Wikimedia Conference 2015/Documentation and Follow-Up/Future roles of affiliates and WMF

Future roles of affiliates and WMF

Nicole Ebber led the session on a possible consultation about the future roles of affiliates and WMF.

After an introduction of all participants – there were around 16 people in the room – Nicole provided some context and history on “Movement Roles” to bring all people on the same page.

The movement had gone through different phases of the conversation, for example the movement roles working group that resulted in the introduction of Thematic Organisations and User Groups as new forms of Affiliates or the new tone set by the WMF’s Annual Plan and Lila’s talk where Affiliates were clearly addressed as essential partners (rather than a risk) for the WMF for the first time.

Nicole explained that the trigger to hold this session was mainly the question asked by Lila at the Wikimedia Conference: “Is there also interest in a consultation about the future roles of affiliates and WMF?”

In a second step, participants gathered existing (and non-existing, future) functions in the Wikimedia movement (for example software development, volunteer support, grantmaking, evaluation, fundraising). Participants then tried to group them by their executing/running movement organisation (Wikimedia Foundation, affiliates, individuals). This exercise made clear that there are only a few functions performed by only one organisation and that in most cases, a clear distinction between global and local could not be made. Another aspect to be taken into account is the management of resources that suffers from the issue of duplication and overlap of structures.

“Focus on needs, not on structures.”

Around 16 people participated at the session.

After the exercise, Nicole initiated the discussion with the question whether a “consultation about the future roles of affiliates and WMF” was useful and necessary. She encouraged participants to discuss this question in the light of a definition of a problem the movement wants to solve with such a consultation and asked how we can get a clear and shared understanding of this problem.

Opinions were quite diverse: Two people expressed that they don’t see the necessity to discuss movement structures as organisations knew what they wanted. The movement tended to think in patterns, models and structures despite having a wide range of really different affiliates with most diverse activities. Both claimed that capacity building would be a the more important issue.

Two other participants said that there were many unwritten rules and assumptions in the movement and that a clarification of roles could help, as individual users/affiliates behaved like protecting their “garden”.

A WMF staff member pointed out that it would be more useful to focus on major needs and only then develop the rules in a next step. Another participant pointed to the four necessities for a healthy organisation: Vision, leadership, resources, and structure. S/he considered resources and structures to be solved, but saw a huge lack of a common vision in the movement and of strong leadership from the WMF. S/he also wanted to encourage an “unblurring of the reader vs. the editor vision” and pointed to the issue regarding metrics for those two partly divergent goals.

“Power struggle vs. difficulties of shared responsibilities.”


One participants express his/her feeling that individuals were not represented (“ignored”) in the movement and ignoring them would create a power disbalance in the movement. Another participant agreed and said that affiliates and WMF were more than ten years in a power struggle and nobody was sure where to stand, where to go and what goal to persue. Another participant disagreed and claimed it to be more a difficulty of shared responsibilities than a power struggle.

One participant said that if the movement was to be designed from the scratch, it hadn’t any overlapping responsibilities. Several people agreed but additionally expressed that shared responsibilities should not be considered negatively. The main challenge would be to figure out where overlap is healthy, efficient and not frustrating and where a complementary approach would be more useful. It was also mentioned that the movement would lack guidance regarding development paths, and a framework for support.

“A consultation is just a mechanism to look below the surface.”


Nicole asked the participants what best possible result they would expect from such a consultation.

One participant said that s/he doesn’t hear a strong wish for such a consultation and even if realising it, a clear mandate for it was necessary. Nicole highlighted that the topics would determine the design of the consultation, not the other way round (“form follows function”).

One WMF staffer explained that a consultation was just a mechanism, a way to look below the surface. S/he gave the example from the Community Resources team: The team had seen a strong pressure on the grant programs and the undefined need of something between the APG and PEG programs. Therefore, s/he explained, the team will do a consultation about grants – a consultation with a clear need and imaginable result (or at least goal).

One participant asked how the movement could identify those needs. Participants gave examples of fundraising and software development. The first, one participant said, was previously a political issue, but now became an operational issue. The latter, software development, was always a topic between affiliates and WMF, but never was discussed separately from the funding aspect. A consultation could concentrate on such limited and focussed issue, like e.g. the shared responsibilities on software development.

“The WMF is comfortable with the status quo. You have to take the initiative.”


Another participant agreed and said that the question of "Movement Roles" could be too political, as already in this session participants had problems to define specific needs or issues. In order to have such a consultation, s/he expressed that needs needed be a downgraded from a political to an operational/organisational issue to be solved.

Two participants expressed their feelings on the lack of leadership in the movement (see Chapters Dialogue insights), as there was nobody who could introduce a discussion (as in: “Let’s talk about that”). Nicole repeated the question how to make sure that such a consultation would have the necessary mandate. One WMF staffer concluded that nobody should wait for the Foundation to take the initiative regarding any consultation. The WMF was comfortable in status quo, so the affiliates should proactively take the initiative. If there was a clarity on the need, the WMF could be convinced to join in and support.

Nicole thanked all participants and concluded with the observation that a consultation – on any topic – needed a broad consensus and that the conversation should be kept alive. For example, it could be one of the themes for the upcoming Wikimedia Conference in 2016.