Proposal for the evolution of Wikimedia chapters in the United States

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During the course of Wikimania 2012, various ideas have been discussed about how to regulate and monitor the growth of Wikimedia chapters in the United States, as there is a lot of growth potential that will result in many new chapters in the coming years. Below, is a list of chapters, followed by proposals and discussions, which will help to set up guidelines which will make the coming years easier in terms allowing for regulated growth in the nation.

Chapter regions and cities[edit]

Proposed region boundaries

In all, there are ten regions that are being proposed in the United States. Regions are in the first level, states within the regions in the second level, and existing cities in the third. All ten chapters will collectively elect one representative to represent the United States at votes.

  • New England (Boston)
    • Maine
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Connecticut
    • Vermont
    • Massachusetts
  • Mid-Atlantic (New York City)
  • Potomac (Washington D.C.)
  • Southeast Atlantic (Atlanta)
    • Florida
    • Georgia
    • North Carolina
    • South Carolina
    • Mississippi
    • Alabama
    • Tennessee
    • Puerto Rico
    • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Midwest (Ann Arbor)
    • Kentucky
    • Ohio
    • Indiana
    • Illinois
    • Wisconsin
    • Michigan
  • Great Plains (Minneapolis, St. Louis)
    • North Dakota
    • South Dakota
    • Nebraska
    • Kansas
    • Minnesota
    • Iowa
    • Missouri
  • Western Gulf (Dallas-Fort Worth)
    • Oklahoma
    • Arkansas
    • Louisiana
    • Texas
  • Rocky Mountains (Salt Lake)
    • Montana
    • Idaho
    • Wyoming
    • Utah
    • Colorado
    • Arizona
    • New Mexico
  • Pacific Region (Seattle, Portland)
    • Oregon
    • Washington
    • Alaska
    • Hawaii
    • Guam
    • Midway
    • Anything else
  • Sierra Region (San Francisco?)
    • California
    • Nevada



  • The United States will setup regional and local Wikimedia chapters. Each region and local chapter will elect a representative to the future version of WALRUS.[unclear] That national association will have the ability to have one vote, along with other national chapters, at all elections in which representatives are involved. This will help address considerations brought up by existing national chapters, which are concerned that the United States will suddenly be able to outvote them on everything and dominate elections if every US based chapter has one vote, rather than the US as a whole having one vote.
  • Regional chapters will be designed so that they can help make sure that local chapters are supervised, as well as providing basic representation (including the ability to be a chapter member and vote for board representation) to areas which might not be geographically close to other organizations (the Rocky Mountains region, for instance) or able to sustain a chapter on a state or local level. Eventually, the goal is to have them split into state chapters, with the outcome being gradual obsolescence for regional entities. In the case where an entire region, but with the exception of one state, has state chapters, the regional entity can be dissolved, and a neighboring state can take over the responsibilities of said state. In cases like this, the oldest chapter should take over, as they would be best suited to provide experience and guidance. Employees should be kept at a maximum of five, although this might be too high.
  • Local chapters, based on states, are designed to help provide organization to areas where there is a strong base and organization available. If there is little demand, they can remerge if necessary. Support staff for these organizations should be kept to a very minimum, with costs following suit.


To be honest I don't think this proposal is very useful and can't really support it for a couple reasons:

  • It feels like over bureaucratizing a group that should be straight forward for now (especially in it's infancy). We do not need to create a government.
  • We should not be districting the US (especially in such odd ways) prior to when it's needed. Especially when that need (even if it comes) is quite a bit away.
    • Chapters should be created only if they're needed. Chapters can be a great tool for local work but are not, in any way, the only one and we shouldn't even make plans for chapter regions (either regional or local) until there is an active local community who can make the decision for themselves. It is not proper to attempt to force that discussion or make decisions and plans for groups unknown before we know if it's the right move for that particular local group (and that local group needs to make that decision). The important goals are spreading the movement etc and these can be done with or without a chapter and both methods have their time and place.
  • The US chapters should CERTAINLY not be giving up their right to be heard as an individual chapter... ever. What ever chapters exist are almost certainly going to be very different from each other and have very different makeups (if they don't they shouldn't be a new chapter they should likely be joining another one). It is going to be a very long time before there are enough chapters to even come close to rivaling Europe (if there ever are, a chapter per state is highly unlikely and probably not desirable) and in the end too many US chapters dominating is no worse then too many EU chapters dominating.

