Recommendation E (structure): Build Thematic hubs – to provide services to the free knowledge movement long term
What is the issue we are trying to solve or improve with this recommendation:
As a movement, there are areas of expertise that have the potential to move us further toward our strategic direction. Some of these areas of expertise, or Thematic Areas, remain underdeveloped in the movement. Allocating resources to existing or emerging organizations to specialize in a certain area of expertise would allow us to fill these gaps in the movement, distribute expertise more widely, create a multitude of autonomous but partnered organizations, and provide a pathway for affiliates to serve the movement beyond their traditional geographies/languages.
Recommendation in more detail
We recommend that resources are allocated to supporting organizations to develop an important expertise in the movement. We refer to these organizations as Thematic hubs to highlight both their coordinating role and their focus on a specific areas of expertise. Thematic hubs would be empowered to autonomously take a leading role within a certain thematic area or domain and to take ownership of responsibility for specific activities in service of the movement.
The intent is to have Thematic hubs spread across the world and be leaders within their respective specialized fields with a long term responsibility to develop the movement capacity in their designated thematic area. The Thematic hubs would be responsible for providing support and services within this area to other Wikimedia organizations, to free knowledge organizations (i.e. external partners), to volunteers and partners. They could also handle the technical development within a defined area. The Thematic hubs would be committed to providing their expertise as a service for free knowledge.
The Thematic hubs are not static but their exact focus could change over time to allow for the creation of further Thematic hubs, thus spreading the work and expertise further, providing better services and ensuring that power and resources are equitably allocated across the world.
- The Foundation will likely continue to be a thematic hub for some areas of expertise. However, there are certain areas of expertise where different organizations could be better positioned to serve the movement than the Foundation, and those areas could be distributed to other Thematic hubs.
- Thematic hubs can be existing movement entities (chapters, Wikimedia thematic organizations, user groups, the Foundation…) or external existing orgs (Creative Commons, OpenStreetMap...) or a new organization created for this specific purpose.
- There will need to be a global resource allocation body that can coordinate the movement of funds to and from different distributed organizations, including Thematic hubs.
- There will also be organizations with an expertise around local needs that will be responsible for most of the resource allocation, coordination and support in a given geographical area, which we call Regional hubs.
- Today, the Wikimedia Foundation is the go to place for new ventures, support and services. Because it needs to have priorities, the Foundation may not have the capacity, will or bandwidth to make grow and thrive. In the future, the movement should scan for existing opportunities for the movement to grow capacities and work on better exchange.
- There is not enough sharing of knowledge and expertise within the movement. The lack of coordination prevents efficient resource allocation and prioritization within a given area.
- The expertise developed by the Thematic hubs in a given thematic area increases the ability of other free knowledge organizations to ‘focus’ and to support the movement with much needed knowledge resources. This in turn supports smaller entities to grow faster, as they do not have to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel, and the ecosystem of free knowledge movement will therefore become more equitable.
- Thematic hubs need to be resourced themselves and since they are generators and maintainers of resources, they will need to be sustained.
- The Thematic hubs will generate new resources for the movement and create other types of new resources within their respective thematic areas, e.g. training material or development of better technical tools. These resources will be available to the rest of the movement and as such the Thematic hubs will provide a service.
- Not all Thematic hubs will start simultaneously, they will have different risk assessments and be initiated at different times. Some Thematic hubs will be able to be created earlier than others.
From Community conversations:
- Hindi community: “The resource allocation can also be divided for different regions, or different projects, such as, Education, GLAM, Outreach. Some organizations can be identified and supported that can increase the scope of work in a particular region that can actively collaborate and work for Wikimedia movement in a particular field.”
- This will allow the movement to mutually support itself and build mutual commitments and certainty. Developing long term partnerships can allow the resource allocating body to help build capacity and scale up impact.
- The coordination between movement actors will increase and the current situation, where the same type of resources are developed multiple times, will stop.
