Talk:Principles for WiR and Volunteer Conflicts of Interest policy

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Please discuss!

Comments[edit source]

Here are my initial thoughts on the principles:

Wikimedians in Residence

  1. Applying the same standards throughout has the benefit that any derived policy is simple and it avoids problems when the funding basis could change in mid-process.
  2. An open recruitment process is condicio sine qua non for us.
  3. It is clearly desirable to avoid having to ask for the Charity Commission's authority by following their requirements. However, I cannot see the benefit of going beyond requiring a Trustee to resign prior to a job offer being made. What do we gain by asking a Trustee to resign if they simply apply for a particular job? We could lose a Trustee who is then not subsequently short-listed or interviewed, and we need to be clear in a Principle the benefit we are weighing against that risk.

Volunteers in positions of trust

  1. Principles either apply or they don't. So it's best not to describe 'in particular' circumstances, because you implicitly weaken the principle in other areas that you may not have considered. I understand your concern to single out CoI, but actually the principle must apply equally to all areas when the behaviour of Committee Members may be examined.
  2. The principle is that 'clear guidance and processes about what this means in practice' shall be in place before we delegate to a subcommittee.

Independent Wikimedia outreach / consultancy work and other volunteer conflicts of interest

  1. The first sentence is a sensible principle. The second exceeds our remit and I oppose it. I don't mind volunteers voluntarily disclosing their interests, but I don't want the responsibility of being forced to take on the management of an unlimited number of CoIs, and I'm not sure it's a sensible use of Trustees' time. It makes you wonder how volunteers manage to take part in activities in areas where there is no Chapter.
  2. I can't support a principle that discriminates against volunteers who earn a living by training. I know what you're worried about, but there is no justification for a principle that effectively says "If you earn a living by training people to use Microsoft Office, you're eligible for a scholarship, but if you earn a living by training people to edit Wikipedia, you're not". What about our own Staff? Are they disqualified by this principle? If not, how are they different? If so, what advantage does that bring?
  3. Same as above.
  4. ditto.
  5. Confidentiality is condicio sine qua non for us. As for a "high level of confidentiality" in this case, do we treat any declarations with a "low level of confidentiality"? Does that even have any meaning?
  6. This is an important principle that goes beyond any Charity Commission requirements, and even beyond Nolan standards. However, I have become convinced that we will eventually have to adopt this line because of our inability to defend ourselves against malicious and mendacious accusations, unless we put the issue beyond any possible doubt. We will debar quite a few potential Trustees, but I expect that this principle is what the membership wants.

--RexxS (talk) 00:35, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

Confidentiality[edit source]

I may have further comments later, but I'll start pointing out that confidentially is not always an option. Conflicts need to be declared to whoever needs to know, not just trustees and staff. For example, if you are participating in a discussion about an area where you have a conflict, then you need to declare it to everyone else in the discussion and anyone observing the discussion. --Tango (talk) 10:25, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

