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Earlier this year, Wikimedia executive director Sue Gardner proposed to centralize fundraising activities and to move beyond geography-based chapter associations as the primary means of organizing (see “Redrawing the Borders of Wikimedia Governance: Turning the Money Screw“). Her move has inspired severe criticism and respective responses by prominent chapter organizations such as Germany, Italy and several chapters of Spanish-speaking countries. Specifically Wikimedia Germany, the largest chapter in terms of both members and fundraising, invested heavily in a detailed counterproposal entitled “Wikimedia’s culture of sharing: Remarks on common goals, localized fundraising and global action“.

A good impression of the intensity and the front lines of this debate is provided by the comments on a blog post by Wikimedia board member Stu West, where he explained “Why [he] supported the Board letter on fundraising“. The discussion thread also nicely illustrates the challenge of transnational governance, when West is accused of being US-centric:

There is a world outside the U.S. where people act according to different standards and think and decide differently. Our movement has to pay tribute to this fact.

After two months of discussion, Gardner has recently presented a revised version of her recommendations and asked the Foundation’s board to decide on it. The most controversial clause of her initial proposal is still part of her final list of recommendations: Read the rest of this entry »

Two days ago, Sigrid and I have submitted a paper on community governance in the realm of Creative Commons and Wikimedia to this year’s Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Today, I have learnt about major upcoming changes in governance of the latter of our two cases. Wikimedia is at the brink of abandoning its decentralized and geography-based network of Wikimedia chapters and replace it with a much more centralized network of different types of movement organizations.

Logo of the Wikimedia Foundation

The current governance structure of Wikimedia, the formal organization behind the global community of volunteers responsible for Wikipedia, had emerged comparably unplanned. The focal Wikimedia Foundation itself was founded two years after Wikipedia had been launched as a side-project of the quality-controlled “Nupedia“. And while Wikipedia had been transnational from the very start with versions in German, Catalan, Japanese, French and Spanish only two months after its launch, the Foundation was not. The first local Wikimedia branch in Germany was founded independently from Wikimedia headquarters and only formally recognized as a formal Wikimedia chapter after the fact. Following the German example, so far 38 membership-based chapter associations have been founded and formally recognized. Together, these chapters nominate two members to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

With the exception of two US chapters in New York City and in the District of Columbia, all these chapters are related to countries. One of the main reasons for tying local chapter organizations to countries is a financial one. Many Wikimedia chapter organizations such as the German, the Polish or the Swiss chapter receive tax exempted donations. This is one of the big advantages of local chapter organizations and even a rationale for founding them as grassroots organizations in the first place. The same time, however, this also restricts the flow of funds within the organizational network. Donations to the German Wikimedia chapter, for example, cannot easily be transferred to the focal Wikimedia Foundation in the US due to legal restraints.

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
September 2019
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