Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Delphine, Goodbye and Hello

Foundation-l received a message today that Delphine, the Chapters Coordinator for the WMF is stepping down from her position. In her three years, she's overseen an explosive growth in the number of chapters there are.

She's not leaving us entirely, however. She is going to remain an active WMF volunteer and a member of the chapcom. In her message she talked a lot about a "reboot" of the chapters situation, and I'm very interested to hear all the ideas she has. I've been feeding her a lot of my ideas (I'm a radical liberal when it comes to chapters), but she's been in a position where she couldn't always feed hers back. Now, I'm hoping that we can get some real creative energy and enthusiasm together to make cool things happen.

One thing that I've been pushing for personally, sometimes alone in the dark, is the idea of a more freeform idea of what a Chapter can be. Heretofore, Chapters have been tied to Nations, you could have a Wikimedia Italia for instance, but not a Wikimedia New York. For many years, this is what seemed to come naturally to groups, and it's what the Chapcom/Board have been suggesting. Now, however, things seem to be changing.

People in the USA are organizing at a local community level. We have an overarching presence in the USA in the form of the WMF board, what people are increasingly interested in doing is on-the-ground activism. People are actually wanting to walk into a library, or university, or government building and say "I'm from the WMF, I want to partner with you to bring open content to the people". People want to collect donations, not only of money, but of time, talent, and content. Local groups that can meet each other face-to-face and can walk down the street to conduct business in person are the kinds of groups that are forming, be they the wikiwednesdays in Portland, or the Wiki takes Manhattan in NYC.

The USA isn't the only example either. Organization in Canada has cooled off substantially from where it was three months ago, and even the people who most ardently supported a national chapter then are talking about provincial and even metropolitan chapters now. It's hard to organize with people over email and phone and IRC, it's much easier to generate enthusiasm when you can meet people face-to-face. Those aren't my words either, but are words that i've heard from several people on the wikimedia-ca mailing list.

In a different region of the world, Delphine and I both heard some very impressive and convincing arguments from Catalonians who are spread out across several countries in southern Europe. They're talking about forming a chapter through 4 or 5 countries, two of which already have national chapters in place that would be overlapped! How do we reconcile the idea of a national chapter when it forces together people who are separated by geographical and lingusitic barriers, but deny chapters status to groups who are very close regionally and all speak the same language?

The board, we have all heard, is looking to discuss the idea of regional and sub-national chapters at their next meeting, and I sincerely hope that they think on it long and hard. If wikis have taught us nothing about volunteerism, it's that people can't be forced to do something they don't want to do, and that people are going to pursue things that maybe we hadn't intended. If people want to organize in a particular way, and if that way is natural and efficient for them, that's the way they're going to do it. If we tell the Canadians "it will be a national chapter or no chapter at all", then I them for the foreseeable future that it will be no chapter at all. If we tell the catalonians that they must join Wikimedia France or Wikimedia Italia, or they must somehow overcome the problems facing a Wikimedia Spain, it is likely that all the Catalonians will not participate and will return home dejected and disenfranchised. If we tell the Americans that all their organizational efforts have been wrong, and that they are completely barred from those two seats the board promised the chapters could select, there will be hell to pay.

It's going to be interesting to see what all Delphine really has to say about all these issues, and what ideas she has for how a "reboot" will occur. I doubt she'll agree with me on everything, disagreement is the price radicals like myself have to pay. However, I can tell you that things will change, even if slowly and incrementally. Let's all hope that change is for the better.