This portal was compiled by Wikimedia affiliate staff and partnership leads, throughout the Wikimedia movement, to answer common questions found when explaining partnership strategies to other Wikimedians.
How do I start partnerships?
- Most partnerships start by developing a relationship with an individual at a potential partner organization. It is beneficial if these individuals have some type of authority within their organization which allows them to make commitments on the part of the organization. Partnerships with Wikimedia communities, frequently don’t fall into workflows already supported in the organizations, so partners may have to explore who is the right fit for working with you-- for example, The Wikipedia Library often talks to 4-5 people at publishers, before someone will support the relationship.
- Once you have developed that relationship, it’s important to find shared goals which the organizations can work together towards. Frequently, Wikimedia affiliates create partnerships that work towards the goals of creating free and open knowledge and/or engaging new and different audiences in that mission.
- Once the shared values or goals are identified, identifying a common activity that allows your shared goals and values to be fulfilled is important. Bringing model activities from through the movement, such as case studies from GLAM partnerships, will help your partner identify what peer organizations have done.
- You may have to make a formal agreement at this point.
Do I need a formal agreement with partners?
- Formal agreements are not required for the Wikimedia community, but frequently are part of approval of relationships in other organizations. Be careful that the agreements focus on things that you can reasonably support as an organization, not expectations of the community or project content -- which you have little to no control over. (WMUK template for Wikimedians in Residence https://wikimedia.org.uk/w/images/6/60/Example_WiR_agreement.pdf )
- Partnerships that exchange money or other kinds of resources may be best protected by a formal or legally binding agreement -- frequently grant giving bodies will provide these agreements. Make sure to carefully review any formal agreements, and it may be appropriate to seek legal advice.
- If you are supporting the partnership as an individual, consider partnering with another affiliate so that you don’t take on legal liability of the relationship.
- Consider using informal agreements like Memorandums of Understanding, which, in many contexts, are not legally binding while providing the same level of expectation setting created by contracts. (be sure to check the contractual laws in your country)
- A signed formal agreement with an organization that you have a good working relationship with can be used also for similar organizations. Hence, the existing agreement can help convince new partners (they are not the first and taking risks, and you are legit) and it can also speed things up as you can copy and paste parts. Be sure to formulate your agreement in a way to make it easily exchangeable.
How should I decide which partners to pursue?
- As a general principle, it is good to be pro-active rather than re-active when making partnerships. Frequently, it’s worth seeking partnerships with target organizations that will have high impact on your goals. Think about what you/your organisation wants to achieve, and work on connecting with partners that match this goal.
When your organization doesn’t have many request for partnerships?
- Many of the Wikimedia movements smaller organizations don’t have a history of relationships with other organizations, so must look for partnerships expand their impact or meet their goals. Spending energy and time towards building a partnership has a lot of benefits -- another organization to share risk on a project, more shared resources, access to new or different audiences and contributors, etc. -- but also a lot of new risk -- the partnership could request for more than your organization has capacity. When seeking partners it’s important to weigh the benefit, risk and amount of effort required to include partners in your activities, and to pursue partners that can help you meet your goals.
- Once you have identified a need for partnerships, create a list of potential partner organizations. Try to find organizations that share values, goals, and strategies for fulfilling their mission - it’s good to be proactive, and only commit energy and resources to finding partners who share similar assumptions. But you can also run an open call for interested partners, WMUK did this in 2012 with good result https://blog.wikimedia.org.uk/2012/11/were-looking-for-wikipedians-in-residence/
- Note: frequently negotiating cooperation with another organization will change your original intentions for collaboration. Make sure to regularly evaluate the changing nature of the relationship in light of your goals.
- Take advantage of establishing partnerships when you are organizing something special that creates interest and a bit of buzz, such as large international events like Wiki Loves Monuments. Another great opportunity to find partners is when you are planning to apply for external grants - then you are offering them to join something instead of asking them for something.
When your organization has many requests for partnerships?
- Many of the more established affiliates in the Wikimedia community have demonstrated successful partnerships with GLAMs, education institutions, government bodies, and a wide range of other organizations. Successful model partnerships tend to be shared with your partner’s networks, and if successfully communicated, will excite other organizations who will want to partner with you. Moreover, Wikipedia’s prominence in the Internet makes outside organizations eager to work with movement affiliates -- sometimes our brand reputation will precede your interaction with that community.
- If you are getting requests for partnership, make sure to filter these requests based on your goals and capacity for an organization. Only take on the partnerships you think will reasonably support your goals, or you know that volunteers or other program leaders can enthusiastically support.
