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Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos
Report to the Board: Davos
Prepared by: Sue Gardner, Executive Director
Prepared for: Wikimedia Board of Trustees
Date: February 3, 2009

Background & Context

Every year, Jimmy is invited to Davos in his individual capacity as a
Young Global Leader, and the Wikimedia Foundation receives one
invitation to participate in the category of Technology Pioneer. Last
year, Florence represented us: this year, Michael delegated
participation to me so that I could explore Davos from a fundraising
perspective. As always, Jimmy paid his own costs, and the Foundation
paid mine.

The main goals of the trip were to 1) present a funding proposal to a
potential funder we've been speaking with, 2) increase awareness of
Wikipedia as a charity among attendees (e.g., media, prospective
donors, NGOs, etc.), and 3) actively move forward relationships with a
few key major donor prospects. I was also able to meet briefly with
some of the board members of the Swiss chapter, in Zurich.

Summary

From January 27 to February 1, Jimmy and I attended the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In general, I would say the trip was fairly useful. From a
fundraising perspective, Davos is not good for direct solicitation,
but it does help with prospect cultivation, stewardship and
relationship-building. It also helps us build general awareness of
Wikimedia as a serious-minded non-profit organization. And because
the WEF waives the entry fee for us, attendance is quite cheap: the
major cost to Wikimedia is my time.

In general, I am comfortable with us continuing to attend Davos,
particularly in years during which we're actively cultivating one or
more attendees. Additionally, I think we should try to get invited
to other conferences that will give us access to potential funders and
help establish us as a serious international non-profit.

Experiences and Observations

Davos is a great way to connect with a large number of people in a
short period of time. I had dozens of good conversations with past and
current funders as well as prospects and friends. There was lots of
general good will and appreciation for our work.

During Davos, I attended a dozen seminars and talks on topics ranging
from the future of media, to leveraging mass innovation, to sustaining
the nonprofit sector in a downturn, to digital Asia. I was a panelist
in the session "Youth Culture: A Heat Map." I attended a variety of
dinners and parties, including a UN Millennium Development Goals
dinner for women hosted by Wendi Murdoch and Indra Nooyi, which had as
speakers Melinda Gates and Sarah Brown.

In general, I found Davos wasn't great for direct solicitation: every
room is noisy and crowded, and it's hard to have an uninterrupted
conversation. Over the course of the conference, I experimented by
directly soliciting six random people – tablemates at dinner, etc.
The responses were neutral-to-warm, but I didn't get anything
encouraging enough to warrant follow-up.

There were some very interesting philanthropy/NGO-related panels and
interviews, with some particularly interesting comments from people
like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. The effects of the economic downturn
on the non-profit sector was very much on people's minds, obviously,
and there was useful discussion about it.

I met with Soumitra Dutta from INSEAD, faculty director of
elab@INSEAD, INSEAD's "center of excellence in teaching and research
in the digital economy," and co-author with Matthew Fraser of Throwing
Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform
Your Life, Work and World. He's interested in Wikipedia and
Wikimedia, I believe particularly from an organizational behaviour
standpoint, and we're exploring whether a partnership of some kind
would make sense (e.g., a case study or research project).

Interestingly, a number of people complained to me about their
articles being overly negative. Obviously Jimmy gets this all the
time, but I was surprised how often it was the first thing a person
would say to me. All my conversations about Wikipedia were warm and
friendly and positive, with the exception of people's pain/anger about
BLP issues.

A side note, but on the way back from Davos I was happy to be able to
meet in Zurich with three people from the board of the Swiss chapter:
Michael Bimmler, Rupert Thurner and Robin Schwab. We had a useful
conversation about (among other things) chapters development and
scope, strategy development, and the new Wikimedia Foundation chapters
funding requests process. It was particularly great to finally meet
face-to-face with Michael :-)

Analysis

Fundraising: Davos seems fairly useful for 1) relationship maintenance
with current donors, and 2) relationship building with prospective
donors - particularly with regards to donors and prospects who live
outside the United States. I believe Davos is good at helping us
develop closer relationships with people we already are connected to,
but it is not suited to direct solicitation of cold prospects.