Realistically, before expecting everyone in our Wikimedia universe to start making public and confidential declarations, we need to agree what is or is not perceived to be a declarable conflict of interest or a conflict of loyalties. Much dialogue on this matter incorrectly assumes we are only intending to expect declarations of current financial interests and this proposed document gives that same impression. As an example, the Wikimedia UK trustees do not have a common interpretation or definition on conflict of loyalties to apply to themselves, and in particular we have no agreement as to what might be expected to be declared on the public DOI page and what might be suitable to remain in confidence or undeclared as it is sufficiently irrelevant to our activities as a charity. It could well be that we will later be judged to have got this balance wrong when measured against our ability to manage reputational risk. -- (talk) 12:43, 15 November 2012 (UTC)
I don't see any reason why our definition of a conflict would be any different to anyone else's. The Charity Commission gives the following definition: "A conflict of interest is any situation in which a trustee's personal interests, or interests that they owe to another body, may (or may appear to) influence or affect the trustee's decision making."[1]. It's talking specifically about trustee's, but it's a general definition. It's the same definition as is used in the business world, in politics and any other situation where people make decisions on behalf of others. I really don't think it is that difficult to determine what does and does not create a conflict. There are always going to be corner cases where it may be hard to judge, but the vast majority of the time it is very easy to know if you have a conflict of interest.
With the exception of people disrupting the interest register to make a point by declaring things like being bought lunch (I don't believe Jon genuinely thought that was an interest), can you give any examples of any situations involving WMUK that have occured where it wasn't clear if something should be considered a conflict of interest or not? --Tango (talk) 13:30, 15 November 2012 (UTC)
Here are some illustrative examples that apply to trustees, staff and volunteers. It would not be appropriate for me to make the details public of confidentially declared interests, however these are realistic examples to consider.
  1. Being involved in funding bids to the a finding body in prior years for projects and then being involved in joint WMUK projects with the same funding body and/or the same institutions and projects.
  2. Proposing WMUK projects with partner institutions where you have been an employee or long term volunteer in the past.
  3. Proposing suppliers and contractors for WMUK projects where you have a past (even long past) non-financial relationship with the individuals or institutions bidding.
If you believe that assessing the line between friendship, past work experience and the Charity Commission's loose definition of conflict of loyalties is easy to determine, especially if we require public declarations even where this may become intrusive into the private life of the volunteer such that they may choose to cease volunteering rather than comply, then you may be missing the point. -- (talk) 13:53, 15 November 2012 (UTC)
One has to draw the line somewhere. If you have a relationship with a person or company and are making decisions that would benefit them then there is a reason to declare that as others might well think that someone who works for or owns shares in an organisation might be favourably disposed to them. But why bother about former links? The rest of the UK seems to be happy to work on the basis that after you have sold all your shares in an organisation you no longer have a conflict of interest if you do something that might influence the future dividends of those shares. Why would we need to go further than that? We need to differentiate here between legitimate accountability and simply giving ammunition to trolls. That's why the test of what is appropriate to declare as a conflict of interest is whether something would seem reasonable to the legendary passenger on the Clapham Omnibus, not whether something might feed the fantasies of the tinfoil hat brigade. WereSpielChequers (talk) 17:59, 24 November 2012 (UTC)
(edit conflict, despite taking over a week to reply!) Generic examples aren't helpful. If you have specific examples, please give them. Whether situations like you describe constitute conflicts of interest are going to depend on what words like "involved" and "relationship" actually mean. However, to the extent that general comments can be made, past relationships are rarely going to create conflicts. To have a conflict of loyalties, you need to owe loyalty to the other party now, not have owed it sometime in the past. If you read the CC's guidance on conflicts of loyalties ([2] - on the same page as I linked to above) you will see that there is no mention of the past. (The main exception is when the relationship only ended a short time ago and you still owed the loyalty while initial discussions and planning were going on.) --Tango (talk) 18:08, 24 November 2012 (UTC)
Thanks WSC, I agree, pretty much. Slightly tongue in cheek here, but I think we have to recognize that our 'community' includes some of the tinfoil hat brigade and as an elected trustee I have to consider how I represent their concerns as well as the perceptions of the Clapham Omnibus mob. For example, if there are long running claims about Wikimedia UK having some sort of secret conspiracy with PR agencies, then I would rather do my damnedest to address the issue by asking direct questions of trustees or volunteers applying for grants, where I know they have some relevant innocuous past rather than being left in a situation where the board might be accused of helping cover-up potential issues rather that dealing with them transparently and as honestly as possible. At the end of the day, if a trustee such as myself declares that years ago I worked for <insert name of organization working against the interests of open knowledge>, I should be lauded for being open about it and be prepared to answer questions about how I now support the open knowledge mission of our charity. I think most of our members are aware that I have some rather painful personal experience in being pursued by trolls intent on damaging me in real life, so you can be assured that I am sensitive and sympathetic to the problem of how to avoid giving the most persistent trolls the ammunition and gun to shoot me with; on the whole it's probably better to live without guns in the house.
LOL, Tango, let's not go into specifics, my name is mud as it is. You may want to check the history of our Declarations of Interest page to consider how much has been added there over the last few weeks. Perhaps you can think of past examples that don't have my personal stamp already on them. Cheers -- (talk) 18:35, 24 November 2012 (UTC)

Another view[edit source]

I write as a consultant who undertakes, among other things, Wikipedia related business (delivering training and advice); as a paid Wikipedian in residence on a project which I initiated myself, without the involvement of Wikimedia-UK; as a very active volunteer Wikimedian; as a volunteer directly for Wikimedia-UK; and as a paid-up member of Wikimedia-UK. I attended Wikimania 2012 and events in UK, The Netherlands and Germany with expenses met by Wikimedia-UK. I have a declaration of interests page in my en.Wikipedia user space, linked from my main user page.

