Decentralisation and self-management


Q 1 What is your Recommendation


Power and responsibilities need to be redistributed on the principle of self management. Decisions should be taken at the “lowest” possible level / as near as possible to the process/community/activity that will be affected by the decision (subsidiarity)

This recommendation aims to lay the foundations for creating a future movement with a greater distribution of decision-making through the principle of subsidiarity. For this we propose to create new structures that promote the development of communities and organisations based on the principle of self-management so they can grow at the right speed for them and in a way that fits their specific contexts. By self-management we mean not a lack of structures, but structures that promote autonomy and the decision making & redistribution of power in an equitable way to break down the current structures of privilege. To this end, the future structures of the movement must be at the service of Free Knowledge.

Q 2-1 What assumptions are you making about the future context that led you to make this Recommendation?


Many social movements focus primarily on the practices which drive their approach to complex systems transformation — what they do to create a better world. But we must also take into account whether our internal operating system — how we work — is serving us, and the impact we want to create. Many organizations are stuck in antiquated structures that impede rather than enable people to bring their best selves into the organisation. Silos, dysfunctional power dynamics, and bureaucracy get in the way of collaboration and creativity. In our interviews with movement stakeholders, we could identify many of these issues in the Wikimedia movement as well.

For decades, many Nonprofits have adopted those business practices in order to become more “professional” and to improve accountability. Such practices, often incentivized by funders, also expanded layers of management and control-oriented policies. In today’s fast-changing world, the mindset that guides those practices seems increasingly outdated. "Classic" planning and accountability mechanisms convey a negative image of employees and volunteers as "in need of being controlled" and aren't effective any more. In modern organisations, the focus is increasingly shifting towards empowering people to take over responsibility: "If you give people more responsibility, they will act more responsibly".

Self-managing organizations are built on a foundation of mutual trust. Workers and employees - or in our case volunteers - are seen as reasonable people that want to do good work and can be trusted to do the right thing. This modern understanding of self-management is also referred to as Teal organisations and comes with a combination of innovative structures and processes: autonomous teams, very flat or no hierarchies, roles replace (fancy) job titles, distributed decision-making (including new, more flexible approaches such as consent-based decision making), open information flows, coaching and empowerment and clear conflict transformation processes. A number of pioneering organizations in a wide variety of sectors — profit and nonprofit — are already operating with significantly new structures and these management practices. Examples include the Dutch nursing and care organisation Buurtzorg, the French automotive supply firm Favi, the US food supplier The Morning Star Company, Heiligenfeld mental health hospitals in Germany or the Swedish media tech company Spotify. They tend to be successful and purposeful, showing the promise of this emerging organizational model. They show how we can deal with the complexity of our times in wholly new ways.

Wikipedia is often mentioned as a positive example of a self-governing organisation in the literature around this topic. However, the “organised part” of the movement has created power structures that often conflict with Wikipedia’s founding principles and this is a major part of the reason for the disconnection so many people experience between movement organisations and our project communities.

Q 2-2 What is your thinking and logic behind this recommendation?


At present there are two main kinds of structure within the Wikimedia movement. Project communities are composed of volunteers working highly independently, and making decisions based on consensus and precedent within their own projects. The “organised part” of the movement, by contrast, contains some large organisations with extensive internal structures, based on traditional models of corporate structure and nonprofit governance.

Both of these structures have important strengths, but they do not work in harmony. Project communities see the ‘organised part’ of the movement, particularly larger organisations like WMF and WMDE, as remote and do not always find the channels to express their demands and needs, or the mechanisms to resolve conflicts. Movement organisations, for their part, often find it hard to relate to the size and shapelessness of project communities. Even between movement organisations, there is a lack of clarity about mutual roles and methods of communication.

At the same time we can see that also outside Wikiverse, the traditional hierarchical organisational models and leadership paradigms are being challenged across branches and organisations. The increased complexity of our world demands more flexible and agile models that can respond more quickly to challenges by empowering individuals to make decisions.

We therefore believe we should build on our existing strengths of 18+ years of self-management on the Wikimedia projects and the the fact that many of our stakeholders are used to work in this culture, in order to reform our governance structures, particularly in the organized part of the movement, instead of relying on ideas of “professionalisation” and organisational development that neither fit our digital culture nor have the answers for current global challenges and complex realities.

