Hi folks, Now that the dust has settled a bit, I would like to expand on an idea that’s been touched on a few times (most recently, in an editorial by William Beutler ): the notion that WMF might be a more effective organization if it limited its own size in favor of focused spin-off organizations and affiliates.
I was very much part of building the current WMF in terms of both size and structure, but I also think recent events underscore the fragility of the current model. WMF is still tiny compared with other tech companies that operate popular websites, but it’s a vast organization by Wikimedia movement standards. With nearly 300 staff  (beyond even our ambitious 2015 strategic plan staffing numbers), it dwarfs any other movement org. I can see three potential benefits from a more federated model: 1) Resilience. If any one organization experiences a crisis, other independent organizations suffer to a lesser degree than departments within that organization. 2) Focus. Wikimedia’s mission is very broad, and an organization with a clearly defined mandate is less likely to be pulled in many different directions -- at every level. 3) Accountability. Within a less centralized federation, it is easier to ensure that funding flows to those who do work the movement wants them to do. My experience is that growth tends to be self-reinforcing in budgetary processes if there are now clear ceilings established. I think that’s true in almost any organization. There’s always lots of work to do, and new teams will discover new gaps and areas into which they would like to expand. Hence, I would argue for the following: a) To establish 150 as the provisional ceiling for Wikimedia movement organizations. This is Dunbar’s number, and it has been used (sometimes intentionally, sometimes organically) as a limiting number for religious groups, military companies, corporate divisions, tax offices, and other human endeavors.  This is very specifically because it makes organizational units more manageable and understandable for those who work there. b) To slowly, gradually identify parts of the WMF which would benefit from being spun off into independent organizations, and to launch such spin-offs, narrowing WMF's focus in the process. c) To aim to more clearly separate funding and evaluation responsibilities from programmatic work within the movement -- whether that work is keeping websites running, building software, or doing GLAM work. Note that I'm not proposing a quick splintering, but rather a slow and gradual process with lots of opportunity to course-correct. More on these points below. == Potential test case: MediaWiki Foundation == A "MediaWiki Foundation"  has been proposed a few times and I suspect continues to have some currency within WMF. This org would not be focused on all WMF-related development work, but specifically on MediaWiki as software that has value to third parties. Its mission could include hosting services as earned income (and potentially as an extension of the Wikimedia movement’s mission). MediaWiki is used today by numerous nonprofit and educational projects that are aligned even with a narrow view on Wikimedia’s mission. Examples include Appropedia, OpenWetWare, WikiEducator, W3C’s WebPlatform, Hesperian Health Guides, and too many notable open source projects to list. Among commercial users, it has lost much ground to other software like Confluence, but it remains, in my view, the most viable platform for large, open, collaborative communities. Yet it’s a poorly supported option: many of the above wikis are outdated, and maintaining a MediaWiki install is generally more work than it needs to be. Building a healthy third party ecosystem will have obvious benefits for the world, and for existing Wikimedia work as well. It may also create a proving ground for experimental technology. Which work that WMF is currently doing would be part of an MWF’s mandate? I don’t know; I could imagine that it could include aspects like Vagrant, or even shared responsibility for MediaWiki core and MW’s architecture. == The Wiki Education Foundation precedent == It’s worth noting that this spin-off model has been tried once before. The Wiki Education Foundation is an example of an organization that was created by volunteers doing work in this programmatic space in partnership with staff of the Education Program at WMF, who left to join the new org. It is now financially independent, building its own relationships with funders that WMF has never worked with, and achieving impact at unprecedented scale. LiAnna Davis, who is today the Director of Program Support at Wiki Ed, wrote a detailed response to William’s blog post, which I think is worth quoting in full : ----begin quote---- I worked for the WMF for nearly four years and have worked for the spun-off Wiki Education Foundation for the last two, and I strongly support the idea of spinning off more parts of WMF into independent nonprofits like ours. As you noted, Wiki Ed is a test case for your proposal, so for readers who don’t know our history: We started in 2010 as a pilot program (called the Public Policy Initiative) within WMF, funded by a restricted grant, to support university professors in the U.S. who wanted to assign their students to edit Wikipedia as a class assignment. The pilot showed the idea was successful, and so we started piloting it in countries as part of the Catalyst project (Arab World, Brazil, and India). The U.S. program had lingered at WMF without any real organizational support because the U.S. wasn’t a target region. WMF leadership saw its potential, however, and formed a volunteer Working Group of Wikipedians and academics who created the structure of the organization that became the Wiki Education Foundation in 2013. WMF gave us a small start-up grant to get us going, and provided fiscal sponsorship for us until our 501(c)3 status came through (and we could fundraise on our own). Today, we’re an independent organization, not funded by WMF, and we’ve scaled the impact of our programs incredibly. We’re supporting three times as many