Movement roles/Responses to initial questions

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Over the past few months, the movement roles work group has tried to hear from a range of Wikimedians. We asked for answers to our initial questions, comments on a blog, contributions to a fact base, help with a roles matrix, and thoughts on new models for groups. The volume of responses to each call has been disappointing, which has itself been "educational".

However, what we did hear in response to our initial questions was illuminating, even though the sample was neither large nor representative (nearly everyone we heard from is close to the chapters part of the movement). On this page we've tried to summarize what we heard, and offer some reflections for discussion.


Broad agreement that chapters should help advance movement goals, transparently[edit]

Most see chapters as helping advance movement goals:

  • “... local activities, to make things happen that move us on a local basis to what is our mission”
  • “Get people to contribute, edit”
  • “Build awareness before user-ship before participation”
  • “Awareness and partnerships with local institutions, e.g. universities”
  • “Provide a channel for those that wish to contribute but not write
  • Work alongside WMF offices in India, Brazil, Africa, etc.
  • Acting as a first point of contact for the movement (press, institutions etc.)

Most agree that chapters should be transparent “As open as possible without invading privacy” “Need to guard against corruption and allegations”

  • Although some qualified this, e.g. “elections and resolutions [should be transparent] but not board minutes”

Confusion on roles, accountability, and membership[edit]

Confusion about role of chapters

  • Email debate on internal-l about “Why do we have chapters?”
  • “Lack of clarity of their purpose”
  • Lack of interest in and response to our investigations

Confusion as to whom chapters are accountable

  • Movement, e.g. for adherence to mission and delivery of goals
  • Foundation
  • Other entities in the network
  • “Community”
  • Government
  • Members?

Confusion about whether chapters should be membership organizations or not

  • And, if so, how to guard against ‘takeover’ by ‘newcomers’
  • How open should membership be?
  • How should board be elected

Concerns that chapters do not yet contribute enough to movement goals[edit]

Concern that chapters require much work to set up

  • Email chain on “Help, my chapter is drowning”

And, that this work distracts or detracts from the movement goals

  • “Volunteers stop editing when involved with chapters”
  • “Mutual suspicion between chapters and editing community”
  • Different “culture”, e.g. hierarchical and nationalistic vs non-hierarchical and global
  • “Only ~1,000 involved” vs. 100,000 editing actively
  • Chapters not needed for Wikipedia, which runs ahead: more Wikipedias than chapters
  • Easier to open a chapter than a start a new Wikipedia
  • “We do not need chapters in the US”
  • “We are losing volunteers on Wikipedia”

Concerns that national chapter model is too inflexible or “Eurocentric”

  • How to include Catalonia, Quebec, etc.
  • “Idea of national chapters is hurting the movement”
  • “Chapter should not regulate activity in a country”
  • “We should let multiple groups flourish”
  • “Chapter formation is always contentious”
  • Fears that the NGO model works less well in the developing world where nonprofits are less common, and often foreign, corrupt, or both

Concerns that chapters not sufficiently accountable to the movement or Foundation

  • Audit report saying lack of accountability creates a “risk to the movement as a whole”
  • Fears of corruption from Latin America, E Europe, Africa
  • Chapter link to movement and foundation seen by some as weak
  • “We have over-privileged’ the chapters”
  • The foundation could ensure chapter transparency and enforce global alignment
  • “We need to be able to act when Chapter becomes inactive, such as Taiwan”
  • Chapter start up needs to be more centrally managed [by the Foundation], with money ... not just waiting for low-hanging fruit
  • Chap com “not transparent”, “misinterpreting rules”
  • “A cabal”

Concerns that the Wikimedia Foundation is not sufficiently accountable to the chapters[edit]

Concerns from some that the WMF is not sufficiently accountable to the chapters

  • WMF is ‘overpowering’, which chapters ‘balance’
  • Chapters are ‘second class’ to the foundation
  • WMF should not set up offices outside USA
  • A US chapter should be split out from The Wikimedia Foundation, which should then be come a global association, governed by a board of representatives from chapters
  • Chapters to be only route to WMF board and direct election by volunteers should end
  • The movement needs a new body or assembly which sits above the board to make decisions on the part of the whole movement

Which are not concerns shared by all

  • “WMF board is fine as it is now, with plenty of representation from around the world”

Suggestions of new approaches[edit]

‘TEDx’ approach to use of name by any group

  • Allow all groups to flourish in parallel with WMF agreeing to use of name or not
  • Local chapter should only have exclusive to represent as ‘national organization’ and perhaps for fundraising for legal purposes
  • “Chapter should not have a veto”

Chapters could have a series of graduated responsibilities in return for accountabilities

  • Start with legal registration and fundraising in country
  • Grow to more activities within a country
  • Perhaps take on a global lead role, once it has enough funds and volunteers
  • Eventually distribute global roles to build cohesion with “complementarity”



Wikimedian Affiliation Interviewer
Thomas de Souza Buckup "Wikimedia Brazil" Jon Huggett
James Forrester Wiki Educational Resource Ltd.
(Wikimedia UK v. 1.0)
Jon Huggett
Jon Davis (shakataganai) Wikinewsians Jon Huggett
Achal Prabhala Advisory Board Jon Huggett
Abbas Mahmoud Prospective Kenyan chapter Jon Huggett
Carol Rossini Brazil Catalyst Project (WMF) Jon Huggett
Béria Lima Wikimedian from Brazil but/and WMPT member Jon Huggett
Milos Rancic Wikimedian from Serbia, Wikimedia Serbia Anirudh Bhati

Posted on Meta[edit]

Wikimedian Affiliation
Joan Gomà Associació Amical Viquipèdia- Wikimedia CAT
David Richfield Wikimedia South Africa
Ray Saintonge Wikimedia Canada
Luis Ulzurrun Wikimedia España
Salmaan Haroon en.Wikipedia


  • "Conflicts between Local Chapters and Respective Editor Communities" presented by H Cain at Wikimania 2010
  • Audit Committee Presentation on Chapters for WMF Board August 26, 2010
  • "What Wikimedia can learn from the Red Cross and other large volunteer-driven organizations" presented by J Riggs at Wikimania 2009
  • Regional Cooperative Initiative for Ibero-America, G Vidoni


  • "How should Wikimedia organize itself?" by B Newstead in Harvard Business Review, May 2010


  • 2007 chapters survey

Email exchanges[edit]

  • "Why do we need chapters" initiated by Milos Rancic, Dec 2010
  • "Help, my chapter is drowning" initiated by Lodewijk, Dec 2010