Awareness/Branding: I believe Davos is good for helping shape general
perception of Wikimedia among attendees – a group which includes
journalists, philanthropists, and Silicon Valley tech people. It
helps 1) create greater awareness that we're a charity, and 2) support
the perception of us as serious-minded, sane and responsible. This
might have a small continued ripple effect post-Davos when attendees
talk to other people.

Business development/Partnerships: If we were a start-up wanting to
aggressively initiate deals, Davos's broad exposure to potential
partners would be terrific. But we have no trouble getting people to
return our calls, and 99% of the ideas pitched to us we do not want to
move forward. So I am not convinced that, from a biz dev perspective,
Davos is useful to us.

Conclusion

During the coming year, we'll continue to evolve and finetune our
thinking about fundraising, and particularly major donor / foundation
cultivation. By the next Davos, we'll be in a good position to know
whether attendance continues to make sense for us, and if so, who's
best to go. For the time being, I am comfortable with us making the
assumption that we'll continue to participate, particularly if we're
actively cultivating one or more other attendees.

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
Yes, yes, that's all very interesting, but how was the skiing? ;)

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
2009/2/17 Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton@gmail.com>:
> Yes, yes, that's all very interesting, but how was the skiing? ;)

Davos was actually hilariously gruelling: it started with breakfasts
at 7.30 and ran past midnight every day. Any spare time I had, I
spent commiserating with other newbies, and trading survival tips :-)

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
2009/2/17 Sue Gardner <sgardner@wikimedia.org>:
> 2009/2/17 Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton@gmail.com>:
>> Yes, yes, that's all very interesting, but how was the skiing? ;)
>
> Davos was actually hilariously gruelling: it started with breakfasts
> at 7.30 and ran past midnight every day. Any spare time I had, I
> spent commiserating with other newbies, and trading survival tips :-)

Pity, it's a fantastic ski resort - I've been there several times and
enjoyed it greatly. Try and arrive a day early next year!

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
Sue Gardner wrote:
> Report to the Board: Davos
> Prepared by: Sue Gardner, Executive Director
> Prepared for: Wikimedia Board of Trustees
> Date: February 3, 2009
>
>

> Interestingly, a number of people complained to me about their
> articles being overly negative. Obviously Jimmy gets this all the
> time, but I was surprised how often it was the first thing a person
> would say to me. All my conversations about Wikipedia were warm and
> friendly and positive, with the exception of people's pain/anger about
> BLP issues.
>
>

I don't in the least wish to belittle this problem. Quite
obviously it is a very real one. But perhaps a bit of
perspective can be gained, by noting that at some
times the general impression of wikipedia has been that
it was all written by fan boys, and because of this it
would never be able to throw a critical glance at all
the content in it.

And of course both things happen all the time, simultaneously.
What you need to remember is that all the people who are
secretly satisfied their article is remarkably fair to them, or
even greatly relieved how merciful their article is about their
various foibles; never mind those who won't say publicly they
think their article is even far too laudatory ... well, those
people won't be the first in line to talk about it to you, will
they. Try to focus on that; when you get in those situations.


Yours,

Jussi-Ville Heiskanen



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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
On Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 9:30 PM, Jussi-Ville Heiskanen
<cimonavaro@gmail.com> wrote:
> Sue Gardner wrote:
>> Interestingly, a number of people complained to me about their
>> articles being overly negative. Obviously Jimmy gets this all the
>> time, but I was surprised how often it was the first thing a person
>> would say to me. All my conversations about Wikipedia were warm and
>> friendly and positive, with the exception of people's pain/anger about
>> BLP issues.
>>
>>
>
> What you need to remember is that all the people who are
> secretly satisfied their article is remarkably fair to them, or
> even greatly relieved how merciful their article is about their
> various foibles; never mind those who won't say publicly they
> think their article is even far too laudatory ... well, those
> people won't be the first in line to talk about it to you, will
> they. Try to focus on that; when you get in those situations.
>

From my experience talking with people (mostly academics) who have
Wikipedia articles, they are often unhappy with their articles but
also either don't want to interfere in a community they aren't part
of, or don't want to be seen as complaining on their own behalf and
thus risk seeming vain. Most often it's not that there is something
really wrong or negative, it's just that the article is so incomplete
or imbalanced that it gives a misleading impression of who they are
and what they do. I'd go so far as to say that the significant
majority of BLPs for academics (at least) are not appreciated by their
subjects.

