Movement roles project/Peer organizations

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Peer organizations :   Models and recommendations  ·  Why now  ·  Other notes

From the proposal, "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." Other global NGOs have wrestled with this and similar questions.

Here are a few observations from a broad scan of organizations that have been described as "peers".


Each global NGO, NGO network, or NGO movement is unique. Each has evolved its own organization. It is impossible to pick a "model" which the Wikimedia movement should follow. That said, a scan of patterns and stated principles suggests some implications for Wikimedia on:

  • the role of national organizations in a global movement
  • how to assess alternative organizational approaches
  • global decision-making for a decentralized movement

Role of national organizations in global movements[edit]

While Wikimedia has been building up a network of national "chapters", a number of global peers are either not emphasizing a national approach, or are actively integrating global networks. The investment in chapters by Wikimedia with exclusive national rights contrasts with the direction of many other movements, some of which are investing to integrate national entities and globalize capabilities. 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 implication for Wikimedia is that it should learn from the successes of other global movements with national groups, and, ideally, not repeat the mistakes that they are either trying to avoid or correct. This could suggest:

  • investing in national chapters in the context of a kaleidoscope of non-national groups and entities which collaborate (or even compete) to help the movement meet its mission and goals
  • giving strong national chapters a global lead role on an issue or capability – in complementary arrangements with the Wikimedia Foundation, other national chapters, and other Wikimedia entities and groups
  • ensuring that each national chapter "contributes" more to the movement over the long haul than it "costs" – for example by adjusting roles and responsibilities dynamically

A quick scan of global organizations that have been described as "peers" to Wikimedia can be broken into:

  • web-based, volunteer-driven NGO networks
  • globalizing NGO networks, and
  • looser NGO movements

Web-based, volunteer-driven NGO networks[edit]

Two notable web-based, volunteer-driven NGO networks are building local support without heavy reliance on national chapters

Mozilla Foundation is building local participation through informal activities

  • About 50k active volunteers
  • Avoiding a chapter structure or “entities without goals for effective contribution to the global movement”
  • Most legal entities are in the USA
  • Entities outside the USA (one in France and one in Japan) do not have independent boards

Creative Commons is partnering with existing organizations

  • Has pulled back from creating chapters
  • More focused on building participation
  • Board is co-opted with active recruitment for non-US member(s)

Mozilla, Creative Commons, Wikimedia and others are meeting to share ideas on growing participation at "Global Melt" in Berlin on March 27-29.

A number of older NGOs with global reach have also maintained a relatively centralized global organization through a number of cycles of growth while nurturing local roots, such as The Nature Conservancy, Human Rights Watch, etc.

Globalizing NGO networks[edit]

Over the past decade or two, a number of NGO networks have reorganized for for impact, voice and resources, usually by globalizing. Enabled by technology, some integrated NGO networks have emerged from what were, before, loose movements. 'Integrators' such as WorldVision have been able to grow, some by a factor of 3x in a decade, and claim a commensurate or greater increase in impact. This, they would argue, justifies the investment in integration: reorganization, coordination, communication, etc.

Save the Children has transformed from a 'movement' to an 'organization'

  • Founded in 1919 in UK and replicated in other developed countries over decades, with each 'replicant' operating in the developing world, often alongside or overlapping other 'replicants'
  • Twenty years ago was more of a 'movement' than an organization, with little ability to coordinate quickly, e.g. responses to global disasters
  • Different constituent parts of Save the Children (developing country NGOs) operating in the same developing country now share a 'unified presence', e.g. shared office space
  • Save the Children has developed an international board with global capabilities to act in the field

Oxfam has become a tighter network around a shared name

  • Founded in 1946 in UK and now replicated in a variety of countries, e.g. Oxfam America
  • Twenty years ago had no regular meeting to make movement-wide decisions
  • Has developed ability to act coherently globally, partly to respond to humanitarian disasters, and partly to be able to advocate clearly and cogently on development issues

Other NGO movements that have actively integrated into global networks include Médecins San Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Habitat for Humanity International, and WorldVision. Some have designed their organization to integrate national bodies into the global network, for example:

It seems fair to note that the Wikimedia movement already has many of the ingredients of a coherent global network for which others strive

  • Global programs
  • Global brand
  • Shared mission and goals
  • "Relationships and processes which bind the movement together more than structures and architecture"

Looser global NGO movements[edit]

Not all global NGO movements have integrated globally. A number of other global NGO movements (e.g. YMCA, World Organization of the Scout Movement have remained decentralized, as it would be hard to justify the investment of integration in terms of more impact, a unified voice, or better access to resources. They remain 'multi-local' movements.

