Movement roles project/Peer organizations/Models

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At the risk of oversimplification, here is a short overview, with links to more for the curious. If anyone wants to comment, disagree or know more, just leave a talk page comment.

On this page are the conclusions, recommendations and a short description of each of the design models. There is also a separate page on each model – Mozilla, Olympics, Red Cross, MSF, and YMCA – with more detail on the likes and concerns of users, and examples of crisis responses.


I'll break out the issues below, but for those who want to cut to the chase, the outside-in top-line answer to each question is:

  • The Olympic movement is probably the best and closest "model" among the range of "peers" to the Wikimedia movement
    • The model offers much that Wikimedia needs, or has and can nurture:
      • open and inclusive to encourage participation
      • decentralized, with many different organizations affiliating and collaborating
      • globally coherent, with programs and resources that can respond to change flexibly
    • The model probably offers more than four other examples:
      • Mozilla is global and open, but centralized
      • Red Cross movement is global and decentralized, but its complex bureacracy is inflexible, and participation is limited by treaty
      • MSF (Medécins Sans Frontières) is becoming globally coherent, but is less inclusive (strict membership rules), with a complex hierarchy, and expensive overhead
      • YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) is open but globally incoherent: it runs no global programs nor has the ability to support one on the scale of Wikipedia
  • The biggest trap that global NGO movements fall into is fuzzy accountabilities. Compared to Wikimedia, four out of five of the other models (Olympics, Mozilla, Red Cross, Medécins Sans Frontières) have tighter accountabilities among movement entities. Fuzzy accountabilities can lead to:
    • Decision gridlock: more argument than action – small decisions taking too much time, and important decisions avoided
    • Bad resource allocation: money and volunteers staying close to the source and not moving to where they are needed and can have most impact
    • Corruption, which may sound like a strong word for a movement with as little money as Wikimedia has now, but it flourishes in organization with weak accountabilities, even when they are poor. Small, poor governments are often more corrupt than larger, richer ones. Each of the global movements strive to build accountability to protect against corruption, sometimes after damaging scandals, such as those that afflicted the Olympics and Red Cross, described below and in the attached pages.
  • The biggest warnings for Wikimedia from other models would be:
    • beware fragmenting global coherence. Other models have struggled to be able to act globally in ways that Wikimedia now takes for granted. It would be ironic or even tragic for the Wikimedia movement to lose its global coherence just as peers strive to build it.
    • beware becoming unrepresentative. Many NGO networks strives to be open, diverse and non-hierarchical, despite legacies of tight membership requirements, white male leadership, and more layers of hierarchy than comparable businesses. Wikimedia has been inclusive, especially of the marginalised, and has enjoyed a flat structure. To peers it would appear strange if Wikimedia were to become more exclusive (e.g. unfriendly to "newbies", more Euro-centric (e.g. giving disproportionate power to European or North American chapters), or add more hierarchy (e.g. "Wikicouncil").


Implications for the Wikimedia movement roles project are:

  1. Wikimedia can adopt a design that is globally coherent, decentralized and inclusive. Others, such as the Olympic movement have created successful designs that reflect these principles. This will require welcoming a variety of organizations to affiliate and co-exist alongside national chapters as equals or better. Such a design can allow Wikimedia to empower and support affiliates in line with their contribution to the mission, rather than on historical national boundaries.
  2. To tighten accountabilities Wikimedia should adopt a movement "charter" to clarify how different entities within the movement are held accountable. This will probably require an overhaul of the current accountabilities through 'chapcom', which has itself been criticized as unaccountable.
  3. To maintain global coherence the Wikimedia Foundation Board should be able to make decisions for the movement.
  4. The design of Wikimedia in general, and the Wikimedia Foundation Board in particular, should represent its billions of potential readers, millions of readers and hundreds of thousands of its contributors. For example, 60% of the current WMF board resides in the US, 30% in Europe, and 10% beyond, vs. a world population that is 5% American, 10% European, and 85% "other". Future designs might not give disproportionate power to any set of individuals (e.g ~3,000 chapter members) or types of groups (e.g. nationalistic chapters vs. international affiliations).