-Sage (User:Ragesoss)

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
Sage Ross wrote:
> From my experience talking with people (mostly academics) who have
> Wikipedia articles, they are often unhappy with their articles but
> also either don't want to interfere in a community they aren't part
> of, or don't want to be seen as complaining on their own behalf and
> thus risk seeming vain. Most often it's not that there is something
> really wrong or negative, it's just that the article is so incomplete
> or imbalanced that it gives a misleading impression of who they are
> and what they do. I'd go so far as to say that the significant
> majority of BLPs for academics (at least) are not appreciated by their
> subjects.
>
I'd guess that it probably holds across a fairly wide swath of people.
I'm not sure what should be done about it, though. And another thing to
consider, for those who have been the subject of media coverage, how
many feel that was really representative and balanced? Dissatisfaction
is common there as well, it's hard to say if we're qualitatively
different. Especially when those are the sources we often draw upon.

I'm likely going to put the general issue of biographies on the board's
next agenda, for what that's worth. Though as I say, there's no simple
blanket solution, and I don't know if we can promise anything beyond
more discussion and more awareness of the issues.

--Michael Snow


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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
Jussi-Ville Heiskanen wrote:
> And of course both things happen all the time, simultaneously.
> What you need to remember is that all the people who are
> secretly satisfied their article is remarkably fair to them, or
> even greatly relieved how merciful their article is about their
> various foibles; never mind those who won't say publicly they
> think their article is even far too laudatory ... well, those
> people won't be the first in line to talk about it to you, will
> they. Try to focus on that; when you get in those situations.

Quite often, people do tell me that their article is good. I'm always
pleased to hear that.

I think a deeper point is that there are a lot of very problematic BLP's
on Wikipedia, and this is an ongoing problem that we all have to be very
serious about.

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
2009/2/19 Michael Snow <wikipedia@verizon.net>:

> I'm likely going to put the general issue of biographies on the board's
> next agenda, for what that's worth. Though as I say, there's no simple
> blanket solution, and I don't know if we can promise anything beyond
> more discussion and more awareness of the issues.


What's the schedule on the flagged revisions trial on en:wp?

(cc: to wikitech-l)


- d.

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
2009/2/19 Jimmy Wales <jwales@wikia-inc.com>:

> I think a deeper point is that there are a lot of very problematic BLP's
> on Wikipedia, and this is an ongoing problem that we all have to be very
> serious about.


In my anecdotal experience (as a UK phone contact), BLPs are our
biggest public relations problem. I'm really really really hoping for
the flagged revs on BLPs trial to work out well.


- d.

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Re: Report to the Board of Trustees: Davos [ In reply to ]
On Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 11:09 PM, Michael Snow <wikipedia@verizon.net>wrote:

> Sage Ross wrote:
> > From my experience talking with people (mostly academics) who have
> > Wikipedia articles, they are often unhappy with their articles but
> > also either don't want to interfere in a community they aren't part
> > of, or don't want to be seen as complaining on their own behalf and
> > thus risk seeming vain. Most often it's not that there is something
> > really wrong or negative, it's just that the article is so incomplete
> > or imbalanced that it gives a misleading impression of who they are
> > and what they do. I'd go so far as to say that the significant
> > majority of BLPs for academics (at least) are not appreciated by their
> > subjects.
> >
> I'd guess that it probably holds across a fairly wide swath of people.
> I'm not sure what should be done about it, though. And another thing to
> consider, for those who have been the subject of media coverage, how
> many feel that was really representative and balanced? Dissatisfaction
> is common there as well, it's hard to say if we're qualitatively
> different. Especially when those are the sources we often draw upon.
>

I think you're right that such dissatisfaction is common. Newspapers and
magazines in particular, seem to get this kind of stuff wrong all the time.
Encyclopedias probably ought to be held to a higher standard, though, and in
theory Wikipedia with its neutrality policy ought to be held to an even
higher standard than that.

I have no idea how Wikipedia can get there. Flagged revisions might be able
to reduce the blatant defamation, but it's not likely to address issues of
balance or incompleteness (and might actually make things worse in that
space).

In this space, I think Citizendium's "approved articles" is the best a wiki
can hope for. That has its own problems, and the articles don't always turn
out well balanced, but at least you know who to blame.
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