Jamesofur (talk) 06:48, 15 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

One of the ideas that I had last night and forgot until this morning is the idea that we turn the regions into ten votes for the country, which would help to give us more of a voice, but not overwhelm the votes of other organizations. Kevin Rutherford (talk) 14:14, 15 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I am curious what folks on AffCom and outside the USA think about this, but it strikes me as a reasonable compromise. Also something that Wikimedia India could consider striving towards as well. --Varnent (talk) 21:38, 17 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

I support this measure for a variety of reasons. As someone who occasionally has to live in underpopulated areas of the US, not going in and out of areas of the US represented by a legal or proto chapter has appeal. I enjoy being a member of a chapter (legal or abstract and years from legal recognition) which represents where I live and I appreciate being able to vote for Wikimediams who can then represent me in national conversations. The current organic approach is not what was done elsewhere (other nations know the framework for their proto-chapters - national) and seems to disproportionately favor populated cities. Saying that chapters in major cities will absorb and represent surrounding areas unlikely to get a chapter ever seems metro-centric and slightly condescending to those of us outside metro areas. You will not convince people in Michigan that being represented by Wikimedia Ohio is okay, but a truly regional effort is very common, in my experience, with chapter based organizations. Regional representation seems more balanced and representative of our national movement. Setting up a framework is different from legally creating chapters, and so it does not jump the gun. Approaching the US strategically rather than case-by-case also seems smart, appropriate, faster, and much less controversial/confusing in the long run. This framework does not prohibit organically created local chapters, it simply helps organize people in a way that ensures no US Wikimedias are left behind, which I believe is important. I am also unclear why comparing the US to an entire continent is an apple to apple comparison. I also think we confusing the terms "voice" and "vote" - as they are not the same. I do not see this framework as minimizing anyone's voice, simply levels the playing field for international votes. I do not see the above as hindering local organizing efforts, in fact I see the opposite, it provides a framework folks can easily plug into and run with once they reach critical mass. I also disagree with the notion that chapters are only about local events and I disagree with the notion that strategic planning is harmful. I have not been involved with an effort where someone said "gee I wish we hadn't planned ahead." I also do not see this conversation as being about bureaucracy and governance as much as thinking ahead, helping avoid predicatble conflicts before they arise, and responding to concerns from our colleagues abroad. I agree that conversations about how the regions are divided and how the votes should work long-term are important and open to change, but I would be disappointed if people gave up simply because it seemed too "down the road" or difficult to navigate. I would feel more confident moving the Midwest chapter forward if I had a greater sense of how it fits in the larger picture, which is right now very abstract and not consistent between conversations. I applaud Kevin for tackling this challenge and being bold in offering this framework idea rather than being put-off by the complexities of the discussion. --Varnent (talk) 15:05, 15 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

