ersten Blick betrachtet, die heutigen Meldungen zur „europäischen Wirtschaftsregierung“, zum Beispiel wie diese von Spiegel Online, freudig stimmen. Allerdings, das tun sie nicht, denn das, was da zwischen deutscher Kanzlerin und französichem Präsidenten ausgehandelt wurde, ist letztlich nur ein weiterer Versuch, die strukturellen Fehler der Europäischen Union und die damit verbundenen Anreize zu kaschieren, statt sie zu beheben.

Einer der größsten strukturellen Fehler der Union liegt darin, dass dieses Konstrukt in vielen Bereichen immer noch als Staatenbund wahrgenommen und auch so behandelt wird. Der Normsetzungsprozess funktioniert beispielsweise so, dass die Regierungen der Mitgliedsstaaten sich auf irgendetwas einigen, das dann von den Mitgliedsstaaten umgesetzt werden muss, gegebenenfalls mit Überwachung durch europäische Institutionen. Diese Herangehensweise war zu Beginn der Europäischen Gemeinschaften, als es noch um zweckbeschränkte Zusammenschlüsse ging, durchaus die richtige. Sie ist es aber spätestens dann nicht mehr, wenn aus der Union ein föderaler Staat werden soll. Genau das wollen aber viele nicht (mehr), also wird kaschiert. Es werden zahnlose Institutionen geschaffen, die versuchen sollen, mittels politischen Drucks, denn mehr hat die Europäische Union ja nicht zur Auswahl, systembedingte Anreize zu übertrumpfen. Eine Europäische Wirtschaftsregierung, die zwei Mal im Jahr tagen und in der dann über die Koordinierung der nationalstaatlichen Wirtschaftspolitik gesprochen werden soll, ist zahnlos, weil der Anreiz, zu Lasten der anderen Mitglieder Geschenke zu verteilen um nationale Wahlen zu gewinnen, damit nicht gebrochen werden kann.

Was noch nie funktioniert hat, ist der Versuch, volkswirtschaftlich Rosinen zu picken. Man will eine Währungsunion, aber keine Politikunion. Man möchte EU-weite Vorgaben, aber keine Institutionen, die sie auch durchsetzen können. Man möchte als ein großer, starker Wirtschaftsblock in der Welt wahrgenommen werden, weigert sich aber, die europäischen Institutionen entsprechend zu gestalten.

Das Verhalten von Mitgliedsstaaten wie Griechenland, Italien oder Portugal ist durch und durch rational. Wie schon bei Banken zuvor werden Gewinne privatisiert und Verluste sozialisiert, nur halt auf zwischenstaatlicher Ebene.

Teil des Merkel-Sarkozy-Deals ist auch die Verankerung der Schuldenbremse nach deutschem Vorbild in den nationalen Verfassungen der Eurozone. Mal abgesehen davon, dass die tatsächliche Wirkung dieser Schuldenbremse völlig unbekannt ist, schließlich gibt es generell keinen kausalen Zusammenhang zwischen Intention und Ergebnis, ist es so gut wie ausgeschlossen, dass die Eurostaaten alle auf deutsch-französischem Geheiß anfangen, ihre Verfassungen zu ändern. Hier hat man wohl vergessen, dass die Verfassung der grundlegende Vertrag zwischen Staat und Volk ist, den man im Regelfall nicht eben mal auf Zuruf bzw. aufgrund politischer Kompromisse ändert, auch wenn die Entwicklung des Grundgesetzes da etwas anderes vermuten lässt. Der Wunsch, das Ganze möge bitte bis Mitte 2012 geschehen, ist dann nur noch lachhaft.

Es stellt sich tatsächlich auch die Frage, was dieser Deal bezwecken sollte. Theoretisch könnte man als Intention ja annehmen, dass man eine Perspektive gepaart mit Entschlossenheit sie zu verwirklichen darstellen wollte, um letztlich die Märkte zu beruhigen. Wenn dem so ist, dann sind die gewählten Mittel dieser Darstellung gründlich misslungen. Wenn jeder vernünftig denkende Mensch weiß, dass es keine euroweite Schuldenbremse geben wird, und auch jeder vernünftig denkende Mensch angesichts der jüngsten „Erfolgsgeschichte“ neuester europäischer Institutionen weiß, dass diese Europäische Wirtschaftsregierung rein gar nichts ändern wird, wie genau soll dann so eine Darstellung eine Beruhigungsfunktion auslösen?