- If you are getting many requests, you may want to create internal guidance to decide on which partnerships to prioritize. For APG chapters, a good way to prioritize is to refer/stick to you annual plan description (and save partnership opportunities for your next campaign, program or goals).
- If you are not getting requests from the kinds of organizations needed to meet your goals, you may have to actively seek new partnerships. Before seeking new partner organizations identify what you want to achieve from a new relationship, and seek out organizations that have a history of completing similar partnerships with other communities.
NB: (Decisions on) Partnerships are not necessarily “centralized”. Several types of partnerships may co-exist in the same organization (very local partnerships handled by volunteers; partnerships at national scale negotiated by staff members, etc.)
What kinds of partnerships can we create? What kinds of partnerships should we create?
The size and priorities of your affiliate and community will guide the type of partnerships your create. Some types of partnerships are:
- Certifications or other official recognition of our chapters/user groups by government or non-government bodies
- Content donations: Many institutional partnerships are with GLAM or other knowledge organizations who can donate content.
- Volunteer recruitment: Institutional partners may be able to provide access to staff, members or volunteers who can participate in Wikimedia activities. Common recruitment partnerships focus on:
- Content experts
- Alliances or other networks, which provide access to groups of organizations
- Wikimedia organisation support
- Funding: Monetary donations or grants may be available from institutions
- In kind donations such as meeting space, office space, wifi, social media, prizes for contests.
- Pro Bono services, such as legal or press support
- Thematic partnerships -- The Wikimedia community has developed programmatic strategies for different types of partnerships -- in particular for GLAM, Education and STEM partnerships. For more information, see Outreach Wiki.
- Advocacy partnerships - the Wikimedia community holds a clear set of values and advocates for policies that favour openness (see the Wikimedia Policy website for more information). Working with partners on advocacy can happen in a number of arenas, for example
- Work to change institutional policies and practices around copyright and licenses
- Work to advocate ‘externally’ - to other organisations, professional sectors, interest groups and associations
- Change political and legal frameworks by engaging with policy makers
- Umbrella partnerships -- sometimes the most effective partnerships are with organizations that represent groups of other organizations to support any of the above. These partnership can act like strategic multipliers: for example the Amical Wikimedia partnered with a library network to build recruitment and content partnerships, which has grown to support over 200 libraries: see the case study on outreach.
- Collective Impact Partnerships - these may involve multiple, diverse set of stakeholders around addressing a specific issue with a systems approach, such as open access in science, or educational justice. They take years to develop, and require substantial resources. They do not benefit from a project-oriented mindset or one that expects quick results.
- Other ideas are available on p.9 & 10 of the A practical guide to Wikimedia France
- For a ‘traditional’ organisation, working with Wikimedia movement may feel very different, so starting with a small collaboration could be helpful before a big project - it allows the professionals at the organization to get the feel of Wikimedia’s culture, technology and projects.
- Partners need to know what sort of projects are possible - it’s useful to provide model projects that open up their thinking at the start (see ‘What kinds of partnerships can we create?’). Often organisations focus on Wikipedia editing and don’t realise there are many options for collaboration.
- Representation: Your organization or your community (chapter, individual, etc) cannot represent Wikipedia - many organisations would assume they are partnering directly with the Wikipedia project and have a direct relationship with it.
- Both you and the partner organization will have a very small degree of control over Wikimedia projects, and will be unable to control the community or the content produced from the partnership.
- Make sure to explain the grassroots and bottom up character of the community - e.g. an affiliates is one of many communicators and decision makers within the community. We can’t mediate all communications between community members and organisations - some partner organisations may struggle with this concept of non-hierarchical relationships
- Values: Wikimedia values openness, sometimes resulting in radical transparency - traditional organisations may not be used to this. In traditional partnership situations, most organizations are used to a “big announcement” once the partnership reaches a certain point - this will not work for our movement, you will have to communicate early and often. Wikimédia France produced a document called Partnership policy which encompasses a number of principles useful for potential partners to know in advance.
- Frequently build in opportunities to teach the partner the “philosophy” behind Wikipedia and its sister-projects especially about do’s and don’ts. Frequently you will need to describe:
- Conflict of interest;
- Paid editing;
- Biographies of living people;
- Copyright restrictions.
- Content gap problems and other biases, e.g. gender gap, can be a positive way of framing Wikipedia’s deficiencies, but also pointing to where a partnership may add value.
- Outputs: The editing community may be big, but it is almost impossible to predict how interested volunteers will be in a particular partnership project - usually you can find a few contributors, but not always. Often there aren’t that many people that become involved in partnerships - therefor expectations need to be managed from the start. Ideal projects do not prescribe number of participants or type and amount of content created, but rather support and appreciate our principles, values and the way we work.