"Design models"[edit]

There are scores of global NGO movements, each of them unique. Wikimedia is also unique, and will remain so. Nobody is suggesting that Wikimedia should simply take on the design of another movement. But the experience of other NGOs can illuminate the choices for Wikimedia.

The following table offers a shorthand, first-person summary of how five other models might fit the needs of the Wikimedia movement:

“Design model” Mozilla Olympics Red Cross MSF YMCA
Helps Wikimedia effectively reach its goals [1] ~ ~ ~
stabilize infrastructure (can move resources flexibly) ~ ~
increase participation (includes range of groups) ~ ~ ~ ~
improve quality (coherent global decisions) ~
increase reach (can move resources flexibly and include a range of groups) ~ ~ ~ ~
encourage innovation (decentralized) ~
Helps Wikimedia raise and share resources efficiently
inclusive and non-hierarchical
clear accountabilities ~
globally coherent (not fragmented) ~ ~
efficient use of overhead ~ ~
flexible with responsive global decisions ~ ~

If those are the headlines, how does the detail break down?

“Design model” Mozilla Olympics Red Cross Medécins Sans Frontières YMCA
Description Global organization with branches in various countries Global organization at centre of broad association Global body plus separate association of national bodies Global integrating network of national organizations Association of national bodies with limited global organization
How it works Global body works locally through branches or national organizations with delegated power IOC runs Olympic games; association includes 205 national and >100 other sporting associations ICRC fulfills global treaty roles. IFRCRC is an association of national Red Cross bodies National organizations with varied roles coordinating in a global network for a shared goal Organizations operating and raising resources nationally in communication with peers
Other examples Human Rights Watch, World Bank, Creative Commons FIFA Few, if any, other NGOs have this design WorldVision, Greenpeace, Save the Children Scouting movement, Amnesty International
Why other NGOs adopted this design Responsive decisions with flexibility to move resources from where they are to where they can do most good Global coherence, resource focus, plus engagement of broad range of groups to build participation History – Red Cross movement has evolved since 1800s under Geneva Convention History – each evolved from a loose association into a global network to move resources to where needed Local strength is more important than global coherence with no great need to transfer resources among countries
What it might look like for editors, Wikipedia, and the other movement projects No change No change No change Editors need to belong to a national chapter Editors and projects allocated to chapters, e.g. German Wikipedia to Wikimedia Deutschland
What it might look like for the rest of the Wikimedia movement More offices of WMF outside US; Chapters focus on national representation of global movement, e.g. fundraising Chapters build movement within their nation; Other organizations work alongside national chapters WMF continues to host Wikipedia, etc.; New association of WM national chapters formed alongside WMF WMF broken into three parts: US chapter, global association, global secretariat WMF becomes an association of national organizations, resources held in national chapters
How would this be different from the current situation? Similar: chapters more accountable to movement; representation of chapters in global governance perhaps aligned with membership Most similar to current: new organizations affiliate alongside national chapters; clearer definitions of roles and responsibilities Breaks Wikimedia movement into two: (1) WMF + Wikipedias + other projects; (2) Association of chapters More complex design, which is likely to create friction, add costs – justifiable only if delivers even more resources and more impact, e.g. if chapter membership grows from thousands to millions Fragments Wikimedia from global movement into a number of national organizations and collaborations


Mozilla is more centralized, as is Creative Commons, and a number of other NGO movements. The centralization lends more flexibility, but goes against the principle of “decentralization” set by the Wikimedia Foundation board. It is also less inclusive than the model of the Olympics, which might hinder participation and reach.


