Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/Reports/Movement Strategy Playbook/Empower liaisons and working groups

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Empower liaisons and working groups
4 participants in vibrant discussion around a small table indoors
Strateg Salon, Benin UG/Parakou, 2019

All of the participants we spoke with agreed that using community liaisons and working groups was a successful prototype, and that it should be continued and serve as a model for other projects. They also identified the need for improvements and a more systematic approach.

  • “This was a good pilot. There were learnings we can apply in future, working across the communities as a Task Force or Working Groups.”
  • “They were able to meet people where their interests lie, and bring people on board in a meaningful way.”
  • “This ‘people-centeredness’ has emerged as a core principle. It's not ‘content first,’ or money first — it's people-first. If we take this into our DNA, we’ll have much healthier communities and interactions across the globe.”
A crowd of participants are taking turns to write ticks in Sharpie on what looks like a grid for totaling up votes
Day 3 of Wikimedia 2030 Harmonization Sprint

Organized structures within a decentralized movement[edit]

The working group and community liaison model represent a more structured approach to collaboration than the ad hoc, self-organized approach that typifies most of Wikipedia.

  • “The working groups were tasked with coming up with enduring questions that have plagued the movement for 15 years. And they had to figure it out together across languages, cultures, and new ways of working.”
  • “We have never worked this way before. It represents more structured collaboration, versus ad hoc collaboration. Its collaboration organized around something other than content.”
  • “Working Group members are becoming agents of change taking strategy to regions joining affiliates. It’s an example of a more organized structure starting to function within a decentralized movement.”

Strategy Liaisons share knowledge across communities[edit]

The Strategy Liaisons we spoke with enjoyed sharing learning across communities and locales.

  • “As a liaison, I found it really helpful to understand how dynamics worked in other communities. Everybody understood that what works for their community does not necessarily work for other communities.”
  • “There were times when each of us had challenges in our work, and I found it really helpful and supportive to talk to my colleagues. And to understand how the dynamics in their communities work.”
  • “We were each advancing in a parallel universe of languages. Some of us had communities that overlapped where we could cooperate (eg, French / Arabic areas in Northern Africa.)”
Participants stand in a circle, although only one part is visible in this shot. They are connected across the circle by colored yarn,
Participants discussing or participating in discussions during Wikimedia 2030 Harmonization Sprint, 2019 in Tunis.

Ways to improve the working groups and liaison model[edit]

Bring working group and liaisons into the process more[edit]

Many of the Strategy Liaisons we spoke with felt like they could have been used more fully:

  • “Sometimes it felt like we [as Strategy Liaisons] were under-used human capital.”
  • “Consider the liaisons as partners who have knowledge about their communities who can help and support in decision making, not only as ‘operatives’ applying orders.”
  • “Create more space for liaisons to produce their own blogs, ‘top 5 requests from the community,’ etc. More of their own synthesis around what the community is saying.”

Clarify the rationale and context behind decisions[edit]

Something we heard clearly from Liaisons and Working Group members is: it’s important that they be brought into the decision-making process earlier on, so that they can fully understand the decision, and thereby explain it to their communities. Without this context and rationale, it becomes much harder to do their jobs.

  • “It would have been better to get an explanation for the WHY or the rationale behind the decision. To digest and ask questions. We can’t answer questions from community if we ourselves don't know the answers.”
  • “It’s not just about production of content, but about having the knowledge and awareness behind the content, so that Working Group members can explain it."
  • “I was selling someone else's product, so it was harder for me to answer simple questions from the community (like ‘what did they mean by this?’), or build accurate metaphors (‘look, their approach was like this…’). In practice, this meant I was forced to defend the recommendations, rather than promoting them.”
  • “As liaisons, we had freedom to do things as we wanted; but overall the design was very operational. It wasn't unimaginative, because we did have freedom -- but WHAT we were doing was set for us. A window opened, someone threw us something, and we did it.”
Movement Strategy Roles and Responsibilities Working Group in-person meeting, Utrecht, the Netherlands, July 5-7, 2019

Set clearer expectations and purpose[edit]

This applied not only to individual decisions and processes, but also bigger picture questions around the fundamental purpose of the Liaisons and Working Groups, and building more clarity and alignment around their role.

  • “What wasn’t clear enough was: what is the purpose of our collaboration and engagement? Are we promoting the strategy in the online communities, because they are supposed to accept those? Or are we beta-testers / QA — like the testers of the product from the perspective of the audiences / online communities?”
  • "We need to know WHY we are here, and what is our purpose in this team. Especially because our job is to explain to audiences why we are here. If I don't understand who I am in this setting, it is even more difficult to talk with community.”
  • “In some instances, we may have given Working Group members more power and authority than they wanted. On lots of calls, they wanted more structure and direction from the Core Team, and not having it caused long delays, wrong turns, and frustrations. This was not empowering to them. We should have respected their time and energy better by giving more direction, which we could have done while still remaining open and responsive to regular feedback. It would have been less stressful on everyone.”
  • “We often have discomfort with directional leadership in our movement, because we were built bottom-up. But these tendencies don't always scale well when there is something concrete to accomplish.”

