Dear All,

My name is Nishant Shah and I work at the Centre for Internet and Society.
I am the Director-Research and have been one of the co-founders of CIS and
currently on a research fellowship a the Centre for Digital Cultures,
Germany. My involvement with the Wikipedia community (online and offline)
has been more in terms of understanding it as a significant and systemic
move in our knowledge production practices and as a way to learn new forms
of self-organisation, collaboration and governance. This means that I
haven’t been an active editor on Wikipedia but that I have tried to
interact with Wikipedia both as a concept as well as a platform and worked
with other communities of researchers in the area through the ‘Critical
Point of View’ project which also resulted into an English language
Wikipedia Reader. I have variously, in my academic as well as my public
writing, I have looked at the principles of Wikipedia as signalling new
practices of learning and pedagogy, and am in the process of editing a
special issue for the MIT Press’ *Journal of Media and Learning* on ‘The
Classroom in the time of Wikipedia’. Also, in my teaching, I have used
Wikipedia as a pedagogic tool, encouraging students to edit both English
and local language Wikipedias as a part of their assessment.

I am joining this conversation to try and give some information that
different members have sought, and which might help in throwing some light
on how we welcome our collaboration with the Wikimedia foundation through
the A2K programme, and also perhaps, to explain some of the rationale
behind the current state of transition and building of the project. I just
want to begin with 2 disclaimers:

1.      It has been our attempt at CIS to build a new kind of research
organisation where we do not have only voice and one ‘party-line’ that
everybody subscribes to. So my responses will neither be exhaustive nor
singular, and my colleagues will join with more details and ideas,
perspectives and explanations soon. We are right now, slightly emotionally
fragile, because we have just lost a dear friend, colleague and champion of
causes that we firmly believe in – Rahul Cherian – and a lot of the people
are at his funeral, trying to cope with the loss this means to them
personally and politically. However, more people will join the
conversations in the coming week, and hopefully there will be more clarity
on things.

2.      I am what might be called the official CSCS – CIS link because I
have done my doctoral work at CSCS, and have had research collaborations
with colleagues there on several small projects. Which means that Vishnu
and I have been fellow-students and Dr. Tejaswini Niranjana has been a key
advisor and collaborator for my own intellectual trajectories.

Having made that small introduction, let me try and address some of the
questions that I think I might be able to contribute to, and others will
chip in soon.

*Srikanth wrote: Would you or someone from CIS help me understand the
rationale for selecting two individuals affiliated with CSCS which is
also affiliated with CIS?*

* Theo wrote: “I don't know you and I don't know Dr. Niranjana, try
and understand "Wiki-movement in India" doesn't have any relation with
you, in fact, it barely knows you. I barely know CIS, the organization
that hired you. If there is an older link that might have conflict of
interest in this hiring, I believe it should have been disclosed.”
*and* “You are probably missing an year and a half of context. The
problem with your predecessor and the previous direction has been
criticized, not just by some people on the list, but several
Wikipedians abroad, even in an official report, for not having enough
experienced Wikimedians on hand. Add to that your hiring, and your
advisor, it is odd how 2 people who barely know about Wikipedia will
be leading a team that has been criticized for not having enough
experience and exposure in the first place.“*

Dear Srikanth and Theo, thank you for the questions and I appreciate that
they help us make things as transparent as possible to build common grounds
for working together. CIS has had a few reciprocal and mutual research
collaborations with CSCS so far. Under the CIS-Researchers At Work
Programme, we commissioned four people at CSCS, students and faculty, to
help us work on disciplinary histories of the Internets in India. Ashish
Rajadhyaksha, Zainab Bawa, Nitya Vasudevan (with Nitin Manayath), and Dr.
Aparna Balachandran and Dr. Rochelle Pinto (with Abhijit Chaterjee), have
joined us as CISRAW fellows, for contracts between 300,000 – 500,000 INR,
depending upon the nature of deliverables and scope of work.

Apart from this, CIS has entered into a contract on 2 significant projects
with CSCS – The first is to do a monograph examining the history of privacy
in India and its implications on identity in the face of new e-governance
initiatives like the Aadhar Project. The research is spear-headed by
Malavika Jayaram who is a fellow at the CIS, and brings in  500,000 INR for
the research costs. The second is a collaboration with the ‘Higher
Education Innovation and Research Applications’ cell that is led by Dr.
Niranjana on a project supported by the Ford Foundation called ‘Pathways to
Higher Education’. CIS was asked to be a technology partner in designing
pilot workshops that seek to make interventions in undergraduate education
in the country, to re-think ways in which questions of inequity – caste,
language, class, access, etc. – can be centrally placed in our pedagogic
practices and policies. This four year contract was for a sum of 520,000
INR towards the execution of the workshops in 9 undergraduate colleges in
Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. I am highlighting these affiliations to
gesture towards three things: First, the financial relationships between
CIS and CSCS have been extremely tiny, especially if you look at the
duration of partnership and the other revenue streams (including the A2K
partnership) at the Centre. Second, the relationships have been
intellectually motivated because we found common grounds of research and
intervention for which institutional MoUs were signed. Third, the
relationships have been strategically entered into with full disclosure
about the amounts involved and ties mentioned to the donors who support
this project. I hope this gives some sense of past formal and institutional
relationships between the two centres.