From these five “design models”, the Olympic movement is probably both the most relevant model for Wikimedia, and the closest design to Wikimedia now. Both run a large, successful global program (the Olympic games, Wikipedia), with a strong, global brand. The Olympics has built participation with a large range of affiliates, including 205 national organizations and over 100 other associations that work in parallel. It raises and distributes resources globally. National organizations support the global movement and encourage participation, but are not primary gatekeepers for resources. For Wikimedia to adopt the best of the Olympic movement if would welcome a much wider, more inclusive range of affiliated organizations: chapters would work alongside other bodies – a change that the movement roles team has already proposed. At the same time, for Wikimedia to adopt the best of the Olympic movement would probably raise the bar on accountabilities for chapters and other organizations – more on this below.

Red Cross[edit]

The Red Cross movement is unique, with a design evolved over a century and a half. It’s structures are enshrined in law and treaties (Geneva Convention), but are inflexible. No other NGO movement has adopted its complex design: it has both a central global body (the International Committee of the Red Cross), and a separate and parallel association of national bodies (the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), many of which are themselves federations.


MSF (Medécins Sans Frontières), and a number of global movements are integrating networks of national organizations. Starting as loose associations, they have each evolved into tighter networks to have more impact, speak with one voice, move resources, and save costs. Many of these are humanitarian organizations that transfer resources from the developed world to the developing. National organizations in developing countries secure resources locally (e.g. child sponsorship through churches) which are sent to the developing world (e.g. disaster relief). These organizations have the advantage of being both global and local, but the design is costly: it requires considerable overhead and coordination. Many of the organizations with this design are working to become more globally integrated and flexible – in some ways to become more like Wikimedia. While national bodies can play a crucial role in the success of global movements, some movements have seen "nationalistic" structures to be an obstacle to global success. The only reason for Wikimedia to consider this design would be if it could deliver more impact or more resources, enough to justify the extra cost and inflexibility. For example, it could require that each editor join a national chapter.


YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) and the Scouting movement are global associations with presence in many localities but limited global organization or coordination. They raise resources locally, and use resources locally. They do not share or transfer substantial resources globally. For Wikimedia to adopt this design, it would essentially fragment the movement into a series of local projects in communication but not coordination.

Traps & warnings[edit]

Fuzzy accountabilities[edit]

The biggest trap that global NGO movements fall into is fuzzy accountabilities, which can lead to gridlock, and even corruption. Compared to Wikimedia, four out of five of the other models (Olympics, Mozilla, Red Cross, Medécins Sans Frontières) have tighter accountabilities among movement entities. Each affiliated body is accountable for standards of service, branding, transparency, inclusion, governance, and much more.

Each movement also has mechanisms to address problems. For example, both the Olympics and the Red Cross have to protect their brands carefully, as they are used so widely. Each has suffered from corruption, and learned accordingly. Corruption may sound like a strong word for a movement with as little money as Wikimedia has now, but it flourishes in organizations with weak accountabilities, even when they are poor. Small, poor governments are often more corrupt than larger, richer ones.

A global brand for a decentralized organization can be jeopardized by weak members.

"DFID, the UK Department for International Development, declined support for microfinance initiatives run by a network of affiliates after one if its members failed after receiving DFID investment. DFID felt that the network was not supporting the failing entity adequately. Future investments with the same network therefore looked less attractive."[2]

Comments heard in interviews include:

  • “One failure will bring the whole thing down” - failure in one member organization can hurt the rest of the network
  • "First issue is getting governance right at chapter and national levels"
  • "Local organizations need to have democratic governance or the organization is taken over"
  • "Need limited terms of office - otherwise leaders become too attached"
  • "Cultures mushroom. Many of the national societies have a distinct capability to mirror their country's culture"

For Wikimedia, this implies that each entity can meet all the standards every year, and that mechanisms are in place to limit the risk of associated organizations that are not meeting standards. For example, Greenpeace and Teach for All require global assent to the appointment of a national CEO, even if the national CEO reports to the local board.