Wofür der Deal bestenfalls taugen könnte, wäre zur innenpolitischen Beruhigung. Sowohl die Kanzlerin als auch der Präsident können Einigkeit und gleichzeitig Beharrlichkeit bei den eigenen Grundsätzen demonstrieren, was angesichts aktueller Umfragewerte, den in Deutschland anstehenden Wahlen und insbesondere der Bundestagsabstimmung zum EU-Rettungsschirm vielleicht nützlich sein könnte. Ich habe da aber angesichts der inhaltlichen Leere dieses Deals meine Zweifel.

Wozu es ein Community-Projektbudget gibt

Lyzzys Post Meine Idee vom CPB ist nur wenig hinzuzufügen. Als Mitantragsteller unterschreibe ich das sofort. Es geht um das, was die Amerikaner Empowerment nennen: Freiwilligen sollen die Mittel gegeben werden, ihre Ideen zugunsten der Wikimedia-Projekte zu verwirklichen und, idealerweise, dabei über sich hinauszuwachsen.

Subsidiarity as a fundamental principle

In a blog post titled Fundraising, chapters, and movement priorities, Stu West, Vice Chair and Treasurer of the Wikimedia Foundation, raised a number of interesting questions today. They all center around accountability, stewardship, and effectiveness.

In this post, I want to provide some answers on how I would respond to his questions. But before I do that, let me go off on a small, but significant tangent on subsidiarity. What’s subsidiarity? In general terms, it means that, whenever a problem needs to be addressed, it ought to be addressed by the most local, least centralized entity that is competent to solve it. In other words, whenever a problem needs to be solved in a complex system, start at the smallest possible level. If that doesn’t work, go one level broader and try again. If that doesn’t work, go even broader and try again, and so on. It’s a guiding principle of, for example, federalism in the United States where, in general, matters that can be solved at the level of the states ought to be solved by the states, and not the national government. It’s also gotten a lot of attention in management where empowering staff at lower levels to make their own decisions has, in many ways, replaced a more traditional top-down approach. It’s the very opposite of centralism where a single entity makes decisions for all other (subordinate) entities involved, regardless of how low-level that decision may be.

So why is subsidiarity good? There are two main concerns were I find subsidiarity persuasive: effectiveness and political legitimacy. Let’s look at these separately.

Effectiveness, in the way I use it here, is a measure of how well a solutions addresses the problem it is meant to solve. It’s different from efficiency, which is all about achieving maximum effect at minimum cost or effort.

Subsidiarity can achieve a high level of effectiveness when the problem to be solved at a global level is actually a thousand distinct problems when taking into account local circumstances. To make that less abstract, let me provide a totally absurd, oversimplified scenario that still proves a point. Let’s say the problem to be solved is world hunger: in aggregate, the human population is not eating enough or not the right things to stay healthy. One possible (centralist) solution to that problem would be to decide that, from now on, every single human being worldwide will, on each day, receive a box of food consisting of one banana, one orange, two apples, three carrots, four potatoes, two hard-boiled eggs, one grilled pork chop, a cup of yogurt, two bottles of milk, four bottles of water, and four slices of white bread. The box of food will be produced by US government farmers in the American mid-west and delivered each day worldwide by US government employees by plane, ship, train, car, etc.

Does this solution have the potential to solve the problem? Yes, in theory. The contents of the box certainly provide all the nutrients most dieticians would recommend in a daily diet. Carbohydrats, fat, protein, minerals, vitamins—all there. Will it actually solve world hunger? Yeah, probably not. Why? It totally fails to take into account different local situations. It doesn’t consider that about a fifth of the world population are Muslims who won’t touch a pork chop, much less eat it. It doesn’t consider that about three quarters of the world population is estimated to be lactose intolerant, i.e. cannot properly digest dairy products, and therefore has no use for yogurt or milk. It doesn’t consider that import of food, in many countries, is highly regulated and subject to significant customs duties. It doesn’t consider that what is appropriate and acceptable to eat varies highly between the cultures found in this world. It doesn’t consider that people in Western Europe tend to have plenty, or rather too much, to eat, whereby such a food program would likely serve only to expand landfill and incinerator use. The solution is ineffective because it treats world hunger as one single problem, rather than a whole multitude of problems influenced by highly varied local circumstances.

What would a subsidiarity-infused solution to world hunger be? Well, it would first acknowledge the fact that situations are different at different places. It would also acknowledge that these differences need to be worked into the solution to be effective. It thus might set a general goal, such as that every single human being shall be provided with the ability to eat food with at least such and such calories, minerals, and vitamins. It might then determine actual nutrition levels in different countries to sort out all the places where it isn’t a significant problem. Of what’s left, it would then find or establish local partners in those places to solve the problem within the local cultural, economic, and political framework. As a result, not everyone everywhere will eat the same things – but that wasn’t the goal anyway. That people eat sufficient, healthy amounts was. The subsidiarity solution makes that possible, the centralist one rather not.

