Wikimedia UK trustees have been 'too involved' to effectively govern charity

Wikimedia UK

Wikimedia UK trustees have been 'too involved' to effectively govern charity

Governance | Niki May Young | 8 Feb 2013

An independent review into the governance of Wikimedia UK has found that trustees have been too involved in the day-to-day running of the charity to effectively govern it.

Compass Partnership was commissioned in October 2012 jointly by Wikimedia UK and the Wikimedia Foundation to undertake a review of the UK chapter after a series of concerns over conflicts of interest, and published its findings yesterday.

Recognising the unique and challenging situation faced by trustees at Wikimedia UK, which only registered as a charity in November 2011, Compass said trustees had to navigate the charity's "very rapid growth", face "strong and sometimes critical external scrutiny" and "oversee the integration of the Wikimedia philosophy with UK charity governance". However the report found that the charity was not effective in handling conflicts of interest, with a number of incidents causing concern.

The main incidents leading to the review included a conflict of interest regarding QRPedia, a mobile web-based system using QR codes to deliver Wikipedia articles, that was developed by former chairman Roger Bamkin (who resigned as a trustee in 2012) and contributor Terence Eden. This led to the resignation of one trustee, a former solicitor, who opposed the conflict of interest. Bamkin also undertook a paid consultancy for the launch of a project - MonmouthpediA, which used Bamkin's QR code concept throughout Monmouth town - that was joint-funded by Wikimedia UK and Monmouth Council. Bamkin's conflicts of interest in relation to MonmouthpediA had not been drawn to the attention of legal staff at the Wikimedia Foundation (the over-arching international organisation). A similar conflict of interest arose from the subsequent GibraltarpediA, which Bamkin also charged consultancy fees for. Bamkin resigned during the resulting conflict discussions for these projects.  

Damage to the charity's reputation

Compass found that the charity was not effective in managing its conflicts of interest. Despite trustees 'usually' reporting conflicts they were not always clearly recorded. The length of time taken to resolve the QRPedia property ownership issue, which remains ongoing with the project inactive, "created the risk of outsiders perceiving a potential conflict of interest", said the report. And Bamkin's acceptance of consultancy fees provided an opportunity for the charity's reputation to be damaged, it added.

Further, it was not always clear what 'voice' trustees were using, with many also involved in the delivery of some projects, or editing of the UK Wikipedia site. Compass's review says that the trustees "have contributed much time and thought" but warns that at times the "degree of detailed involvement in the organisation can make it challenging for a board to perform its primary roles of setting strategy and overseeing implementation". The board met on 16 occasions in the first 12 months, twice as many times as the Compass and Cass Business School characteristics of effective governance advise. In addition, Compass noted that: "We have heard of several emails a day going most days from trustees to staff." 

Compass advised that charity governance requires a "different mindset" to that of a Wikimedia UK volunteer and advised of the importance to "stand back from some of the detail".

The report warned on this point again in relation specifically to conflicts of interest:

"It proved challenging to manage potential conflicts of interest amongst a group of committed voluntary enthusiasts who were working closely together to build the organisation.

"Wikimedia UK did more than might be expected for a charity of its size and age to establish policies and procedures for managing conflicts of interest. However, the organisation did not always manage to stand back from the detail of the policies and recognise the dangers of not taking greater and more decisive action," it said.

50 recommendations

The Compass review follows a turbulent year for the charity's board which has seen numerous resignations as a result of these conflicts and the resignation of a further chairman, Ashley Van Haeften in relation to his work as a Wikipedia editor, being banned from editing the English language Wikipedia. The latest resignation was by treasurer John Byrne on 1 February in order to pursue "Wikimedia-related" employment opportunities. The board currently has five members, including Van Haeften who remains as trustee, although one of the Compass Partnership's 50 recommendations in the report is to increase the size of the board to nine.

In summary Compass makes 50 recommendations to Wikimedia UK, including the appointment of six elected trustees and three co-opted trustees that should be directly appointed by the board. The term of office for the chair should be extended to two years to encourage continuity, with a maximum three terms, it is advised.

In addition the charity is advised to appoint a governance committee to ensure the appropriate skills and experience in the board, manage elections and review the board's performance every two years. 

During the period of review Wikimedia UK was banned by the Wikipedia Foundation from participating in the annual global fundraiser. In a statement yesterday the charity advised that this ban remains in place and that it expects to "revisit the topic of the Wikimedia fundraiser when the time is right". The charity is not planning to support any new 'pedia' projects until at least the QRPedia ownership question is resolved. 

Looking forward, the charity advised: "With a clear list of recommendations and timeline for their implementation, Wikimedia UK is now in a position to improve and expand its policies and procedures, related not just to the  management of conflict of interest but also its management structure. The chapter will be discussing the findings with the community and begin their implementation at their forthcoming trustee meeting in February."

This meeting is due to take place tomorrow where the charity will consider which recommendations to implement. The Compass Partnership also recommended further external reviews to take place in 9 months and 18 months' time. 



[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear


  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.

Highest ever income reported at World Vision UK

2 Jul 2015

World Vision UK has reported its highest ever income of £71.8m, according to the charity’s latest set...

Charities are not doing enough to defend themselves over pay, conference hears

1 Jul 2015

Charities are not doing enough in response to attacks on chief executive pay, a Directory of Social Change...

VAT tribunal judgment on investment management fees worth tens of millions to the sector

30 Jun 2015

Charities should be able to reclaim VAT on investment management fees, a tribunal has ruled, in a move...

Richard Taylor to stay as director of fundraising at Cancer Research UK

3 Jul 2015

Richard Taylor has announced that he will be staying on as the director of fundraising at Cancer Research...

Funders must work better with charities, warns BIG England chair

3 Jul 2015

Charities and funders need to “get each other better” the chair of Big Lottery Fund England has said....

People's Postcode Lottery increases charity giving to 27.5 per cent of ticket price

3 Jul 2015

The People’s Postcode Lottery has announced it will increase the amount of money awarded to charity...

Institute of Fundraising unveils new mobile-compatible website

3 Jul 2015

The Institute of Fundraising has unveiled a new mobile-compatible website which it says better “reflects...

Get a mobile compatible website or lose donors, Google executive tells charity conference

2 Jul 2015

It is "not an option" for charities to have websites which don't work on mobile, because donors are increasingly...

Contactless donations set to soar, CAF study suggests

24 Jun 2015

There is a “massive future” for charity donations using contactless payment technology, according...

Join the discussion


Attending our one day courses is a highly effective way of ensuring new and existing trustees fully understand their role, responsibilities and liabilities.

>> Find out more <<