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Wikimedia Österreich (Wikimedia Austria) Case Study on Organizational Effectiveness, October 2014

Wikimedia Österreich is a Wikimedia chapter based in Austria. It was recognized on February 26th, 2008 and its first board was elected at a chapter meeting on May 2nd, 2008. Today, the chapter consists of 2.5 full-time staff members and eight board members and engages over six hundred participants. Wikimedia Österreich’s desired impact is to be an effective service provider for its community and to create high-quality Wikimedia projects. The organization defines its effectiveness in terms of how well it can satisfy the needs of its community and increase its volunteer base. This case study will provide an overview of how Wikimedia Österreich perceives its approach to organizational effectiveness. Data for this case study were collected through survey findings of an impact tool and a one-hour-long phone call with the Executive Director of Wikimedia Österreich.

Wikimedia Österreich’s volunteer structure supports volunteers doing what they are passionate about. Focus is on a flexible, low-key approach to volunteer support that keeps volunteers engaged in the mission. Specifics of volunteer support include:

  • Allowing volunteers to “do what they do best.” Wikimedia Österreich encourages volunteers to specialize in areas where their strengths and passions are. Volunteers are also given the opportunity to receive training and become an integral part of the organization through being asked to attend important organizational meetings or conferences.
  • Engaging the right person for the job. Staff and volunteers work together to identify any areas where the chapter’s needs aren’t being met and to determine who has the strengths to address them. When a need emerges, staff look first to see if any volunteers are qualified and willing to help, and only then to see if staff need to step in. If neither staff nor volunteers have the capacity to address the need, the organization contracts out to consultants. Though costlier, this allows the organization to ensure volunteers are being engaged in work they are most passionate about.
  • Facilitating broader community connections. Wikimedia Österreich connects volunteers with other similar organizations and acts as a hub between among communities. There is a community manager in place whose job is to align different stakeholders in the community. These broader connections help Wikimedia Österreich pull in volunteers who are involved in similar causes and who may be interested in the Wikimedia movement, as well as learn about how other similar groups recruit, manage, and reward volunteers.

Wikimedia Österreich has formal and informal structures and cultural norms in place that make organizational effectiveness and improvement a key focus of the organization.

On the formal side, Wikimedia Österreich created a Good Governance Code which describes principles of a responsible organizational culture by ensuring responsible leadership, control, and communications without compromising efficiency. When Wikimedia Österreich began professionalizing, it became clear that there was a need for role clarity and a way for the staff and board to effectively communicate. The Good Governance Code defines and outlines the responsibilities of the executive and the board. Several factors have made this project successful for Wikimedia Österreich.

  • Doing the research first. In order to create the code, Wikimedia Österreich relied on the advice of other Wikimedia Chapters and engaged in a benchmarking process with other nonprofit organizations.
  • Flexibility in the project. The Good Governance Code was set up as a pilot project to allow for adjustments. It was created with the understanding that it would have to evolve in order to effectively meet the specific needs of the chapter.
  • Evolutionary process. After a year, community members are becoming more involved. It is still a work in progress, but the Good Governance Code has given the chapter a framework for decision-making and communication.

Informally, Wikimedia Österreich also focuses on quality improvement through cultural norms. The goal is to create a quality management and improvement process where daily tasks are consistently analyzed and improved. These norms include:

  • Creating a culture of transparency. By being open and transparent about what isn’t working, the chapter hopes to create a culture of continuous improvement. “Failures” are shared with a broader community and understood as an opportunity for learning and strengthening.
  • Collaborative problem solving. Wikimedia Österreich has found a simple way to solve problems more effectively. For staff, this includes a large piece of paper on a wall in their office exclusively for sharing ideas and problems. Every week or so, they review each item, offer an explanation about why it is there, and come up with a solution together (or dismiss the problem if it isn’t a priority). For volunteers, there is a similar idea share that takes place both online (through wikis and spreadsheets) and offline (though discussion in meetings and events).