We believe we can only deliver the vision of the strategic direction if the organised part of the Wikimedia movement behaves like the support structure of a movement, and not like a set of conventional nonprofits. There is no one size fits all approach to developing movement stakeholders, so our main goal is to provide the space and orientation for growth and development, that reflects and accommodates the diversity of our movement. However, while building on our strengths we must not ignore our current shortcomings (e.g. in terms of equity and the fact that the current system works better for some than for others) which gives us a lot of room for improvement while staying loyal to our roots.

The change through our recommendation entails the following aspects:

  • To ‘break down structures of power and privilege’ we have to start with our own structures – reduce focus on Global North, increase broader access to those who do not speak English, and decentralize decision-making and authority as far as possible.
  • Recognize the current perception of authority/power and its weaknesses – ‘community’ feels the WMF is too powerful, ‘WMF’ feels they have no mandate or authority. Decision-making is often either by consensus, bureaucratic processes, or in non-transparent processes. These result in delays, ineffective decisions (or lack of decisions), and perceptions that decisions were made without the involvement of those who will be affected by them.
  • Decisions will be more effective if they are taken close to the communities they affect. “Community” here includes offline and online groups (e.g., user groups, projects, chapters, thematic org), existing or future. This reflects the diversity of the broad global community and allows localized communities to make decisions that best serve their needs.

Q 3-1 What will change because of the Recommendation?


Answer 1

The structures of the Wikimedia movement affiliates, WMF etc. will be decentralized and this will also have an impact on current roles and responsibilities. For this we have designed a new model of movement, with new structures, roles and responsibilities. The main ones are:

  1. Volunteers: They will maintain their autonomy and will receive the support they need from the teams or hubs, for most volunteers this will mean their support structures will be (geographically and culturally) closer than they are at the currently, there will be fewer barriers to get support
  2. Teams: Formal or informal groups that support the mission of the Wikimedia Movement, and access movement resources and support to do so.
  3. Hubs: We will build regional and thematic Hubs around the world. These will be responsible for supporting teams with all kinds of resources
  4. Coaches: The role of coaches is to help movement entities to develop and thrive by providing facilitation, conflict resolution, challenge and capability development
  5. Basic Support System: In charge of Wikimedia trademarks, and the global legal and technology infrastructure mainly. Support the work of the Hubs when needed. Provides staff support for the Global Council and Ombuds Council
  6. Ombuds Council: Independent and new body to solve and transform conflict within the movement at all levels.
  7. Global Council: Governance body of the movement built by elected and selected members from all the movement. Sets the global strategy that it’s implemented by the Hubs and the BSS. Can also build global partnerships.It has no executive functions.
  8. Movement Charter: the statement of values and principles that establish the purpose of the Wikimedia Movement.

These new movement structure is fundamental to build the following outcomes:

  • The Wikimedia movement will be organized under the principle of subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity and decentralization of power will be core principles in the Charter of the movement.
  • The support structures of the movement will be flexible, responsive, contextualized and localized to the needs of each context and communities. Decentralized, self-managing structures will be created to support the needs of present and future communities
  • The Wikimedia Movement will be flexible, open and welcome to all types of communities, partners, organizations etc. that promote and share our values.
  • Volunteers will get the support they need, in a localized way and according to their context. Leadership will be distributed and diversified around the world. The communities will self-organize and decide on the most relevant programmatic work, according to their reality in order to promote the new strategic direction (and according to the movement’s charter) Staffing will be appropriate to the needs of the communities and their development.

Q 3-2 Who specifically will be influenced by this recommendation?

  • Volunteers
  • The WMF
  • Current and future affiliates, communities -formal/informal, regional structures etc.
  • Staff members
  • Partners or organizations

Q 4-1 Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?


Further, there is a risk of specific methods of implementing

The risks of this recommendation are:

  • The recommendation is adopted only in part, or ‘in name only’, resulting in no actual empowerment of staff and volunteers doing the most important work. This might happen in many different ways :
    • Movement organisations or individuals in positions of influence might act contrary to the recommendation. This might be from not understanding how to reconcile this model with their legal duties, concern about their own continued power and influence, or simply from bureaucratic momentum
    • Problems of implementation might lead to a loss of acceptance in this recommendation
    • Linguistic and cultural barriers might prevent the idea of self-management being spread, and might prevent anyone noticing if some movement entities do not use it
  • The recommendation might be implemented without the necessary investment in capacity-building and conflict resolution support. This would set the recommendation on course for failure.

Q 4-2 What could be done to mitigate this risk?


