Volunteer Supporters Network/Hub Report 2022/A

Volunteer Supporters Network

Hub Report 2022: Administration and organizational development


Point of departure


From the beginning in 2014, the Volunteer Supporters Network (VSN) operated as an open working group with little administration needs. This brought a number of advantages, especially in terms of flexibility and long-lasting stability.

This open structure also had weak points, which became increasingly noticeable:

  • unclear membership, based only on a vague notion of “involvement”, e.g. subscription to the VSN mailing list, active participation in large meetings, or still existing work activity with a Wikimedia affiliate;
  • unclear decision-making processes that were a barrier to organizational advancement and to speaking with one voice in the Movement;
  • lack of conflict resolution processes and safe space regulations;
  • undefined rights and responsibilities for communication channels.

Our goal was to find an organizational structure that would eliminate these weak points while retaining the advantages of an open working group as much as possible.

Process and results


We approached our organizational reform under the (sometimes conflicting) perspectives of efficiency and participation. This means that all aspects that can be changed at a later stage were implemented by 1–2 people without time-consuming consultation, while the “big issues” allowed participation within the VSN which was designed to be as inclusive as possible.

Date Milestone
late 2021 Preliminary discussion
Within the VSN, we communicated that we wanted to work on our organizational reform with a Movement Strategy Implementation Grant in 2022, outlining and discussing the challenges mentioned above.
1 February 2022 28 February 2022 Movement Strategy Implementation Grant approved
Initially we planned the beginning of the “Volunteer Supporters Network 2022” project for February. Because of a change in the grant approval timeline we decided to focus on other aspects of the grant first and to postpone the start of the organizational reform until April.
1 April 2022 Safe space policy for video conferences published
The safe space policy for all VSN video conferences includes basic rules for all participants and about facilitation and enforcement. The policy was developed and implemented without any consultation within or outside of the VSN. It is essentially based on another safe space policy for video conferences (by WMAT) that had already undergone an extensive consultation process.
5 May 2022 List of involved people created
A non-public list of about 80 people involved in the VSN in the past was created. This list was refined over the next weeks and served as a guide for the following consultations and future roles.
1 May 2022 – 9 June 2022 Drafting formal organizational structure and options
Two different documents were written by 2 people which should serve as a basis for a broader discussion later on: (1) the “options” document including different options about all our organizational issues that seemed not to be clear enough or could be thought in different directions. The following aspects were described in detail: (a) who can be a member, (b) who are the current members, (c) how can one become a member, (d) how does the membership end, (e) how and what people can be involved who are not VSN members, (f) decisions as a group, (g) special roles and responsibilities, (h) formal organizational structure in the future; and (2) the “internal regulations” document which was a proposal for the VSN’s first “bylaws”, based on suggestions about the different options outlined in the other document.
10 June 2022 – 22 June 2022 Consultation phase for organizational reform
The documents mentioned above were shared with the people involved in the VSN on 10 June 2022. These people were invited to share their comments directly in the documents and/or in one of two 90 mins video conferences set up for 14 June 2022 and 22 June 2022. These offers for direct participation were accepted by about a dozen people. Regarding the next steps, it was communicated: “One of the major things we’re trying to solve is that we don’t know how to make decisions like this as a group. ;-) So for the time being we are dependent on some sort of consensus, if outspoken or not. If we have the feeling that we don’t reach a consensus until June 22nd, we consider forming a working group.” The proposal for the internal regulations was accepted in its basic lines. Therefore, it was not necessary to convene an additional working group. The consultation phase mainly brought noticeable improvements in terms of clarity of the text. The minor adjustments to the content concerned, for example, a reference to the Movement Strategy and details on the transfer of voting rights.
23 June 2022 – 27 June 2022 25 July 2022 Resting phase for final draft of internal regulations
The final draft of the internal regulations was shared within the VSN. A “resting phase” of five days before publishing the document should allow everyone to read through the document again at their leisure. However, an active VSN member asked for some additional days to discuss the document with their executive director. Because of the approaching holiday season, the resting phase needed to be expanded for an additional four weeks in the end. During this phase no changes were proposed.
24 June 2022 New communication channel created
An additional mailing list (vsn-org@wikimail.info) for the future “governing body” of the VSN was created. It was activated later in the implementation phase.
1 August 2022 Internal regulations published
The VSN’s internal regulations, its first “bylaws”, were published on 1 August 2022 on Meta. The document was structured like this: (1) Mission, (2) Activities, (3) Participation, (4) Members and Liaisons, (5) Conduct and conflict resolution, (6) Communication channels, (7) Voting, (8) Dissolution, (9) Accountability.
1 August 2022 – 31 August 2022 12 August 2022 Transition period for internal regulations
For the internal regulations to become fully effective, a transition period until the end of August was announced. This transition period was used for sorting out any changes in the roles of people who have been involved in the VSN in the past, as well as for adjusting the VSN’s communication channels in a way that formal decision-making can happen. These complex and sometimes delicate organizational issues could be solved earlier than expected.
5 August 2022 Terms of use for VSN mailing list published
Terms of use for the WMF-operated VSN mailing list were published. They included a safe space policy. The terms of use were developed and implemented by one of the list administrators without any consultation within or outside of the VSN. They were essentially based on the terms of use of another WMF-operated mailing list (by WMAT).
12 August 2022 List of people associated to the VSN published, internal regulations fully effective
For the first time, a list of all people officially associated with VSN was published. According to the new internal guidelines, these were the "Members" and the "Liaisons". At the same time, these individuals were assigned to two different mailing lists. With these communication channels, decisions could now be made in accordance with the internal guidelines, which thus came into full effect.
3rd November 2022 Decision-making tested
During the annual VSN meeting there were two votings according to the new internal internal regulations, on changing the internal regulations and on the VSN's goals for next year.