Wikimedia Österreich also uses peer learning, transparency around organizational priorities, and a commitment to experimentation to increase its organizational effectiveness. Specifically, these factors for organizational effectiveness include:

  • Learning from other Wikimedia groups. Wikimedia Österreich credits much of its early success to its ability to learn from other Wikimedia groups and chapters. In the beginning phase, this helped Wikimedia Österreich prioritize role clarity and communication. The chapter was able to use individual interviews and online resources to undergo a benchmarking process that informed organizational structure.
  • Specification of organizational priorities. Equally important, Wikimedia Österreich has been able to specify organizational priorities based on its unique position within Austria and the broader Wikimedia movement. For example, Wikimedia Österreich has chosen to prioritize deep, personal relationships with key volunteers. This prioritization is supported by research the organization has conducted into good practices for successful and effective networks. They’ve found that emphasizing trusting relationships through personal contact and meetings is an effective tool to build the capacity of the organization to work effectively as a network. Wikimedia Österreich has noticed a lot of progress in the strength of relationships since they have started to emphasize personal and trusting connections.
  • Commitment to experimentation and innovation. Wikimedia Österreich is committed to experimentation and innovation. The chapter has sought to make experimentation and innovation part of its culture through its commitment to open communication and transparency. This is exemplified in its Good Governance Code and commitment to quality improvement.

Even given all of the energy and resources Wikimedia Österreich has spent on organizational effectiveness, it acknowledges that it is still working through some challenges. Major challenges include being able to evaluate the impact of its work and finding the “right” balance of resources toward organizational effectiveness efforts and other priorities

  • Evaluating impact. A significant barrier to organizational effectiveness is measuring impact. It is difficult to improve effectiveness without being able to measure outcomes that lead to impact. For a small chapter like Wikimedia Österreich, it is difficult to measure its contribution to the Wikimedia projects. Some of these difficulties are due to the lack of suitable tools. There is also a struggle knowing what outcomes Wikimedia Österreich can attribute to their own work given that other Wikimedia chapters are working in the same spaces. Currently, Wikimedia Österreich tracks contributors involved in its work, and plans to start measuring contributor retention and its ability to transform contributors into community members who become more involved with Wikimedia work. However, Wikimedia Österreich is still unsure how to measure the value and quality of the content generated through its work.
  • Prioritizing organizational effectiveness. Before outcomes can be achieved, organizational effectiveness must be identified by the entire organization as a priority. The purpose of improving organizational effectiveness is to more efficiently achieve intended outcomes in the long run. Unless the importance of organizational effectiveness is communicated and agreed upon and unless resources spent on organizational effectiveness lead to increased impact in the long run, it can be difficult to focus on in effectively. Wikimedia Österreich has actively pursued making organizational effectiveness and continuous improvement a part of its culture, and needs to prioritize this alongside getting things done.

Wikimedia Österreich offers some approaches to organizational effectiveness that other Wikimedia organizations may be able to use. These include:

  • Thinking about informal ways to collect information on organizational effectiveness. Instead of dedicating specific volunteers to thinking about organization effectiveness, Wikimedia Österreich put up a piece of paper on a wall in its office where anyone could write down ideas about what could be improved. Accessibility and group contribution – rather than formality – were the key to embedding organizational effectiveness in the culture.
  • Learning as they go. Wikimedia Österreich launches new programs and approaches as pilots before applying them more broadly and actively cultivates a transparent atmosphere in which success and failures can be openly discussed among different stakeholders. This allows Wikimedia Österreich to have a flexible approach to some programs approaches, so that programs can grow organically and so that Wikimedia Österreich can respond quickly to new learning that may lead to increased impact.
  • Engaging volunteers according to their strengths and interests. Wikimedia Österreich has a good sense of what different volunteers are interested in doing, and how they want to contribute to the Wikimedia movement. This allows the organization to. At the same time, Wikimedia Österreich seeks to be responsive to the needs of its communities and to organizational needs by identifying ways to address needs when volunteers are not able to fill them. In this way, Wikimedia Österreich works to balance its strategies for volunteer engagement with other needs, by engaging volunteers in areas where they can do the most effective work. Other Wikimedia organizations may be able to adapt similar approaches for matching volunteer interests with community or organization needs.

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