Organizational effectiveness/Case studies/Amical Wikimedia
Associació Amical Viquipèdia (Amical Wikimedia) Case Study on Organizational Effectiveness October 2014
The Associació Amical Viquipèdia (Amical Wikimedia) focuses on collecting and sharing information on the Catalan language and culture. Founded in 2008, Amical Wikimedia was recognized as a thematic organization on June 7, 2013 after three attempts to gain recognition from the Wikimedia Foundation. Amical Wikimedia is the only recognized thematic organization in the Wikimedia movement, and was recognized after the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees approved a new model for Thematic Organizations in the Wikimedia movement. Unlike Chapters, Thematic Organizations work within a specific area of focus that is not required to be related to geography. Its mission is 1) for the sum of all human knowledge to be available in the Catalan language and 2) for all knowledge about Catalan culture to be available in every language. Amical operates as a membership organization: members of the thematic organization pay an annual fee and exercise voting rights. Today, Amical Wikimedia has 82 active members who are monthly contributors, and over two thousand total contributors.
Amical has achieved significant impact in a short period of time. For example, in two years monthly Catalan page reads on Wikipedia have doubled. Amical Wikimedia started with four or five libraries in its network of public libraries; today there are more than 100 libraries in Catalonia participating in Wikimedia projects, and five initiating and running their own programs related to the Wikimedia projects. Amical Wikimedia’s employee describes some of the key factors behind its success to date: “You have to know what are you capable of and we are still learning - you have to know what you want to do, that is key. In the beginning we would say yes to everyone. Then, you have to bring the community into that strategy, and if you don’t have that community, nobody will participate in the project.” Amical attributes some of its success to its willingness to say “no” to certain opportunities that either don’t fit with its strategic plan and overall goals, or are unlikely to be supported by volunteers over time. This has allowed the group’s membership to focus its limited financial resources and not take on more activities than it can do. This case study will provide an overview of the characteristics and processes at Amical that contribute to the group’s organizational effectiveness. Data in this case study come primarily from a phone call with Amical’s sole staff member to talk specifically about organizational effectiveness.
Amical Wikimedia places volunteer engagement at the center of its community. Instead of understanding the organization’s main role as prioritizing projects and then recruiting volunteers to do them, Amical understands its role as supporting volunteer-led projects. The organization uses a variety of methods to empower volunteers:
- Using a tiered system (or ladder) of volunteer engagement and specialization to provide the right level of independence and support for volunteers. Amical uses an informal five-circle framework to classify volunteers, ranging from limited engagement at the outer fifth circle (for example, a one-time participant at an edit-a-thon) to sustained, active engagement at a leadership level in the first circle (for example, regular contributions and leadership of projects). At the first-circle level, volunteers might learn how to run a workshop, train a group of editors who in turn will train others, or put together a team of others to run an innovative new project that advances Catalan free knowledge. This step-by-step involvement allows volunteers to grow as their passion, skill and time permit, and helps them feel like an integral part of the organization.
- Allowing volunteers to set Amical’s priorities. All of Amical Wikimedia’s program priorities are determined by volunteers. It understands its role as supporting volunteer efforts wherever they may lead. Amical is not interested in having its governing board members or a more “select” group of volunteers set organizational priorities, as it feels this can prevent meaningful volunteer engagement. The organization’s sole paid employee may use his time to meet with partners or institutions between 9am-5pm, a timeframe that is difficult for volunteers who are working full-time in other jobs. However, he is always asking whether a particular organizational initiative can be supported and sustained on a purely volunteer basis; if it cannot, the project is not pursued. As an active Wikipedia contributor himself, Amical’s employee has credibility within the community and is part of it.
- Administering an annual survey among the Catalan Wikimedia Community. This survey allows Amical to learn about its user/participant base by understanding the socio-demographic profile, interests, perceptions, and opinions of the readers and editors of Catalan Wikimedia projects. The survey has become an essential tool to promote activities in the community, to check on the status of articles, to identify and fill gaps in content, and to define mid-term and long-term projects and goals for the organization by obtaining feedback on Amical’s strengths and weaknesses. It helps to match volunteers with projects that will interest them; to understand how much “bandwidth” the community has in terms of volunteer hours to devote to projects; and gives Amical leadership a sense of which demographic groups it should target to increase diversity within its volunteer base.
Amical Wikimedia recognizes that it can’t achieve its mission alone, and therefore relies on a number of strategic partnerships to further its cause. By engaging institutional partners, Amical Wikimedia has been able to expand its community, attract talented and invested volunteers, and sustain longer-term projects. Examples of Amical Wikimedia’s partnerships are listed below.