Internal coordination and project management

Internal meetings
Meeting Date # of
VSN 2022 activities meeting 14 March 2022 5 1h
VSN 2022 activities meeting 16 March 2022 8 1h
VSN internal org meeting 14 June 2022 6 1h
VSN internal org meeting 22 June 2022 6 1h
VSN internal org meeting 5 August 2022 3 1h
VSN coordination meeting 20 September 2022 3 1h
VSN internal org meeting 23 September 2022 4 1h
VSN internal org meeting 27 September 2022 6 1h

The project management work around the Volunteer Supporters Network in 2022 was mostly coordinated by staff members of Wikimedia Austria and Wikimedia Poland. Apart from their daily work, coordination happened during group meetings organized for decision making, updates, and feedback gathering. The meetings were open to all VSN members, and – for time-zone inclusivity – as often as possible organized twice in different times.

Conducting the project required certain time to be invested. Apart from time spent on the project management, which took 500 hours, we also needed to invest 24 hours on internal coordination meetings in the network (8 hours for the meeting duration plus 2 hours on preparatory per meeting). That means that in order to create a hub an equivalent of 13 weeks of F/T staff was needed only for project management work (and not counting participation in activities of the hub-like skill-sharing sessions).

The Hub’s place in the Movement’s structure


When shaping our organizational structure, one of the first very basic decisions was among these two options:

  1. the Hub’s members are Wikimedia organizations, any decision-making is based on their approval;
  2. the Hub is an autonomous entity, its members are individual persons.

For our internal regulations, we used the second option. Nevertheless, Wikimedia organizations shape our organizational structure indirectly:

“Any person working in volunteer support as a staff member of a Wikimedia affiliate can become a Member of the Volunteer Supporters Network.”
“Any Wikimedian active in volunteer support and with a good standing in the Wikimedia communities can apply to become a Liaison of the Volunteer Supporters Network. Liaisons can include volunteers as well as staff members of the Wikimedia Foundation.”

The “Members”, other than the “Liaisons”, are the Hub’s decision-making body:

“Any Member can ask for any reasonable decision to be made by the Volunteer Supporters Network by a process of voting among the Members. Decisions about key programmatic activities and major organizational changes as well as the exclusion of Members and Liaisons require a process of voting among the Members.”

The “Members” don’t speak for their affiliates:

“The votes of Members do not necessarily reflect the position of the Wikimedia affiliate they are working with. A decision by the Volunteer Supporters Network shall not be published in a way that can lead to the misconception that it is a collective decision by Wikimedia affiliates rather than individual Members of the Volunteer Supporters Network.”

Affiliates with many “Members” cannot outvote affiliates with less “Members”:

“Every Member has one vote except for Members working for the same Wikimedia affiliate. In this case only one person from the given Wikimedia affiliate has the right to vote.”

This relationship between Hubs and the movement is not one that we would recommend to all Hubs in general – we think it depends on the Hub which structure is the best one.

Learnings and recommendations

Know and publish your participation and decision-making structure as early as possible.
It takes a lot of effort to determine later in the process how to join and leave the project, and how and who makes decisions. It is not necessary to have completely legally secured bylaws: simple rules are sufficient, but they still need to be published. A Hub can later adopt different rules of course, it just needs a procedure for how such rules can be changed.
Inclusion based on equity: participatory consultation processes when necessary, centralized administration, communication and infrastructure decisions when possible.
Any results-oriented consultations that may affect the future of the Hub in significant ways should be as flexible, open, and welcoming as possible. This includes individual invitations, different participation formats, and the ability to give more time if needed. On the other hand, the time resources of the participants should be handled very carefully and these participation formats should really only be aimed at the very big issues. We had good experience with centralizing minor decisions on the Hub’s structure, e.g. regarding administration, communication and infrastructure.
Pay attention to how your communication channels can be maintained.
Setting up communication channels like mailing lists or chat groups is one thing, who should have administration rights and what rules there are for participation (code of conduct) is another thing.
Be aware that it takes time. A lot of it. And time is capacity.
The coordination work around the hub took a lot of time – only for that we needed about 13 weeks of full time work, or – dividing it into months – ¼ FT per month throughout the whole year. This can be a significant burden on communities, especially if they don’t have paid staff to assign to that task. That brings a huge risk of volunteer burnout in volunteer-driven processes or a risk of significant impact to the capacity of the affiliates willing to dedicate their staff time.
Be time-zone inclusive. And remember that people have different roles.
Organize meetings in a way that they are inclusive for as many time zones as possible. But also know the roles of your audience: staff members would prefer meeting during working hours and volunteers in the afternoons or weekends. Sometimes, to accommodate all those needs, you will need to organize certain meetings twice, at different times.
Share responsibilities.
People may need to step away from the project because of the personal or professional changes. The more people will be involved in the project, the more will be able to step in and take over their responsibilities.
Build on what you already have.
Many things in the project were done really smoothly because we were able to draw from the network that has been working for many years. This allowed us to find good trainers for skill sharing, reach our audience, engage different people. You may not have a ready network, but you for sure have some contacts which may start one.

Hub Report 2022:   A. Administration and organizational development   •   B. Activities – input   •   C. Activities – outcome