Firstly, I endorse the comments made by RexxS, above, on 15 November.

I would never expect Wikimedia-UK to fund my business expenses. For example, I would never submit travel or subsistence expenses for an event for which I was being paid.

However as a Wikimedia-UK member, I believe I am entitled to the same level of support from the organisation, for my voluntary activities as any other member, and the same opportunities to participate in Wikimedia-UK events, or other events for which Wikimedia-UK offers support such as scholarships.

I would also expect Wikimedia-UK to support my professional work, where appropriate, in the same way that it supports the work of (and of people employed by), say, GLAMs, voluntary organisations, universities and other fellow supporters of the open movement.

I have been undertaking voluntary work since my schooldays for a variety of different charities and other non-profit organisations, large and small. I am a trustee of a registered charity. I have never heard any of those organisations raising concerns about supposed CoI relating to people's professional work, outside the responsibilities of trustees. The RSPB, for instance, have never asked and my fellow volunteers whether we are paid to lead birding tours, or entertain and teach children, or take bird photographs, or write about birds, or maintain websites about birds, or keep a shop, or manage livestock, or maintain, say, woodland, as many of its volunteers are, and which we do regularly for them. When they have sent me on training courses, at their cost, or paid my expenses to attend an event, they have never asked me whether that might bring me "indirect benefit", by, for instance, making me more attractive to potential employers or clients, or helping me in my paid work. Their concern is that I have the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to undertake the voluntary roles which contribute to their mission. Indeed, many RSBP volunteers go on to work as professionals with other conservation bodies, and this is promoted as an incentive to people to volunteer with them, by the RSPB themselves.

There is a strong and clear danger that, by overreacting to recent criticism, much undue, Wikimedia-UK will alienate existing volunteers and dissuade new ones. Andy Mabbett (User:Pigsonthewing); Andy's talk; Andy's edits 16:24, 24 November 2012 (UTC)

Thanks, Andy, for your comments. We might well end up with a different policy to that of (say) the RSPB, not because our obligations are any different, but for a number of other reasons. Firstly we are under a very high level of scrutiny (in particular, a high level of scrutiny for our size as an organisation); secondly whole idea of people being paid to do Wikimedia-related work is still a very novel one; and thirdly because we are the only organisation that does this kind of thing in the UK.
For all these reasons we need to take particular care that we can show that when we are spending money on something or someone, it is in line with our charitable mission. Let me outline the worst-case scenario that I am concerned about - bearing in mind that this is not something I believe has happened or is imminently going to happen, but it is something we need to think about. Say for instance, if we spent £5,000 on training a prospective volunteer, sending them to Wikimania, and the like in the expectation they would use the skills and contacts developed for Wikimedia UK's benefit. Say this person then sets up their own business with those skills and contacts, entirely independently of us as an organisation, without ever contributing to Wikimedia UK's work, and that what they do is something that Wikimedia UK couldn't itself support (advising companies on how to evade Wikipedia's restrictions on COI editing, for instance). And to cap it all, the first thing time we hear about this is when a journalist rings up to ask us to comment on a story they're about to run on it.
As things stand, if that happened, we would find that someone had derived a private benefit from us, without actually furthering our objectives at all. By asking a few simple questions we would be able to identify the risk and find ways of managing it.
Obviously, Wikimedia UK has to remain an open organisation where anyone who shares our mission can get involved. But equally, where we are spending a non-trivial amount of money on training or otherwise supporting an individual, it wouldn't be unreasonable for us to ask beforehand how they intend to be involved, and whether their involvement with Wikimedia UK touches on their career or business interests. Regards, The Land (talk) 17:20, 2 December 2012 (UTC)
I think I generally agree with Andy's point. I think the "worst case scenario" is a bit of a straw man argument: Why would WMUK be spending so much money on a prospective volunteer with no track record? In fact WMUK started off with an active volunteer base which had already been active in developing new ways of volunteering beyond contributing to Wikipedia as editors etc. WMUK was created precisely to consolidate that volunteering activity, something which it has done in many ways. I have heard form someone that has attended Wikimania that the Foundation (not WMUK) was funding people to attend who had no Wikimedia experience. I would certainly agree that that is foolish. But surely any questions should focus on what an individual has already volunteered, and what commitment they are ready to make to future volunteering. The problems we recently experienced arose because the person who initiated a significant development - which required the level of attention commensurate with a paid position was a Trustee, not a volunteer.Leutha (talk) 08:57, 4 December 2012 (UTC)
While I agree with the thrust of your argument, trustees are volunteers, too. Andy Mabbett (User:Pigsonthewing); Andy's talk; Andy's edits 20:51, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
I hope no-one is given the erroneous impression that you're referring to me in the example you give above. Andy Mabbett (User:Pigsonthewing); Andy's talk; Andy's edits 20:59, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
Indeed, I am certainly not referring to you in that example, and no-one should read it that way. The Land (talk) 16:00, 8 December 2012 (UTC)