Compared to other NGO movements, the current process for affiliating chapters is building risk, not managing it. There is a process for bringing in new chapters (chapcom), but weak monitoring of existing chapters, and no process to close or manage delinquent ones. This is adding to the risk to the worldwide movement of erosion of reputation or the brand, poor governance or corruption, and financial loss.

This may sound alarmist, but the call for clearer roles within the Wikimedia movement started the movement roles project in the first place:

"The purpose of the movement roles project is to clarify the roles and responsibilites of different entities, groups and people working to support the international Wikimedia movement." With this goal, the proposal for the movement roles project was approved by the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees in October.

Fragmenting global coherence[edit]

The biggest warning for Wikimedia from other models would be beware fragmenting global coherence. Other models have struggled to be able to act globally in ways that Wikimedia now takes for granted. Most movements have found that ambiguity in global decision-making can be corrosive and lead to creeping paralysis.

Global coherence has already enabled the Wikimedia movement to create a Wikipedia in ~250 different languages, Wiktionary, Wikinews, and much more. Most of these cut across national boundaries, and draw strength from being able to work globally. The English language Wikipedia is enjoyed and edited on six continents. The Tamil Wikipedia is primarily edited in North America by the diaspora, while 99% of Tamil speakers live in Asia.

However, one of the calls for the movement roles project was a fear of creeping incoherence. Among reasons advanced in October for launching the project were:

  • Current role confusion (later borne out by interviews conducted by the movement roles working group)
"By clarifying how different parts of the movement can support and rely on one another, we can develop a coherent global network and avoid the risks of dissipated energies or duplicated effort."
  • A belief that with time it will get harder to clarify roles:
"These sorts of issues can be solved more easily now, while most chapters and other Wikimedia groups (and the Foundation itself) are still developing their individual and community identities. Uncertainties about movement roles will only become harder to resolve in the future, so it is important to start addressing them now."

A number of global movements have struggled to rebuild coherence. Many decentralized early, often by "replicating" in different countries, and giving local management great autonomy to adopt and adapt. Some of these have been spurred to reintegrate. For example, 1976 half a dozen affiliates of Oxfam arrived independently in Guatemala in response to an earthquake. At that time Oxfam was a loose movement with no forum in which to make global decisions. Lack of coordination prompted Oxfam to integrate, starting with initial relief efforts.[3] Save the Children and other humanitarian movements have similar stories of how their responses to emergencies was hampered by lack of coordination among their national organizations.

The effort required to re-integrate a fragmented movement suggests that if Wikimedia wants to remain coherent, then it might be easier to design the right organization for the long haul now, rather than let it fragment, and then try to pull it together again. Wikimedia is already has much of the global coherence for which other movements strive.

Becoming unrepresentative[edit]

Any design for the Wikimedia movement should be "representative" of:

  • billions of future users
  • millions of current users
  • 500,000 contributors
  • 300,000 active authors
  • 100,000 making 5+ edits/month
  • 2,600 chapter members

While no single design is perfectly "representative", one that is "unrepresentative" will find it hard to raise or allocate resources. Readers, volunteers, and donors will leave. The organization will fail to move energy and resources to where they can have the most impact and do the most good.

In many NGO movements this is a question that is often raised, answered, and raised again. Most global NGO movements need to be able to make global decisions, if nothing else to move resources from where they are to where they need to be. Wikimedia needs to move resources to support the infrastructure and build participation, often in different parts of the world that are now able to provide the resources. Humanitarian NGOs, for example, exist to move scarce resources, often from the developed to the developing world. These decisions are never easy, and are usually a flash-point: for a good cause there are always more needs than resources. If there are more than enough resources to go around, the cause may not be that pressing.

No single design will be perfectly "representative", and there are as many definitions of "representative" as there are NGOs movements, e.g.:

The practical question for Wikimedia is who can make decisions for the Wikimedia movement. One one hand, some have the view that the board of the Wikimedia Foundation Board can make decisions on behalf of the movement, others have argued that another, "more representative" body should sit above the board. Different suggestions have been advanced over the years, such as “WikiCouncil” which would act “as parliament guides and controls a government”.