- Partnerships with universities/scholars to conduct research projects. Research projects have included topics such as the emerging free culture movement, university teachers’ attitudes and practices regarding Wikipedia, and the influence of cultural identity on user engagement in Wikipedia. University partnerships have included Autonomous University of Catalonia, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and Autonomous University of Barcelona. These projects have helped Amical Wikimedia expand and share knowledge related to the link between open knowledge and Catalonian culture.
- Partnership with the Public Libraries Network of Catalonia. Amical Wikimedia is aiming to develop sustainable relationships with the 365 libraries that make up the whole Public Libraries Network of Catalonia. This will allow Amical Wikimedia to use the existing library network to extend its reach, gain access to less-populated areas, and create a new network of “Wikimedia entry points” for people who may be less likely to encounter Wikimedia in their day-to-day activities.
- The GLAM-Wiki initiative. This initiative aims to help cultural institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) share their resources through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors. During 2011 and 2012, Amical Wikimedia prioritized collaboration with museums, which was very successful. Now Amical Wikimedia has a network of GLAMs that initiate and run their own Wikimedia projects and only request assistance from Amical Wikimedia when needed.
Amical Wikimedia aims to engage in continuous peer learning with other Wikimedia organizations to improve its own processes, and to increase its impact. As part of this work, it focuses on learning from and collaborating with both larger chapters and chapters or user groups with smaller budgets, and with chapters and user groups with different non-monetary resources. Examples of these partnerships include:
- An international exchange program with Wikimedia Sverige. The purpose of this program is to have a “city exchange” between Stockholm and Barcelona. The two organizations are also translating articles to and from Catalan and Swedish. This benefits Amical Wikimedia because it helps it to deepen its network and gains additional publicity, and it also helps Wikimedia Sverige.
- Contribution to Wikimedia México edit-a-thon. A nickname for Amical Wikimedia is the “Catalan army” because of its interest in helping other chapters. When Wikimedia México held an edit-a-thon after a major earthquake to create more accurate and complete information about a local event, the organization reached out to Amical Wikimedia for assistance, and Amical Wikimedia mobilized members and the Catalan Wikimedia community to pitch in. Amical Wikimedia views this kind of partnership and collaboration as part of its role as a thematic organization in the Wikimedia movement.
- Sharing information about projects with the Wikimedia community. Amical Wikimedia has recently developed a global blog to promote organizational sharing and learning. However, it acknowledges that it needs to find more volunteers who are interested in updating the blog, in addition to or instead of focusing time on other projects.
Amical Wikimedia also has challenges or barriers to organizational effectiveness; for example, it has a strategic plan, but the plan could be stronger. Internal audits show that Amical Wikimedia can still strengthen many aspects of its organizational model and could have a stronger strategic plan with more focused metrics so it can better understand its impact over time. Amical Wikimedia’s leadership acknowledges that it needs to have stronger metrics and evaluation processes in place, and the organization is planning to develop and implement a more rigorous strategic plan in 2015.
Amical Wikimedia offers some approaches to organizational effectiveness that could be adapted by other Wikimedia organizations. These include:
- Using a tiered system of volunteer engagement. Amical maximizes its ability to work with volunteers effectively by using a tiered system, or ladder of engagement, to offer the right levels of support to volunteers at different stages. In this way, volunteers are given both support and learning opportunities appropriate to their levels of engagement. Other Wikimedia organizations could think about understanding how their volunteers engage with their work in different ways, and developing criteria for different tiers of volunteers.
- Saying no to some opportunities and considering every opportunity in the context of organizational priorities. Wikimedia Amical recognizes it has limited resources (e.g. time, staff, money), and prioritizes high impact projects that will be sustainable without long-term organizational investment. They rely on volunteers and partners to support impactful projects in the long term. Therefore, Amical Wikimedia saves its resources to work on strategies that have high impact AND can be supported by volunteers over time. Other organizations could follow this strategy by focusing their limited resources according to their own organizational priorities, and not responding to some opportunities that are not in line with their own strategies for organizational effectiveness.
- Engaging in partnerships with organizations, networks or associations that already have the infrastructure and resources to support, host or initiate Wikimedia-related projects on their own, or with limited support. Amical Wikimedia is establishing a partnership with a whole network of public libraries, allowing it to gain access to a wider infrastructure, and allow it to reach more people than it would if it partnered with one library at a time. Other Wikimedia organizations may be able to look at other organizations that have a network or communications infrastructure already in place to see if there is potential for partnering at a high level and scaling the impact of volunteer work.