students, we’ve developed our own technology to support our programmatic work, and our students are busy addressing content gaps in academic areas on Wikipedia. So why are we so successful? There are a lot of factors, but there’s one I want to highlight here, because I think it’s a clear difference between when we were at WMF and our current work at Wiki Ed. We have one, very clear mission: We create mutually beneficial ties between Wikipedia and academia in the U.S. and Canada. The WMF mission is inspiring — but it’s really broad, just like our movement is. When we were doing this same project at WMF, I’d struggle to just focus on the Education Program and ignore the rest of the mission. Whenever I interacted with people outside the foundation (and I did so a lot), people would come to me with ideas to further WMF’s mission that weren’t in my program’s boundaries. I’d spend time trying to help, because I believed in the mission and wanted to help it along. I’m not the only one: I would see this idealism and commitment to the mission repeatedly among my colleagues at WMF. I still see it from the current WMF staff. They’re all there because they believe in the mission. They want to help, and it’s really hard to not try to help with everything, because you can see so many different facets of helping that mission. Essentially, with a mission as broad as WMF’s, it’s hard for staff to keep a narrow focus. *Everything* can seem mission-related. When your mission is as narrow as Wiki Ed’s, it’s easier to find your focus and keep your attention on developing one area well. This is a key strength of independent organizations — independent, narrower missions keep staff focused and more productive on achieving their small part of the overall Wikimedia mission. I strongly support more discussion about spinning off other parts of WMF into independent organizations. ----end quote---- == A "Movement Association"? == A more radical suggestion would be to spin off work on grantmaking and evaluation. This isn’t trivial -- there are legitimate arguments to keep this work close to other community-facing work WMF is doing. But there are undeniable benefits in greater separation. When it comes to large annual plan grants, much has been done to ensure that the FDC can operate as an independent body and evaluate each plan on its merits. Ultimately, however, the decision rests with the WMF, which has a much better understanding of its own programs (through the direct relationship with its ED) than of those of affiliates. Similarly, while WMF has done a fair bit to provide self-service evaluation tools to the movement at large, it’s not clear that its work is always held to the same standard as everyone else’s. A WMF grantee must very publicly report results and success metrics; WMF attempts to do so as a matter of course, but it is not accountable to another organization for failing to do so. Finally, as was discussed here a lot in recent weeks, WMF itself has no clear accountability to the movement. The Board elections are advisory in nature. There is no membership. Non-elected seats are filled by the Board with little visibility. There is a semi-permanent "Founder’s Seat". If grantmaking and evaluation responsibilities were increasingly shifted to a "Wikimedia Movement Association", this could gradually allow for true accountability to the movement in the form of membership and democratic, movement-wide decisions to make funding allocations on the basis of evaluation reports (through committees or otherwise). This may also make the endowment a more compelling proposition than it is today. Yes, keeping Wikimedia’s sites operational indefinitely is a very worthwhile goal. But what if the endowment ultimately also helped to support global, federated work towards Wikimedia’s vision? What if all affiliates -- indeed the whole movement -- were excited and motivated to help grow it? == Where to go from here? == There are lots of open questions in all of this. Should all site-wide fundraising remain inside WMF, for example, with funds being transferred to a movement entity? What’s the dividing line between "development for third parties" (MWF) and "development for Wikimedia" (WMF)? How would staff transition to new organizations? Where should those organizations be based? Should they be distributed, have offices? An important thing to remember here (a lesson I’ve had to learn painfully) is that big changes are best made in small steps, with room for trial and error. Implementing this strategy is, I think, a matter of first committing to it as an idea, and then creating coherent proposals for each step, publicly with broad input. First, if there is support for the general idea, I would recommend kicking it around: Are these the right kinds of spin-offs? What are the risks and how should existing affiliates be involved in the process? And so on. The fact that WMF has just experienced a major organizational crisis should not itself fill us with pessimism and despair. But we also shouldn’t ignore it. We must learn from it and do what reason tells us -- and in my view that is to build a more resilient _federation_ of organizations than what we have today. Warmly, Erik == Notes ==  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-03-09/Op-ed  https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Template:STAFF-COUNT  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number  http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-01-10/the-dunbar-number-from-the-guru-of-social-networks  Our branding is confusing beyond repair. I don't think there's an easy fix here, and we should just embrace our nutty nomenclature (Wikimedia/MediaWiki/Wikipedia) at this point. _______________________________________________ Wikimedia-l mailing list, guidelines at: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mailing_lists/Guidelines New messages to: Wikimediaemail@example.com Unsubscribe: https://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/wikimedia-l, <mailto:wikimedia-l-requ...@lists.wikimedia.org?subject=unsubscribe>