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Chapters Dialogue/Insights/Perceptions

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Chapters Dialogue

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Perceptions

Chapters were the main object of this project. We asked their stakeholders not only about Chapters’ strengths and the benefits of working with them, but also about their weaknesses and the challenges that come with the cooperation. In turn, we asked the Chapters not only about their self-perception, but also about the strengths and weaknesses that surface in the relationship with the WMF.

People naturally tend to generalise, so be aware that some of the quotes sound extreme, and they do not represent the opinion of the majority. But they are helpful in pointing to the trouble spots. Also, the good things are mostly taken for granted, while the tiniest criticism is given full vent. This is why the following list contains many more negative statements than positive ones. Let’s have a look on the most persistent things that have emerged over the years and are influencing the mood within the movement.

Strengths and benefits

Chapters…

  • are essential movement partners.
  • have the precursory value of being local.
  • initiate and run an enormous spectrum of activities.
  • are run by amazing and inspiring people – they truly live the Wiki-spirit to the maximum.
  • passionately dedicate their time to the movement.
  • provide us an opportunity to invest – we want them to succeed.

The WMF…

  • is there to protect our organisations.
  • is a great consultant for us.
  • has an open ear for our problems. We can always talk and in the end, both sides can learn from it.
  • supports self-evaluation, this helps us to question and improve ourselves.
  • protects the values of the movement, even in court.
  • has set up the FDC and therefore initiated the greatest community involvement ever.
  • provides us a with valuable learning opportunity by giving feedback on our reports.
  • is an incubator for our ideas. They help us to make things happen.

Weaknesses and challenges

Following the existing paths / No clarity in leadership

Chapters…

  • lack a visible purpose and are dealing with “the system” as an end itself.
  • are unreflectively following the existing paths. They don’t dare to think big or to improvise.
  • grow too fast on paper but not in actual substance.
  • think it’s natural to receive money, just because others did before.
  • hand in boring proposals and are surprised that they don’t get full funding
  • take their role as community representatives towards the WMF for granted, but don’t fulfil this purpose.

The WMF…

  • claimed the power, but doesn’t provide leadership.
  • does not provide a secure basis, but keeps changing the rules every year.
  • doesn’t really know how to handle Chapters.
  • fears that Chapters are growing too fast and too big.
  • failed to provide an alternative to the existing paths.
  • claims to be connected to “the community”, but means only the English Wikipedia community by that.

Poor organisation / No teaching but patronising

Some Chapters…

  • have gaps in their bylaws, or no proper bylaws.
  • have no proper financial control.
  • would not be approved as Chapters today.

The WMF…

  • has the luxury of a staff of 180 – and demands the same professionalism from us.
  • makes us feel like we are babies, instead of providing training, advice and feedback.
  • made mistakes in its “early days”, but expects us to be perfect from the start.

Poor communication

Chapters…

  • demand full sympathy for their unique context but are upset when we ask tough questions.
  • don’t want to be transparent nor question themselves.
  • don’t speak with one voice.
  • don’t make use of their rights.
  • hide instead of approaching us with their problems.
  • don’t tell their stories correctly.

The WMF…

  • does not listen to us. We’re too small and informal to approach them.
  • uses “we are responsible” as an excuse for everything.
  • does not have a clear position and doesn’t act according to what they say.
  • is like a black box, we haven’t a clue what happens internally.
  • communicates its decisions poorly and does not want to hear our opinion in an early stage.
  • does not speak with one voice.

Maximum freedom with minimum control / Too much control

Chapters…

  • want leadership, but perceive all our actions as patronising.
  • don’t want to talk about failures but just to receive money.
  • want to be treated as a valuable partner without proving their impact.
  • just complain instead of creating their own measurements.
  • have no direction but are surprised when being criticised.

The WMF…

  • pretends to be laissez-faire, but then reacts über-authoritarian in relation to single incidents.
  • wants us to share our mistakes, but is not open about its own failures.
  • is like our parent in-law: always waiting in fearful anticipation that we will do something wrong so that they can use it against us.
  • only shows us our limits reactively.
  • suspects us of not spending the movement money wisely.

Self-centredness / No empathy

Chapters…

  • revolve around themselves.
  • think that they are the centre of the movement.
  • have no empathy for the WMF and other entities.
  • tend to forget that the WMF needs to think global, not only local.
  • are sometimes arrogant.

The WMF…

  • uses one size fits all solutions for 40 individual entities and cultures.
  • imposes their own rules on us.
  • behaves like an American corporation, not like a partner in an international movement.
  • is too far away to understand us. They haven’t a clue what’s going on.
  • thinks that they are the centre of the movement.
  • has a very American way of understanding success.
  • created a level of bureaucracy that is killing our uniqueness.
  • is sometimes arrogant.

Trust and appreciation

Chapters…

  • are locked in the old narrative about the WMF.
  • stick to the “us versus them”.
  • don’t acknowledge that things in the WMF have changed.
  • think that there is evil intent behind each of our steps.
  • don’t appreciate our work, they take everything for granted.

The WMF…

  • doesn’t trust us, they want control over every single step.
  • thinks they already know what’s best for us. They never ask us for our opinion.
  • does not support or empower us.
  • wants us to be little Wikipedia fanclubs.
  • acts on our “territory” without notifying us.
  • takes our effort and sells it as their success. No attribution.
  • doesn’t think Chapters can represent Wikimedia.

Empathy

The last chapter showed the different perceptions that have evolved over years and are still persistent in the movement. Seeing everything from one’s own perspective and not taking other people’s views into account often leads to opinions and facts that seem to be carved in stone.

It is even more problematic when older organisations pass on old narratives to younger ones who don’t get the chance to build their own opinion and to bring in a fresh perspective. Do all organisations really need to go through the same loop?

This is exactly what many of the interviewees wish for: overcoming the old narrative. “I don’t want to walk on the paths of those old trauma. I want to make it different”. All people in the movement wish for mutual recognition and approval. They wish for relationships that are based on trust, empathy and appreciation.

History can’t be wiped out – but mistakes can be forgiven and let go of. Forgiving hasn’t been a strength in the Wikimedia community, though. While code and technology can always be considered (and tackled) in a rational way, human relationships need more than that.

It’s time to overcome those Wiki-myths that aren’t helpful, either for any of the movement organisations or for the movement as a whole. An admission from the WMF that “yes, we played with Chapters. We need consistency now” could serve as an invitation to start this overcoming process.

Empathy for every entity in the Wikiverse is the essential prerequisite for this change. Gaining empathy can support all organisations in gaining a systemic understanding of each other and this, in turn, sets the stage for replacing the old perceptions with new ones. As long as it’s “Us vs. Them”, no relationship will grow.

It’s a tough challenge to see the whole picture and the individual context at the same time – it requires “zooming in and out”. WMF needs to zoom in to the individual Chapter levels, Chapters need to zoom out from their own perspective towards a global view. Both can benefit from the question: What exactly does it feel like to be the other party? How does it feel to be a Chapter and how does it feel to be the WMF? It is not only about zooming in or out to another level, it is also about really “walking in the other person’s shoes”.

Deep understanding will help to master conflicts and disagreements in a more calm and reflective way. Besides, many conflicts can be avoided by simply asking “How will others feel if I do this?”, “What do they need to know from me in order to understand my behaviour and my decisions?” and “How will my behaviour impact others?”.

All conflicts that were described in this report are based on causes that are deep rooted and that haven’t been tackled so far. They won’t be resolved with simple “Bepuschelungs-Aktivitäten.”

Check the conclusion of the insights
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