We had a conversation today so you generally know my feeling but I do want to have it here. I think that setting up chapter regions and 'plans' now is inappropriate unless there is already a community there who is interested in it. In general I hate the idea of exclusive rights over any piece of land as a chapter but it's especially bad when you're trying to carve things out without people because otherwise you are forcing people to a model that may not be best for them. Chapters are not best for every group or region.
Overall chapters are meant for service, not representation, their job is to provide outreach in their local area. They "support the Wikimedia Foundation, the Wikimedia community and the Wikimedia projects in different ways - by collecting donations, organizing local events and projects and spreading the word of Wikimedia and Free Culture" . Yes there are chapter appointed seats (that aren't really done by vote but really much more by consensus) and maybe those should exist and maybe they shouldn't but who knows how that will work in the next two years given that we will have many more affiliated groups who aren't chapters during the next selection process and I see no reason that geographic based chapters should have any more say then other based groups. The community is represented by themselves, they vote for 3, community elected, members every 2 years. They have never been represented by the chapters and are highly unlikely ever to be (and that's fine as long as we understand it).
I know you mean well but I really think this is a, very , bad direction. We are not this kind of movement and if we are ever thinking of making a chapter where "for representation" is a major reason for creation then I don't think the chapter should be made. If anything it's a sign that the system is broken and so needs to be fixed, not coddled. Chapters should be created (and planned) if, and only if, their creation would help the local community (local sometimes being a small locale and sometimes a bit bigger but in general still being 'local' ) to continue their outreach and support. I see absolutely no issue with chapters being based around urban areas (that's where the in person meetsups would be expected) and even country or region based chapters "really" are that way.
On a side note I don't think I'm confusing voice and vote, though they are linked. Last time I saw the Chapters Association meeting this week you couldn't even talk if a 'voting' rep didn't support you (which is horrible btw) and things like that frequently tend to happen. If only a couple vote they can fairly easily ignore the others.
Jamesofur (talk) 03:57, 16 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
It's sometimes hard to convey tone online, so let me add a disclaimer that I am asking this to better understand your perspective, and not argumentatively.  :) I am curious what you feel the justification is for making US chapter legal entities vs. ad-hoc user groups given the scope you outlined for chapters. Could those be accomplished with use of FDC and WMF account oversight? Are there strategic advantages you see to metro chapters having legal nonprofit corporation and IRS tax-exempt status? --Varnent (talk) 21:37, 17 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

I rather like this idea. It's mostly just a framework, after all - somewhere for folks to start when actually creating the chapters and helping to organise the entire mess... because it is a mess. It will always be a mess. But if it's an organised mess then they could all be quite useful regardless of how unnecessary chapters technically are in the grand scheme of things... because yeah, there's definitely interest for these chapters, even if most folks don't know how they'd do anything or something. That seems to be what this would help alleviate, if I'm understanding properly. -— Isarra 18:32, 15 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

  • I think this proposal is schematic in a way that does not correspond to the realities of US geography and WP culture. The NYC chapter, which I know , is the natural organization for the NYC region, including parts of NJ, but certainly not for NY State in general. In number of people potentially reached, in number of active WPedians, it is the equal of almost any other state. I think I know California. that SF and LA are in a single state entity is a little ridiculous. That there are a large number of WPedians in particular cities (e.g., Portland, or Davis, needs to be recognized--placing them as just parts of the states of California and Oregon is not reasonable. The only basis for logical subdivision is the number of active WPedians, modified by the geographical realities of the distance people are willing to travel. If people in Germany are willing to travel to other cities in Germany for a meeting, then it is reasonable to have one chapter. If people in Syracuse or Ithaca are not willing to travel to NYC for a meeting, it is not reasonable to have one chapter.
But it is not just schematic, it is absurd, for there are not the flesh-and-blood people to constitute more than a small fraction of the network. The most dangerous threat to the WP movement in general is over-bureaucratization. The greatest, because the tendency of all organizations is to evolve into such a direction, and the only way to prevent it is to actively resist it. I think we will eventually organize a WP-USA, but not if we go about it this way. I have not spoken to other people from the NYC chapter who may have agreed to this, but were the NYC chapter to actually engage in such a scheme, I would prefer to be independent of a chapter. The time for this sort of planning, is when we are not so absurdly far away from needing it. What we need now is some loose organization of the existing chapters, and the provision of help to other places than can realistically organize similar. DGG (talk) 00:36, 18 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Breaking it up into pieces based on every individual grouping is also absurd; of course there will be subgroupings within individual chapters. Look at Wikimedia Canada; the whole is the chapter and serves the area, but meetups and general other things within that are based on much more specific locales, and so it would be with any more practical number of chapters. Basing everything only around areas where a lot of people live just cuts out anyone not lucky enough to live in those areas. -— Isarra 05:18, 19 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