The question not put.[edit source]

If there was no Wikimedia UK, there would be no conflict. Can we rewind to the good old days, before Wikimedia UK? Gordo (talk) 20:00, 24 November 2012 (UTC)

The other possibility, Gordo, is to make sure we spend all the money on offices and staff and make sure we fund nothing of any significance where a COI might arise. Maybe more coffee mornings? If we do(someone does) succeed in sharing the world's information with the whole of the world and Wikimedia is involved then the COI list is going to be enormous. Sorry if this seems a bit light hearted but I can do with a bit of levity. As is noted above the rules are very clear. Charities have to handle declared conflicts of interest (and IMO recognise that "common interests" are not COIs (even if they are documented on the same list)). I don't think you can have a meaningful debate on this issue at present. The people with COI cannot debate COI because of the COI issue. You need external advice. That's what the chapter pays for. Who thinks we should ignore that advice? Post below and make your name. Meanwhile is there anything useful the chapter can do? Thanks for listening. Victuallers (talk) 15:58, 25 November 2012 (UTC)
  • I think Gordo has a point here. The chapter shouldn't be making life more difficult for volunteers. We desperately need more volunteers, and we'll struggle to recruit them if we bombard them with requests for personal information like this. We are rapidly becoming a staff-led, London-focused charity, and the more the bard are paralysed by logical fallacies and occupying themselves with inventing strawmen, the less work will get done. We need to be encouraging volunteers, getting them more involved, making things easier for them, and making them feel valued and appreciated. If serious conflicts of interest arise (not strawmen or hypothetical scenarios), I would hope the situation can be resolved informally without treating the volunteer like a criminal. Harry Mitchell | Penny for your thoughts? 23:29, 6 December 2012 (UTC)
    • I'm very saddened that you think we're working through logical fallacies and strawmen here. In reality, we're working through a very serious review of our governance and the approach that we have taken to dealing with conflicts of interest. I certainly don't take that at all lightly, and I would hope that our most involved volunteers would similarly recognise the seriousness of that situation. Of course, I completely want to see us encouraging and supporting volunteers - but we need to make sure that the ground they are operating on is made of rock, not sand. It's not about treating volunteers as criminals - it's all about making sure that volunteers have the framework properly established that they can then effectively build upon with the most impact on our joint mission. Thanks. Mike Peel (talk) 00:11, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
    • Hi Harry - thanks for your comments. Actually, it is precisely because we don't want to be a staff-led charity that we need to be thinking carefully about these issues. We want staff and volunteers to be working closely together and we want our volunteers to have an unusually high level of input into and control over the work we do. However, we need to make sure that in doing so we aren't creating governance problems.
    • We aren't alone in this: obviously the Foundation does the same thing - asking volunteers to decide how to hand out multi-million dollar grants! Look at the Foundation's conflict of interest policy for instance, which extends beyond the Foundation's Board to their committees.
    • And where conflicts of interest arise, if there's anything I've learnt over the last few months, it's that it's vital that they are resolved formally rather than informally, and that we as an organisation have clear and documented expectations. That obviously shouldn't involve anyone feeling like they're being treated like a criminal. Regards, The Land (talk) 17:47, 7 December 2012 (UTC)