Open main menu

At the recent Wikimania 2014 conference, including Wikimedia UK's annual general meeting, there was a lot of discussion about how to make Wikimedia and its organisations more pleasant and positive environments.

Some of these discussions prompt bitter disagreement, and it seems to me that these come from two views of organisational culture. It might help to contrast the ethos of what I'll call the "Boys' club" (though I'm not trying to make a point about gender) with that of a truly inclusive organisation.

Boys' club Inclusive organisation
exists for its members. exists for the goals shared by its members.
has to act in the interests of its members. has to consider the interests of anyone potentially affected by its goals. In the case of Wikimedia, that means everyone.
has an established culture to which newcomers are expected to adapt. If they fail to accommodate that culture, they are in the wrong place. has a culture only to advance its goals. As it diversifies, existing members have to be accommodating to newcomers.
is conservative about its culture, trying to keep the culture that members are most comfortable with. recognises that cultural change is inevitable, and strives towards a culture conducive to its broadest goals.
has sometimes heated interactions, but the shared culture keeps the group cohesive. Newcomers are expected to develop a "thick skin" with respect to comments about themselves or their contributions. values growth and diversity, recognising that the shared goals are not served by excluding sensitive people. Hence everyone is expected to contribute towards a constructive atmosphere.
makes excuses for established members who are unpleasant or anti-social, including but not limited to:
  • "He does that sometimes, but he's a good person deep down."
  • "Yeah, he's a 'character'."
  • "He's one of us/ goes back a long way."
holds established members to higher standards of behaviour than anyone else, because those members represent the values of the organisation.
forgives anti-social behaviour in people who have contributed impressively to the group. does not sell any licence to be anti-social, neither in contributions nor in any other currency.

We all say we want growth and diversity, and that seems to imply that we are aiming towards the right-hand column. Yet many Wikimedians use actions or arguments that only make sense in the left-hand column, e.g. justifying keeping disruptive people in terms of the benefits of their contributions.

Two questions for the reader:

  1. Which direction do you want Wikimedia projects and organisations to go in?
  2. In which direction are you pushing?