The rationale for selecting two individuals who have different affiliations
with CIS, on to the A2K team is something that the interview committee will
be in the best position to describe. However, there are a few qualms about
Conflict of Interest that I can address, from my own location within CIS
and our attempts at building networks of working together. Especially
because in the collaborative world of research and policy, where
institutions need to work together in order to have sustainable
interventions, it is something that is promoted highly by all stake-holders
to build solidarity and over-lapping teams that help strengthen the causes
we stand for.

In most instances that I am familiar with, Conflict of Interest is resolved
through process. In the interview process initiated by the CIS for
appointment of the Director for the A2K programme, we mitigated any
possible conflict of interest by ensuring that CIS  had 1 out of 5 votes on
the interview panel. While Sunil and I both were a part of the interview at
different times, we did not overlap in the process, and we had equal say in
the final decision as all the other 4 panelists. We were acutely aware that
the new director would need support of all the different stakeholders – The
community, the chapter, the India Office, the WMF and the CIS – and tried
to make sure that each body had a nominated representative in the interview

During the interview process, we made sure that the interview panel was
given sufficient information about the applicants’ background and past work
so that any questions of conflict of interest could be flagged by the
panel. This was doubly necessary because we were expecting applications
from people who have been associated with Wikipedia since many years in
different capacities, as well as people who might have had a more external
association with the causes that Wikipedia champions. I sat on the
interviews for the first round of short-listed applicants, and when I was
informed that Vishnu will be on the second round of interviewees, I had
categorically mentioned at that point (and I am sure my fellow-panelists
will be able to corroborate) that I have known Vishnu since many years as a
colleague and friend, and that I would want to be recused from interviewing
him, in case it exerts undue influence on the process.

I was not privy to the discussions that emerged at the end of the second
round of interviews so I don’t know what steered the final decision, but I
just want to emphasise that we have tried to enforce transparency in and
about the process, and the fact that Vishnu was eventually appointed after
a rigorous process by a panel consisting of 5 people representing different
stake-holder bodies of the Wikipedia body, was a unanimous decision that
was arrived at by people who did not personally know him and did not have
any institutional connections with him, though CIS did have collaborations
with an organisation which is one of the many that he has been affiliated

Dr. Tejaswini Niranjana was also one of the applicants who was short-listed
for the interviews for the same position and the panel met with her. Again,
the only person who has institutional ties with her was Sunil, but I want
to highlight that the research collaboration with CSCS has been through me,
and not through Sunil per se. It is a small point to labour, about
distinguishing between institutional and personal tie-ups but I hope that
it helps reflection on the process. As Vishnu has already mentioned in his
response, the interview panel felt that Dr. Niranjana was over-qualified
for this position. However, it was recognised that her contributions to the
project in the role of an advisor would help us greatly to achieve some of
the grant deliverables that CIS has promised to the WMF.

Dr. Niranjana’s own interventions in the field of Indian language
translation, accessibility, educational resources and integration have been
consolidated in her intellectual work but also in the institutional growth
beginning with the establishment of the Higher Education Cell with the Tata
Trust and now the formal HEIRA that she leads. In our conversations with
the A2K team, we had also separately realised that one of the ways of
ensuring that Wikipedia reaches younger and new editors is by placing it
within the undergraduate-university learning environments. The Interview
Panel also realised that the work that HEIRA is doing right now, in
building a nation-wide network of academic institutions which are
interested in the questions of local language resource development through
digital technologies and OER platforms is in close sync with our ambitions
for the A2K team. Hence, it was recommended and then actualised, that Dr.
Niranjana is joining us as a Distinguished Fellow at the CIS, who will help
grow our networks, enhance our strategies, and consolidate our presence in
the academic-university spaces which will lead us to our ambition of
positioning Wikipedia more strongly within the local language communities
as well as within education systems.

I hope this helps to clarify some of the doubts and to make the process
more transparent.

*Theo Wrote: Hisham left almost 7-8 months ago, the hiring has been delayed
for a few months, then the entire game of charades with the new hire. I'm
lead to deduce that CIS wasn't itself thrilled with the prospect of getting
involved to this level, I believe they used an intern for the majority of
correspondence to this list. All the while a team remained employed with no
one to oversee them, no direction.*

Theo, one of the things we are very proud of at CIS, and indeed, are
learning from the new possibilities that structures like Wikipedia offer,
is our commitment to not creating hierarchies, working within an
environment of mutual trust, and believing in peoples’ commitment to their
work without micro-managing them. I am giving a short-hand summary there
(it almost sounds like an elevator pitch even as I write it) only so that I
can respond to some of the concerns that you have flagged.

