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Chapters Dialogue/Summary

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Chapters Dialogue


Wikimedia is a global movement: the Wikimedia Foundation, the Wikimedia Chapters and the international communities work and fight for Free Knowledge. In spring 2013, Wikimedia Deutschland initiated a structured assessment of the movement organisations’ needs, goals and stories: the Chapters Dialogue. Nicole Ebber led the project and hired Kira Krämer, who adapted the Design Thinking methodology to the process.

In the course of the project (August 2013-February 2014), 94 movement representatives (volunteers and staff) from Chapters, the Wikimedia Foundation as well as the Funds Dissemination Committee and the Affiliations Committee were interviewed.

The interviewees spoke about their understanding of roles and relationships within the movement, of responsibilities that come with being a Chapter or being the WMF. They described their goals and stories, what support they need and who they think is in a position to offer this support.

The synthesis of all the interviews resulted in an overall picture of the movement and a distillate of the most pressing issues. The findings and insights cover these main areas, which have had a great influence on the movement as it is today.

Lack of empathy and the persistence of old narratives: All the conflicts described in this report are based on causes that are deep rooted and manifested in people’s perceptions about each other that still persist today. Each party in the movement has its own needs and tries to solve issues in its own interests, while lacking empathy for other views, opinions, contexts and behaviour.

Measuring success when exploring new territory: The movement lacks a definition of what impact actually means to it, as all Wikimedia activities can be described as exploring entirely new territory. Chapters struggle with proving that they and their activities are worth invested in while WMF has difficulty providing a clear movement strategy.

Organisational structures: Organisational structures have grown organically without any official recommendation for or analysis of the best organisational form to achieve impact. The lack of a shared understanding about the Chapters’ role and contribution to the movement causes severe insecurities and is fuelling conflicts and misperceptions.

Money-driven decisions: Creating a consensus about money, its collection and responsible dissemination (donors’ trust!) is scarcely possible. The Haifa trauma persistently blights the relationship between WMF and the Chapters, fuelled by additional disagreement about the new fundraising and grantmaking processes.

The gap in leadership: Who should take the leadership role and what should leadership in the Wikimedia movement look like? Adopting the narrowed focus, the WMF clearly states that it does not see the development of movement entities as their duty. Chapters on the other hand expect the WMF to take a leading role in Chapters’ development, while the WMF expects Chapters to be more proactive.

None of these conflicts can be viewed in isolation, and no solution can be developed without a thorough understanding and frank conversations about the causes in the first place. We therefore consider that it would be highly irresponsible to suggest solutions to any of the described issues. Instead, we have distilled tough questions from the insights that need to be addressed urgently and answered in an open and comprehensive manner:

  1. What do we as a movement want to achieve? Do we run a website or foster free knowledge? Why are we doing the things we do, and what for?
  2. How do we define impact when exploring new territory? And how do we measure success?
  3. What is the role of the Wikimedia Foundation?
  4. How do we want to communicate with each other? How can we build the necessary empathy and learn from each other? How can we overcome the old narrative and perceptions?
  5. Where does the money come from and where should it go? Should money be the limiting factor when striving for Free Knowledge?
  6. What movement framework is best suited to fulfil the Wikimedia mission?

The way things are at present inhibits the movement from striving effectively for Free Knowledge. Instead of using its full potential to further its mission, it revolves around itself. The common mission is at serious risk if the movement does not tackle the causes of its problems.

These tough questions can only be approached in a structured and professional way, with dedication and commitment. There is no point in tinkering with the symptoms and finding single-problem solutions.

The Chapters Dialogue concludes with the recommendation to build upon the insights and to initiate a sequel: the design of a framework for the Wikimedia movement in which it can work strongly and effectively towards its mission in a professional way, yet stay true to its grassroots and maintain its diversity.

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