- Timing: Our community likes to move fast, our project timelines may often be much shorter than that of other organisations - it’s important to go over the expectations of the time scale early, and review it often. On the other hand, some community processes can take longer due to participatory loops, so partners need to be aware which timeline we are dealing with.
- Explain the (often limited) capacity of you and your organization - partners may assume that Wikipedia is a massive project with lots of staff behind it. Point out the fact that you are not a company, but an NGO working for the public good - this will often open up new doors and create interest.
- About stories and in order to help partners better understand our context/who the volunteers are and what drives them, videos can be a great lever: for GLAM partnerships, see the excellent GLAM-Wiki revolution documentary.
How do you evaluate your own organization’s capacity to successfully create and sustain a partnership?
We recommend evaluating the partnership with questions like:
- Do we have an organizational strategy, and does it identify which goals would benefit from being pursued with partners?
- Does my organization have resources and staff or volunteer time allocated for working on partnerships?
- Does our staff or volunteer community have the social, professional and cultural competencies to interact, negotiate and work with diverse partners?
- Do we have functioning communication mechanisms that allow us to share what we learn from the partners?
- Do we have an agreed upon decision making process for interacting with partners? What is the involvement of the board and of the community in making strategic partnership decisions? Where does a final decision come from?
- Do we have the internal processes to evaluate and learn from partnerships, and share the learning internally, as well as with the partners (and the movement)?
What are criteria to select partners? How do you prioritize which partnerships to take on?
- We recommend asking these 25 Questions of any partnership.
- Always evaluate what will create volunteer motivation, or pick activities initiated by volunteers for your partner work. Without volunteer engagement, your project likely will not have lasting impact in the community or may meet resistance from the community.
- Always try to match partnerships to your organisation’s strategic priorities and goals, if you cannot find a match, or the priorities and goals don’t leave room for this partnership, you probably are going beyond your organization’s scope.
How/When/Why do you consider saying no to partnerships?
- When no volunteers are interested in getting involved or the partnerships doesn’t recruit more community members. This may not be a deal breaker, but it’s worth assessing if this can prevent the partnership from being effective.
- If there is no contribution at all from the partner organisation (be it financial, logistics, communication, etc.). Sometimes organizations will want to partner, simply to use the Wikimedia/Wikipedia brand in communications - these kinds of partnerships have no value.
- When discussing a partnership, you should be aware of warning flags that may signal a need to examine the partnership more carefully, including:
- Someone with whom you have had no previous relationship calls you with a close deadline to include your organization in a funding proposal.
- The potential partner does not agree on publishing results or work product under an open license - remember openness is a core part of our community’s values.
- The partner expects volunteer communities to deliver specific outcomes (and doesn’t show a receptiveness to learning how communities control Wikimedia projects).
- Partners, in outreach conversations, continuously reduce the level of commitments they provide in the relationship. Organizations that shy away from commitment and formalizing agreements frequently have some underlying concern.
How do you turn down a partnership? (especially if you have to turn down a lot of requests for cooperation)
- Pick up the phone and call the potential partner and explain the reasoning. Try not to close all doors for future cooperations - there might be opportunities you have yet to realize.
- Try a polite formal letter, explaining your reasons. Most partner organizations understand that non-profit and volunteer led communities often have to say no. If you are getting regular requests, consider creating several polite form letters that you can send in response. These can include the invitation to come back with another request, with more time or different conditions.
- To prevent disappointment, you can tell the partner right from the beginning that for a partnership to take place, there are a small set of crucial conditions to be respected (e.g. some volunteers must have an interest in collaborating with you or all material created must be released under a free license). This helps to later say “no” if these conditions are not met.
How can you evaluate a partnership once it starts?
- There are several models from different chapters:
- (WMDE) Check on how the components in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or contract are being fulfilled. Renew the MOU annually and discuss what changes and why.
- (WMFR): we have a satisfaction questionnaire we send once a year to the partners with whom we have an official partnership (i.e. with a formalised partnership agreement). Here is the link to the questionnaire translated into English.
- (WMFR): Additionally, every time an action planned with a partner takes place, we organize a debrief session with them, and try to gather feedbacks from the volunteers who took part in that action to “feed” the discussion and improve for next time. These sessions are actually mentioned as recommended in the partnership agreements we sign with our partners. // (WMUK) we have something similar, with ‘exit interviews’ when an intense part of a partnership ends, also there is a commitment to those in the agreements we sign.