To implement these changes, an implementation plan with short, medium and long-term objectives is needed, as well as resources (all kinds) to make it happen. In this sense:

  • It is not sensible to implement without making a prior assessment by and with the affected communities in each context. It is not enough to decentralize structures, there needs to be a real shift of power, that comes with empowerment and ownership.
  • Don't start from scratch. Take advantage of self-organized structures that already exist within the movement, such as project communities or exisiting regional cooperation as ESEAP, CEE, Iberocoop etc.
  • The transition/implementation period should be led by a steering committee that accompanies the process and is in constant contact with the communities affected.
  • The structures that centralize power today in the Wikimedia movement must cede it. It is not a question of developing new structures that replicate roles and responsibilities but of a real transfer of power from the "current centre" to the periphery.
  • It must be a gradual change, clear, participative and understood by the community to avoid confusion.
  • There are many communities that are not yet part of the movement. We need the initial assessment to also involve organizations, partners, emerging communities etc. to make sure that their needs are really taken into account. Decentralizing does not automatically lead to inclusion and we cannot create new structures that continue to leave communities out. For this, we need to keep this process flexible and open to revisions.

Q 5 How does this Recommendation relate to the current structural reality?

  • To decentralize power break with the current structure of the Wikimedia movement. Power and decision making is currently highly centralized in Global North and specifically within WMF. In this sense, decision processes will change from top-down to bottom-up/peer-to-peer.
  • New structures at all levels will be created when needed. We will keep and encourage the development of local organizations - current and future affiliates- as well as strengthening thematic/regional structures.
  • The decision on resources will also come from the communities themselves. The current structures will see their incidence reduced at the local level although they may maintain a supporting role. Capacity building programs - conflict resolution, leadership, mentoring etc.-will be key throughout the transition process.
  • We will maintain the autonomy of the communities of the projects that will also receive the necessary support to further develop themselves.

Q 6-1 Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations? If yes, how?


This recommendation is connected to the rest of the recommendations. It is largely the foundation upon which we have built the rest of our recommendations as well as the movement’s model for 2030.

Q 6-2 Does this Recommendation connect or relate to your Scoping Questions? If yes, how?


The recommendations touches on most if not all of our scoping questions by stating the strategic direction is best implemented by the people who will be affected based on their respective context. We also believe that decentralisation and self-management will help to increase equity the adaptability to social, technological and political changes.

Q 7 How is this Recommendation connected to other WGs?


This recommendation relates in particular to the Diversity and Capacity Building WGs Decentralization is a principle that is also present in the recommendations of other WGs, as Resources Allocations, Product & Tech, Capacity building etc.

Q 9 Who needs to make a decision on this Recommendation?


This Recommendation needs to be decided by the WMF and also by a significant majority of (preferably, all) incorporated movement entities. People need to buy into the general idea of self-management and later into the principles and common values of the charter in order to be subject to support by the movement.

Q 11 What type of Recommendation is it?


2. Complicated – further work is needed to plan in detail how this recommendation will be decided and implemented. A project management or logical framework approach will probably be useful. Scenario planning could be useful.

Q 12 How will this Recommendation be implemented?


Movement organisations will need to embrace this recommendation and go down the path of altering their own Board processes and possibly their governing documents. Where an organisation entirely refuses to engage with this recommendation,

Q 13 What are the concerns, limiting beliefs, and challenges for implementing this Recommendation?


One major concern is that the organisations which will probably be most affected by this recommendation - the WMF - will make the decision about this change. There is a likelihood that the idea will be dismissed or watered down in order to preserve the status-quo. Similarly, some other movement organisations might be afraid of losing power and influence and become additional barriers or blockers.

Q 14b How much money in particular is needed to implement this recommendation?


There need to be resources to facilitate the transformation processes in the various parts of the world, this includes in first step the decision making on how to organize in future, and in a second step costs for building and changing structures. This will add up to substantial costs, but at the same time redundant structures (e.g. in the WMF) will be dissolved and/or distributed which will free resources.

Q 15a What is the timeframe of this Recommendation in terms of when it should be implemented?


Pilot projects can start immediately and all regional / thematic groups should start their deliberations on how they want to organise in future as soon as possible. In some parts of the world where there already structures to support this process this will be easier than in other parts, hence support for the transformation needs to be distributed in an equitable way.

Q 16 How should the implementation of this Recommendation be monitored and evaluated? By who?


This recommendation will result in a substantial restructuring of most movement organisations. The decision on how this change will look like in detail should be up to the affected communities. Nevertheless change process needs to be led by people who do not have a stake in the process and to be overseen by a people who make sure the spirit of the recommendation will be respected in the implementation. At least some of these people should be from the original working group.