However, while they remain decentralized, some (e.g. the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement) are working to improve standards of governance and transparency in member organization. Comments heard 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"

All of which, it must be said, emphasizes the need for the highest standards of governance and transparency in the global organization!

Assessing alternative organizational approaches[edit]

Most global NGO movements consider alternative organizational approaches from time to time. Three themes emerge from NGO movements evaluating organizational options, particularly among those that have globalized to grow. Most have been looking for new organization designs that can deliver:

  • more impact, e.g. respond to humanitarian disasters better, quicker, cheaper (or avoid problems of uncoordinated if well-intentioned responses)
  • a unified voice, e.g. to advocate for a cause worldwide (or at least not be embarrassed by conflicting positions from different parts of a movement)
  • better access to resources, e.g. more volunteers or more money (or at least not alienate supporters from one country by problems in another)

These criteria can sometimes conflict. The desire for more impact and a unified voice can pull for centralization. The need for more resources can pull for decentralization. To square this circle, a number of global NGOs have followed some multinational businesses by creating "globalized' organizations that are both coherent and decentralized, which can be both attractive and expensive. It has become possible because technology has lowered the cost of coordinating distributed organizations from prohibitive to merely expensive. And the investment is worth the expense if the organization can glean both the benefits of being globally coherent, and the benefits of being a truly grass-roots organization that can secure money, volunteers and access to power wherever it works.

The criteria fit closely with the brief given to the movement roles workgroup by the Wikimedia Foundation board. An outside-in view of Wikimedia would say that the movement already has much of the global ability for which many "peers" strive. There are ~250 language Wikipedias, many of which operate across many countries, all of which operate out of the Wikimedia Foundation. As we consider different options for the Wikimedia movement, it might be worth evaluating which options deliver:

  • more impact, e.g. achievement of movement goals
  • a unified voice, e.g. consistent representation of Wikimedia brand
  • better access to resources, e.g. recruit more volunteers, secure more funds


A number of global NGO networks have organized to deliver more impact, e.g.:

  • Better or quicker response to humanitarian disasters (e.g. Médecins San Frontières) with global decision-making and national resources shared or consolidated. Wikimedia already has and will continue to need effective global decision-making for ~250 different language Wikipedias as well as other projects. It is fair to say that many other global NGO movements strive for the level of global coordination that Wikimedia projects now enjoy (and should not discard without serious thought).
  • Lower costs (e.g. Save the Children with 'Unified Presence'), especially when national organizations are too small to deliver scale in many functions. Accenture Development Partners is a philanthropic arm of Accenture which helps many global NGOs lower costs by consolidating sub-scale national functions into global or regional capabilities. Wikimedia should be aware of replicating functions in national organizations that could be performed more efficiently, effectively, or quickly in a shared capabilities.
  • Deeper expertise for specific functions (e.g. Action Contre La Faim giving the UK organization global responsibility for evaluation and links to schools of tropical medicine). Wikimedia could distribute some global capabilities among different entities in the movement, for example with Wikimedia Deutschland taking global leadership on a selected issue.
  • Better understanding of beneficiary needs (e.g. Riders for Health with national organizations in developing countries to work with local governments). The implication for Wikimedia is the need to consider how to reflect the needs of beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries who are distant from the heart of the movement and its organization. Dimensions to consider might be geography, gender, generation, income, race, sexual orientation, etc.

Unified voice[edit]

A number of global NGO networks have organized to be able to speak with one voice, e.g.:

  • Maintained centralized leadership of advocacy (e.g. Human Rights Watch)
  • Coordinated public position on key policy issues (e.g. Oxfam)

Global NGO networks are increasingly looking to protect and develop their brands consistently around the world (e.g. World Wildlife Fund).

It is fair to say that Wikimedia is already able to speak with a unified voice in ways that other NGO movements have worked hard to achieve. And outside-in view would suggest that Wikimedia should not walk away without due consideration from the ability to speak as one, and from a consistent brand.

Better access to resources[edit]

Access to resources is a key consideration in most organization design. It is often a motivation for strong local organizations, e.g.:

As donors and investors become global, some organizations have globalized to be able to work with major philanthropists (e.g. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) or government bodies (e.g. the UK Department for International Development) which have offices and decision-makers in multiple locations. Examples include:

Global decision-making for a decentralized movement[edit]

A number of NGO movements – centralized and decentralized – make global decisions. While each process is unique, some design principles are widely used. Each uses some kind of hierarchy, even as most would describe their values as "non-hierarchical" and demonstrate behavior that is anti-authoritarian or even anarchic. And, to give legitimacy to global decision making, each uses a unique mix of accountabilities to different groups of stakeholders.

While peers offer a large range of options to consider, designing a new model from scratch using peer experience could deliver a body similar to the Wikimedia Foundation board. With the right election or selection of members, and defined decision-making power, it could look like the board of an number of other NGOs movements.