- (WMUK): For bigger partnerships we have ‘check in’ meetings, with a pretty standard agenda to go through.
When can individuals create partnerships? When do we need an organization’s support in creating that partnership? How can Wikimedia organizations support local volunteer-based partnerships?
- It’s actually quite easy for anyone to create a partnership for Wikipedia. However, it's quite important to be careful about creating partnerships as an individual, because it could hurt the reputation of you, the community, or our projects if you do not follow best practices in establishing and running the partnership. We suggest following the advice throughout this F.A.Q.; it will help you prioritize and not enter a relationship that you cannot support.
- It is frequently important to have backup in creating partnerships, to make sure that if something changes in your life situation, the project gets too big or the partner becomes hard to work with, you have other people to support you: contacting your local affiliate (either a Chapter or User group) or, if one is not available, having the support of at least several other Wikimedians will make partnerships work more smoothly. Local affiliates may be able to help with:
- Managing the relationship;
- Providing advice and best practices from their own experience and the experience of other parts of the international community;
- Connections to help within the local community and other communities;
- Help managing time, resources, money and communications related to the partnership.
- It is not advisable to enter partnerships as an individual which require;
- Forming a formal contract - as a volunteer, it’s important not to take on undue legal burden. Try contacting a regional affiliate, or organization which has held similar relationships before - they may be able to represent you through their legal status in the formal contract.
- A substantial exchange of money or other resources - having the support of an organization mitigates the risk of losing or misusing the resources, and gives greater support for legally managing them (especially with money).
- You to make commitments for the Wikimedia Foundation or an affiliate - make sure to work proactively with community organizations, before trying to create a partnership. These organizations have goals, and objectives and will be able to help you decide if they need to be involved in the partnership. You cannot make partnerships on their behalf without explicit consent or a formal role within these organizations.
How can other Wikimedia organizations help you create partnerships in your local context?
- Provide case studies and expertise - but be careful - your context and communities will always change how these case studies will work.
- Connections to sister organisations or local offices, if the affiliate has run a project with a similar partner.
- Knowledge of funders to contact for support.
- Advice on how to proactively prevent challenging situations and to manage those situations when they do happen.
What are differences and overlaps between partners and funders?
- Both can weigh in on defining and shaping the project, and will require reporting from the project.
- A partner is not necessarily a funder, and therefore, it might give them more freedom to act as they wish, and be more open to experiments.
- Both are stakeholders in the project they are involved in. So if you’re running a project involving both a partner organisation, and an external funder, the project needs to meet the objectives of everyone.
- Funder shouldn’t be involved in delivering the agreed upon outcomes, although may be interested in updates on progress towards those goals.
- Partner may function as a funder if they are providing some/all finances for the project.
International/global partnerships - who can lead them? How does that overlap with WMF’s work? What about a chapter working with a more local branch of an international organisation?
- At any point, at any time, organizations within the Wikimedia community can create internationally focused partnerships - however, just because you can create a partnership doesn’t mean you should. For international partnerships, it's particularly important to be careful: unlike regional or national relationships, there are only a handful of international organizations and one bad experience with any Wikimedia representative may make reengaging them much more difficult in the future. Make sure that creating an international partnership, you:
- Notify relevant community forums about the discussion -- you will frequently find other Wikimedians have engaged with international partners before. It may be useful to learn from that experience.
- Reach out to affiliates and communities affected or that might have invested interest in working with that organization.
- Don’t overpromise - the Wikimedia community is an international community, but that community has different focuses and projects. Rarely can you suggest multiple communities will participate in the same project in similar ways. What works in one context frequently will not work in other international contexts.
- Prepare for a slow process - unlike more local stakeholders, international communities often have to satisfy a wide range of stakeholders to engage and feel secure.
- Sometimes, international organizations need an international body representing the full movement to acknowledge and support a partnership - the Wikimedia Foundation may be able to fill that role. Rarely will the Foundation need to be the primary relationship builder/owner in an international partnership -- but it’s always worth checking to see if the WMF already has a relationship with that organization: this prevents crossed communications and their is likely institutional history with that organization.
- It’s a good idea to inform Foundation staff of internationally focused partnerships - they frequently can connect you with volunteers or staff in movement organizations that will have a vested interest in the partnership. A number of the the Wikimedia Foundation staff create relationships with external organizations as part of their work. Staff primarily responsible for external partnerships meets on a regular basis, and exchanges ideas and opportunities as part of an informal working group. Contact one of the following if you have questions about partnerships:
- For generally inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
- GLAM, Research, or other partnerships including access to collections or content: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- For policy partnerships, contact: email@example.com