Make it easier for Working Groups to engage with community[edit]

  • “The Working Groups were successful in bringing together people from different perspectives and backgrounds — but we struggled to then get those Working Groups to talk to communities.”
  • “It was hard to get Working Group members to more regularly talk to communities, because sometimes that can be scary.”
  • “We tried to mitigate this by having staff and facilitators present. But I wonder if we could have innovated more around creating safe ways for Working Groups and community to talk to each other.”
  • “Some of this relates back to mandate and motivation. When we asked WGs to step up, we needed to ask them what they wanted to do. It wasn’t necessarily clear that what they were signing up for was taking this to the community.”
Members of the working group sat on the floor listening to a presentation that is off camera, everyone looks engaged
Welcoming members from the nine working groups

Increase Working Group openness[edit]

Some community members we spoke with felt that the Working Groups could have been more open by default:

  • “Once the Working Groups were set, it seemed like the working group meetings were held in a closed / private way.”
  • "When I tried to join / contribute to Working Groups, they just said: “you're too late.”
  • "Most people didn’t know about the working groups. They were limited to members, so if you wanted to join the meeting, you weren't able to."
  • "I would suggest in future: be more open to others. Instead of people needing to be invited into a meeting. Some people would just like to watch. Do more ‘open air’ sessions. Like an online show that would accept questions from the general audience.”

Strengthen the hiring and recruitment process[edit]

  • “The Liaison model was a really good idea. But it comes down to reality in that it depends on the individual who gets this role.”
  • "The Foundation needs to improve our hiring process for Strategy Liaisons. Some were less effective than others.”
  • “The challenge is to really get people on board as Liaisons who have the skills and presence. To move out to people, to try different methods.”
  • “Liaisons are recruited by [the] Core Team or WMF. But maybe it should also go through the community. eg, in WM France, we have a community member participate in the recruitment process.”
  • “Liaison job announcements may not have been posted to wikis. We could improve the recruitment process.”
  • "Have the community choose the liaisons."
  • “Clarify who the Liaisons work for and are accountable to. Where the money comes from creates a power relationship.”
All the participants from the summit (around 40) are outside holding up a banner that says #wikimedia2030 'East Africa Strategy Summit 2019'. The shot is taken from above, every is smiling and waving / holding up their arms
Wikimedia 2030 Movement Strategy Summit, East Africa Regional event in Kampala 2019

Consider making liaisons cross-cutting, instead of project-based[edit]

This was a big part of the suggestion to take a more systemic approach.

  • “Create sustainable liaison positions.”
  • “We are the liaisons for Movement Strategy, and there are other liaisons for Universal Code of Conduct, and then other liaisons for other chapters. Maybe it could be re-designed to think more long term, instead of hiring a liaison for each new project.”
  • “WMF should stay close with the community all the time — not just on occasions, and then disappear. Maybe liaisons should be a permanent role at WMF. The person can remain the same, and will have a big network and experience, which is enormously efficient and beneficial for WMF, and for any team wishing to reach out to the community at a given time.”
  • “That way liaisons can learn more about the communities' agenda. Monitoring talk pages and village pumps, working for the communities. The ‘community’ would be your boss — but a boss that doesn't have time to give you orders, so you need to make it an inquiry to go out and discover.”

Other potential improvements[edit]

Other suggestions we heard from participants:

  • Engage liaisons in co-design. “Not just delivery. Have the Strategy Liaisons act as part of the design thinking, and not just limited to the delivery of the design.”
  • Consider working groups’ workload. “WGs often lacked the time and capacity to fully engage with communities. Running community conversations while they're drafting recommendations at the same time left the groups little time to engage, which led to a bit of a disconnect between communities and working groups.”
  • Reduce the amount of up front work. “The initial design of the concurrent processes was overwhelming for the team and WGs - external research, working group discussions / development of recommendations, and community conversations (liaisons and salons, plus later on-wiki).”
  • Clarify expectations for Working Group co-ordinators. “It felt like being a coordinator wasn't a strategy role, it was an admin. Being a co-ordinator was not a lot of fun.”
  • Clarify expectations for Working Groups re: engaging on Meta. “Expecting working group members to engage with communities on Meta and in general didn’t work that well.”
  • Strengthen knowledge transfer. “Ensure continuity with previous phases, making sure the liaison knows what has happened with each community and does not restart from zero.”
  • Consider training and onboarding. “Training for liaisons: we might not know about all secrets of every wiki projects, or about all community engagement techniques.”

Tools and examples for empowering liaisons and working groups[edit]

Do you have tools, methods or ideas that you, your community or organization use for this? Add them to this section for others to see.