Recommendation E: Build Thematic hubs – to provide services to the free knowledge movement long term
Summary: Specialist organizations, called Thematic hubs, are created as a new type of organizational structure of the free knowledge movement. They have financial means allocated to them and in return they are responsible for supporting the movement with a service and as such lead the development and work with the allocation of knowledge, with technical development within a specific area and the creation of resources within their given theme. They are independent and often built upon existing organizations and are coordinating their work with the Wikimedia Foundation, other Thematic hubs, Regional hubs, Wikimedia affiliates, other free knowledge organizations, partners and volunteers within their agreed upon thematic area.
We want to decentralise by supporting the development of specialised entities; and make sure certain needs of the movement are met by proactively creating certain hubs (eg. for capacity building).
Recommendation in more detail
We recommend that resources are allocated to developing a new type of free knowledge organizations that have a certain important expertise, or a willingness and capability to develop such expertise. We suggest calling them Thematic hubs to highlight both their coordinating role and their focus on specific thematic areas.
The resources allocated to the Thematic hubs will allow and empower them to take a leading role within a certain thematic areas and to take ownership of responsibility for specific activities on behalf of the movement. Grantee-grantor relationships may make sense in certain contexts or in service of certain goals, but our focus for this type of structure for resource allocation will be on longer-term partnerships/collaborations. We mean ‘partnerships’ not necessarily to mean ‘external collaborations’; rather, it’s an approach to working together on more equal terms (not grantee/grantor).
These organizations, which will be spread across the world and will be leaders within their respective specialized fields, will receive long-term financing. They will have a clearly defined role outlining how they help coordinate and allocate knowledge and information between organizations in the free knowledge movement.
The Thematic hubs are designed for mid/long term responsibility to develop the movement capacity in their designated thematic area. They might run short term projects, but within their focus. Thematic hubs should work as both a pull factor, and a push factor – some thematic areas might arise from organizations requesting to become a Thematic hub (a bottom-up requests) to do a thing, whereas others might be priorities that the movement wishes to ‘commission someone’ to take responsibility for. The Thematic hubs are responsible for providing support (financial and other types) within this area to other Wikimedia organizations, to free knowledge organizations (ie external partners), to volunteers and partners. They can also handle the technical development within a defined area. As such the specialist organization is providing a service for free knowledge. The Thematic hubs will receive oversight from the central organization (Wikimedia Foundation or some newly created body), and will be responsible for sharing their work among the movement.
As far as practically possible, tasks that could and should be done by a single organization, but do not need to be directly managed by the central organization, should be devolved to other specialist organizations. Other tasks which are currently not undertaken, but which the movement identifies as needed (process for deciding this tbd) can then be defined.
The Thematic hubs are not static but their exact focus will 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. In some cases a Thematic hub might cease to exist if its focus loses relevance or get absorbed by other Thematic hubs.
- The current situation is that ‘the central organization’, i.e. the Wikimedia Foundation, is responsible for resource allocation [to itself], oversight [of itself], delivering projects/product (doing the work) [on behalf of the movement], and sharing lessons/communication [to the movement] – and this has not been successful.
- Some pieces of work still needs to be done/coordinated by a single organization, but they don’t all need to be done by the same organization.
- Wikimedia Foundation will retain its position as 'the central organization' of the Wikimedia movement and have a leading role in building the MediaWiki software.
- In some circumstances, often for legal reasons, some things still remain under the sole control of Wikimedia Foundation, such as trademarks.
- Thematic hubs can be existing movement entities (chapters, Wikimedia thematic organizations, user groups…) or external existing orgs (CreativeCommons, OpenStreetMap...) or a new organization created for this specific purpose.
- Thematic hubs will be resourced from, and receive oversight by, ‘the central organization. The role of the Regional hubs in overseeing/interacting with ‘the central organization’ regarding Thematic hubs situated within its geographical area is not yet decided.
- 'The central organization helps connect the entity to the wider network, builds capacity, etc.
- 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.
- We want to decentralise. This is one key way of doing so, as we are decentralising hubs of expertise and key functions.
- There is currently no organization within the Wikimedia movement that is clearly tasked with developing capacity within a thematic area and allocating said capacity to all organizations in the free knowledge movement. As such we are not fulfilling our role as a service, nor infrastructure.
- 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 knowledge allocation provided 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 allocation of financial resources should support the creation of more financial resources, i.e. if a Thematic hubs is created it should have a clear task of designing new projects and applying for external grants.
- The Thematic hubs will 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 allocated 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.
- 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 prevent innovation.
- 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.
- 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.
There needs to be an oversight body that can follow up on reports and evaluate the work and candidates that request to become Thematic hubs.
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
Who decides who should create/remove the Thematic hubs
? What does the process look like?