There is no denying that CIS is thrilled to be collaborating with the WMF
for setting up the A2K programme. Not only does it help us in getting
closely associated with a community and a structure that we have been
deeply involved in researching, but we also see it sitting very tightly
with our other endeavours in the field of open access, intellectual
property rights and accessibility. As a young independent research
institute, we feel privileged to have this formal collaboration with the
WMF and the Wikipedia community and even though I am not very hands-on
involved in the everyday running of this team, I want to just reiterate
that we are indeed thrilled with this collaboration. That is not to say
that we appreciate the risks involved and the huge administrative
responsibilities that come with such a valuable project (not just
monetarily but also in terms of is real-life politics), but we hope that we
will be able to provide it the support and housing it needs, and also learn
from the process.

Unlike some of my other colleagues who were more closely working with the
India Office under Hisham’s leadership, I am not privy to the range of
events that happened in the early part of the setting up. However, once CIS
got involved with the project and the decision was made to house the A2K
programme at CIS, I can confidently say that the A2K team members were
guided and managed as much as any other members at the Centre. There were
regular visits from other colleagues, one-on-one conversations with the
team as well as with individual members helping them to transition into the
new structure, and long reviews stretching into several days, of
conceptualising, strategising and planning towards the deliverables of the  WMF
grant. We firmly believe, at CIS, that people who are in the field, and
know the mechanics of actual functioning, should be trusted and encouraged
to perform their tasks in a manner that they think best, and our role,
institutionally, is to help them grow to their full potential. And this is
the position we have taken with the A2K team, as we have, with all our
other team members, and I do sincerely hope that the team did not feel
‘orphaned’ in that stage of transition.

However, I do take the critique that the team might not have been at its
most productive during the transition because it required a lot of
restructuring and setting up of institutional processes which requires a
learning curve. Also, we believe that adequate time spent on consolidating
and planning our activities- even at the risk of being inactive for a short
period – is generally more productive to efficient work for the future and
that the delays in the new kick-start might have been because we were
spending time in reviewing and planning for the future.

The hiring process has been long, and indeed, the most rigorous that I have
ever been a part of. The delays in it and the final appointment are things
that others who were more involved with it might be able to explain better
– I am guessing there were a lot of factors at play – and so I will leave
it to them to chip in.

You mentioned that most of the correspondence happened through Jadine
Lennon who is an intern at CIS and I want to just explain that at CIS, we
take our long-term interns very seriously. Jadine is at the CIS for 11
months, through a long-standing relationship with the University of
Torronto. This is not an off-the-cuff short-term internship to get those
credits to graduate, but a serious commitment from both sides to integrate
her in our work. At CIS, very frankly, our interns rock the world. They are
there to learn, but they learn through supervision and personal attention
and we take pride in the fact that most long-term interns have managed
professional grants, delivered research and policy publications, and even
after their official internships, have returned to be a part of our team in
different capacities. In the non-hierarchical space that CIS is striving to
be, the fact that communication happened through an intern is not any
indication of our disinterest in the project.

Also, it might be worthwhile mentioning that while Jadine was the official
contact person on the list for this process, it was closely supervised by
Sunil Abraham, who is the executive director at the CIS.  Emails were
drafted collaboratively, checked to make sure that they are correct, and
sent after deliberation by the people involved. If there were errors, those
are not because an ‘intern’ was managing them, but because we are also
quite human (and also like most non-profit organisations, generally have
multiple commitments to various projects) and we did try our best, but
sometimes these things happen.

I just want to end by saying that we are very proud and thrilled to be a
part of the collaboration. We see the A2K as deeply central to much of our
research and policy work and we hope that we will be able to bring our
institutional knowledge and network, as well as independent commitment to
Wikipedia’s interventions in the world of Access to Knowledge. We also see
this as an opportunity for us to learn and grow through these interactions
and work. I, for one, am excited to see the A2K team coming together and do
hope that despite the baggage of the past, we will get a fair chance to
prove our mettle and to earn trust (because trust must be earned) from the
different communities involved. In the meantime, we do ask for some faith
(because faith can be asked for) and support from the community to help us
achieve the goals that the WMF has set for us through this project.

Warm regards


P.S. I do apologise for the length of this email. But sometimes these
things require the space, and partly, I guess it is a professional hazard
where researchers find it difficult to say less when they can say more!

Nishant Shah
Director (Research), Centre for Internet and Society,Bangalore, India ( )
International Tandem Partner, Inkubator - Leuphana University, Lueneburg,
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