Aside from effectiveness, though, subsidiarity helps with something any non-anarchaic society faces: the quest for political legitimacy, i.e. the acceptance of a decision by the group affected by it. One of the characteristics of political legitimacy is that it’s distance-sensitive, i.e. the further the distance between those making the decision and those affected by it, the smaller political legitimacy becomes. Distance here means both geographical, but also influential distance. To use the food program above as an example again, decisions such as, one, there will be a food program and two, it will consist of delivering these food items, are made at a level very much removed from the individual affected by it. Also, democracy implied, that single individual will have very little influence on such global decision-making because he has to compete with nearly seven billion other individuals also clamoring for influence. So the acceptance for such a program will be rather low making fun things like boycotts and sabotage much more likely.

If, on the other hand, subsidiarity is king, you can get much stronger political legitimacy. Because here, local partners decide how hunger is addressed specifically. And at a local level, individuals have a much higher chance in getting their voice heard. They can influence how hunger is solved in their community. And, because their voice was significant, they are much more likely to accept the program and might even support it to ensure its success.

What does any of that have to do with Wikimedia and Stu’s e-mail? The Wikimedia movement is a world-wide endeavor. It envisions a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. Since access to and participation in knowledge varies between regions and cultures, the problem Wikimedia tries to solve is just like the hunger problem earlier: it’s actually a multitude of problems influenced by local circumstances. If you evaluated acccess to knowledge in Germany and in Botswana, you would get very different results and likely find that Germany has deficiencies that Botwsana doesn’t have and Botswana has deficiencies that Germany doesn’t have. As a result, the priorities for what to do in Germany would be vastly different from those in Botswana. Because of that, it makes a lot of sense to apply subsidiarity to the “Wikimedia problem”, provided that effectiveness and political legitimacy matter to you.

Subsidiarity, in fact, can be found in many places within the Wikimedia movement. Each Wikimedia project (i.e. Wikipedia, Commons, Wikisource, etc.) in each language has its own community with its own rules. Decisions specific to English Wikipedia, for example, are made within the English Wikipedia community, not on a central level. Similarly, even within these projects, there are often rules where decision-making powers are further divested to, for example, the editors engaged in specific topics. Similarly, Wikimedia chapters are established in a number of countries to organize and execute activities appropriate to their jurisdiction, subject to the will of their constituents. There’s no global body that decides what kind of events are to take place in different countries, or what kind of policies are to apply to verifiable sources, or what names users may take when they sign up in one of the projects. It’s all decided at the most local level possible and sensible.

On the other hand, where prudent, decisions are made at a higher or a global level. The different language Wikipedia projects all have in common that, what they are to produce, is an encyclopedia. If Gaelic Wikipedia wanted to decide that, instead of an encyclopedia, they want to produce a cookbook under that name, their project would fall out of the bounds of what Wikipedia is and an intervention would likely follow. Similarly, the Wikimedia Foundation, as a technical provider subject to United States law, has set a few global rules regarding copyright issues and coverage of living persons that could not be left to the individual Wikimedia projects, because doing so would have left the Foundation at significant risk of litigation and/or criminal prosecution.

With all that general stuff out of the way, let’s move on to Stu’s questions:

Stu: Is it right that 50% of rich country donations stay in those rich countries?
As Stu states, at least 95% of all money donated to Wikimedia entities comes from well-developed countries. Whether it’s right for half of that to stay in those rich countries depends on what criteria one chooses to determine “rightness”. But the question itself is actually a bit misleading. As Stu pointed out, $4.3 million or 15% was raised by chapters last fiscal year, $25 million or 85% by the Foundation whose largest source country is, by far, the United States. 95% of that would be $27.8 million, 50% of that would be $13.9 million. So, what he’s actually asking is: Is it right that $13.9 million of rich country donations stay in those rich countries?

The answer to that is difficult to tell, because, in reality, much more than that has actually been spent and, according to the Foundation’s annual plan 2011/12 will be spent, in “rich countries”. While the plan doesn’t outright specify how much of its expenditures go to places other than “rich countries”, It is possible to estimate the range of that spending. According to the plan, 44% of the projected overall spending will go to technology, 24% to administration, 23% to programs, 8% to fundraising and 1% to governance. It is safe to assume that close to all of administration, fundraising, and governance (32%) expenditures remain in the US as that is where the Foundation is located . Most of the technology spending and some of the program spending will likely also stay in the US. But, even if it were half of each, that would only amount to 34% of total spending, a far cry from 50%. But, if we accept that number, even next year, 66% of total Foundation spending plus most of the chapter’s spending will go to “rich countries”.