I don't think I'm for pre-drawing borders or whatnot, but I do think it is fruitful to brainstorm ideas freely and share them widely with the various communities.--Pharos (talk) 19:46, 18 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Certainly; therefore we should have alternate proposals to discuss also. Having only one proposal tends to fossilize it into the final version. I'll note that all the discussions for undue representation of the US assume continuation of the one chapter = one vote paradigm. It may seem paradoxical that operating under this paradigm, ChapCon seems to have been working in a way very compatible with the interests of the currently larger chapters, but perhaps this is because they were also the best prepared to take advantage of the opportunity for formal organization.DGG (talk) 01:17, 19 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I would love to see some alternative proposals. I applaud Kevin for having the guts to get that going by throwing an idea out there - even knowing that it may not be a popular notion. Until now I feel as though we've been a little paralyzed by the complexities and potential challenges. I'm a little nervous about the notion of hoping that everything organically works out. I think offer some guidance is good. I do not see this or other proposals being something that would have to be followed like a law or policy, but more as a suggested guide for moving ahead. My hope is that folks don't avoid planning simply because of the complexities or fearing others may disagree with it down the road. Plans can be changed, but moving ahead with no plan can be problematic long-term, in my opinion. Even this broad plan has motivated some action in the Rockies and provided better context for how to proceed with the Midwest chapter. Chapters outside the US know what their geography will be, their country, folks in the US are sort of left unsure with what the plan is..regional, metro, state, national, different every time. That seems problematic over a longer period and seems to leave folks outside the US a little nervous and unsure about what our intentions know..we don't even know that ourselves yet. --Varnent (talk) 01:38, 19 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Purpose and outcomes[edit]

Hi all,

this seems like a very helpful discussion! I have also read the discussion on the mailing list and what struck me was the notion that somehow people seem to suggest that the most important reason to review this would be the votes in whatever vote. I would like to strongly discourage a discussion targeted at resolving or not the 'vote problem' but rather focus on national issues first. How we fit that in the international structure is then a second.

So the question should be: what is the best possible outcome for the US Wikimedians, in what way could they most effectively and efficiently be encouraged and enabled to 'do stuff'. Is that by focussing primarily on regions which have on themselves already a critical mass, and use that as a center of gravity, or rather to lay down a national structure, ensuring everyone can find a place there and allow a strong local structure within? I have always been a strong supporter of some kind of national structure for the US, to support Wikimedians not only in the highly metropolitan areas, but also in regions where people might be 'further away'. However, I also recognize I don't live in the US, never lived there and know relatively little about the practical and cultural problems that would bring.

Lets try to think in possibilities, not in problems. Lets not focus on 'ouch, that is a big distance' (Russia, Australia, India, Canada, Argentina anyone?) but rather on what is to be gained. Having a membership organization where everyone who wants to can become a member, would be an obvious advantage. What other are there? And what other structures are there with which advantages? Effeietsanders (talk) 00:58, 22 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]


National association name[edit]

There has been a bit of discussion over misgivings of the name WALRUS. Various ideas have been floated around about this, but the general idea is that there could be a better name out there that isn’t such an odd acronym. Improvements are welcome, as the eventual goal is to replace this with a name which is more agreed upon than WALRUS, if at all possible.



Next steps[edit]

  • Begin rolling census of activity in regions
  • Seek feedback from AffCom
  • Setup Meta pages for regional chapters
    • Document existing meetups and wikiprojects within each region
  • Create logos, mailing lists, IRC channels and Facebook pages for proposed chapters
  • Formalize and setup each legal entity as critical mass of members is identified and other chapter requirements are met over the coming years
    • In other words, a plan for the future does not mean all regional chapters will be developed, legally created or approved at the same pace. It simply provides a framework to enable US Wikimedians, especially in smaller and less populated areas, to strategically develop their participation in chapters.