Development of organisations of the Wikiverse – what do we need to evolve?

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Development of organisations of the Wikiverse – what do we need to evolve?[edit]

Discussion note for the chairpersons-meeting of the Wikimedia organisations 2018 (20th April, 2018)


The number of Wikimedia-organisations has been constantly growing in recent years. Wikimedia-organisations are diverse in terms of their size, structure, activities and development. The facilitating bodies of the movement (e.g. Wikimedia conference, Affiliations committee) face the challenge of supporting all of these organisations in an equal but individual way. In terms of organizational development, the participation in movement-discussions, and the formal necessities and networking, there is no “one-size-fits-all” in a diverse, growing movement.

As growth continues to take place rapidly (+30 organisations in the last two years, i.e. a plus of ca. 35%), it is time to think about what we as a movement need for a healthy and sustainable organisational structure that continues to take the Wikimedia movement forward. In this short paper, I want to propose a form-follows-function-propose, i.e. examining the functions that should be carried out within the movement regarding organisational development in the first instance, and then thinking about by whom and in which structures can be carried out. This paper then focuses on what we need to do, not who should do it.

Possible functions[edit]

NOTE: In the following list, we name all functions that should be carried out whether they are currently being carried out or not. The functions we name here are not correlated with existing structures or with any future-structure that has been sketched to date - this is a stand alone list which outlines what the needs in relation to Wikimedia-organisations are. The term “body” is used to express that the responsibility for carrying out this function (committee or not, voluntary or not, carried out by Wikimedians or not …) is not something we are consigning to a specific group here.

Formality-function / accountability - Organisational health checks[edit]

We need a “body” to formally recognise and (in certain cases) de-recognise organisations as Wikimedia-organisations. This body should examine whether an affiliate organisation maintains basic organisational functionality and remains active. This would include regular checks on the activities of chapters and user groups in line with their stated mission.

Setting up the organisations’ framework - Mapping the Wikimedia ecosystem[edit]

We need a place / “body” to discuss how our organisations are related to each other, to produce a typology of organisations and to determine what is expected in terms of rights and duties by the different types of organisation (and if there are expectations at all).

Guidance for the new organisations (gatekeeper function) Leadership and organisational development[edit]

We need a “body” that supports new groups and organisations, especially Board members, providing mentoring and guidance on the soft-skills needed to lead an organisation and early stage organisational development, to prevent organisations from collapsing early on due to inexperience. This is also necessary to manage our voluntary resources in a cost effective and sustainable way.

Consultancy role (individual advice, best practices, help solving problems) Expert guidance[edit]

Once new organisations become better established, they will probably not need such close support, but will benefit from access to networks of people, or organisational clusters, who can share individual advice, best practices in leading an organisation of a similar size and solving problems of governance and management. We can not afford to make the same mistakes in all of our 126 organisations again and again – we need to handle our movement-resources wisely and strive to avoid crises, collapses and governance struggles together. We are independent entities, but not lonely entities.

Dealing with governance issues with local affiliates - Crisis management[edit]

In case specific governance issues occur (despite function #4) we need a solid structure for how organisations can quickly access individual advice, support to make decisions in case decision-making processes are broken, and get individual recommendations for the handling of the crisis (regarding function #1).

Conflict resolution / arguments between affiliates (also related to #1)[edit]

Some organisations may not only struggle internally, but instead or also have unresolved conflicts with other affiliations. We need a conflict-resolving body that can be called to mediate in these cases and can make recommendations as well. That said, we should make an effort to cooperate and have a mutual understanding instead of concentrating on conflicts.

Current bodies[edit]

  • Affiliations committee
  • Wikimedia Conference (including Program and Engagement-coordination)
  • Board Training, Learning Days, other capacity-building workshops
  • Community engagement team, WMF

Conclusion and recommendations[edit]

Existing community structures don’t currently deliver all of the functions identified here - so further development is required to support the healthy organisational structure needed to make sure the movement fulfills its ambition to “ become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge”, as per the Strategic Direction. We should therefore:

  • rethink our current support structures and reshape our bodies that carry out these functions to improve collaboration between organisations.
  • raise the awareness that healthy, sustainable organisational development is a necessary basis for a good engagement for Wikimedia, which we need as - according to our Strategic Direction - “the original premise of Wikimedia is that knowledge is built by people, who form communities”.
  • invest more money, time and effort in organisational development across the movement to increase cooperation across affiliates, make better use of knowledge and resources, and help foster a more professional work environment. Stronger and more confident organisations can better support “knowledge equity” (e.g. to “welcome people from every background to build strong and diverse communities”).

This call is aligned to the “Strategic Direction” and shall be part of the discussions in phase II. As most of us have endorsed the Strategic Direction, we have committed ourselves to “work together towards this future” and the authors of this paper want to encourage everybody to participate in this discussion. After our discussion at the chairpersons-meeting we shall therefore bring in the results of this discussion into the movement strategy process to have a further debate about this issue.

(v 0.2, tmh, 17/04/18)