Most other global NGO movements have either a two-tier or a three-tier structure to make decisions for the global movement. Most movements have two tiers like Wikimedia. Some, such as the Olympics or Medécins Sans Frontières have a third tier of hierarchy:

  1. Global executive or secretariat with full-time staff, which report to the ...
  2. Global board which meets about 5 times a year, in some cases with members elected or selected by ...
  3. A more senior body that sits above the board and meets about once a year to pick board members and make long-term decisions, such as the location of the next Olympics.

The third tier is always expensive – it costs money and time – so has justify itself with better or more legitimate decisions. Adding an extra tier of hierarchy does not necessarily make for better or legitimate decisions. Legitimacy often comes from being "representative". Large third tiers are not necessarily more representative than a well-chosen board.

This also raises for the Wikimedia movement the question of where the national chapters fit in global governance. In interviews some Wikimedians saw national chapters as a 'counter-balance' to the Wikimedia Foundation. If the Wikimedia movement designed its global governance from scratch, using learnings from peer organizations, it would need to assess how much stakeholder legitimacy national chapters bring, either as providers of resources (e.g. active participants or money) or as beneficiary stakholders - such as Wikipedia users.


Each of the models is described in more detail on the following pages:

The Wikimedia Foundation Board endorsed the project proposal in October 2010, reflecting its resolution from February 2010:

“The board affirms the importance of a strong decentralized movement structure and its own responsibility to lead organizational development of the international Wikimedia movement, and directs the Executive Director to dedicate necessary resources to this.”

Case studies from strategy work


  • "Greater than the "Sum of the Parts"? Getting in Shape? How to make a large international NGO be more than the sum of its parts", by M Ryan and J Crowley, to be published by ADP, 2011
  • "Moving from Loose Global Associations to Linked Geographic Networks" by J Huggett, published in Scaling Social Impact: New Thinking by Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  • "Growing Global NGOs Effectively" by J Huggett, K Smith-Milway & K Kramer; published in Monday Developments, 2010
  • "Managing Boundaries between Organizations and Communities: Comparing Creative Commons and Wikimedia" by L Dobusch & S Quack, 2010, P2P Foundation wiki [1]
  • "When the Network Does Not Work" by J Huggett, published by Centre for Social Impact, University of New South Wales, 2009
  • "One for all and all for one" by M. Webster and P. Walker, published by Feinstein International Center, Tufts Universtiy, 2009.

Many have written about decentralization at Wikimedia, including Clay Shirky [4] and Joseph Reagle.[5]

Additional interviews:

  • Adrio Bacchetta: Medécins Sans Frontières, Amnesty International and ActionAid
  • Diane Peters, Creative Commons
  • Gib Bulloch, Accenture Development Partners: Oxfam
  • James Crowley, The Crowley Institute, African Medical and Research Foundation, WorldVision, Catholic Relief Services, Amnesty International
  • Mark Surman: Mozilla Foundation
  • Mathew Varghese: International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • Michelle Thorne: Creative Commons
  • Mike Linksvayer: Creative Commons
  • Morgana Ryan: Accenture Development Partners, Save the Children, Plan
  • Paul Gilding: Greenpeace
  • Paul Williamson: London 2012, International Olympic Committee and Féderation Internationale de Football Association


  1. Wikimedia the movement strategic plan
  2. J. Huggett, 2010. "Moving from Loose Global Associations to Linked Geographic Networks" published in Scaling Social Impact: New Thinking by Palgrave Macmillan
  3. Jon Huggett, Katie Smith Milway, and Kirk Kramer, 2009. "Increasing Effectiveness in Global NGO Networks". Bridgespan.
  4. Clay Shirky, 2010. "Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age". The Penguin Press
  5. Joseph Michael Reagle Jr., 2010. "Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia. The MIT Press