Wikimedia Conference/Program and Engagement Coordination/Wikimania 2016 report/Affiliates Strategy

Affiliates Strategy


Nicole introduced the session and started by giving context and reasoning for having an “Affiliates Strategy” session at the WMCON Follow-Up Day.

She explained that there have been conversations about the model (structure), roles and responsibilities within the Wikimedia movement for almost a decade. But what the movement was lacking is a strategy that enables it to have an the best possible impact. Three years ago, Wikimedia Deutschland had initiated a project called “Chapters Dialogue”, a research project to explore and describe the roles, responsibilities, challenges, needs and wishes among Wikimedia Chapters and their relationships to the WMF. As a distillate of this project, six “tough questions” were published that get to the heart of the movement’s biggest challenges. Nicole explained that these questions are still highly topical and that she considers the structured search for answers to be key to the future of the movement.

Additionally, Nicole explained that the Board of Trustees had frozen the recognition of new chapters for two years in 2013. The board’s decision was based on the unclear role of the chapters and the unclarity of the relations and expectations between WMF and the Chapters. However, even after 2.5 years, nothing had changed or happened in this regard, Nicole added.

Nicole concluded her introduction with some questions: How can responsibilites and tasks be shared among movement entities? Is the WMF the body with global coordinating responsibilities? Is a centralized or decentralized approach better suited to foster collaboration? Are the other movement organizations focussed on regional and local work only? There are already other cases, e.g. for Wikimedia Deutschland with Wikidata as a global project and it's own banner-fundraising. What is the best suitable framework for the collaboration among Wikimedia affiliates? What is the role of the Wikimedia Foundation – in this network of affiliates, communities, readers, donors and partners?

Nicole finalized her introduction with a questions towards the participants: “As the advisor on international relations at WMDE, I deal with these kinds of questions and challenges every day. Do you feel the same “unclarity” in your affiliates?

One participant from a “not recognized chapter” said that s/he feels the obvious distinction between “chapters” and “WMF” – most of the global issues are facilitated by the WMF, while the local stuff is done by the organizations – and s/he thinks that this is a good way of doing it.

One staff member of Wikimedia UK explained her/his thoughts about the overlap between a language and an organization, as Wikimedia UK doesn't have its “own” Wikipedia.

Another participant asked how supra-national (cross-chapter) partnerships work and who organizes them.

Nicole specified her questions and asked if there was specific unclarity that has an influence on the participants’ everyday work. One participant replied that his/her chapter is developing a MediaWiki extension and that this obviously needs support from WMF staffers, for example for code review. For the chapter is was really complicated to figure out how to work effectively with the Wikimedia Foundation on this, and collaboration was sometimes slow or not responsive. The lack of clarity on responsibilities and processes for these kinds of movement-wide projects led to frustration on both sides.

Nicole then asked participants to discuss the question “Why do we need affiliates at all?” She referred to a session at WMCON where Katherine Maher passed the ball to the affiliates, encouraging them to come forward and present her the affiliates’ priorities for a functionally working relationship. Affiliates would now have the opportunity to actively shape the future of the movement in partnership with the WMF in a possible “Affiliates Strategy”. Nicole put emphasize on the fact that at the moment there are only formal procedures for recognising affiliates, but that we are lacking a vision and strategy for the shared responsibilities and roles within the network of international Wikimedia organizations.

One WMF staffer agreed on that and said that there was never defined what a chapter had or had not to do. Another participant added that this was a problem, as chapters couldn’t use their full potential as long as there was no common definition on what chapters were working on.

A staff member of WMUK told the anecdote that during the last FDC side visit the staff members were asked about the “unique selling point” of the chapter, which, the participant explained, left them quite surprised. Another participant highlighted this as a super-interesting question asking if the WMF should ask chapters to specialize on certain issues. The participant further asked WMF if it should encourage 2-3 chapters to team up and write common grant proposal. Or if there were certain issues that the WMF did not want to do anymore.

One participant complained that these were all chapter-centric issues. The participant explained the situation of her/his user group, which overlapped with another Wikimedia chapter. The participant asked if there was a hierarchical system among affiliates.

The WMF staffer explained that there was no common strategy for affiliates, but the WMF had at least an ad-hoc strategy for conflict issues among affiliates. What WMF cares about, the person said, was impactful work of the affiliates. S/he explained that anyone can use the structure that for them is best suited to have actual impact.

Nicole touched the topic of the Affiliations Committee. She said that in an ideal world, the AffCom would work more with affiliates, supporting them and empower them to better learn from each other and have a collective impact. Nicole asked the AffCom at the WMCON "What is your ideal affiliate?” but they came up with technical definitions instead of a visioning.

The WMF staffer explained that AffCom indeed would share Nicole’s wishes and would like to develop and work with the affiliates closer. However, s/he explained, they don’t seem able to do so. The AffCom had set up the “liaison model” and reached out to the liaisees. The bigger, more established chapters were uncertain what to do with them. The smaller, younger affiliates didn't know what to do, because they didn't know what to ask for. If that sounds dysfunctional, you're right, the WMF staffer said. A few of the larger chapters were much better positioned to provide trainings than AffCom.

One person said it would be really helpful to get chapters to do things together. It doesn't have to be exclusively capacity building, but everything else that is suitable for international/inter-chapter programs. APG proposals were not designed for collaborative projects of different entities. The person asked if people felt there was a necessity for a funding mechanisms for multi-organisation projects.

Other participants disagree, as there were networks that worked, like the Education programs. Others added the regional networks IberoCoop and CEE. But those would still be funded not from a pooled resource, but each organisation contributes individually.

Nicole summarized that many questions led to the funding topic. She asked the participants on which field the movement should concentrate first and asked further if a conversation about fundraising could contribute to get clarity on roles and shared responsibilities.

One participant quoted a polish saying "when you don't know what to talk about, you talk about money".

One participant said that s/he did not know if fundraising was a good topic to focus on, but definitely a statement like "What is the point of having affiliates?" would be a great starting point.

In the end, Nicole asked participants if it was practical to create a minimum set of things/activities a Wikimedia chapter should do to be defined as a Wikimedia chapter. Other participants added that a maximum list of activities should also be created. Participants agreed.