Organizational effectiveness/Case studies/Wikimedians of Nepal User Group

Wikimedians of Nepal User Group Case Study on Organizational Effectiveness October 2014

Wikimedians of Nepal User Group was the first Wikimedia user group to be recognized by the Affiliations Committee in May 2013, although the group has been active since July 2010. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group was part of the impetus for creating a user group status as another entry point into the world of recognized Wikimedia organizations. Unlike Wikimedia Chapters and Thematic Organizations, Wikimedia User Groups are less formal groups of volunteers that do not need to be legally incorporated in their local jurisdictions. Requirements to maintain User Group status are simple, and User Groups need to renew their status each year unless indefinite recognition is granted by the Affiliations Committee.

Wikimedians of Nepal User Group describes its mission as “volunteers united in adding to knowledge contribution.” The groups works to support, promote and develop free educational materials in various languages spoken in Nepal, including Nepali. This case study will provide an overview of how Wikimedians of Nepal User Group approaches organizational effectiveness. Data presented in this case study were gathered through both phone calls with Wikimedians of Nepal User Group volunteers and through survey findings of an impact tool administered by Wikimedia Foundation and TCC Group.

Most programs start informally as “pilot” projects and formalization grows from there. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group volunteers start programs depending on what they are interested in doing. Programs can be new ways to outreach or educate, or working on the Wikipedias themselves. When a volunteer wants to create a new program, they typically create a pilot program. If the pilot is successful, information about how to run the program is formalized so that other volunteers are also able to administer the program if necessary. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group has found benefits in learning and collaborating with both Wikimedia groups with similar contexts (for example, in countries where internet connectivity is a barrier) and from Wikimedia Chapters willing to offer help in developing programs. Learning from these groups takes place in a few different ways:

  • Targeted technical assistance focused on first-time events, such as media competitions. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group worked closely with Wikimedia India (the Wikimedia Chapter in India) on its first Wiki Loves Monuments contest. The key goal of this partnership was for Wikimedians of Nepal User Group to learn enough about managing the event that they would be able to run similar programs independently in the future.
  • Discussing challenges and solutions with similar groups. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group has worked with Wikimedia user groups in Jordan and Egypt to discuss ways to achieve impact in countries where Wikipedia is not well-known. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group Wikimedia Nepal uses events like Wikimania to broadly connect with the community and see how other groups are overcoming different barriers to impact.
  • Technical assistance focused on Wikimedians of Nepal User Group’s effectiveness. Chapters with larger budgets and experience running different types of programs, like Wikimedia CH, have helped Wikimedians of Nepal User Group with its own website. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group has spoken to other experienced Wikimedia Chapters who are interested in contributing their knowledge to help Wikimedians of Nepal User Group develop some aspects of its work.

Peer learning also happens through other open knowledge Nepali groups. The country of Nepal has about twelve groups focused on open knowledge, like Mozilla and the Open Knowledge Foundation. These groups work together in two main ways:

  • Sharing knowledge about new programs and what is working. Whenever one of these groups develops a new program, all the groups meet together to talk about what is and isn’t working in the new program. This helps all of them learn about how to improve their programming.
  • Raising knowledge about the other groups during presentations. When members from one group go to a conference or similar event, they share knowledge about all of the open knowledge organizations with people at the conference. This helps all of the groups connect with potential volunteers that meet organizational needs, expanding their reach even when they are not present at every conference or event, and raising more awareness than they would be able to independently.

Wikimedians of Nepal User Group perceives several barriers to achieving its mission, given its current environment and context. Volunteers find that raising awareness and recruiting readers and editors is a time-intensive task, and focusing on this limits their abilities to focus on programmatic impact or organizational effectiveness that may lead to increased impact. Some of these challenges include:

  • Not being a legally registered organization in Nepal. Without legal recognition it is difficult to get access to some resources, like government grants, or to use formal correspondence to reach out to partners.
  • The vast number of languages spoken in Nepal. 123 different languages are spoken in Nepal, but, there are only Wikipedias in five of these 123 languages. Different volunteers champion different language causes – while some want Wikipedia to be expanded to a certain language, others want to focus on improving Wikipedias that already exist.
  • Lack of internet access. Nepal still struggles with widespread, reliable connectivity. Most people in Nepal access the web through mobile devices.
  • Lack of awareness about Wikipedia. There is not widespread basic awareness of what Wikipedia is and how it can be used. This is a barrier to recruiting new Wikimedians, since people need to become familiar with what Wikipedia is and how it works before they begin contributing to Wikimedia projects.
  • Geographic diversity. Most volunteers are based in the capital city of Kathmandu, and this may present a challenge in working in other areas of the country.
  • Lack of resources to hire staff for organizing events. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group is 100% volunteer run, and does not have a strong or stable base of funding. While a staff coordinator position may increase the group’s ability to organize events with more participants and Wikimedians of Nepal User Group sees this as important to achieving impact, the group is having difficulty collecting resources needed to hire staff. Wikimedians of Nepal has requested funding from the WMF for its programs.

Wikimedians of Nepal User Group offers some approaches to organizational effectiveness that could be adapted by other Wikimedia organizations. These include:

  • Being direct and proactive about requesting help or information. When volunteers from Wikimedians of Nepal User Group go to an event with other Wikimedia organizations, they explicitly reach out to organizations that could be a resource. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group has also reached out to the Wikimedia Foundation several times to ask directly for the information or resources it needs. Other organizations may want to consider being direct and proactive when asking Wikimedia organizations for the assistance they need.
  • Creating a volunteer-oriented “blueprint” so programs can be repeated or sustained. Wikimedians of Nepal User Group volunteers have a lot of flexibility to develop new education and outreach events based on their interests, but once volunteers decide to move forward with a new program there is an emphasis on documenting how the program happens from a volunteer perspective. This ensures other volunteers can step in to administer the program if a key volunteer needs to leave or lessen their involvement, and also allows other volunteers to more easily repeat or adapt a similar program in the future. This allows volunteers to do innovative and responsive programs while making sure programming does not rely too much on just one or two key volunteers to continue. Other organizations may want to look at the extent to which they are documenting information necessary for others to deliver their programs, and ways in which they are thinking about making sure programs can still happen even when key volunteers leave or need to lessen their involvement.
  • Working with other open-knowledge organizations. Some Wikimedia organizations may want to deepen partnerships with other open knowledge-focused organizations outside of the Wikimedia movement in addition to working with and sharing with other Wikimedia organizations. This can allow for a sharing of resources and best practices rooted in a local context, in a way that benefits all of the groups involved as well as the broader Wikimedia movement. Beyond networking, organizations may learn about approaches and strategies that are particularly suited to their own environments and focus areas.

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