There are examples, considered below, of NGO movements which have created an über-assembly to govern the board – to select its members and take large infrequent decisions. The IOC is such an example, where its full body of over 100 members meets infrequently to decide the location of the next Olympics, etc. Movements that have created such a body weigh the benefits (such as better legitimacy or better decisions) with the costs.

Widely-used design principles[edit]

  1. All decisions-making processes should be:
    • effective - makes the right decision for the movement
    • efficient - makes the right decision with a fair use of time and energy
    • timely - makes the right decision on time
  2. Major decisions should also be
    • legitimate - decisions made on behalf of the movement and its stakeholders
    • transparent - seen to be the right decision, and open to fair scrutiny from stakeholders
  3. Different global decisions may require different processes, which can be optimized for:
    • responsiveness, e.g. for humanitarian relief, PR
    • efficiency, e.g. for administration (such as Mercy Corps "office-in-a-box")
    • effectiveness, e.g. for strategic decisions such as whether to treat chronic as well as acute diseases
  4. Decisions are made with shared criteria, which hopefully reflect alignment around
    • mission
    • "theory of change"
    • goals

Common features of hierarchies in "non-hierarchical" global movements[edit]

To bake these principles into practical processes, decisions are often tiered up and down a hierarchy, e.g.

  • Managers make operating decisions, individually or as a team
  • Managers report to boards, often national boards
  • National boards cede some power to the international board
  • Most global, strategic decisions are made by the international board, which meets about quarterly

For many organizations the global board is the 'capstone' of the global organization - the body that can make decisions for the global movement. Some global NGO networks also have, above the board, a global 'über-assembly' which may meet less frequently (e.g. annually) to make very major strategic decisions, decide which organizations can be admitted, or to elect the international board. Examples of NGO movements with such as 'general assembly' include Médecins San Frontières, Amnesty International, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Olympic Committee.

An example of a volunteer-driven membership organization that makes global decisions is Médecins San Frontières – an association of associations:

  • Each constituent part of MSF is a membership organization, governed by its members
  • Individual membership requirements standardizing worldwide: current or past volunteer or staff memeber
  • Constituent organizations are ordered into 5 operating centers (the original 5 MSF countries: France, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands) which each appoint one international board director and two delegates to the International General Assembly; 14 other country organizations (e.g. Germany, USA, UK) which each send two delegates to the general assembly; and 11 other membership organizations that are not yet represented in global governance. The International General Assembly meets annually to appoint seven more board directors and decide whether countries should be admitted (or expelled).
  • Decision-making is different according to different kinds of decisions, e.g.
    • Chief executives of five operating centers can respond quickly to humanitarian disasters globally
    • International board makes global strategic decisions
    • General assembly admits new member associations
    • Field managers make decisions concerning safety of volunteers in their country

Amnesty International is another example of a volunteer-led membership organization; its form is a loose association of associations

  • About 4m members worldwide
  • Governed by an annual meeting of hundreds of delegates from constituent organizations, in proportion to membership

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is the association of national Red Cross or Red Crescent organizations

International Olympic Committee runs the Olympic Games

  • Governed by an annual "session" of 115 members, representing 205 national associations, athletes, and a full-time staff of about 150.
  • Annual "session" elects the International Executive Board of 15

The implication for the Wikimedia movement is that it might either make the Wikimedia Foundation board the 'capstone' of governance for the movement (and therefore empowers it to make decisions on behalf of the movement), or it pick another group to make movement-wide decisions, e.g. on goals or board membership.

Accountability for global decision making bodies[edit]

Different movements give legitimacy in different ways to the body or bodies which can make global decisions. Each movement has developed its own approach, often after considerable development, discussion, debate or dispute. The ultimate authority in global NGO governance usually derives its legitimacy from a group or mix of stakeholders, e.g.:

Among these sources of legitimacy from stakeholders, in practice, there are are tradeoffs and conflicts. Different groups of stakeholders may have different points of view. Favoring stakeholders that deliver resources can support the health of the organization, but leave questions open as to how well the movement is helping those in whose name it raises resources. In practice, it can make governance male and pale. Favoring beneficiaries stakeholders can alienate those with the needed time, talent or treasure to help. Hence, many organizations try to balance multiple sources of legitimacy.

The implication for the Wikimedia movement is that its own global decision-making body or bodies should be accountable to the right balance of stakeholders.

A question this raises for the Wikimedia movement is 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, following the lessons and experience of peer organizations, it would need to assess how much stakeholder legitimacy national chapters bring, either providers of resources (e.g. active participants or money) or as beneficiary stakholders - such as Wikipedia users..


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, published by P2P Foundation
  • "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.

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
  • Matthew 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