- The current grant model prevents longer-term planning and planning for growth. Through this structure the most important materials will be developed with global reuse in mind and be made available through concerted efforts.
- Smaller movement actors will not have to develop everything from scratch but will have dedicated support, reducing barriers and improving equity.
- Technology-focused work can be clearly divided based on the expertise of the Thematic hubs, allowing Wikimedia Foundation to focus on its core activities.
- This emphasizes networked collaboration across the movement, as partnerships could be 3 or more parties, rather than 2 party grantor-grantee arrangements.
- With the shift towards knowledge equity and becoming essential knowledge infrastructure, there is a need for geographic entities to evolve and support not just their geographies but the entire movement strategy.
This recommendation will influence:
- Wikimedia Foundation, that will have a more focused area of responsibilities while also focus more effort into a coordinating role.
- Existing affiliates, who are likely to adjust their strategy so that better support can be provided to emerging communities, who are either new to movement or have been existent but with little or no experience.
- Non-Wikimedia free knowledge organizations, that will receive more freely licensed material that can support them in developing their capacities and capabilities and also other types of active support and funding for work within the thematic scope.
- Partner organizations that want a larger role in our movement, that will receive better support within their thematic area, e.g. with more FOSS solutions available to share their material.
- Individual volunteers, that will have dedicated organizations to turn to when they want to develop their skill sets and expand work within an area they care for.
- Historically well resourced organizations, that have developed expertise over the years, take control of thematic areas because they can and are afraid of losing power and influence, without having a clear plan in place. I.e. that capacity becomes entrenched in those who happened to have the most capacity at the beginning.
- This is potentially not a very flexible design, may be hard to change once the Thematic hubs are ‘allocated’.
- Risk of entrenching existing ways of thinking by building the expertise in one place. This might stifle innovation.
- A large number of distributed and independent organization would be more difficult to coordinate around dependencies and shared goals than a single or smaller number.
- Specialization may lead to increased inequities/unevenness between regions.
- We break the movement. Who does quality control? Who prevents crazy choices? Who pulls the plug?
- For new communities, it may be hard to learn things, as the Thematic hubs will be distributed and there will be many places to learn from. It could be confusing.
- If the division of labor/responsibilities between Regional hubs and Thematic hubs is unclear conflicts might arise and other movement affiliate might be unclear who to turn to and partner with.
- Evaluate which organizations already fit this model and understand their success, challenges and interaction with other movement bodies.
- Start with a few test cases and learn from experimentation.
- Make sure that hubs are reassessed ongoingly and moved geographically as needed.
- Thematic hubs need to continuously show their relevance (also in connection to other Thematic hubs) when they are being assessed.
- A multitude of Thematic hubs should be created over time, with targeted efforts to ensure an equitable geographical distribution.
- Create clear mechanisms for mutual accountability between and among movement bodies.
A method needs to be put in place for the movement to be able to identify new specialist areas which should receive resources (things that ‘someone should be doing but no one is currently able to do’). And ‘the central organization’ needs to provide financial and output oversight of the Thematic hub. The work of a Thematic hub will need to be periodically reviewed in order to determine whether it is still needed, and if it’s not, whether it should be split into two more targeted areas; re-scoped theme; continued but allocated to a different organization.
Yes, it is connected to:
- “Approach to resource allocation in a complex, fast moving and changeable space”
- “Reallocate existing structures”
It’s a core recommendation responding to our Q1 How can resource allocation support structures that empower different actors within the free knowledge movement long-term? How is power connected to resource allocation and how can we utilize resource allocation to create change?
It offers part of the answer to Q5 Who should be the recipients of resources? How do we determine the boundaries, who or what is included?
Perhaps tangentially also Q7 and Q9.
- Capacity Development
There is a variety of opinions on this recommendation within the working group; we will be working to resolve this for the final version.
Who decides who should create/remove the Thematic hubs? What does the process look like?