Hi Alan,

On Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 9:33 PM, Alan Walker <fasta...@gmail.com> wrote:

> I think where we disagree is quite fundamental.  I don't believe the
> approval should have anything to do with the bylaws of the organization.  I
> believe the expectations should be made clear and compliance with those
> expectations should be tested.  I could somewhat see the angle on the
> review for evaluating the chapters, but for a themed organization, this is
> really not the place to be interfering with how they incorporate.  You want
> to be flexible allowing each group to do it their way while protecting the
> brand.  In the case of Wikimedia Canada, we found it extremely frustrating
> to have external parties with no relevant experience in Canadian law
> picking away at our corporate bylaws.  Bylaws are typically straight
> forward when starting a corporation, but the way this process is structured
> turns it into a complicated endeavor involving either high legal costs or
> many months wasted being subjected to amateur evaluation.  If it is your
> intention to evaluate bylaws, at a minimum it should be done by a lawyer
> using the foundations legal contacts.  As I stated before, I don't think
> this makes sense, but if you really feel you must micromanage it at that
> level, do it professionally.  I apologize for my blunt tone, but I am not
> certain any lessons have been learned from our frustrating experience in
> the approval process.

I am sorry you have found the review process painful, I am sure, more
flexibility could have been had on both sides, and Chapcom's review could
have been more focused and relevant. However, I do not share your
conclusion that the entire process is flawed in its design. Wikimedia
Canada was unique in many ways, both its very professional approach and
unyielding attitude comes to mind, a combination that ensures we have
strong advocates for Wikimedia in Canada but also a guarantee for some
friction in the recognition process.

Every applying group is different, different in their composition, in their
aims, their access to specialists and in their skills and level of English.
Some groups are lead or include more people who have years of
business/non-profit experience, and others contain more people who are
motivated but with less experience or strategic thinking. The process in
its current design might be skewed towards helping and mentoring people in
the latter group by using the bylaws process to transfer experience or
knowledge (which might not be necessary or as useful for the former group).
I will keep in mind the way Wikimedia Canada experienced the process when
we encounter groups with more people from the first group.

Looking at the bylaws is an easy way to judge whether the group meets the
basic criteria (for example, whether they are setting up a membership
organisation that will be open and equitable to the Wikimedians in the
country) and to provide advice that can pertain to elements that a given
group has not necessarily considered in detail and that *might* improve the
functioning of the organisation to be set up (better functioning
organisations are good for the movement).

There are a number of connected issues that also have bearing on why we
simply do not have a questionnaire about the requirements:
1) almost every group has a slightly different way of interpreting the
requirements, and incompatibilities can creep in in unexpected places
2) there is some flexibility on the requirements, and some requirements
might not be written but rather a sum of what all the chapters are or are
not (I know, this is confusing, and there is room for more codification)
3) someone has to read the bylaws and do the due diligence (for example,
the nature and state of the bylaws is an element of the Chapters Agreement)
4) we are all wiki people with a compulsion to edit and optimize the world
(an urge which we try to use only for good) :).

While not the best tool, the way the group handles the review of its bylaws
is in my opinion a somewhat useful proxy to get an insight into the group's
strengths and dynamics (while we do not want to micromanage these aspects,
our goal is to have sustainable, active and strong organisations; those
groups that stay together through this process, handle the needed
discussions well, might have a better chance at success – different groups
need different amount of time for this, my belief is that the time spent in
this stage is not necessarily wasted if it leads to a better working group,
even if creating the in-group cohesion comes at the price of disliking

Again, every group is different, and a possibly better predictor of these
qualities is if a group has some concrete activities or projects ongoing
in parallel to the recognition process; in which case the bylaw review
mainly serves as a way to check whether they meet the formal requirements
and  whether there are any improvements that could be suggested, drawing on
from experience from other chapters (which by definition are not in the
same country, and so there is always a risk that the suggested ideas are
incompatible with local law, but also the possibility that the advice is
usable and useful).

So far, we have not needed specialized local counsel to be able to do the
level of review Chapcom has been doing; in the case of imperfect advice,
many of the improvements could have been made without employing lawyers
(simply by doing more research, or having a better grasp of legalese or
translationese). I can imagine cases, where simply asking the applying
group might not be the best course and therefore we would need external
advice; in this case, I believe the WMF legal department would be happy to
offer its support to the Committee.

While not spelled out in the requirements, an important aspect of the
recognition process is that in many cases the process is the first contact
between the applicants and the organisational framework of Wikimedia. I
think it is very important that we recognize that we are dealing with
people, some of the most dedicated of our volunteers and getting to know
who they are, what they would like to achieve and along the way introducing
them to the people who can help them is extremely important and takes time.
So while other approaches to the recognition process might be faster, more
efficient and have other advantages, the current somewhat extended process
might provide space for getting to knowing each other. (There are a number
of other venues for the same, and we are trying to expand this aspect,
including cases where members of applying groups visit regional conferences
or Wikimania, or when representatives of the WMF, some other chapter or
Chapcom visit the given country.)

In any case, there are a number of avenues that could make the process
better on both sides, doing away with looking at the bylaws is not
necessarily one of them (although, it is obviously skipped in the case of
User groups; thematic organisations at this point look like "chapters with
a twist" so such a review would probably make sense in their case, in
general), and I hope we have started on the right path towards this.
(Internally with annual membership selections, participation at some
regional conferences and where possible, being available in the native
language, better management of ongoing tasks, and in some cases an extra
internal review of Chapcom advice before it is published. Externally with
starting to give translation grants to applying groups who request it, and
asking the board for support to visit groups and to support leaders of
groups to visit Wikimania and have initial seed funding for administrative

On a personal level, I have been unhappy at times with the work Chapcom
did, which was one of the reasons that lead me to join it. I like to think,
that things have got better, but obviously not perfect. At times, I fear
that I have accepted the status quo without improving things from the
inside, so I am very happy to hear feedback from people who have been on
the other side of the process.
Also, if anyone is interested, we are always looking for new members (
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Chapters_committee#Future_members), and
there is going to be a short presentation on Chapcom at Wikimania, (
I and perhaps the other members present would be happy to discuss things in
person over a cold beverage.

Best regards,
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