Now, the criteria that I would use to determine whether that 50% figure is right nor not is effectiveness and efficiency of that money spent. If achieving the goals set out in the strategy actually require 50% to be spent on Global South, then 50% seems like a good amount to spent. If it actually requires only 30%, 50% would be too much, if 80% are needed, 50% too little. Unfortunately, we really don’t know. The emphasis on the Global South just started last year and there’s been, so far, no evaluation of how much impact Foundation spending in the area has actually had. We simply don’t know how much money needs to be spent on the Global South in total, or even within the coming year, to achieve the goals set out in the strategy. But if we don’t know that, how are we to decide whether 50% is enough?

Stu: How do we establish solid movement-wide financial controls to protect donor funds?
If subsidiarity is accepted as a principle, the best to establish solid movement-wide financial controls way would be for all donation-handling entities to agree to a set of common financial standards and set up a structure to make sure they are enforced. Right now, neither those standards nor that structure exist. What we do have, are institutional arrangements within the Foundation and each chapter for financial controls that are often heavily influenced by the regulatory environment within which they operate. These arrangements are not, in general, intentionally aligned with any global strategy. There are also local auditors, although whether they are internal or external and which responsibilities they have varies widely.

So there are no global standards, such as a requirement to publish financial statements, or requirements to set out a budget, or requirements for conflict-of-interest policies, etc., yet but they are partially on their way. With this year’s fundraising agreement, chapters are required to submit a plan of activities with budgets for the next fiscal year in order to participate in the annual fundraising campaign. It’s a good step in the right direction. But it leaves much room for improvement because, for example, the entity that checks these activities plans (the Foundation) also engages in its own activities and also handles donations and there’s no one checking the Foundation’s activities plan.

One of the failures in this recent process has been that requirements have been set more or less unilaterally. I don’t mean that as an accusation, merely an observation that, so far, only one party has really pushed this subject forward: the Foundation. For the past couple of years, it has always been the Foundation who has proposed more/stricter requirements as a prerequisite to participating in gobal fundraising, basically using the fundraising agreement as a means to effect better financial controls. That’s unfortunate because it shows that while the Foundation has certainly spent time thinking about sound financial stewardship of donations and has been creative in finding ways to ensure that on a global level, the chapters have not. It’s unfortunate because that responsibility doesn’t rest with the Foundation alone—it rests with all of us.

My approach to “how to establish solid movement-wide financial controls” would be to start conversations between Foundation and chapters both on a set of global minimum standards and a solid and independent reporting/enforcement structure. One option could be the creation of a global Wikimedia Audit Committee that takes on responsibility for collecting continuous reports from chapters and Foundation, checking compliance with the global standards in cooperation with chapter and Foundation auditors, investigating violations of those standards, and working with these local auditors to correct them. It’s important to involve the local auditors, though, because reporting and enforcement will always be influenced by local circumstances, especially the legal framework of the jurisdiction under which the entity operates. It also makes sure that political legitimacy isn’t lost due to the long distance of influence between an individual community member and this oversight body. Finally, it acknowledges and strengthens the fact that chapter leadership is first and foremost accountable to their local constituents.

Stu: >Who is ultimately responsible for stewarding donors’ contributions?
On a moral level, I think everyone of us, i.e. every Wikimedian, is responsible for that. On a structural level, right now, there’s not a single “who” that is responsible for stewarding all of donor’s contributions, and the principle of subsidiarity wouldn’t raise the prospect of there ever being exactly one.

I don’t see that as a deficiency though. We have to accept and acknowledge that, what stewardship of donations means, is culture-dependent. The United States’ approach to regulating non-profits is very different from that of France is very different from that of Venezuela, etc. That shouldn’t stop us from setting certain minimum standards for the participants of the Wikimedia movement. But it does stop us from setting up centralized, one-size-fits-all solutions.

As an epilogue, I want to thank Stu that he raised these questions and that he did so publicly. All too often, these kind of topics aren’t really discussed openly, either because some find them boring, mundane, technical, or too critical for public discourse. I hope, strongly hope, that there will be others deliberating on this subject, expressing their opinions, putting forth proposals, and working together to effect a solution. It’s an important subject that certainly merits this sort of attention and care.

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