Leaders, stand up

Or: how to get things done whilst herding cats.

The Wikimedia Foundation has always been, in its short history thus far, playing catch-up to the needs and demands of the editing community that spawned it. By and large the demands that have been met have been technical and behind-the-scenes: servers, developers, basic staff. Calls from the community for WMF to intervene in this situation or that have largely been resisted. WMF wants to facilitate self-organised communities, not run the communities for the users.

Now, for the first time, we are almost free from the “working Board”. So when the Board members actually have time to look up, and breathe, what exciting things might we imagine happening then?

For example, how can Wikimedia projects and communities organise publication of their material?

Delphine:

My take at this stage, and that is a personal opinion, is that it is high time that people like you and I, who feel they are part of the community”, organize themselves so as to be able to present a valid partner to the organisation.

By valid partner, I meant that saying “this is not working, fix it” is in my opinion, not the way to go. I’d rather hear something along the lines of “this is not working, here is how to fix it, here are the people that can fix it and here is how much it takes to fix it. Give us the money — organisational framework in my acception of the term— to fix it”.

I raised some question about the difficulty of authority in volunteer-created communities and groups. When can one legitimately speak on behalf of any community? When speaking to WMF it is easy enough, because if someone disagrees enough they can jump in and reply, but how about to outside organisations? Come-as-you-like volunteerism evidently works well for content creation, but there are other aspects where it doesn’t, such as creating partnerships with external groups. I’m also reminded of the closure of the French Wikiquote . For WMF to have to close an entire project seems, to me, to speak of a very deep failure somewhere in this system. No individual volunteer is accountable, but somehow the collective have to be. Was this an example of something that will be inevitable from time to time? Or are there things we can do, things that should have been done, to stop it from happening again elsewhere?

WMF—local project communication is a topic for another day. In the same thread as Delphine above, Florence wrote,

…the more volunteers will take the lead, the more chance there is that the Foundation is a facilitator. The
more volunteers will adopt a passive attitude, will voice expectations rather than push their own dreams, the more people will take the easy road, the more “authority” will get in Foundation hands.

On a related note, Erik recently mentioned similar problems:

I believe that there is a deep and complex challenge of what I call “meta-management” — the Foundation has such a diversity of projects (Wikibooks, Wikinews, Wikisource, etc.) and goals that any approach which does not scale massively will not serve our community well. So, yes, we should of course hire coordinators for grants and projects, and get better at business development, and improve our technical infrastructure, and so forth. But I think networking and empowering volunteers to do many of the things we hope to pay more people to do is a much more scalable approach.

So if you have an idea for a project, what can you do? My advice is to do as much as you can on your own steam before contacting the Foundation. Organise people, recruit within your project, think about potential partners (if appropriate – and especially think about ways chapters could help), and when you’ve gone as far as you can go, present it to the VolCo (volunteer co-ordinator). And if you’ve done all that and after two weeks haven’t heard a peep out of anyone, raise an almighty stink on foundation-l. ;)

And if you have an idea which involves the Foundation coming in and laying down the law, let it go, because it’s probably not going to happen.

02 September, 2007 • ,

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