Note from Beth: Since the concept of working in Networks is can be hard to explain to newcomers, learning from case studies, stories, and examples can be illuminating. The design was to share this learning was amazing. In the morning, each of the ten case study presenters gave a 5 minute “teaser” about their case study or what one presenter called “showing a little leg.” After lunch, conference participants got to to choose two presenters to spend an hour with in a small group to ask questions and deepened the learning. Paul Connolly, who has been a guest blogger on this blog before, covered the session on Open Source Strategic Planning. The session was also covered on the Working Wikily Blog, “Doing the conventional, unconventionally” by Anna Muoio.
Guest post by Paul Connolly
How do you devise a future strategy for a diffuse Internet-based global movement? In a deliberate, organic, and aggressively inclusive manner, advised Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, and consultant Eugene Eric Kim, at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ “Growing Social Impact in a Networked World” conference yesterday.
The Wikimedia Foundation ambitiously envisions a “world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” While Wikipedia is the fifth most visited web site, its budget and staff is relatively small and it relies on 100,000 contributors across the world to create and edit content. The organization invited anyone, including these volunteers and its millions of readers, to help develop the plan. In 2009, the foundation began by harvesting almost a thousand proposals for future directions from community members through online crowd-sourcing. They then formed task forces to consider various options and make decisions, using a consensus-based model. Certain people were encouraged to be involved in these groups to ensure that under-represented voices, especially from the southern hemisphere, were heard. Online input was supplemented with face-to-face local meetings around the world. Next, consultants helped facilitate an asynchronous process involving a wide set of stakeholders using an online wiki to write and edit sections of the plan.
Gardner admitted that at certain points the non-linear and emergent collaborative planning process was ambiguous and frustrating. She sometimes feared that the “crowd” of Wikimedians might go down the wrong path and make some unwise decisions. Ultimately, she realized that the highly participatory process resulted in a robust strategic plan that articulated goals and initiatives through 2015 to stabilize infrastructure, increase participation, improve quality, and encourage innovation. She also knows that it is truly “owned” by Wikimedia’s broad community. “You have to understand that leaders may not know the ‘right’ answer and have faith that if you gather the right people and facilitate their decision-making well,” Gardner observed, “they will make smart decisions.”
Paul Connolly is a senior partner and chief client services officer at TCC Group, a national management consulting firm that provides planning, evaluation, and capacity-building services to funders, nonprofits, and corporate citizenship programs. His areas of expertise are philanthropic effectiveness, strategic planning, organizational capacity building, evaluation, and social enterprise. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org