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 process. 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 with. 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 Nishant 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 ( www.cis-india.org ) International Tandem Partner, Inkubator - Leuphana University, Lueneburg, Germany # +49-0176-841-660-87 http://www.facebook.com/nishant.shah http://cis-india.academia.edu/NishantShah
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